Rod & Custom Feature Car
Les Hilgers
Vista, California
1933 Ford Three-Window Coupe

Les Hilgers has been a hot rodder all his life. He's a member of the San Diego Prowlers, a hot rod club that dates back to the 1940s, and prefers finding and restoring/rebuilding old hot rods instead of building new ones. His latest car is one of those cars we'd all love to find–a 1933 Ford three-window coupe that was once a Gasser.

Fourteen years ago Les got wind of a guy in the Los Angeles area who had a 1933 coupe he wanted to trade for a T roadster. Les had a T roadster he was willing to part with so he thought he'd take a look at the coupe. What he found was a former Gasser that hadn't been driven or raced in years. The then-owner only drove it once since he purchased it in 1964–right into a chain link fence, scaring the crap out of him–and never drove it again, but he started the engine on a regular basis. And then there was the damage to the driver-side door and roof from when a truck hit it while parked. The coupe's drag racing pedigree was obvious with the set back Hemi engine, push-button TorqueFlite transmission, rollbar, and 5.12:1 Olds rearend. The car had potential, but the owner wasn't interested in Les' T roadster. Les made him a cash offer, which he accepted. Les brought the 1933 home, knowing it needed work to make it ready for the street.

Les used a local bodyman to replace the firewall and repair the floor. The driver door was too badly damaged to repair so Les began a hunt for a new one and ended up finding a pair. He shipped the car up to Dave Philips, in Oregon, for the bodywork. "I've known Philips for a long time and trusted him to correctly repair the bent roof and install the new door," Les says. The repairs were painted in the same shade of what he calls Competition Orange as the rest of the car. In vintage hot rod fashion, the firewall, underside of the fenders, and much of the suspension is painted white.

The 1957 vintage 354ci Chrysler Hemi engine is just as Les bought it, with the exception of the polished valve covers and intake. "Because it ran so well, I didn't see any need to tear it apart," he says. Bob Butler at Richard's Performance Muffler built the custom headers and exhaust system. A Lokar-shifted 700-R4, by Vista Transmission, replaced the push-button TorqueFlite. Les replaced the Olds rearend with a Currie 9-inch Ford unit with 3:70:1 gears. The chassis was upgraded with a Pete & Jake's frontend with a 3-inch dropped I-beam axle and disc brakes. Adam's Hot Rod Rubber delivered a set of reproduction 8-inch-wide pie-crust slicks mounted on vintage 6.5-inch Americans to set off the rear while 4.5-inch Americans are on the front, also running tires from Adams.

With a little horse trading, Les obtained a 1933 bench seat that Howard McGee upholstered in orange and white vinyl. The original instrument panel is painted white with a set of four Stewart-Warner gauges hung beneath in a vintage panel. The steering column is 1939 Ford and the banjo wheel is from a 1936. Keeping with the 1950s hot rod theme, Les added an old-school 8,000-rpm Sun tach to the column.

The changes Les made to his coupe took this once-damaged drag racer and gave it a new life as a street-driven snapshot of hot rod history. The few dents and scrapes keep it real and the lack of billet anything is, of course, refreshing.