Ford Custom Coupe by Jack Stewart
The story of this wild Ford Custom Coupe begins with long-time L.A. Roadster Club member Jack Stewart and famous California-based customizers, the Ayala Brothers. In a Rodder’s Journal article, Pat Ganahl spoke at length with Stewart, who revealed its fascinating story.
He bought this car after graduating from South Gate High School in 1947. Kenny Lewis chopped the top behind Reggie Schlemmer’s shop before Stewart channeled the car himself at home in his driveway with a friend and recently acquired tools. By this time, he had already known George Barris for about two years.
By 1949, he brought the car to Gil Ayala’s shop with the intention of getting fadeaway fenders installed. As Gil was the first one to do California metal shaping, this was quite the professional treatment. Speaking of the work the brothers performed on his car, Jack told Pat Ganahl “At the top, that reverse curve, that wasn’t lead – it was shaped. And the rear fenders, everybody’s weighed 30 or 40 pounds, but he (Gil) had a panel made with a curve in it. Gil made patterns. That’s how he made my hood, in ’50, to look like a 1950 Ford, but made to fit my car. They had to make the hinges and everything”.
The top had already been chopped six inches but Jack couldn’t see the traffic signals and as a result, had them raise the windshield three inches – a job that cost $40, with new glass! All told, the ’41 Ford was at the shop for about a year as Gil made the modifications that Jack wanted, including a ’49 Cadillac grille and different bumpers. It was all done piece by piece and as Jack got more money, they would do more work. Jack, still a young man of course, told Ganahl he would pay Gil three-quarters of his paychecks to have his car modified. In the meantime, it would sit outside in front of the shop, along with the other partially completed projects.
Jack then bumped into George Barris at a party in 1951, who told him “drive it over, we’ll take a look”. Jack was eager to have his car finished and the Ayala brothers had various other projects going on concurrently, including circle-track racing interests. It was Barris who completed the car by rounding the corners on the decklid, wrapping around the rear fenders and doing the taillight treatment. The car was finally finished and painted a bronze color that Barris himself chose.
In the end, however, Jack only owned the car for about another year after it was finished, citing the Korean War that was going on, which had virtually dried up all the cruise-ins back home. He finally sold the car at a show in Anaheim where he won Best Custom. It went to Ohio after that, where it was evidently involved in an accident and almost suffered a junkyard fate. Bob Drake of Indiana traded his Ford Five-Window Coupe for the car and set about restoring it to its former glory.
He repaired the grille and body panels, all the while trying to retain the car’s originality, even hunting down the original matching bronze interior to make sure it wasn’t lost to history. As for the engine, he reports replacing the Cadillac engine it had at the time with a Ford Flathead that had been used for racing and which he fitted with an Iskandarian camshaft that came from a Bonneville car, among other modifications. He worked on it sporadically for quite a few years until it was finally done and capable of being driven at 70 or 80 mph on the freeway, without a problem.
Jack Stewart finally saw the car again in the 1970s and was reportedly amazed and delighted his old car still existed. It’s appeared at many shows since then, won various awards and been featured in several magazines. It carries the unique touches of famous personalities like the Ayala Brothers and George Barris and is truly an inspired piece of design and craftsmanship.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in September 2009 at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, California.
296 cu. in. Flathead V8 with four Stromberg 94 carburetors, three-speed column-shift manual transmission, independent front suspension and semi-elliptic rear leaf springs, four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 112"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel