LA Mesa, California
1938 Ford Coupe
This column is really turning up some cool cars, and this month's is a real treat! Photographed at Presidio Park in San Diego, California, in 1955, Warren Osborn's '38 coupe actually started life as a two-door sedan when his father bought it new. It was passed to Warren in 1951, who proceeded to remove the body, paint the frame, swap the mechanical brakes for '46 juice brakes and pedal assembly, then tow the chassis to El Cajon, California, where he installed the coupe body bought from a junkyard.
Reassembled with stock running gear, the coupe was used for high school transportation until a job after graduation meant Warren could afford to start improving the engine. At Paradise Mesa dragstrip he met Ed Stewart, of Stewart's Speed Automotive (and creator of the famed "Dago'd" dropped axles) and became interested in high-performance engines, Stewart's shop rebuilding the Flathead with a Winfield full race cam, polished aluminum heads, and an Edelbrock intake with triple Stromberg 97s. "I installed headers with racing corks sticking out from under the new running boards, and a 3-inch dropped axle from Ed Stewart," Warren says. The front tires were 640x15 with 850x15 Cadillac rubber on the rear.
With the coupe in good running condition, Warren and his sister set out for Nebraska on vacation, the car causing quite a stir in the Midwest. "On our way back to California we went out across the Bonneville Salt Flats in the middle of the night. Since I had the headers open I decided to see how fast it'd go. I don't know exactly because I twisted off the 140-mph Stewart Warner speedometer! Using the Sun tachometer, I calculated the approximate speed using the gear ratio and tire diameter, and allowing 10 mph for tire slippage, I estimated 130 mph. It was fun!"
In 1954, the coupe went into the body shop in the backyard of Stewart Speed Automotive. At the same time the engine was rebuilt with an 1/8-inch stroked crank, racing pistons, and a 3/4 race Harmon & Collins cam to calm the engine down so it wouldn't destroy the bodywork. The intake was swapped to dual Strombergs while dual coils fed sparks to a dual-point distributor. That neat grille was formed from '34 Ford brake rods and strap iron, then chromed. The hood was operated with a cable release inside the car and the headlights were adapted to sealed beams accessible from inside the fender, allowing the fenders and grille to be seamless. Steel tubing and more strap iron formed the fenders and taillights with '53 Chevy stop light lenses. An electric solenoid opened the trunk. One-and-a-half gallons of black lacquer were sprayed progressively thinner, with the final coat being almost straight solvent, creating a mirror-like finish. Warren says, "Marty Moore, who did the body and paint, told me that I had to wax it in one direction, from front bumper to back bumper-no circles-or he'd break my neck!" An upholstery shop on Market Street in San Diego stitched the interior in pleated red and white Naugahyde; the steering column was chrome plated, and a new '54 Ford radio was mounted vertically in the package tray behind the seat. Quite a car for 1954 you'll agree. But where is it now?
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