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Build it or buy it?

Ford has answered Willy's question -- and his dreams

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It�s tough to find an old Ford in good enough shape to be restored. Most are either too far gone or too expensive � so Ford�s new 1940 coupe body shell is an answer to my dreams.

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It's tough to find an old Ford in good enough shape to be restored. Most are either too far gone or too expensive (below). So Ford's new 1940 coupe body shell (above) is an answer to Willy's dreams.

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There are many popular platforms for auto restoration, including 1955-57 Chevs, the first-generation Camaro and Mustang and '32-34 Fords.

But for me, it's always been about those swoopy, fat-fendered 1939 and '40 Fords.

Widely considered to be one of the most distinctive pre-war automotive designs, these Fords ooze style and have been a favourite with collectors, street-rodders and customizers for generations. Designed by Bob Gregorie under the direction of Edsel Ford, the 1939 and '40 Ford models displayed the smooth, flowing lines of the revolutionary Lincoln Zephyr.

Building my very own '40 Ford has been a long-time dream of mine, but my mind has changed countless times along the way. My first dream was to restore the Ford sedan my late father Dave purchased for me a couple of years before he died in 2005. But, the more I looked at that humpbacked Ford Tudor, the more I longed for a swoopy coupe like the one dad drove.

The search for a decent coupe body to place on the chassis I began a few years back has been fruitless to this point. The cars I found were either way too expensive or way too far gone to restore. I started to think perhaps the only solution might be to sell every car and motorcycle I own and simply buy a road-ready 1940 Ford coupe.

Putting all my eggs in one basket seemed like a good idea until I began scouring e-Bay and other old-car websites and found that a nice '40 Ford would ring the register at about $40,000. My wife is understanding, but selling the house to build a hot rod is out of the question.

If only Ford made the '40 Ford again!

Well, my dream has been answered. Last month, at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas, Ford turned back the clock and announced a 'new' model: the 1940 Ford Coupe body shell, available exclusively from Ford Restoration Parts.

My dear old dad is surely grinning from ear to ear.

With this body shell, Ford has given new life to an old favourite. The all-steel body offers a clean canvas for folks like me who dream of one day owning a '40 Ford coupe. The Ford shell is a far better starting-point than similar kits made from fibreglass, and is less expensive and much easier than finding a clean, original model to restore. No rust repairs, minimal bodywork -- it's like a huge model kit.

With $11,950 in my jeans I can now walk into any Ford dealership and order the car of my dreams. OK, not the entire car, but the body.

My love affair with these cars, especially the coupe versions, was forged when I was just a kid. Dad owned his cherished '39 Ford -- the first time around -- until 1966, when my party-pooping older brother Allen made the scene and created the need for the first of many station wagons and sedans. I followed along in '67, and we kept dear old dad busy enough that everyone figured hot-rodding was out of his system.

Then, in 1975, his long-time pal Pete Friesen spotted what he was almost certain was dad's old '39 Ford for sale in Winnipeg Beach. I was about eight years' old when we went to check it out, and can vividly recall my dad excitedly running around in the snow, saying "Yeah, it's mine all right -- frenched that antenna myself in 1964."

Following the exchange of $700, dad's Ford was returned to its rightful owner.

By 1976, the street-rod craze was in full swing, and my brother and I watched dad and his mechanic-friend Ed Borsboom transform the car into one mean machine. It was show-car cool, sporting a killer paint job, Dayton true spoke wire wheels wrapped in beefy Goodyear tires and a wicked 1970 LT1 Chevrolet Corvette 350-cubic-inch engine under the hood. It also featured Stewart Warner gauges, cruise control and a state-of-the-art Panasonic AM-FM cassette stereo in the dash.

We took our first of many family cruises in the Ford in the summer of '76 to the Street Rod Nationals in Tulsa, Okla. Between 1976 and 1983, dad drove the car more than 30,000 miles, and every summer we saw the U.S.A. in our Ford powered by Chevrolet.

That car served us well into the '80s, but my dad got the woodworking bug and lost his zest for hot rods. After the old Ford sat beside his garage for many years, my brother eventually started a restoration that included some much-needed bodywork, but he could never find the time to get it back on the road.

When cancer struck my father in 2003, he decided he wanted to take a few more cruises in his old Ford. We spent countless days and nights together working on the car in my shop. The fact that my dad used to call me Junior, combined with his need to question the motive for every bolt I turned, would have surely made for some great realty TV.

Dad nicknamed the project Canadian Hot Rod, and it was definitely some quality father-and-son time. Watching my dad cruise in his old Ford is among my most cherished memories, and every ounce of blood, sweat and tears devoted to the project was worth the smile on his face as he drove the car again for the first time in more than 20 years.

My brother ultimately inherited the car and it now lives in Ottawa. No complaints from me -- dear old dad paid off more than a few of my debts and surmised that I had the skills and the tools to one day build my own Ford hot rod.

So, thanks to Ford's new/old car offering, the question about whether to build one or buy one has finally been answered for me. I've been cleaning and renovating my shop over the last few months and, now that the job is nearing completion, there's finally room (and hopefully time) to embark on the project of a lifetime.

A few things will have to be sold to come up with the money to buy the new shell, but first I have to get to work on the chassis under the old '40 Ford that my dad bought me. The new car will contain parts from the old one, which makes it cool and a tribute of sorts to my dad, who I fondly refer to as my "Rodfather."

In my mind's eye, I'm already dreaming of the build, and I know it will be far more satisfying than simply buying a finished car. In moments of mental anguish, I'll walk the well-worn path through the snow to my garage, flick on the lights, turn on the radio and leave my troubles at the door. I'll grind and hammer and paint and primp. I'll curse and swear.

Sometimes I'll be alone, and other times my friends will be at my side. Sometimes things will go together smoothly, other times they'll fight me to the bitter end. Some days I'll make huge progress, other days I'll just sit and stare, visualizing how great it will be when I can finally drive it.

At night, when the gears in my head are grinding from a hectic day, I'll drift off to sleep thinking about my next plan of action.

If there's one thing I learned from my dad, it's that the other stuff will work itself out. It always does.

willy@freepress.mb.ca

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