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Short black: the 1937 Ford Coupe coffee cruiser

21 August 2015


When Phil and Faith decided to build themselves a car in which they could cruise down to the local cafe, they never thought they’d end up with something as wild as this

Phil and Faith have a lot in common — you’d hope so, given they’re married! — and one shared common ground is that they were both brought up around cars. Faith has a bunch of brothers who live and breathe automotive culture, and Phil is not known to do things by halves. Put that together, and when the decision was made to slap owning a sweet street cruiser on the to-do list, you can bet it’d always be something special.

Rewind a few years to the 2007–2008 period, and Custom Rods (now closed) was building upmarket turnkey street rods aimed at clients who would usually opt for sports cars made by manufacturers such as BMW. The cars were imported as fibreglass bodyshells and basic chassis from Quebec in Canada, before being built to New Zealand standards. Both 1937 Ford coupe and 1939 Lincoln Zephyr shells were available, although Custom Rods only ever built the ’37s. To fit the targeted market, the cars featured mod cons such as power steering, electric windows, air conditioning, well-upholstered interiors, and airbag suspension. 

In 2010, Phil came across one of these cars, painted spearmint green, on Trade Me. He really liked the curvature of the 1930s body, as it was so different from the slab-sided American muscle machines; Faith was also a fan of the ’37’s style. One of the requirements for their car was that it had to be suitable as a “coffee car” — they had to be able to take it to town on Sunday for a coffee. As the ’37 appeared to tick all the boxes, the decision was a no-brainer. 
The car was sold as needing a small amount of work before completion, including minor wiring, oiling and firing up the engine, installation of door and window rubbers, and miscellaneous bits and pieces. Unfortunately, a closer inspection turned up some flaws in the build, as well as plenty of work needed to gain certification. As Jason from Autocolour Matrix on Auckland’s North Shore had recently completed a similar build, Phil phoned him and he was more than happy to help. 

The coupe was trailered up to Auckland, where Jason worked closely with a certifier to compile a list of the work required. Essentially, the idea was that the body would be coming off the chassis anyway, so what better time to undertake a full-on rebuild, including a respray, and turn the coupe into the car Phil and Faith really wanted. Amongst the myriad changes made was the removal of the old airbag system, replaced with QA1 adjustable coilovers at all four corners. A Rods by Reid Lo-Ride 2 independent front suspension system, with power rack and pinion steering and two-inch drop spindles, helps to seat the coupe low over the big 18×8-inch Billet Specialties rims, whilst providing much-needed road holding and all-round drivability. A custom four-link rear does the same for the nine-inch out back, especially important considering that the rears are gigantic 20×11-inch units!

Phil’s instructions to Jason were to deliver a safe and compliant vehicle within the agreed budget, and he couldn’t be happier with the work the Autocolour Matrix team performed to this brief — on time, on budget, and looking super slick in its new, deep black coat, the cruiser was looking good.

Time passed, with the coffee car doing everything asked of it without complaint. As adequately as the rather stock LS1 performed, Phil began to feel the need for a bit more grunt — those Sunday drives to the cafe were taking a bit too long. Phil was back on the phone to Auckland, this time speaking to Carl at C&M Performance, who had just the ticket. 

Carl’s proposed solution to Phil’s power problem came in the form of forced induction, but, keeping in mind the need for usability above all else, the engine would remain fuel injected. Once more, the ’37 made its way north, ready to go back under the knife. A BDS 6-71 supercharger with matching BDS electronic fuel injection system was installed on top of the engine, with a Kelford camshaft and valvetrain gear installed to make the most of the engine’s newfound breathing capability. Other than the camshaft, the bottom end is stock, so the supercharger runs a decent underdrive, more for usability on pump gas than for preserving the six-bolt bottom end. 

Though the engine bay’s high sides make it tricky to see into — beyond the big supercharger — taking a closer look reveals the time and effort that have gone into making everything work. For example, custom spacers needed to be machined for the alternator and power steering pump brackets for them physically to work within the engine bay’s tight confines.

Setting up the electronic fuel injection system to work as smoothly as it does is where C&M really came into play, installing and wiring the Holley Dominator ECU with a neat little 5.7-inch touch-screen Holley data logger. Though it was not in the car at the time of the photoshoot, it allows Phil to see, in real time, any of the readings from the engine’s many sensors. If needed, Carl at C&M can also tap into the computer to observe the readings and provide technical support from the other side of the North Island — pretty neat, right? 

When in place, the data logger looks very tidy, as a modern alternative to the swathe of gauges that would otherwise take its place. It is complemented by a RetroTek push-button gear selector for the 4L60E overdriven auto transmission, and Vintage Air air conditioning. Because usability was a priority, an Alpine audio system was installed and the interior was reupholstered by a New Plymouth upholsterer. 

With the car now complete and outstanding in appearance, the couple is yet to put some proper miles on it, since it’s so recently come back from C&M Performance — though we’re assured the sweet ’37 will be driven as it should, whilst still making the obligatory weekend trips into town. With its beautiful shape, and all the comfort, power, and reliability one could ask for, it seems that Phil and Faith have found their perfect coffee car. 

1937 Ford Coupe

  • Engine: 350ci GM, LM7 iron block, Kelford Cams 108-K camshaft, Kelford KVS4918 high-performance valve springs, 6-71 BDS supercharger, BDS fuel injection, Holley Dominator EFI ECU, in-tank electric fuel pump, ½-inch fuel lines, 2½-inch exhaust with H-pipe, HPC coated, Hushpower mufflers, custom radiator, electric fan, oil cooler
  • Driveline: GM 4L60E, RetroTek Smart Shift, 9-inch diff, LSD centre
  • Suspension: Rods by Reid Lo-Ride 2 IFS, 2-inch drop spindles, custom power steering rack, custom four-link rear, QA1 adjustable coilovers
  • Brakes: Wilwood master cylinder, Wilwood four-piston calipers, Wilwood rotors
  • Wheels/Tyres: Billet Specialties 18×8-inch and 20×11-inch, Falken 215/40R18, Falken 295/40R20
  • Exterior: Oze Rod Shop chassis, fibreglass body, Auto Colour Matrix black paint 
  • Interior: Billet Specialties steering column, RetroTek push-button shifter, Speedhut dash gauges (speed, fuel level, water temperature), Holley 5.7-inch touch-screen data logger, power windows, remote poppers, Vintage Air air conditioning, Alpine audio
  • Performance: Untested