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Original vehicle designs making a comeback among hotrod enthusiasts

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Ron Baxter has logged more than 11,585 kilometres on his 1937 Ford flatback sedan.

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Billed by publicists as the most stunning Ford yet, 1937 saw several new styling features and design changes. Ford had engineered the ability to stamp large sheet-metal panels, giving buyers a solid steel roof.

Previously, the roof incorporated a wood-and-material centre section that always aged faster than the car itself, leading to leaks and road noise. With this problem section eliminated, the Ford had a solid and quiet ride.

Another design feature was the headlamps. Instead of being mounted on a bar or in a pod on the radiator shell or atop the fenders, the headlamps were incorporated into the catwalk area of the front fenders, flanking the grille.

The design stylists put forward was a standout effort to prove streamlining didn't have to mean ugly. As time has passed, the almond- or teardrop-shaped headlamp placement that graced the '37 and many later models has proven to be a design favoured by collectors and hot-rodders alike.

Today, the hotrod Ford has seen many incarnations. Everything from primered rat rods to fiberglass recreations have seen the show arena. At one time, only the basic body would be saved and the car totally reconstructed with aftermarket pieces purchased from a catalogue. The essence of the original car became lost to individual creativity. Not to knock personalization, which is what hot-rodding is about, but of late, many of those original designs have been making a comeback.

Ron Baxter's interest in building cars goes back to the 1960s. A member of the Road Gents car club, he saw his '57 Chevy Nomad wagon perish with 14 other vehicles in a fire in the club's garage. Family and life's priorities put his car hobby on hold until the late 1980s.

Since then, the Winnipegger has been making up for lost time. From another Nomad to a couple of tri-five Chevys, Baxter turned to a '38 Ford coupe. After selling the coupe in the spring of 2011, he knew he wanted a larger vehicle grandchildren and friends could ride in and started looking for a '30s Ford sedan as his next project.

That fall, he found a 1937 Ford flatback sedan in Alberta that seemed to be the ticket. It lacked the bustle hump of the trunkback model and exhibited a cleaner, more modern design. Baxter and his friend Gary Kousof made the trip to Edmonton with the intention of driving the '37 Ford home. After about 160 kilometres, it became apparent the old Ford wasn't going to make it much farther under its own steam, and the duo borrowed a trailer to take it the rest of the way to Winnipeg.

Baxter and Kousof stripped the car down, and Baxter began repairing the rusted areas on the lower body by welding in new metal panels.

"I already had a vision for this car and knew I wanted to keep it as original-looking as possible," Baxter said.

With the bodywork completed, Don Salisbury painted and polished the car in a 1997 Ford Moonlight Blue that looks very much like the original 1937 Washington Blue. The chrome bumpers were re-plated by the Chrome Pit, and the smaller trim parts were refurbished by the House of Silver.

For the chassis, Baxter purchased a Chevrolet Ramjet 350-cubic-inch V8 crate engine from Jim Banford at Gautier Chevrolet. Fuel-injected, it produces 350 horsepower, is mated to a 700R-4 overdrive automatic transmission from Great Rate Transmissions and runs out to a 3.70:1 geared Currie nine-inch rear axle. For the exhaust, a stainless-steel, 2.5-inch diameter full custom dual system with Dynomax mufflers was created and installed.

To keep all of the new drivetrain in check, the Old Car Centre in Langley, B.C., supplied a new TCI chassis. Equipped with coil-over independent front suspension with power disc brakes, rack and pinion power steering and four-link rear suspension, it's light-years ahead of the original equipment. For the rolling stock, Baxter mirrored the original equipment by choosing reproduction 15-inch diameter artillery wheels with beauty rings and chrome hubcaps, shod with B.F. Goodrich wide whitewall Silvertown radial tires from Coker Tire. Powder-coated in a contrasting Camel colour, they really stand out.

Inside the passenger compartment is another work of art. The dashboard and window garnish mouldings have been wood-grained by Next Generation Hydro-Graphics to replicate the factory finish. The original gauges have been rebuilt and tailored to work with the new engine, and a new Limeworks steering column and 17-inch banjo steering wheel have been retained. Otto Szalai of Otto's Custom Upholstery finished the car's upholstery from top to bottom in a cloth fabric resembling the original camel-coloured material.

Options include Newport electric windshield wipers, Lokar floor shift, power bucket seats, cruise control, three-point seatbelts, new tinted glass, dual side-view mirrors, third brakelight, Halogen headlamps and Vintage Air heat and defrost unit.

Finished in September 2013, Baxter and his wife, Darlene, have already logged more than 11,585 kilometres on the car cruising to shows and rod runs.

"We really enjoy driving our car every chance we get, especially out of town and meeting new people, because cruising with these old cars and meeting new people with the same interest is what it's all about," Baxter said.

Members of the Manitoba Street Rod Association, the couple's '37 Ford was chosen as Cruiser of the Year and is proudly displayed on the club's 2015 Rodarama poster. You can see it this weekend as the MSRA presents its 16th annual Rodarama car show at the East End Arena, located at 517 Pandora Ave. E. The show runs from 6 p.m. Friday until 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults and free for children under 13 years old when accompanied by an adult. See the MSRA website at msra.mb.ca for more details and a coupon to Take a Kid to a Car Show promotion.

classicdargis@mymts.net

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