Jason Graham, of Jason Graham Hot Rods, Portland, Tenn., earned the 2014 Golden Builder Award at the 16th annual Hotrod & Restoration Trade Show, which took place March 26-28 in Indianapolis.
The car is a 1939 Chevy Custom Coupe that Larry Tucker, the customer, found on Craigslist. He picked it up in Indiana and delivered it to Graham’s shop in Tennessee, where it underwent a major transformation. On display and on the street, the car inspires a “Wow!” out of most of the people who see it.
UP IN SMOKE
Graham says he had some ideas for what he wanted to do with the ’39 Chevy when he got it in the shop. “I kind of visually pictured the car finished the way it sits,” he says.
But first he had to see what he had to work with.
“It was pretty rough,” he says. “It looked fairly good in pictures, but they don’t tell the story until you start digging into them.”
So the car was stripped down; the frame and body were media-blasted; then Graham started over on clean sheet metal.
First on the agenda, he repaired the rust, from the bottom up. He rebuilt the floors, got them braced up, then carried the process on through to the rest of all the custom metal work. When he was satisfied the metal foundation was good, he went on to modernize the suspension.
The frame rails were used from the original chassis, but it has all new suspension front and rear. The body panels are also original, needing only a few minor repairs.
Some of the car’s features include a 5-inch chop; a conversion to a 3-window; a modified 1960 Impala dash; and distressed maroon leather seats. Graham spent a day tweaking the custom mixed DuPont paint until he found the deep, dark charcoal color he was after, which he calls “smoke.” Afterwards artist Rick Harris laid down a few lines of pinstriping for a final touch.
The car has a TCI Mustang II front end with full air ride suspension. The rear has a triangulated 4-link suspension, also with airbags; all C-notched in the rear. The rear end is a stock GM 10-bolt. The car also has TCI disc brakes and rack and pinion steering.
It rides on Wide White Coker 570-15 bias-ply tires, mounted on stock steel wheels that are powder-coated black with bullet center caps, bullet lug nuts and a spider ring.
The body modifications include the chop: 5 inches in the front and 6 inches in the back. Closing in the quarter windows turned it into a 3-window coupe. There was a stamped bodyline throughout the car-the hood, doors and quarter-panels-that Graham cut off and replaced with chrome moldings. That part of the bodywork took some time, but according to Graham, was worth the extra effort. “They look classier than that molded-in line that would have been all painted,” Graham says.
The rear fenders are molded into the car with custom steel fender skirts. The factory grilles that were stamped in the front fenders were smoothed in and the majority of the hood sides were removed to make way for the Lake style hot rod headers.
The stock grille was re-chromed by Leonard Plating Co. in Nashville, which did all the chrome plating.
The bumper arms were tucked in closer to the body and lowered, making the car appear to be sitting a little lower, front and rear.
The headlights have been Frenched in the original buckets, with a different ring that Graham says allows the lights to sit recessed into the bucket better. The taillights are also original except for the ’59 Cadillac lenses, cut down to give more of a bullet point look to them.
“The rest of it’s pretty much all-original,” says Graham, adding, “It’s got a real sleek look to it.”
Kurt’s Machine Shop in Nashville built the engine, a 1960 model Chevrolet 348 – a basic build bored 0.30″ over, with six Stromberg Super 97 carburetors (reproduction of the original Stromberg 97s) and a COMP Thumper cam. The transmission is a GM 700R overdrive, “all of which sounds a little more radical than it really is,” Graham says. “It’s really pretty street-able. The cam does a lot for it.”
“It’s a little loud now,” says Graham. “We’ll do some tuning on it and put some baffles in the pipes. They’ll be removable so if he wants to go cruise around a show real loud, he can just slip the baffles out.”
The interior is basic and clean.
The dash came from a 1960 Impala that’s been shortened up. The gauges are from Classic Instruments; it has an ididit steering column with a new shrunk-down version reproduction ’55 Chevy steering wheel. The interior paint is satin maroon, chosen to tie in with the distressed burgundy maroon leather seats and door panels.
Switches and gauges for the air ride suspension are hidden inside the glove box.
Graham says he’s now built a few cars for Larry Tucker but this ’39 is more customized than most of his previous cars have been. His taste, though, leans more toward hot rods, so Graham is in the process of building him another hot rod Model A sedan and he’s giving the ’39 to his son Harley.
Graham says he’ll probably be adding air conditioning then do a little more later on. “Sometimes Larry will build something and play with it for a year and then sell and build something else. But this one I think he’s going to hang on to.”