Rod & Custom Feature Car
Post Falls, Idaho
1930 Model A Coupe
Imagine getting paid to do the thing you love. It's real for some. Every year countless enthusiasts follow the siren's song and hang a sign on their garages.
"Ever since I was a kid I loved anything mechanical," recalls Darrel Peterson, co-owner of River City Speed & Custom in Post Falls, Idaho. "It doesn't even need to be cars either; I love the idea that I can create things with my hands and there isn't anybody who says I can't.
"I opened my shop in 2000," he continues, explaining his almost accidental journey to proprietorship. "Until then I was working in Seattle doing subcontract work for Boeing and then building food distribution machines. When I came back [to Post Falls] I started by doing things out of the garage. Then I got married and I rented a shop. The next thing I knew I had more work to do in my own shop. I mean I was losing money working for someone else.
"I told my wife—my girlfriend at the time—what I wanted to do," he says. Sarah's response: "She thought I was nuts. Her parents thought I was nuts. My parents thought I was nuts. But I just kept working toward it." Eventually he quit a perfectly good job to follow his siren's call. "Once the ball got rolling Sarah totally backed me up," he admits.
The business grew. "Then I started hiring people," he says. "At one point in 2005 I had seven guys and we had 20 cars going on." Then followed the trappings of success: The couple turned into a family; the family bought a house. Everything was great except for one thing: "I never had a car of my own," he laments. "I was always too busy building cars for other people." In other words, the cobbler goes barefoot.
Relief came in an unexpected way. "I ran into some health issues," he says. "The doctor told me I had to change my lifestyle so I kept one guy and told everyone else to get a job." Slowing down did another thing: It made him think. "I really wanted a car," he says. "Not a show car or anything, just something I can drive to work and bomb around in." He mulled it over with his good pal and business partner Russ Freund (drag out your June 2011 issue to see his AMBR-contending purple T-bucket, the "Takeout T").
"I told Russ, 'Man, I gotta have a car; this is ridiculous,'" he says. "For the first time I felt like I was in a place where I could do it. Before that it just didn't seem feasible to spend that much money to build a car when my kids needed clothes or my wife needed support for school."
His objective: a late Model A coupe body on Deuce 'rails. As luck would have it, Freund had a pristine candidate body. Darrel pestered him. He folded. "I figured I'd just do a marathon build and crank this thing out."
He built a chassis from a flattened Model A front crossmember, a stock Model A rear crossmember, and a tubular center crossmember of his own design. A split 1935-36 wishbone mounts a Super Bell axle and a reversed-eye spring. Darrel made the stainless ladder bars that locate the 3.50:1-geared Ford 9-inch. Rob Kisler made the full-length, un-baffled 2 1/2-inch exhaust system.
Darrel had his longtime engine builder Ed Nereaux craft a hot-cammed 10:1 350 Chevrolet. It wears three Stromberg 97s on an Offenhauser manifold. Ralph Holcomb assembled a TH350 transmission with a 2,500-stall converter and a shift kit. Kisler made the driveshaft. He also made the shifter from scratch. Well, scratch and a '36 shift stalk anyway.
"Russ guided me through some of the bodywork," Darrel said, explaining how until he partnered with Russ—a painter by trade—he farmed out all finish-related work. Russ also sprayed the blended Martin Senour urethane. "But the most important thing Russ did for me was keep the ball rolling at the shop while I was working on that thing," Darrel explains. "He covered my ass."
Jeremiah Fanning at Resurrection Upholstery in Post Falls covered the plywood seat, side-panel cards, and headliner in black-and-white vinyl. The glass-faced 1929 Chrysler dash insert he found lacked working gauges, something he fixed by mounting Auto Meter gauges behind the narrow openings. "I ran out of time before I could take the bezels off and refinish the faces..." he admits, "...but when it's done you won't be able to tell that's not the way that panel came."
Darrel crowned his jewel with Wheel Vintiques' chrome 16x4 and 16x6 Gennies and 5.00/5.25- and 7.50-16 Firestone Deluxe Champions. The Deuce headlights are self-explanatory but the taillights leave most wondering (they're 1955 Chevy pickup, if you're one of them). And once the plating returned from Spokane Metal Finishing Darrel's long-delayed pet project took a life of its own.
As for the marathon build, consider this: "I finished exactly four days after the five-month mark," he brags, adding (albeit lightheartedly), "...it would've been four months but it got stuck in upholstery for three weeks." Regardless, that's indeed a record-setting pace to build a car from scratch, and Darrel knows it. "Everybody says they built their car themselves but nobody does it entirely alone," he admits. "I really wouldn't have been able to do it without Russ, Rob, and Dusty [Smith]. Dusty didn't work on the car per se but he took care of my obligations on other cars so I had the freedom to work on my own. And Rob Kisler, he's been with me for 11 years—he's the one I kept through all that stuff." And for good reason, too: "Whenever I was running out of time I'd tell him, 'just do this for me'. Like that shifter he made. It looks like something you'd buy but he made it all from scratch."
It may have taken longer than he expected, but Darrel Peterson got well more than he could've dreamt of. The cobbler finally got his own shoes and best of all never let his family go without.