Even for those who have not heard it, the phrase "All I ever wanted was a hot rod" is simple in both its meaning and level of sophistication. It could be explained as: nothing extravagant—just something basic. But for anyone accustomed to not settling for second best, sometimes "basic" won't cover the bill.
A few years back Bob Briggs, a self-made man who in 1981 took a basic idea (custom hollow metal doors for buildings) and built it into a multimillion dollar business based in Fontana, California, looked back across a lifetime to a photograph he had of himself as a teenager posed against his 1936 Ford coupe, elbow on the roof and foot on the running board. What he'd like, Bob thought, is a hot rod: a baby blue 1936 Ford coupe.
Bob Briggs Jr. knew of his father's desire, and decided he'd get his dad the car he wants. So, after going on the hunt, he was able to purchase one. It had already been chopped and, wanting to freshen it up and make it completely driveable, both Bobs took the car to Fred Ingle at Fred's Wiring in Ontario, California.
Now don't let the name fool you. Fred's shop doesn't just do wiring—that's only one facet of the company that can do complete projects, from chassis assembly to turnkeys, with an emphasis on expert body- and paintwork. When they talked with Fred, the idea was to roll a new chassis under the car and give it some paint and new upholstery. So Fred ordered up a complete 1936 frame from Total Cost Involved Engineering (a company Ingle has worked with for more than 28 years) and began tearing down the car so it could go to the strip booth and everyone could see what was under the paint. And that's when things changed.
When they got the car body back, they were shocked and surprised on how much filler had been used in the old car. It was obvious a thin skim coat wouldn't fix these problems, so Fred told the Briggs about Marcel's Custom Metal in Corona, California. Known for their metal fabrication skills (they have built far more America's Most Beautiful Roadster and Don Ridler Memorial Award winners than anyone else in country), Marcel De Ley and his two sons, Luc and Marc, looked the project over (Luc says the "body looked like lace" and Marc understated the previous chop as being "not very good") and the trio told Fred and the Bobs what they've told many of their other customers: it would be easier for them to scratch build a new 1936 three-window coupe from a stack of 4x8 steel sheetmetal than it would be to repair what they had. Junior and Senior talked it over and soon agreed to the plan, but one more ingredient needed to be added.
Though the 82-year-old Marcel has been bending metal for more than 60 years and his two sons grew up in the shop absorbing their father's knowledge doesn't mean they're car designers. For that they've relied on Chip Foose, the well-known automotive designer and illustrator who, before his hosting of multiple television shows, met the De Leys back in the early '90s when he was working for Boyd's, as it was Coddington who relied on the De Leys to build the award winners he laid claim to.
Foose met with the Briggs, Ingle, and the De Leys to go over what was called for, and soon Foose's sketches were being prepared. The basic idea was to change the profile found on an original 1936 three-window to include angling the doors back a bit, laying the grille back, and pulling the top rearward for a more sweeping profile. Once the basic concept was okayed, Foose went about starting the project as he does all of the cars he designs: with a side elevation 1/4-scale drawing. First mapping out the chassis plus the height and location of the wheels, Chip then draws the side shape of the car, and takes them to a Kinkos to be blown up to full 1:1 scale. Those fullsize blow-ups, sometimes 18 feet long and 5 feet tall, are delivered to Marcel's shop and pinned to the wall. From that point on it would be the De Ley's job to use the drawings and make a car out of them.
Though they've built about as many different type of cars as you can think of, hot rods are easily the majority of what the De Leys do, though Marcel especially likes working on Delahaye-type vehicles the most. Work usually begins by taking the measurements right off the drawing and bending 3/4- and 1/4-inch tubing to build a fixture. With the TCI Engineering chassis already in the shop, the floor is made (with 1.5x0.75-inch tubing added for structure and strength), which will serve as a base for the rest of the car's jig.
Next the grille's profile is located, and from there horizontal stringers are copied from the drawing to mimic certain body lines and peaks. The drawing also shows the door opening, so the De Leys bend up the metal to create that, and more stringers soon help locate other sections on the car, such as the windshield. At some point the De Leys leave the illustrations and create areas not found on the drawing by eyeballing and, having worked with Foose for decades, can usually second-guess what Chip would want to do.
With the grille and door opening where they're supposed to be, the De Leys start on the cowl and firewall as most everything else is located off of them. They work in 18-gauge metal, shaping the material both over a tree stump as well as various machines, including shrinkers and stretchers and, for larger panels, an English Wheel. Since the old, hole-ridden body was still at the shop, Luc De Ley can take advantage of the fact by using it as a buck and shape new pieces and sections over the old one.
For the trunk, the rain gutters were made first before the rear apron was made to meet it. Each section is crafted and then another piece mirrored for the other side of the car. For the decklid, a hinged boxed structure is made to open and close before being skinned with aluminum. Once done, a smooth inner skin, also in aluminum, is made for added strength.
Once the body nears completion, with the cowl, roof, quarters, and rear section done, attention is turned to the fender bucks, also made from 1/2-inch square tubing. For this design, the front fenders and running boards will be one piece, and the rear fenders separate. And though the rear fenders can be made in just six pieces, the front fender itself (without the running board) is made in 14 pieces. Marcel and Luc De Ley soon follow with the creation of the aluminum hood and sides, and then the attention turns to the interior.
Foose has done a few conceptual drawings for the inside of the car, too, which not only dictates what the dash will look like but also how it will flow through the door tops and back under the rear window. Luc thinks he spent a month inside the car, creating the one-off dash and other pieces.
After the interior was complete, the exterior molding (a brass strip that runs from the nose and back to just above the rear wheel) was hand filed to a perfect shape before being sent to the chrome shop. But one section that still needed work was what to use for headlights and, after some discussions between Chip and Fred, Foose created a form for Marcel to shape the bulge that would contain the custom headlights, which uses a billet aluminum mounting ring machined at Chip's shop.
Once the De Leys were done with making the body and fenders (taking 155 days along the way to do it), the car went to Ingle's shop for, as Fred puts it, "the heart of the car." Fred, along with Zack Phillips (a 17-year veteran of the shop) and Jack Nickerson (whose been on board for the past four years), continued the construction with the addition of the structure to support the steering as well as designing an electric e-brake system especially for this car.
Though Marcel had made a plug for the car's grille, Fred gave the job of fabricating the one-off polished stainless steel grille to Don Stark of Street Rod Grilles in Twin Falls, Idaho. And though he never saw the car in person, Don followed the plug's design perfectly, so after he shipped it back to Fred, he was able to take it out of the box and pop it into place without any extra modifications.
As the car was going together, the project evolved from just a basic hot rod to a rather special one, but Bob Sr. always maintained throughout the build he was going to drive it when it was done, and not put it on the show circuit. For him, it just wasn't a consideration. Work continued with Fred's adding door rubber and then filing and fitting all the door and trunk gaps so they would have perfect spacing all the way around. Fred's also made new trunk and hood hinges, and they added limiting shocks inside the doors so they, being as heavy as they are, would swing open at a controlled and gentle rate. A custom nerf-type front bumper guards the leading edge of the grille, and 1955 Nomad bumperettes protect either side of the rear license plate.
Patterns were made up for the tempered side glass, and their edges were pencil-polished for a softer look. Fred also had Marcel fab up a rear belly pan that would hide a removable superstructure under the trunk, which houses the air tanks, solenoids, and other gear for the RideTech air suspension system. No item was too small to escape attention as even the vent lines for the gas tank include charcoal-filled canisters to eliminate any smell of gas inside the cab. Fred's also made up a symmetrical exhaust system, adding some electric cutouts so Bob could really hear the motor when he wanted to.
And though Bob Sr. had originally wanted a baby blue coupe, that color just wasn't going to work with a car like this, so many different color variations were being considered during the build. Some were solids while others featured a light top and a dark body. Ingle had made fixtures for the fenders so they could be painted at one time while off the car, and he'd sprayed nearly 40 different colors on some test panels (Fred likes to lean into the sages, silvers, and earth tones for his paintjobs) to see how Bob Sr. liked them. It seemed like the car was going to be dark green on top and light green below but, the day before painting was to begin, Foose had come up with some paint chips from BASF that turned out to be the final color: an elegant dark blue on top and a lighter shade below the trim line. Ingle sprayed the car with 90-line Glasurit waterborne paint and clear before Denis Rickleffs added a subtle pinstripe to the car.
Nearing completion, the coupe was sent to Gabe's Custom Interiors in San Bernardino, California, for some threads. Foose visited Gabe's shop during this phase, too, and he created another set of drawings for the upholstery team to follow. Blue, light gray, and dark gray leather was used throughout, with a wide pleated panel design mixed in with some contemporary sweeping lines. Lexus six-way electric seats were recovered and Dynamat was laid out below the wool carpet. The door pulls are from a '60s-era Porsche 356.
Once back at Fred's, the car was wired up with Auto Meter gauges, which were set into the dash along with a one-off insert made by Lil' Louie. An iPod-based stereo system was also put in place with five speakers, an amp, and an equalizer. A Vintage Air A/C system was hidden under the dash and Fred's created the wiring harness for the electronic fuel injection.
The engine in this ride is as impressive as the rest of the car, and it came from Roush Performance. One of their 427IR crate motors, the V-8 produces over 550 hp on the dyno. Mated to an Art Carr–prepped 4R70W four-speed automatic transmission (selected with a Lokar shifter), the powerplant will have more than enough power to quickly launch Bob Sr. anywhere he might want to go. That's in part to the CompuShift controller designed by Mike Hoy of HGM Automotive Electronics that allows programmable information to control the transmission.
A SPAL 16-inch puller fan operates with a Mattson aluminum radiator, and Smiley's Headers extract the motor's spent gases. The Total Cost Involved Engineering chassis is equipped with their polished stainless steel IFS setup and a Strange 9-inch (3.70:1) alloy rear is located with a TCI Engineering four-link. Wilwood disc brakes are on each corner, which slows the rotating 18x7 and 19x10 Foose wheels wrapped in Pirelli rubber.
The last time Bob Sr. had seen his car, it was in primer at Fred's shop. But his 78th birthday was arriving soon, and it was to make a grand entrance to a birthday party thrown in Senior's honor. As friends and family gathered in the front yard, Bob Jr. drove the car out of Fred's shop, through Ontario on a late afternoon, and down the street and into Senior's driveway where a beaming owner was waiting. Copying the photograph he posed for almost 60 years ago with his elbow on the roof and foot up on the running board (friends had even re-created the striped shirt he was wearing in the original photo) Bob posed for a new set of pictures with the car that has exceeded his wildest imagination.
Article courtesy of Hot Rod Network, written by Eric Geisert.