For me, as a kid in the 50s, South St. Paul was always known for the stockyards. The aroma briefly filled the air going through town. I would plug my nose and point at my sister in the back seat, and a fight usually broke out. South St. Paul also had its share of car clubs in the 50s, including the Medallions, in which Kirby Lawrence was an original member. There was nothing stock about the cars in the yards of these members who at the time were typically considered youth on the loose.
In 1956, Kirby was one of the lucky ones who were able to scrape up enough money for a brand-new car. He purchased a 56 Chevy hardtop, and, within 2 years, the car received a mild custom treatment. Years after that car disappeared, Kirby purchased another 56 and recreated his first new car with this particular ride reaching the pages of R&C in February 1991. Its quite a feat for a rod and custom guy to recreate one of his early customs and realize what he did is timeless enough to make the grade more than 30 years later. So when Kirby purchased this 40 Ford coupe, he wanted to make sure the look would also be timeless.
In 1991, Kirby purchased the 40 Ford that was, in his words, decent body, mechanically shot! He performed a rebuild on all the important functional mechanisms and felt the car made a nice driver. Kirby updated the chassis with a Mustang II IFS by Twin City Rod & Custom, while a parallel leaf setup from Chassis Engineering was added to the rear. A disc/drum brake system was also added. A tried and true Chevy 327 built by Mike McVeigh was mounted to a Turbo 350 built by Metro Transmission and placed between the framerails with a Gennie Shifter. Soon a trip to Johns Auto Trim put John Zechbauer to work stitching a tan tweed interior for a clean look to match the look of the VDO dash, which was now sans knobs. After adding a Sony stereo for cruisin proficiency, Kirby felt he was ready to hit the road.
Unfortunately, just before the 1992 Back to the 50s in St. Paul, Kirby and the car were involved in an accident, and he soon found himself upside down. Kirby was not sure what happened, but witnesses immediately explained what happened. Roll over! they told him. The throttle stuck and after hitting the curb putting him sideways, he soon found himself rolling over. The strength of the car left him with only minor injuries, though the car was in critical but stable condition.
The 40 coupe now had several kinks in its armor, in fact, enough to require a new body and doors. A match was found and the donor summoned to Kirbys garage. The new body was prepped and sprayed by Mike Nesler and Tim Rand with a special mix of basecoat/clearcoat in PPG Ditzler medium blue enamel. After dismantling the wreck, Kirby found his newly restored mechanicals still in perfect condition. Now it was simply a case of swapping the bodies and getting back on the road.
Kirby credits the strength of his 40 Ford for keeping him in one piece. His wife, Pat, also has a warm spot in her heart for the car, because she also has a warm spot in her heart for Kirby. The result is a happy couple and an awesome coupe. So Kirby, next time you hear Chuck Berry twangin those famous sounds on his guitar, sing it like this:
Gonna ride in one thats better
than the cheap little cars of today.
Its a rockin little 40
That he drives on the weekends and plays.
Roll over, they told him
But it looks much better today.