Yesterday's Young Guns
As much as my whole life pretty much revolves around hot rodding, I can't help but feel a little jealous of those who were teenagers in the hobby's "golden age". Ralph Turnberg was 16 years old in 1952, which is when he modified the 1939 Ford convertible you see here. I'll let Ralph tell the story in his own words:
"I bought the '39 for the grand sum of $185. That's me on the right and Jack Marden on the left. The photo was taken at my folks' house in Quincy, Massachusetts. Using basic tools, we channeled the car the width of the frame and Z'd it in the rear. The front fenders were raised considerably. I later chopped the windshield 3 inches but that hadn't been done at the time the photo was taken.
"My father and I rebuilt the '37 Flathead, which came with the car. We added a used Isky full-race cam, Johnson adjustable tappets, Lincoln Zephyr valvesprings, an aluminum flywheel, and an Almquist two-carb intake, purchased new at their store in Milford, Pennsylvania. We had the cylinder heads milled 0.050 inch. The engine retained its stock displacement of 221 ci. The exhaust was handled by Smitty mufflers and 3-inch echo cans, which protruded through the rear panel below the decklid. The car had a magnificent exhaust note, seldom heard today. The car never had a hood, mainly because when you take 6 inches out of a '39 DeLuxe hood, there isn't much left! Basic tools remember.
"The first time I had the car out to the local hangout, I was challenged to a drag race, as was the normal routine in those days. What I hadn't realized was that my friend [Marden], who had accompanied me that night, had asked the group not to be too harsh on me when I lost the race, since I had put so much work into the car.
"We lined up on the deserted three-lane highway, a hot '50 Olds Rocket on my left and a brand-new '54 Mercury OHV 'vert on my right. When the flag dropped I floored the '39, but the clutch slipped. Maybe it couldn't handle all that horsepower! The other cars took off, leaving me behind. Then suddenly the clutch caught, and off we went. When I hit Second gear, I passed them both and left them in the dust. Needless to say, things were pretty quiet when we got back to the hangout."
Ralph is still building rods today, at 73. In fact we featured his chopped and channeled '40 Ford coupe in our Aug. '09 issue. Having chopped and channeled a Ford in the past, he figured it would be fun to try it again, over 50 years later! He's currently working on a '39 Standard Tudor with a crate 350 and 700-R4. "I'll be in trouble when I quit building rods," Ralph says.
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