Faced with bog 25mm thick in places, it was pretty clear that Stuart Windle had been burnt pretty bad by the person he had entrusted with the build of his 1937 Ford Club Cabriolet. He was faced with two options: give up, or find someone else to right the wrongs and start all over again. He chose the latter and given what now resides in his shed, he’s pretty pleased with the result and glad he didn’t throw in the towel.
Back in 2000, an ad in a local paper caught Stu’s eye: Mainland Motors in Blenheim had two ’37 Fords for sale. As ’37s had always appealed to Stu, further investigation was required. Both cars were ex–Argentina, and anyone who has ever seen cars from Argentina will know that they don’t seem to have any panel shops over there and people drive their cars into the ground. In fact, some don’t even stop there; they appear to continue to drive them deeper and deeper into the earth’s crust.
Immediately Stu saw potential. One was already spoken for so he took the other; an added bonus was the whole heap of spares that had also tagged along for the ride from South America. Stu shipped his latest purchase home and popped it into the back of the shed to work on when the time was right.
Over the next few years Stu worked fastidiously on a 1954 Mark I Zephyr convertible for his wife, Glynis, and it was during 2009 that he organised a car run up to Kaikoura. Quite a few people ended up at their house afterwards for a beer in the sun and a bit of a poke and a prod around in the shed. It was here that the Cabriolet was spotted lurking deep in the bowels of the shed, and he was bombarded with questions about why he hadn’t started on such a cool car. This got Stu all inspired again and the Zephyr was pushed aside (and still remains to be finished), so the ’37 could finally take centre stage.
Stu was referred to a ‘reputable’ panel beater in Christchurch. Initially everything was going along great guns and a time frame of three to four months was promised. Everyone knows that time frames are flexible and nothing ever really goes to plan, and this build was to prove no exception. As time went on less and less seemed to be happening, and the body prep was limping along, dying a slow, painful death. The only real progress appeared to be the rapid draining of the Windle’s bank account. Several “please explains” later, and after multiple excuses, the three to four months had blown out to a year. Stu and Glynis were becoming increasingly worried that they were just chucking money into a bottomless pit with next to nothing to show for their efforts.
Late in 2010 there was a mad burst of activity on the ’37, and Stu received a phone call to come and pick it up, as she was all ready for him. A couple of mates tagged along for the ride and to lend a hand to load the ’37 onto the trailer. When they arrived it was pretty clear to all that it was a complete botch-up, however, the final cheque was handed over and the ’37 made its way back to Kaikoura unceremoniously on the back of a trailer.
Once home, the car was put up on high stands in the workshop and the damage was surveyed — she wasn’t pretty. Bog was in places where panel steel was supposed to be, 20mm to 25mm thick in places. Stu had a certifier and Mark Stead from Big Shed Customs, an acquaintance of Stu’s, have a closer look and a couple of decisions were made: a) cancel the final cheque, and b) ship the body off to Wellington and get it dip-stripped to reveal the full extent of how bad things really were.
The dip-stripping revealed exactly what had been done, or more to the point, what hadn’t been done and where he’d been ripped off. A Disputes Tribunal application was lodged, which was successful, along with a successful defending of a lodged appeal by the tradesman. Several thousand dollars spent in legal fees later they have moved on, although they still haven’t received a cent of what they were awarded, and have had no option but to accept it and learn from it. Only now, once finished, can they joke about how they started with a steel ’37 and ended up with a plastic one.
Mark Stead, who had seen the mess left by the previous guy, was given that task of righting the very long list of wrongs, and as you can see he has succeeded in creating a masterpiece. There were very few panels that could be used again due to the shocking patchwork of panels underneath the bog and rust that had not been cut out. Both left and right A-pillars have been reshaped, both quarter-panels remade, both doors rebuilt — not just reskinned, but completely remade! Both rear side panels from the B-pillar rearward have been remade along with half the boot lid and the boot lid channel. New sills have also been fabricated and strengthened. The list goes on!
All door handles, the bonnet handle and boot lid handle have been removed to help accentuate the smooth lines of the shaved body. Front and rear bumpers have also been removed, as have the tail lights, which have been replaced with super smooth LEDs. An electric forward-tilting bonnet provided many headaches for everyone, but once they all sat down and nutted things out, perseverance prevailed, and finally they got the damn thing to work!
When it came to choosing a suitable hue, they called upon Darren at Resene Automotive and Light Industrial in Christchurch. Stu and Glynis had the colour in mind and Darren got it spot on. ‘Stu’s Hot Rod Pink’ has been liberally applied to the coupe’s well-massaged flanks by Vaughan Hall who contracts to Mark.
Due to the pink the ’37 now wears, she is affectionately referred to as ‘Piglet’. It all started in Mark’s workshop when he commented on the colour and its similarity to Miss Piggy. Whether this version of the story is entirely correct is anyone’s guess, you could argue the point that the name also came about due to Mark’s green truck being called Kermit, or because there were a few muppets involved along the way. Stu decided to get a label made-up with ‘Piglet’ on it unbeknownst to the pranksters. Now they don’t give him stick anymore and the kids get a laugh out of it too.
When it came to choosing a suitable heartbeat for the ’37, Stu wanted to keep things all Ford and fuel injected. A V8 Fairmont was chosen as a donor vehicle, and was stripped of its 302, trans and loom. Paul McIntosh (‘Macca’), Stu’s son-in-law, rebuilt the 302 with all standard components (I guess son-in-laws do come in handy!), while Steve Mitchell from Big Shed Customs handled all the electrical work and also gave the factory ECU some minor reprogramming.
The boxed and C-notched chassis wasn’t spared from the botch-up either, as underseal had been sprayed all over the brake lines, attached hardware and Air Ride suspension, so all this had to be redone too. A Heidts IFS front end was imported from the States ready to take the Air Ride Shockwave bags. Hanging off the ends of the front end are 11-inch rotors with GM calipers. An eight-inch drum–braked Mustang diff completes the driveline package with Federal-shod Foose Legends on all four corners, measuring 17x7-inches up front and 17x8-inches at the back.
Keeping the occupants warm and cosy on the inside was handed to master stitcher Will Sales from Classic & Custom Auto Interiors Ltd in Christchurch. Mazda seats were chosen as they met the requirements necessary for a two-door car with a rear seat. Will also built the rear seat from scratch, such is the talent of this man. Stu cut down a dash from a ’40s Ford to replace the ’37’s original flat dash and filled it with a gauge set from Dakota Digital in the US. An aftermarket SAAS steering wheel and boss kit have been adapted to fit the donated Fairmont steering column.
An owner-built custom console was whipped up to hold the stereo which, according to Stu “could do everything”, except, it appears, function when full of water … Unfortunately due to a windscreen leak detected on the way to Beach Hop this year, Stu and Glynis got to listen to about half a CD before she gave up the ghost for good. Glynis stepped into the breach and provided the vocal entertainment for the remainder of the adventure …
Since the ’37 has been completed they have done over 3500kms travelling up to Beach Hop, a mini tour of the North Island and finally taking in the Street Rod Nationals in Taupo on the way back south. They reckon over 2000 of these kilometres have been done with the top down, and they’ve met some wonderful people and made some great new friends along the way. While doing things twice was never on the agenda, the result is exactly what they’d hoped for.
Stu and Glyins' '37 Ford was featured in NZV8 Issue No. 98 (July 2013). You can grab a copy here.
- Engine: Ford 5.0-litre EFI V8, custom twin two-inch exhaust, custom four-core heavy duty radiator, 16-inch high-volume electric fan, aftermarket oil cooler, reprogrammed ECU
- Driveline: Fairmont V8 four-speed automatic, eight-inch Mustang diff
- Suspension: Heidts IFS, Air Ride Shockwave airbags, custom four-link
- Brakes: Aftermarket tandem booster, 11-inch rotors, GM calipers, Mustang drums, electrically operated handbrake
- Wheels/Tyres: 17x7- and 17x8-inch Foose Legend rims, 205/50R17 and 225/50R17 Federal tyres
- Exterior: Shaved body, hidden hinges, forward-tilting bonnet, shaved bumpers, LED tail lights, custom running boards, recessed firewall, custom Du Pont paint
- Chassis: Boxed and C-notched, Heidts IFS cross member
- Interior: Mazda seats, custom rear seat, full custom retrim, SAAS steering wheel, Fairmont steering column, Dakota Digital gauges, customised 1940s Ford dash, custom console
- Performance: Untested