Posts Tagged ‘Custom Cars’

Booty call.

Booty call.


I can’t spoil Ron’s reveal for the car in a couple weeks, but the Edsel wagon, while not completely finished, is now ready for it’s inaugural show.  He’s towing his ’59 Easy Traveller trailer to the Tin Can Tourists spring gathering in Milford Mi, May 17-20,  and I don’t want to give too much away.  It looks great, but still needs some attention on the doors and left rear quarter that I didn’t have time to get to.  So, it’s coming back later on for some additional work, but for now, here’s a little bit of the “after”.


No more holes!

No more holes!


Next time you see it, it'll be towing a trailer.

Next time you see it, it’ll be towing a trailer.

It doesn't LOOK very rusty...

It doesn’t LOOK very rusty…


My friend Ron recently bought a ’59 Edsel station wagon, which looked as if it needed a little body work from the pictures he sent me.  (Fully admitting responsibility, I urged him to buy it based on the photos and his description).  For reasons which are not clear to me right now, I broke my rule about working on other people’s cars, raised my hand and offered to do some quickie straightening,  paint the mis-matched tailgate and lift gate and take care of some little blisters here and there.

What was I thinking?

The extent of the problem was apparent when I raised the lift gate, and the entire back of the roof skin flexed.  A little further investigation revealed the drip rails didn’t seem to be actually attached to the roof for most of their length, and there was something funny about how the rear window stainless trim seemed to have what looked like window caulk oozing out around the edges.  That, and the front of the roof at the corner of the drip rail and windshield also had window caulk smeared on it.

I shoulda known…

Turns out the roof skin was rusted through all along the edge above the drip rail, the rear of the roof skin was completed loose from the drip rail under the lift-gate, and when I pulled the side windows and removed the stainless trim, there was NOTHING there.  The top of the body and window frame was completely rusted away, hence the globs of caulk smeared on by the PO to try to stop the leaks.

Of course, I could have bailed right then, but, since I’d encouraged him to buy it, and had offered to fix it, I dove in, with a two week deadline to get as much done as I could and at least in primer.

It’s going pretty well, thanks to the recommendation of another builder friend of mine to use 3M “Panel-Bond” adhesive instead of trying to weld patches in.  On a roof, welding anywhere usually causes huge warpage problems, that I didn’t want to tackle.  New cars have their fenders, door skins, roof skins etc. mounted with the stuff, so it works.

Turns out, the stuff is just the ticket for repairs like this.  I’d like to be a little further along, but I should still be able to get primer on everything, even if the tailgate only gets dusted with it to rather than color.   Because I didn’t think I had enough to do, I also replaced both rocker panels and did a quickie, temporary fix on the rusty right rear quarter panel until Ron gets some patch panels for the rear fenders.

It’s been a challenge, and I feel like I’m in one of those stupid “reality” TV shows, with ridiculous deadlines, unexpected problems, set-backs, budget constraints and delays.  If I had some contrived drama, I think I”d be ready for my own show.

Here’s what’s happened this week on “Cool McCool’s Garage”


There is supposed to be metal there.

There is supposed to be metal there.


Look! this is better!  Hammered over the edge of the wood stove in the shop.

Look! this is better! Hammered over the edge of the wood stove in the shop.


Window frame profile.  Both sides had to be replaced.

Window frame profile. Both sides had to be replaced.


"Uh Ron, we have a problem..."

“Uh Ron, we have a problem…”





Even better...

Even better…


Roof edge and lift gate drip rail repaired.

Roof edge and lift gate drip rail in progress.


And done.

And done.


Body work almost completed on the roof and drip rails.

Body work almost completed on the roof and drip rails.


Temporary "fix" of the right rear quarter.  Needs patch panels, but we'll do that later.

Temporary “fix” of the right rear quarter. Needs patch panels, but we’ll do that later.




When I was a kid in high school, I devoured car magazines.  My favorite (then and now) was “Rod & Custom”.  Close second was “HOT ROD”, and then “Street Rodder”.  I bought them at the grocery store, and poured over the pages, dreaming of the day when I’d be the owner of a smooth, low custom car with a chopped top, or a stripped down Ford roadster with a big engine, a 4 speed with chrome headers leading in to big chrome pipes that dumped out just ahead of the fat rear tires.  Someday, I’d have a car featured in one of my favorite magazines, and life would be perfect.

Pretty much the opposite (in both dream scenarios) of my high school ride, a dumpy ’41 Chrysler Windsor sedan.  But I digress…

I’ve been fortunate enough to have realized the dream of having had a couple of smooth, low customs, a low, loud, stripped down Ford roadster with a huge engine (although it lacked the chrome headers, big pipes and 4 speed trans), and have been lucky and honored to have had a couple of my cars featured in those childhood favorite magazines I read at the magazine rack in the grocery store.  I freely admit I’ve ruined a few cars along the way, the learning curve has it’s casualties, but the survivors of my (sometimes mis-guided efforts) have been pretty well received.

Life IS good.  But…

All these years though, one car was burned into my psyche.  A little yellow ’23 roadster I’d seen in “Rod & Custom” during those formative years, back in ’68.  It was far different from the other “Fad T’s” in the magazines of the time, spindly things with their glass bodies perched on rectangular tube frames, tall T windshields, motor cycle wheels up front and huge rubber out back.  Goofy looking, to my young eye, unbalanced and out of proportion.

This one had the glass body slung low, literally wrapped around the round tube “bird-cage” style frame, Indy rubber at all four corners, shorty windshield, with the valve covers of the Ardun Ford flat-motor ABOVE the cowl.   The seats were lawn chair pads, the body was trimmed with outdoor carpet, and the floor, about 3″ off the pavement, was the frame.   Nothing but the bare necessities, no frills, no fuss, nothing on the car but what made it a CAR.

I never built one, and my own ’36 roadster was a far cry from that one, but Cotton’s T was always there, in the back of my mind, and while I didn’t copy it, the essence of it, the DIFFERENCE, I like to think, was there.

Fast forward to last summer, when we visited the Gilmore Car Museum,  just around the corner from us, and what did I see?

Cotton Werksmans ’23 T.

Low down, stripped down, glass body wrapped around  the tubing frame (gas welded by the way) so tightly it had to be cut in half to go around it and reassembled, Ardun Ford V8 slung down between the sprint car style front axle and quick-change rear end.  My childhood vision in jet black with a red engine block and polished aluminum,  positioned no less next three Barris smooth, sleek customs.

My good friend Dennis Lesky, who put the Legends display together for the Gilmore, and managed to wrest these cars from their owners for two years was there and gave me a little back story on the car.

This one is not the car featured 40 years ago in “Rod & Custom”, but one of three cars he built along the same plan.  Originally powered by a flathead, now sporting one of his (Cotton is regarded as THE Ardun guy to this day) Ardun equipped engines, 4 speed and quickie rear, this one is black with bright flames.  It, and the entire story of the original, and Cotton’s influence in the hot rod world, are featured in the last “Rodders Journal”,  and done much better than I possibly could, so I won’t repeat all that.


Suffice it to say that the flame has been re-kindled, and as soon as the current, low, smooth custom in my garage, the ’59 T’Bird is done, something will be leaving Cool McCool’s Garage to finance my version of that low slung, bare-bones,  roadster.

Enjoy, and dream along.















I’d bought a cheap-o Sun tach, 3 1/2″ diameter, to put in the T’bird dash where the original clock was.  Good idea, the face was white, like the originals, but it was BRIGHT white,  the originals have a yellow patina, the letters are bronze, where the tach numerals are black, and a different font.

With both gauges out on the bench, it was apparent that the dials were exactly the same diameter, and the sweep, or distance between the numerals, is VERY close to the same.  Why not use the new tach works behind the original clock face?

Hmmm, this gives me an idea...

Hmmm, this gives me an idea…

So, after an hour, I had a new tach, with the clock face, mounted in the dash.  Kim immediately noted that the way I’d oriented the gauge,with the pointer where it was in the original tach position, put the rest of the dial “upside down”.  So, I took it back apart, and also pulled the pointer and moved it so as to have it rest at 12 o’clock, the new “0”.

What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?





There, that's better.

There, that’s better.

Yup, that's it.

Yup, that’s it.

Now, I’ll take the rest of the gauges apart, clean the cobwebs and dirt from the dials, and paint the pointers red to match the new tach, and it’ll be done.


Well, this is better.

Well, this is better.


Today I made an executive decision.  The engine turned gauge panel and glove box door went “Buh-bye”, and the originals took their place.  With the help of an instrument panel schematic, pin-out diagram for the gauge plugs, and a little time, the original gauge panel is going back in.


The steering column install was, incredibly, a direct bolt in.  I measured correctly, it seems,  a 2″ muffler clamp fit the column, and existing holes in the brake/column mount bracket perfectly.  The dirt, bond-o dust and paint dust on the wiring makes it look worse of a mess than it is.  I do need to do a little research for the wiring in the GM style column, in order to connect it to the Ford harness for the turn signals and flashers.


It's not as bad as it looks.

It’s not as bad as it looks.


The wiring is all hidden by the gauge panel.

The wiring is all hidden by the gauge panel.


A trip to Auto-Zone netted a new Auto-Meter 3″ tach, and a gauge trio of voltmeter, water temperature, and oil pressure gauges, all white faced like the originals.  The tach will go in the gauge cluster where the clock is, with a little adapting.  The three little gauges I’m not sure, but they may end up in the console.  The original gas gauge should work with the newer Ford sending unit, and the speedo is mechanical, so that’ll just plug in and be fine.  I also picked up the needed new ignition switch, and floor mount dimmer, since the Mustang column had all the switch gear.    I’ve got the wiring all sorted out, and fired the car up just to make sure all was well.  Happily, it runs perfectly.


It’s exciting to see the original gauges in the dash, I thought I liked the more modern gauges until today.    Stay tuned for the next update, it’s gonna be GREAT!


The tach will get some of the face of the old clock, and little "patina" on the face so as to match the original gauges.

The tach will get some of the face of the old clock, and little “patina” on the face so as to match the original gauges.

No point in swimming against the tide.  I’ve decided, after some research on the Mustang harness, looking at wiring diagrams and pin-out diagrams until my vision blurred and brain hurt, to go with a new column.  They’re cheap, they’ll look MUCH better, and I can get one in  brushed stainless to match the wheel spokes.  Wiring in a new ignition switch should be easy, and I could add a neat-o (but maybe too trendy) push button for the starter.

Here’s the style column I liked.  $170 to $200, depending on paintable vs. stainless.  No switch, no shifter, no problem.

This column.

This column.





Ugly steering wheel.

Ugly steering wheel.

Yesterday I spent all afternoon working on the dash of the T’bird.  When the w/s was sunken into the cowl, the dash mounts went with it, and of course, nothing fit right.  The dash pod and glove box pod got moved up and forward, the steering wheel mount had to be modified, the gauge panel and glove box door then got moved back into their original location, tunneled deep into the pods.

The problem is, the big, ugly, mid-80’s Mustang steering wheel and thick steering column jacket.  In the early 90’s, when I originally built the car, that stuff looked modern, but now it’s dated, worn looking, and doesn’t fit the style of the car.  Now that the car will have some style…

So, I’m trying to figure out how best to “fix” this.  I could just toss the wheel, losing cruise control, which we never used anyway.  I’d like a flat, four spoke Sprint car style wheel, which would work with the column, although it’d still have to have the awkward, bulky jacket to hide the wiring, switch gear and tilt wheel works.

Option two is to swap out the column and wheel altogether, and use a slim, original style column, again using a flat spoke Sprint car style wheel.  I’d keep the engine-turned dash panel and glove box door, but have to add an ignition switch in the dash, and rewire the blinkers.

Option three is the most work, which would be the above column and wheel, and use the T’bird’s original dash and gauges, add a tach in place of the clock, and glove box door.  This would be fine, but then the rest of the interiors machine finish panels won’t match the dash, and I’d have to come up with something different for them.  Maybe matching, machined aluminum panels?  I have friends with Bridgeport mills who’d probably teach me enough to let me do that on my own.

So, the project just keeps getting bigger and bigger…

Machine finished trim panels that match the dash.

Machine finished trim panels that match the dash.

I can't stand this wheel.

I can’t stand this wheel.

Original dash cluster and glove box door.

Original dash cluster and glove box door.


Addendum:  Steering wheel choice made.  Leaning towards avoiding re-wiring the whole car, and making a suitably good looking jacket for the steering column.  I can do it.





This CAN'T be good.

This CAN’T be good.

Regular readers will remember that two weeks ago the roof collapsed under the snow load at the shop at my Dad’s.  Under that part of the building were my brother Barry’s beautiful ’67 Caddy convertible, and a brass era Speedster replica he build while in college.  The other side of the building, with a different style roof truss wasn’t damaged, and that is where our enclosed trailer with the ’68 Mustang GT convert inside and the Del-Ray truck camper were parked.

As the above picture shows, the Caddy appeared to be holding up the majority of the roof and tons of snow.  The car was squatted on the suspension on the right side, and it didn’t look good.  The speedster, parked on front of the Caddy at right angles, was against the back wall, and it too had a huge chunk of the roof and snow resting on the driver’s side.

A crew of local guys hired by my Dad shoveled the snow out the other day, cut up the roof sections and hauled them out piece by piece.  They also moved all the tools out, shoveled out all the snow and cleared the remainder of the buildings roof so as to keep snow melt from just running in the building.

The damage to the cars is staggering.  In that there isn’t really any.  The Caddy suffered a broken power antenna (balky and wouldn’t retract all the way, hence it was halfway up), and a quarter sized chip in the paint on the fender just forward of the antenna.  The Speedster has a scratch across the left rear fender, from a nail plate on a broken truss that dragged across the surface.  That’s it.  No other damage at all.

We have a courtyard.

We have a courtyard.

We may have to total the car, the antenna is broken.

We may have to total the car, the antenna is broken.

Oh.  The horror.

Oh. The horror.

So, the sun rose again, tomorrow is indeed another day, blah, blah, blah and so on.  We’re stunned, surprised and thrilled that there’s no real damage to the cars.  Insurance will take care of the roof and damaged woodworking tools, and the hand tools will appear when the snow melts.  The rest of the stuff is a good excuse to clean house, and get rid of some of the clutter that had accumulated along the walls in 30 years.

It’s also maybe a sign to get these things out, clean ’em up and use them once in a while instead of simply letting them sit around and deteriorate.  After all, they were saved for a reason.

Ready.  Set.  Go.

Ready. Set. Go.


Since November, I’ve been worried about what the weather, and roads, would be March 6th, after I made the decision to show the Diamond T and the Tini-Home at Autorama.  Blizzards, weeks of sub-zero temps, icy roads, high winds, slush, even keeping the driveway plowed so we could get the trailer and get out were challenges that we faced right up until last Thursday.   It was bitterly cold  at 7 degrees when we got the trailer hitched up and pulled out at 10:30 in the morning, but sunny and clear, and the roads were clear and dry.

The trip over was a breeze, with Kim following in her car (so we’d have wheels),  and we rolled up to the basement entrance on the riverfront at around one in the afternoon.  We had to wait only a few minutes on the street until there was room to pull in, and our little parade rolled into the basement of Cobo for set up.

I had no idea where the show officials had placed us, considering our slightly unusual set up, and was a bit concerned about where we’d be, and how we’d be able to stage the rig.  Turned out, we had the back corner to ourselves, right across from Gene Winfield’s display, which, between the two of us, had to be the busiest spot in the show all weekend.   The downside, if there was one, was that it was directly in front of the restrooms, but the upside was that EVERYBODY walked by, even if they hadn’t intended to come by and look at the truck and trailer.

Ready.   Set.  Show.

Ready. Set. Show.


Our rig seemed to be a popular attraction, as we had a line of people at least ten deep all weekend long.  I had to wait in line to get in and get our lunches ready, and Kim kept busy all weekend answering (the same) questions from spectators.  We saw lots of our Tin Can Tourist friends, lots of our hot rod friends, and made lots of new ones.  The trailer is a huge draw, and seems to be an attainable, achievable goal for folks of all walks of life, especially in contrast to the seven-figure show cars upstairs,  the period hot-rods and customs downstairs, and un-driveable art-cars that I tried to ignore.  People are drawn to it, many people related happy childhood memories of family camping in one “…just like this one, except it was a Shasta, and a ’65, and blue…”.

Typical line of people to see in the trailer.

Typical line of people to see in the trailer.


Kim noted that people walked right past the truck to see the trailer, which would have made me feel bad, if they both didn’t belong to us.

There are lots of different things to do at Autorama besides people watch and look at cars.  I took the opportunity to get my hair cut by Jason from “Berkley Chop Shop”, and got my rockabilly on a little.  It was fun, and I thought it turned out good.  I tried to keep it “high and proud” all weekend, and did pretty well, although I’m not dedicated (or vain) enough to spend a lot of time combing a Pompadour.


You got your hair did!

I get nervous with clippers.


You got your hair did!

You got your hair did!


Being right across from Winfield’s boys cutting the lid off a ’61 Ford Starliner was fun, although it meant frequently cleaning the paint dust, grinding wheel dust, metal, and acetylene soot off the truck all weekend.  It was just like being at home, with the smell of burning metal, welding, smoke scorched under coating.  The noise made a little hard to talk on Saturday, but we managed.  Watching the 85 or 86-year-old Winfield bouncing around, directing work, showing the crew what needed to be cut, from where, and how much, reminded me of my own father, who at 89, acts just the same.  It was indeed almost like being at home.

The legendary Gene Winfield, still playing with cars.

The legendary Gene Winfield, still playing with cars.


If you want it done right, do it yourself.

If you want it done right, do it yourself.


To create, first you have to destroy.

To create, first you have to destroy.


After the grinding, cutting, hammering and mayhem across the aisle, answering (over and over and over again) the same questions from people about the truck and trailer, it was fun to get around and do some gawking of my own.  I find that I’m increasingly disinterested in the glamourous, over-wrought Ridler contenders upstairs and drawn to the simple, traditional cars I remember seeing in the magazines of my youth.  I still like to look at a car and think, “I could, and should, build that.”, and came home with lots of ideas for the next build.  Of course, I still have to finish the four projects I have going right now, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

Following are some photos of things that I liked.  See if you can guess what car is brewing in my head now…



Small.  Light.  Simple.

Small. Light. Simple.


A REAL Olds J2 in our friends Chris and Jan's '29 roadster.

A REAL Olds J2 in our friends Chris and Jan’s ’29 roadster.


The quintessential chopped Model A sedan.  Perfect.

The quintessential chopped Model A sedan. Perfect.


Normally, I don't care for cars so low the rear tires are taller than the belt line, but this is an exception.  Ricky Bobby's chopped sedan.

Normally, I don’t care for cars so low the rear tires are taller than the belt line, but this is an exception. Ricky Bobby’s chopped sedan.


Tone on tone paint.  Subtle, classy, and perfect on this '62 Chev.

Tone on tone paint. Subtle, classy, and perfect on this ’62 Chev.


Smooth Chev. Fleetline.  Understated, simple, and clean.

Smooth Chev. Fleetline. Understated, simple, and clean.


My good friend Crafty B putting the wheel spats on his outstanding "Crafty B '32"

My good friend Crafty B putting the wheel spats on his outstanding “Crafty B ’32”





Old trucks.  I like them too...

Old trucks. I like them too…


Old Cadillacs.  Love 'em.

Old Cadillacs. Love ’em.


OK, I'm embarrassed to admit I like this too.

OK, I’m embarrassed to admit I like this too.


Ladies and Gentlemen, your Ridler winner.  And answer to the question, "How do you make a '64 Riviera ugly?"

Ladies and Gentlemen, your Ridler winner. And answer to the question, “How do you make a ’64 Riviera ugly?”


Well, that’s all for this years Autorama for me.  It’s too much at both ends of the automobile spectrum, but it’s fun, and it IS important.  There’s something for everyone, and if I don’t personally care for this years winners, (or ANY of the Great 8 for that matter), lots of people did, and the work is inspiring.  Even if the result doesn’t appeal to me.

I’ve also come to grips with the inclusion of the “art-car” invasion downstairs.  I understand the aesthetic, even if I don’t like it, and while it irritates me that some of the uneducated public think that these things represent hot rodding, I hope enough people look at them, see whats wrong, and then turn and look at REAL car and grasp the difference.  I also understand that both styles draw people to cars in general, keep people interested in car culture, and hopefully will inspire them to build their own car.  It’s all OK.

I’ve already decided that my goal for the ’59 T’bird is to have it done and debut at Cobo next year.   I think I’d like to have it downstairs, and hopefully have it stand out, an example of what someone can do on their own, with the help and inspiration of their friends.


















Bumper bolts, that is.  I decided today that a custom should not have the heads of bumper bolts showing, so I spent most of the afternoon shaving the front bumper.  Straightened out a little tweak in the right side bottom rail, which deformed the grill opening enough to look a little off, and kept the grill form-fitting easily.  A couple of hours with the Port-O-Power got that much closer, and I was so inspired I straightened out a couple of slightly tweaked grill bars.  It looks OK, so I think it’s good to go, albeit with a little more work.

The front bumper looks so good, I’ll have to give the rear a closer shave as well, it’s got WAY too many holes in it.That’s a project for another day.  I thought I’d get some filler on the bumper today, but didn’t get too it.  Lot’s of winter left for fabrication…

Now you see it...

Now you see it…


Now you don't...

Now you don’t…


A little more dental work in order for the grill...

A little more dental work in order for the grill…


Now I have to fill all the holes in this!

Now I have to fill all the holes in this!