You Never Forget Your First Hot Rod – 39 Ford Coupe
“High School Hot Rods” have been staples of the car scene since their popularity first took off in the 1950’s. Innovative and determined teenagers across the country turned out these cars in their local high school shop class with a single goal in mind – beat anything the rich kids from the other side of the tracks could buy from the local Big 3 dealerships. Ray Southard’s 1939 Ford Business Coupe Deluxe exemplifies traditional high school hot rod styling and how you never forget your first; hot rod that is…
Ray spent his teenage years growing up in Reno, NV. At the age of 14, Ray bought a 39’ Ford Coupe shell from a friend’s dad that had been basking in the Nevada sun for several years. The shell only set the young teen back $15, but a long list of parts and time lay ahead.
Ray took a job doing parts inventory at a local salvage yard. As any part he could use came through, Ray set’m aside into his own personal parts bin or quickly installed them on the 39 Ford. Before long, a flathead and tranny found their way into the coupe and two years later, at the age of 16, Ray had his first hot rod; built by his own two hands. How many of us can say that?
Eventually, he sold his prized ’39 and although several cars followed the ’39 Ford always remained his favorite.
Years later in 2010 while browsing through an auction site Ray stumbled upon an ad for a 1939 Ford Business Coupe Deluxe. Memories of his old coupe began to swirl as he inquired a little deeper into the ad. The images revealed a flawless, period correct, traditionally styled rod with only one problem; the car was located over 2,000 miles away in Fort Worth, TX. Ray knew from the photos this was a meticulously built ’39 and would not be on the market very long. He quickly grabbed his phone and dialed the number listed. A young man by the name of David Cassell answered on the other end and began giving Ray the details on the coupe.
The 39 Ford coupe had been a family project between David, his father Robert, and brother-in-law Jorel Shockley and was built in Robert and Jorel’s shop, Southside Speed Shop on the southern end of Fort Worth. Dave originally found the coupe in 2009 in NorCal and struck a deal with the previous owner for a ’32 Cabriolet body combined with a little cash. The coupe still wore its original black lacquer paint from 70 years before and the passenger side rear quarter was banged up from an accident.
Between the front fenders rested a 305 Chevy small block with a 4 bbl carb, mated to a TH350 tranny. Suspension components from Chassis Engineering such as a drop axle kit for the front and leaf spring kit for the rear had also been installed, upgrading the coupes stance and handling. Everything about the arranged deal seemed legit, so they pulled the trigger and loaded the ’39 onto the trailer and headed back to Texas.
When the guys arrived back in Texas, David had one specific goal in mind – get the coupe back on the street in time for Texas’s premier traditional rod and custom show the Lone Star Round-Up in Austin, TX.
Although the coupe had set for some time the 305 was solid and the damage to the passenger side was easily fixed by Robert’s metal working skills. The coupe was back on the road in no time and was driven at every opportunity to iron out any unforeseen bugs or secrets the 39 coupe might be hiding.
After about a week back on the road the 305 met its demise; which ironically came not from the years of sitting or any overlooked issues, but from David’s young nephew and loose bolt laying around the shop. The kid’s curiosity and budding interest in cars led him to “inspect” the coupe’s carb and an unfortunate side effect was the loose bolt accidentally found its way down the carb. Upon the next turn of the ignition key…catastrophic failure.
With several weeks remaining until the Lone Star Round Up, the guys at South Side Speed Shop decided that with the parts they had around the shop and a “few” long nights… building a traditionally styled high school hot rod sure to turn a few heads at the show was well within their reach.
First on deck, toss the underpowered 305 and stuff a real SBC between the fender wells. Coincidentally, Jorel just happened to have a 4 bolt main 350 from a ’68 Camaro tucked away in the back of shop, and since they could use the existing motor mounts, the 350 would soon have a new home.
Never one to half-ass things though, Jorel first disassembled the small block before leaving it in the capable hands of Accurate Machine Shop for a proper build-up. After boring the block .030 over and reinforcing the bottom end with forged Eagle internals and a Crower camshaft, Accurate returned the short block for final assembly. A set of Patriot heads and a 6-71 Mooneyham blower topped with dual Edelbrock 600 carbs were slapped on giving the mill a top end worthy of the stout bottom end. When guzzling race gas and with boost set at 10psi the potent SBC pumps out an estimated 600hp… and after witnessing first-hand the damage this beast can do to a set of bias plies, I’d have no reason to think otherwise!
Before completing the heart transplant, Robert Cassell mixed up a batch of B-5 Mopar Blue Metallic and sprayed several coats over the coupes shapely curves. Since the interior plan called for white tuck and roll, Robert shot the engine bay in white to accentuate the future upgrades.
While the coupe was down, David upgraded the rolling stock with a set of chrome Ford O.E. wheels wrapped in wide white bias plies. No radials or billet wheels for this traditional hot rod. With the chassis upgrades and lowering, the new rubber filled the wheel wells perfectly adding to the already menacing stance.
Once the new engine found its way back into the coupe, David paid a visit to his friends at Teocal’s interior in Fort Worth. Teocal’s laid out white tuck and roll over the front and rear seat and door panels. A matching headliner was added and for most people the refreshed interior would have been enough, not so for David. For an exclusive touch the white tuck and roll theme was extended across the exterior running boards; setting the coupe even further apart from the pack.
Just as David planned, the team completed the coupe in time for the 2009 Lone Star Round Up. And as expected it quickly became a hit at the show. Despite all the attention the 39 Ford coupe grabbed at the show, there was still one detail missing to complete the late 50’s – early 60’s styling of the coupe; pinstriping. So, after returning home he dialed up famed pinstriper Skratch to work his magic. Skratch added his signature touches to the front and rear fenders and deck lid of the coupe, and as with all his pinstriping, the work is second to none.
Fate has a funny way of rearing its head at times and not long after the coupe was in its temporary “finished” state (as anyone will tell you, you’re never really finished..) a business opportunity arose that was too good to pass up. An unfortunate side effect was in order to raise the capital needed for the opportunity; David would have to part with the coupe. So he listed the coupe on an auction site and the call came in from Ray Southard. Shortly after the coupe was loaded onto a trailer again and headed back west.
Since owning the coupe, Ray has made a few changes/updates. He added all new stainless trim around the exterior and replaced the aging window moldings. The new window moldings were painted pearl white to match the pristine tuck and roll. One of the styling standouts of the ’39 Ford Coupe Ray built as a teenager was a fully chromed dash. So to pay homage to his first love he pulled the dash and had it completely chrome plated. While the dash was out Ray noticed the wiring needed to be updated so he had the car completely rewired.
The coupe quickly became a staple of the local car scene around Ray’s home in the Pacific Northwest and has respectfully earned the moniker “39 Blue”. Ray receives a barrage of accolades and questions at every gas station and stoplight and recently took home a “Best Rod” award at a local car show. My guess would be Ray will need a trophy room strictly for the coupe before too long.
As the saying goes, you never forget your first love, and Ray certainly never did. Although he may never own his original again nothing puts a bigger smile on his face than opening his garage door and being greeted with blue metallic paint and the Mooneyham blower protruding from the hoodless engine bay. And if that wouldn’t put a smile on your face, please return you “car guy card” to the proper authorities.
Photos by Trent Sherrill
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