Close this search box.

Great Mistake

22 February 2021

Have you ever got a bit carried away and done something you probably shouldn’t have? Rob Goodman has, but luckily it resulted in the construction of this stunning ’38 Ford Standard coupe

Words and photos: Rod Dunn

'38 coupe-8073.jpg

It’s all too common to read in these pages about a Kiwi finding a car abroad that looks great and dealing with an American con artist who swears black and blue that said car is rust-free and reliable. Luckily, this is not one of those stories. Instead, Rob and Marian Goodman found this 1938 Ford Standard coupe in person while they were on holiday in Minnesota back in 2015, without any foreign dishonesty being involved at all.

'38 coupe-8202.jpg

“We were on holiday in the US driving Route 66 with some friends,” Marian explains. “Part of the holiday was to attend the Minnesota Street Rod Association’s Back to the ’50s festival. More than 11,000 vehicles regularly take part in the event, which attracts around 100,000 spectators per day.”

'38 coupe-8197.jpg

Knowing that there was no way to get around such a massive event without some inside knowledge, the couple had made contact with the Minnesota Street Rod Association via Facebook before departing and mentioned they were coming from Nelson, New Zealand. Luckily for them, the club administrator put them in contact with Bill Casey, a club member who just so happened to have been out to New Zealand for Muscle Car Madness an impressive 17 times, and was more than happy to show a few Kiwis around!

Once Rob and Marian had arrived at the event, they met Bill and his buddies face to face, and proceeded to check out all of the action that was on offer. The conversation with Bill soon led to him explaining that he and his cohorts, who were founding members of the Minnesota Street Rod Association — a club now boasting 24,000 members — had held the same corner spot at the event for a staggering 45 years. Sure, they queue up from 4.30am to get it, but it’s a damn good bragging right to have.

'38 coupe-8146.jpg

Part of the event was an on-site auction. While Rob says it’s not quite on the level of Barrett-Jackson, it still had a number of impressive cars up for grabs. It was when they were walking through the rows of cars for sale that the ’38 Ford caught Rob’s eye, but only to the point that he made a comment to Marian that it looked pretty good and maybe they should stay to see what it went for. A while later, it was rolling across the block and Rob thought he’d throw a couple of cheeky bids in — not that he really planned on buying it, but more so he could tell the lads he’d bid on it for sport. The problem was, he clearly left his hand up a bit too long; when the gavel fell, the highest bid was his, so the car was theirs.

Fortunately, Bill and the car’s previous owners were able to help to get the car across to LA over the next few weeks, whence it would be shipped to New Zealand. Rob and Marian even stopped in at the shippers at the end of their Route 66 tour to wish it a bon voyage before flying home.

Delving into the car’s history, they discovered it had been an East Coast car all its life, never leaving the state of Wisconsin until they purchased it.

Marian tells us, “When we purchased the car, the sellers, Wayne and Judy Dempsey, gave us a box full of history and receipts, including photos of the garage that sold the car originally in 1938, along with photos of when they bought it and did the first modifications.”

Incredibly, over all those years, the car had only had three owners, and it wasn’t until 2005 that it was first hot rodded.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the build would entirely meet New Zealand standards. Once it was back in Nelson, a decent investigation into the car’s underpinnings revealed enough compliance issues to make a complete replacement chassis the best way forward. Rob and Marian are no strangers to getting things done and have a good group of friends who were along for the ride, even if Rob laughs now that they didn’t always agree on some of the decisions made along the way.

'38 coupe-8070.jpg

What they did agree on was that the Heidts front end from the original build was a good way to get the car driving nice and sitting right. Rather than modified stock chassis rails, that front end would soon be stitched on to aftermarket Lilow chassis rails along with custom cross members. It was also decided to swap the old steering rack out for one sourced from a Toyota. Dave Sales from Jalopy Engineering would ensure that the rack was positioned in such a way as to reduce bump steer as much as possible, and mounted adequately to keep LVV Certifier Andy Smith happy. The rest of the Heidts front end, including the AccuAir airbags, QA1 shocks, and tubular A-arms, was all up to scratch.

To get the rear end sitting where they wanted it, a custom four-link was constructed and matched with the original build’s rear airbags and shocks. The older-style manual valve system was replaced with a set-up that Rob created himself, using his skills as an industrial electrician to ensure that all New Zealand requirements were met. The heart of the system is a billet AccuAir Endo tank, which hides the valves and compressor inside, making installation much tidier and also greatly reducing the amount of noise emitted from the compressor.

When purchased, the car had a 350ci small block Chev under its narrow hood. Although there was nothing really wrong with it — apart from the badge, some might argue — Rob had an idea of what would be even better. That ‘something better’ was based on a 289ci small block Ford that had been sitting under the bench in the workshop for so long that he’d almost forgotten where it came from. Rather than bang it straight in the hole, though, Rob handed it over to good friend Preston Brunell at Stoke Mechanical to be stripped down and freshened top to bottom.

The reassembly process included the installation of 60-thou oversize pistons along with stock rods and a ground crank. The block was decked slightly before being fitted with small chamber heads that have, just quietly, been filled with valves originally intended for a Chev. As outright power was never the goal, a cam of unknown origins was dropped in and was paired with a set of roller tip rockers. For now, the set-up has been topped with a FiTech EFI system hidden beneath a traditional-style air cleaner — although it sounds as if that might soon be replaced with a cross-ram injection unit.

Old Ford fans, or those with sharp eyes, may know that the short and narrow nose of the ’38 body style isn’t usually all that accepting of a motor like the 289 without some sheet-metal massaging. Luckily, Rob and Marian got around this by using a Snow White Rodding Supply shortened water pump along with plenty of measuring to get the engine mounts exactly in the right spot, meaning the firewall could be left untouched.

'38 coupe-8207.jpg

Like the engine, the transmission was changed out from a Chevrolet item, this time for a Ford AOD, which was linked to the car’s eight-inch Ford diff. Before the diff could be fitted, a couple of inches were removed from each end to allow for a set of 20×10-inch US Mags Plain Jane wheels to slide inside the mini-tubbed rear guards. Rob says that he settled on that style of wheel after falling in love with a friend’s Detroit Steels, and we’re sure that you’ll agree they suit the car perfectly. The brake system that the car was purchased with was retained, although complemented with a hydroboost system that was sourced from a late-model Mini and also does double duty as a power-steering pump.

'38 coupe-8039.jpg

In stark contrast to the modern brake-boosting system, the interior features a woodgrain dashboard created by a chap who was in his 90s at the time it was assembled in Wisconsin. The Chrysler Bronze paint colour has been on the car for more than 15 years but is still in reasonably good condition. Rob and Marian are expecting to repaint it at some stage and say that the colour works so well they’ll reuse it.

‘Reuse’ has really been the theme for the build, with as much of the car’s history and as many of its components as possible being retained, while at the same time they added their own touches and mechanical improvements. The initial plan was for a quick build but, with Rob self-professing to have changed his mind a number of times on how he wanted to do things, and life in general getting in the way, it extended to five years.

'38 coupe-8141.jpg

Rob summarises the experience by saying, “It will continue from here with an already purchased cross-ram fuel-injection unit, and ongoing repairing and upgrading bits and pieces as we go. We’re really happy with how the car has come up and are really pleased with the ride. It’s comfortable and smooth, and handles and stops well, so now we’re looking forward to getting to some events around New Zealand in it.” So, while Rob claims not to have purchased it intentionally, these days it’s really the icing on the cake from the trip of a lifetime.

This article originally appeared in NZV8 issue No. 186