Time Traveler

So it still doesn't look familiar? It's OK, you can give up now, because your not really going to recognize this one are you? I wouldn't either. For one thing, you would probably need to be one of the original band of gearheads that made up the Memphis Rodders in the 1950's to recall this hot rod, and you would have to be plenty observant at that.

So let's back track and identify this chopped and channeled 32 Ford...

A bit over a year ago, I was admiring the Photoshop artistry of Rik Hoving as applied to nostalgic hot rod & custom car photographs of the 1950's. Rik's work was being featured in The Rodder's Journal in two different installments, and while he usually focusses on Custom Cars for his artistic endeavors, he has also applied his talents to select hot rod images. Rik has a large collection of vintage custom car photos, but most of the hot rod images were supplied by Greg Sharp, a long-time automotive journalist, and the curator of the NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona California. Greg Sharp is one of hot rodding's most esteemed historians, and Rik Hoving is a freelance graphic artist who is a resident of the Netherlands with a passion for American hot rods & customs.

So anyway, I'm reading the Rodder's Journal (#35) one afternoon... enjoying the colorized images of Dean Moon's 27 Ford that he built as a teenager, and Tony Nancy's 27 Ford, and John Athen's "Elvis" roadster among others... and it's all real neat and nifty, but no direct connection to the Memphis Rodders per se. So imagine my surprise when I turn the pages of the magazine to reveal a chopped and channeled red hot rod parked at Chelsea Auto Parts in Memphis TN.

It seems that Greg Sharp has a pretty good stash of original, early Rod & Custom magazine photos from the days when R&C was one of the digest magazines that high school kids could read while the "little page" were stuffed inside their textbooks. It also seems that the July 54 issue of Rod & Custom featured a couple of Memphis hot rods, one of which was the red coupe in question. (i.e. I'm still working on the roadster's info...)

This was the late Jack Friend's personal hot rod, and it was photographed by Spence Murray at Chelsea Auto Parts because that's where Jack worked at the time. Jack was an early member of the Memphis Rodders, and had given the car the full treatment. A three inch chopped and filled top, channeled seven inches, a dropped axle, and full tilt flathead gave the coupe a competition purpose. Jack spent a lot of time racing this coupe at Halls, and Lakeland. From all accounts, he was the real deal... an authentic hot rodder.

All in all, a very neat coincidence that has left me wanting for an excuse to make mention of it on this blog since first seeing the colorized image. Well... related coincidence number two arrived last week in my inbox via an e-mail sent through the contact page of this website.

It seems that local resident Jeff Lucas noticed the coupe in the 1960 Rodders group photo (above) that is posted on the photo archive page. That's the coupe in the middle of the front row of cars. Jeff also reported that he has been in possession of this time honored hot rod for the last 30 years.

So, I'm astonished. A car that caught me off guard in the first place, shows up in our own backyard with a local owner as if it were waving to us, and begging to tell us stories of hot rodding's past.

Jeff looked up Jack Friend and showed the car to him some years after he acquired it. Apparently seeing the coupe in an unassembled state, and getting a re-do, brought back a lot of memories for Jack. He gave Jeff some detailed information about the car, and handed down some early photos of the car along with the war stories that only an old soldier like this coupe can tell.

Maybe it would best to let Jeff's own words point out how he came to be the caretaker of this piece of local hot rod history...

"I first saw the car beside a house in the Raleigh area back in the 60s. I was too young at that time to know what it was, other than an old junk car.
It was on the way to the house of friends of our family. Years go by and I hadn't been to see these friends in some time. I had gotten interested in cars by then and had a 55 Chevy that I had built up, and painted in HS body shop class.

The friend (a contractor by trade) had let me work for him during the summer before I was due to start machinist school at Wm. R. Moore in Memphis. On my way to his house one morning, I saw the car again and immediately knew what it was! I asked him about the car and he told me someone from down the street had been trying to buy that car for years and he won't sell. Rats!

OK, a few more years go by. I'm now through with school and working at
TCI, when they were still located in Memphis. There was always an Auto Trader on the break table and I was thumbing through it one day and saw the car advertised for sale and recognized it at once. I called the number and told him I'd be out that afternoon... and I bought it on the spot.

The car had a stock 48 flathead engine in it at that time. Now, more time goes by. The car gets disassembled and ends up in my Dad's barn. A friend wanted the frame and front axle so I sold them to him (hind sight is a you know what). At that time, Lil' John Buttera's pinched frame, billet-filled 3 window was the rage, and I had planned similar modifications for this car. Alas, funds and a good place to work put all that on hold. Then I started seeing billet-filled coupes all over the shows and magazines. I wanted to be different, so I thought I'd put it back as it was in the 50s.Yeah, no one's doing that! Well, a little while later... Maybe, I'll just slap it together, unfinished and with whatever I can find, now that will be something different! HA! Some call them rat rods now.

I made a new frame out of 2 X 4 tubing (not pinched) and bought a new Super Bell axle and installed homemade disc brake mounts to the '40-47 (?) spindles. A homemade 4 link with watts linkage, coil overs, and Mustang 9 inch differential are used in the rear. I took the body to Jackson, MS and had it dipped at Ready-Strip. I replaced the rusted out rear panel and lower front quarters. I remade the headlight mounts to be a little lower and closer to the grille. I also bought a full size, filled grille shell and grille and lowered it over the front of the frame. The shell that was on the car was sectioned and it just looked wrong to me... I also made a new firewall.

Jack had told me the car was featured in Rod and Custom back in the mid 50s and he had a Xerox copy of part of the article as well as some
old photos he had from those days. I found a complete copy of the magazine at the Street Rod Nationals some time later.

The car is channeled and the body is clamped onto the frame with big C clamps at this time so it can be rolled around. I don't have the flathead anymore, but since it wasn't the "race motor" that Jack had in it, I wasn't too concerned about letting it go. I still have the tranny it came with, although I'm not sure if it's the original Zephyr-geared trans or not.

Money has always been an object in getting this car back together, coupled with some health issues and lack of workspace. However, I now have my own home and shop and have settled the health issues, so I have done more work to the car, but it's still a ways off. A Pontiac 400/Muncie 4-speed is sitting in the engine bay at this point (another "I gotta be me" thing) but I have a 351 Cleveland 4V motor on the floor waiting to go in (Ford in a Ford, don't cha know)."

My own take on the car is that it is in good hands. After owning the car for 30 years (this month) Jeff is not apt to change his mind and sell it unexpectedly. Jeff was kind enough to allow me to roam around his spread and photograph the car as it exists today. He is a talented metal-smith, and I noticed considerable repair to some rather crude construction methods that were fairly commonplace almost 60 years ago. The body is in decent shape after having received appropriate rust repair, and Jeff is now giving attention to some of the iffy welds that were made during the earliest days of this hot rod, when purpose was more important than presentation. Jeff has the originally used guide headlights on the car, and a fresh pair of vintage Pontiac tail lights are waiting. Some of the modifications made to the car were done out of necessity, while others were more calculated choices. Shortening the the headlight mounts was an easy decision, since the widespread and tall position that was originally used created interference with the turning radius, and the front tires were prone to rubbing against the headlights while turning. I'll miss the Offenhauser equipped flathead a little bit, but if you've ever looked into building such a motor in these modern times, you'll understand why someone might go with an OHV V8 instead. You can just about build two OHV motors for the price of one flathead... so the decision is almost made for you if the budget matters.

We'll keep tabs on this one for a future look, but for now, be glad that it made it through the under appreciated years mostly intact and found itself in the hands of a proper caretaker. There is no mistaking that this is an authentic hot rod with a pedigree, and when Jeff sees fit to call it finished, I suspect we'll all recognize it as a survivor.

So Jack Friend's old hot rod will see the highway again, likely in the best shape it's ever been in. Somehow, I suspect that would please him to no end. I know it gives me smile.