Wednesday, March 19, 2008

1936 Ford Coupe - The One

For Some Guys, It Just Takes The Right Car To Bring Out The Inner Hot Rodder

When you see "your" car for the first time, you just know it. There's a moment of connection when you identify with it followed quickly by the annoying feeling that someone else owns it. That inspirational moment is even more significant when you realize you're neither looking for a project nor are you even aware you're a hot rodder.

That's pretty much how it happened to Ray Dunham, as he strolled through the Donut Derelicts car gathering in Huntington Beach, California, early one Saturday morning about three years ago. Ray had a real appreciation for vintage style, particularly '50s-era cruisers, but it had been a while since he'd built anything. Vintage, two-toned VW Beetles had been his thing in high school until he made the pragmatic choice after graduation to fumigate the Bugs and get a reliable and user-friendly late-model daily driver. But Ray was never satisfied without something to tinker on and eventually picked up a '57 Harley-Davidson. The Panhead satisfied his urges for a while until a friend and fellow biker met an untimely end while riding. Ray's girlfriend was understandably shaken and persuaded him to sell the Harley, and he was once again left without a project.

But that Saturday morning, as Ray was walking among some of the sharpest hot rods in the area, his eyes landed on a beater '36 Ford three-window coupe, and he was awestruck. Ray had no background in vintage cars outside of his VW experience and had to ask someone what it was, but he knew he'd found "his" car. It was initially not for sale, but persistence pays, and eventually, a deal was struck and the '36 was his.

As tends to happen when purchases are made with the heart rather than the head, Ray paid too much for a car that needed a lot of work. The slammed '36 had no suspension travel and scraped the running boards on nearly every dip, rise, or turn. And everything rattled. On top of that, the car's driveability was marginal at best. The brakes were scary, and the tired, near-stock flathead could barely reach cruising speed, typically overheating when it did. It quickly became obvious that Ray had bought a project rather than a driver. He began replacing parts a few at a time, making a list of what was needed as he went, but the further he went and the longer the list got, the more he realized he was simply bandaging the problems. So eventually, he resolved to rebuild the car from scratch.

The most interesting part about this resolution was that Ray had no idea how to correctly build a '36 Ford, or any other hot rod, and he had never been involved with the culture; his slate was as blank as his car's. In retrospect, that was probably for the best. Rather than relying solely upon conventionally styled '30s rods to determine the look for his '36, Ray drew upon his VW past to create a retro but classy appearance that simply suited his style and taste.

Of course, what the eye notices most when it sees the car for the first time is the striking satin-black and gloss-red paint combo. Ray may not have been able to identify the car, but the moment he saw it, he knew it would be two-toned. A little time with a friend and a photo-editing program sealed the deal for the red/black theme. Why satin-finish black rather than gloss? Ray just felt it had more visual impact, plus it gave the '36 a little more traditional hot-rod attitude to balance the low and fender-skirted custom stance.

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