Ron Cherry: A ’39 Ford Restorod with Chevy running gear
December 29, 2017
Since he was 16 years old, Paul Andersen has been into hot rods. His first one was a '35 Ford pickup. He dropped a small-block Chevy engine into it with a 4-speed trans.
Over the years, he's built so many hot rods that he has trouble remembering them all. But they have one common thread. They've all been Fords from the 1930s with Chevy engines.
A Chevy in a Ford is such a popular option that when one owner of a '32 Ford was asked what engine it had, he said, "The stock one." Oh, a flathead V-8 Ford? "No," he said. "A Chevy 350."
When Paul found a '39 Ford sedan convertible online about 12 years ago, it was more than a project.
"It was originally a California car," he said. "But then it went to Illinois before being bought by a guy in Rochester, New York. He bought it on spec, to sell pieces. I bought it from him and had it shipped out in an enclosed trailer."
A complete rebuild
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What he bought was a major project.
"It was a basket case," he said. "The car was full of parts in boxes and the front group was held on with a bungee cord. The whole thing was covered with a tarp and the only thing sticking up was the windshield."
Out of everything, the main parts Paul considered usable were the frame, the body shell and the convertible bows. Although the front group was serviceable, it was rough. So he did some "hunting and searching," finding a front group in good condition in Yuba City and bought it.
"When I build a car, I use parts good enough to turn out right," he said. "When you use quality parts, it turns out better."
He also found four NOS fenders to replace the ones on the Ford.
"Hunting and searching takes time," he said. "It's pretty interesting, but it takes a lot of patience."
Paul had Bill Fitting redo the frame, adding center cross members to strengthen it and box it in. To lower the car, Paul opted to have Bill move the Heidts front cross member higher up in the chassis than stock when he installed it.
"I'm not a fan of dropped spindles for lowering the front," he said. "So that did the trick."
After he got the Ford back in his shop, Paul did all the work to put in a Chevy ZZ4 350 cubic inch high-performance crate engine with a 700R auto trans with overdrive and a Ford 9 inch rear end with leaf springs. In front, he used a Mustang II- type front end with oversize 11 inch front disc brakes.
Although he did go for power steering, he left the brakes non-power. For wheels, he bought a set of 15 inch Vintique artillery-style ones, with 5 inch width in the front and 8 inches in the back.
Fitting the body on the chassis proved quite a challenge.
"Old cars weren't meant to fit like new cars," said Paul. "It took 90 hours just to fit the doors."
The design of the car had too much flexing in the chassis so that, even beefed up, the doors kept moving.
"I got one side aligned right, then went to the other one," he said. "I'd tighten a bolt and it'd throw the first side off again. I'd turn a bolt a quarter of a turn and it'd throw the door kitty-cornered."
But getting everything adjusted the first time wasn't the end of the problems.
"I'd drive it a little and have to readjust everything," he said.
Once it was done, Craig Wallace painted it in Cloud Mist Gray, an original Ford color.
More than meets the eye
Inside, Cool Customs in Yuba City used the original seat frames with new padding and tan leather upholstery. Paul had all the gauges refurbished and converted to 12 volt.
For music, he hid an AM/FM/USB Port stereo with surround-sound speakers. But he doesn't consider it that important.
"With a convertible, you can't hear that much anyway," he said.
After eight years, the car was almost finished and Paul pushed to get it done. His daughter was getting married and wanted to ride in it to the reception.
"I didn't have the soft top on it yet, so we used some extra leather from the interior to make a sort of tonneau cover where the top went when it was down," he said. "It was a beautiful summer day."
Not long after the wedding, he had the top installed and the car was finished.
While Paul's '39 Ford convertible may look stock to the casual observer, its modern running gear is far more dependable. That's what a restorod is: a classic car with modern mechanics that looks almost stock.
Since completing his restorod, he has driven it each year to the Western Street Rod Nationals in Bakersfield, a trip he has taken with other rods and the same 14 friends for about 20 years.
"Cars are meant to be driven," he said.
He also often drives it or his '30 Model A Ford Tudor sedan (with a Chevy engine, of course) to Cars and Coffee, which happens every Saturday from 8 to 10 a.m. at the K-mart parking lot off McKnight. So if you stop by, you just might see one beautiful '39 Ford convertible sedan restorod with Chevy running gear along with a lot of other cool cars.
Ron Cherry's books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His new book, "The St. Nicholas Murders," is a Christmas mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City and is now out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.