BY the late 1930s, Ford held the lion’s share of the low-price market. The size, style and performance it offered translated into good sales figures despite the Depression era it spanned. For 1939, the car changed little, except for new front-end styling on the DeLuxe models with a lowered grille and headlights that were incorporated fully into the fenders.
Today, these Fords are some of the most sought-after vehicles. Stock restorations are popular as is the street rod route, where they are repowered and upgraded with modern suspension systems. For Ken Betcher of Winnipeg, there’s always been a hot rod Ford in his plans. Betcher joined the Manitoba Street Rod Association (MSRA) back in 1973. Even though he didn’t own a car at the time, he was involved with his friend Don Daley and his ’38 Dodge — attending meets and rod runs.
Over the years, thoughts of getting his own car were always in the back of his mind and in 2011, after decades of looking, he took the plunge.
"I had retired a few years earlier, and my wife Olwyn said if I was going to buy a car, it should be the best one I could find," Betcher says.
With the help of Daley in 2011, they located a 1939 Ford Deluxe Tudor sedan in Eau-Claire, Wis. A car built in the early 1990s by Winnipegger and MSRA club member Lou Asselin, it was a solid and well-built car.
To get the car back to Winnipeg, Betcher and his brother Warren made the trek South and drove the Ford back home logging an amazing 22 miles a gallon. Betcher says, "It was an easy trip with no surprises."
The 1939 Ford Tudor sedan had been street-rodded to include the latest technology of the day. The front suspension was removed and the car was fitted instead with a Mustang II front suspension, including upper and lower control arms, as well as power rack and pinion steering and Granada power disc brakes. In back, an eight-inch Ford rear axle, with 3.25:1 gear ratio, was installed with parallel leaf springs and TCI shock absorbers. The original metal fuel tank was tossed in favour of a trouble-free Polymer fuel tank.
Finished in Calypso Green Metallic, the Tudor retains its stainless side trim and is shod with Centerline Directional aluminum wheels with BF Goodrich radial tires — 14-inch up front and 15-inch on the rear — to give the Ford’s stance a bit of a rake. Custom touches include flush door handles, a third brake light and recessed rear licence plate. There also are chrome dual side-view mirrors and tinted glass.
Inside the passenger compartment, the Ford features custom grey tweed upholstery with teal trim. Comfortable and inviting, the ample interior space features a tilt steering column, custom gauge cluster, cruise control, original clock, electric windshield wipers, power windows, halogen headlamps and a Sony stereo with Kenwood amplifier to belt out the tunes.
For power, the engine of choice from the build period was the small-block Chevrolet V-8. A 1974 Chevy vintage 350 was bored to 355 cubic inches, with a 9.5:1 compression ratio and topped off with modern cylinder heads, aluminum intake manifold and 750 cfm Quadra-Jet four-barrel carburetor and H.E.I. ignition, it’s as reliable as the day is long. Backing the engine is a Lou Asselin built 700R4 automatic overdrive transmission. Exhaust is handled by a set of factory exhaust manifolds leading to a custom dual exhaust system. Cooling is handled by a custom-built four-core radiator.
Aside from some minor repairs, such as replacing leaky gaskets, Betcher has seen nothing but trouble-free miles from the Ford over the past six years.
"I just enjoy driving it as a summer driver and attending local shows," Betcher says.
"I especially like to get out to the assisted living complex shows and let the seniors have a look at the car. As the licence plate says, this Ford is ‘1Cool39’ and you just might catch a glimpse of it on the road this summer."
Next weekend, the Manitoba Street Rod Association will host its 18th Annual Rodarama Car Show, April 28-30 at East End Arena in Transcona.