There isn’t a rift between ’39 and ’40 Ford owners, but there probably should be. It’s not that we wish there was, but that we’re somewhat surprised that fans of the ’39 haven’t revolted. Though the two cars are just short of identical, the ’40 seems to overshadow its older brother. It gets all the books written about it, and most hardly even acknowledge the ’39. In fact it usually gets lumped in with the ’38. But an advocate of the ’39 will likely explain just how many ways the ’39 has it over its younger sibling.
“I believe the ’39 Ford coupe is the best coupe that Ford built,” Tim Henson proclaims. “The best lines, that wood-grained dash, floor shift, banjo steering wheel, roll-out windshield—that was the last year for these designs.” So he celebrated the car in a way that might strike some as a little odd: He changed it.
Only he didn’t change it simply for the sake of change. Tim subtly modified the car to emphasize some of the features that made the ’39 noteworthy. He also forced it to evolve a little bit, which is to say he improved its performance with some later parts.
The car had a curious story well before Tim dragged it home to Lake Stevens, Washington. “I purchased the car from the grandson of the original owner,” he begins. As the story went, the original owner took the car out of commission in 1954. Only his intention wasn’t preservation; he wanted to turn it into a dirt-track racer. “Thankfully, due to the responsibilities of raising a family, he never got around to that plan!” Tim says. “There was no rust on the car anywhere, bottom of the doors, tool tray, tail pan, or quarters—nowhere!”
Tim reduced the car to its individual components and delivered the bare chassis to engine builder Dave Tatom. He retained most of the original chassis—its crossmembers, pedal assembly, and fruitjar master cylinder—yet improved it with legacy parts like stainless lines and a Bob Drake stainless fuel tank.
In anticipation of a different transmission he split the wishbones; in anticipation of an altered stance he replaced the stock spring with a Posies Super Slide and the axle with a Super Bell dropped variant. He updated the suspension with an antiroll bar.
In further anticipation of the transmission and stance he chose a ’46 Ford pickup axle—the open-drive version of Ford’s venerable banjo—and hung it on parallel leaf springs. He finished both ends with ’41 Lincoln Zephyr brakes and tube dampers. To retain the car’s early flavor he finished those with ’39 Ford drums.
To those drums bolt ’39 wheels, widened for Coker’s radial versions of 5.50- and 7.50-16 tires. Stainless trim rings and spiders are predictable, but the caps themselves aren’t: they date from 1936.
The transmission so anticipated early on came from an ’80s Chevrolet S-10 pickup. The five-speed’s overdrive fifth ratio and tall rear tires tame the axle’s relatively low 3.78:1 gear. Its relatively close-set gear ratios also make the most of another piece of Dave Tatom’s work: Flathead power.
Tatom bored a 59A block for 3 5/16-inch Ross Racing Pistons’ slugs. He assembled it with a 4 1/8-inch-stroke Scat Enterprises crank and H-beam connecting rods. Edelbrock heads give the 286-incher an 8.5:1 static compression ratio. Two Demon 98 jugs atop an Offenhauser 1090 manifold, a Tatom 270-F cam, a Tatom-tuned Mallory, and full-length Tatom headers let the engine crest the 200hp mark at 5,000 rpm.
He finished it with Flathead Jack’s aluminum pumps and a Powermaster PowerGen alternator. Arlington, Washington’s Tom Sanders built the remainder of the exhaust system from 2 1/8-inch-diameter pipes and Smithy glass-packed mufflers. A McLeod Racing clutch couples the engine to the transmission; a Drivelines Northwest driveshaft couples that to the rear axle.
Given Tim’s fondness for the features on the ’39 it’s no surprise that he left his car’s body pretty much stock. In fact he changed only lighting: he updated the car to ’40 headlight assemblies for the sealed beam performance and changed the iconic teardrop taillights for larger Lincoln Zephyr versions.
Russ Armstrong at Skagit Grand Central Collision repair in Burlington straightened the car and applied PPG urethane base/clear in one of the many interpretations of Ford Cloudmist Gray. Tim finished the body with Bob Drake’s stainless versions of Ford’s bumpers. Ketchum Metal Polishing in Arlington refreshed the remainder of the brightwork.
After crowing about it earlier on, it’s pretty obvious that Tim preserved the wood-grained dash. However, he replaced its gauges with Classic Instruments drop-in versions. Tom Sanders, the guy who fabricated the exhaust, also wired the car with restoration-grade cloth-jacket wire. Only he took the job one step further by weaving the loom with additional cloth-jacket wire to drive the extra components, like the gauges, heater, fuel pump, and audio system.
Dan Mitchell at Dan’s Auto Top and Upholstery in Auburn trimmed the cabin in a pleated pattern using sand-colored leather. He finished the floors with oatmeal-colored square-weave wool carpet. Henson also preserved another ’39 hallmark: the banjo wheel and its matching column. And in case you doubt us, yes, the ’39 DeLuxe got painted interior handles and the standard chrome.
Headlights withstanding, Tim Henson really did honor the car’s uniqueness. “My plan was always to try and build the car as it would have been done in the late ’50s or early ’60s, keeping as much originality in it as possible,” he says. “I believe we’ve done that.”
We do too; there’s certainly no mistaking it for its younger brother. At the very least you wouldn’t want to mix up the two within earshot of Tim Henson. It might just set off a little bit of a rift, you know.