SAM FOOSE AND HARRY BRADLEY
Automotive designer Harry Bentley Bradley designed, perhaps his most elegant Custom Car based on a 1949 Ford Sedan. Master-metal man Donn Lowe and Sam Foose recreated his designs in metal.
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen Harry Bradley designed this Fantom ’49 Ford he had FoMoCo designer Edsel Ford in mind. Harry Bradley has always admired the wonderful designs Edsel Ford created. Cars like the ’32, ’34, ’36 Fords/Lincolns and ’39 and ’40 Mercury’s. All these cars, especially toward the 1940’s had those wonderful long and tapered hoods, stylish roofs and amazing details on the side windows, often with chrome details. Mr Bradley thought Edsel’s designs were tasteful, understated and thoroughly inspired. With all this in mind Mr Bradley went to work, creating a Customs with all the styling elements of the earlier Edsel Ford designs, using all the basic ’49 elements, but refined and scaled down. Creating a car that perhaps Edsel Ford would have created for his own personal use.
Harry Bradley’s designs for the Fantom Ford appeared for the first time in 1983 when Street Rodder magazine used them in an article. When I saw them for the first time it was 1991, when a similar article with the same artwork by Mr. Bradley appeared in the Swedish magazine Wheels. The article, two pages, was filled with amazing drawings, a ’38, a ’41, and this ’49 Ford were shown. I was shocked by its beauty.
Getting back in time, master custom builder Donn Lowe from Oregon had seen the Street Rodder magazine article and fell in love with the design and decided to take the task on him to recreate Harry’s designs in metal. He contacted Mr. Bradley and many phone calls and sketches later Donn started the project based on a 1951 Ford, which he “downgraded” to a 1949 model. He started with the suspension getting the car to the right ride height. A ’72 Nova front clip was added and at the rear a Ford 9″ with drum brakes was installed. A full Airride system makes sure the car can be lowered to the perfect stance. Donn continued with the chop. Mr. Bradley’s design asked for the removal of the section just above the belt line and the lower section of the top, leaned back A-pillars and leaned forward, and moved rearward C-Pillars. The B-Pillars would be completely removed at this point. With the top tacked in place Donn proceeded with the lower body. This needed to be pie-cut sectioned from 1 inch in the back, to 5 inches on the front. Just as the chop, not an easy task, but needed to come close to the original drawings.
Sadly Donn had to abandon the project at this stage. Fortunately for a good reason. His body shop work load was so big he just did not have the time for his personal project no more. The project sat for some time until another master custom builder, Sam Foose heard about the project. Sam and his son Chip headed out to Oregon to buy the project. Sam had also see Harry’s illustration in 1983, and also loved the design. Donn’s already started project would be the perfect base for Sam. And Sam knew everything Donn already did, must have been perfect since everything Donn does is that way. And right he was.
Sam Foose found his friend Jack Bernard interested enough in the project to financing the built, so Sam went ahead and finished where Donn had left off. First task was to finish the pie-cut sectioning. The main body structure had been sectioned but all the panels still had to be done. Sam was now also in contact with Harry Bradley and together they discussed a few changed on the car. Some minor details or fine tuning that were just not visible on the original illustrations, like the front to rear peaks on the fenders/beltline. But also more visible details as the narrowed grille bar and remaining of the stock taillights and wind split on the rear quarters. All changes where discussed and approved by Harry Bradley.
Sam finished the tacked in chopped roof. A lot of work to get the flow right. At the belt-line all new metal was formed to make the windows fit. A new, much thinner B-Pillar was created and window frames styled after the 1939-40 Mercury coupes was created to fit flush with the body. 1952 Ford headlights were molded into the front fenders but raised from its stock position. This was needed to make space for the grille surround. After sectioning the body 5 inches at the front the original grille surround had to be cut down and moved up to fit, and to be in balance with the reduced in height front of the car.
Harry’s original designs called for a custom made grille based on the original ’49 Ford grille, but cleaner, and smoother. Sam decided to use the original grille, but scale it down. The Horizontal bars were cut down at the end so that the whole unit could be moved back to fit flush with the surround instead of sitting on top and overlapping the surround on the original car. Scaling down the center bullet and surround was not so easy… or was it. Sam had looked at a 1951 Ford grille and came to the conclusion that the 1951 Ford grille usses two bullets on each side of the grille bar that is basically the same as the 1949 single center unit, but just smaller. So these 1951 Bullets would work perfectly for his scaled down 1949 Grille.
Harry Bradley’s design sketches as they appeared in the Swedish Wheels magazine. The side view images show the amount of work needed for the project. The rear vender view shows Harry’s original plan was to use stock shaped taillights molded into the body, and a reverse shaped wind-spilt. The last part did not make it on to the final version.
Nice view shows a stock and modified view next to each other. As can be seen Harry’s original version of the grille uses a smooth center bullet and a smooth but still long grille bars.
Sam had always really liked the wonderful peak of the 1949-51 Ford rear fenders, especially when cleaned up. So he decided to use this peak and run it down the complete length of the car. Starting at the top of the rear fender, over the rear quarters, doors and ending on top of the front fender in the dead center of the headlights. A very subtile touch many people will not see, but in fact it really ties the car together and adds elegance to the new belt line.
Next up where the bumpers. Sam used the stock bumpers and cut out the lower section in the center. The hole left in the bumper received a subtile lip, giving a hint to the 1951 Ford bumpers. A new metal section was shaped to fill the hole in the bumper, this would later be painted body color with at the end custom made parking lights. At the rear the same was repeated, only here the end sections are used for the exhaust tips. And these where of course also hand shaped by Sam. A few things were left on the body,reshaped wheel openings, molded splash pan’s and some jewelry. Sam hand made the new spear shaped side trim in brass. The spear is wide at the back and very pointy at the front, ver much as the new shape of the pie-cut body. The hood trim was also created from brass and Sam also hand shaped a hood ornament which is a scaled down version of the stock unit. Much more elegant.
When I first saw this front 3/4 view I could not believe how beautiful it was. I do like the wider an taller white wall tires Harry Bradley used on his illustration, better than what was used on the real car.
In the mid 1990’s I set out to built an 1/25 scale model of Harry’s Ford. At that time I started the project I had no knowledge the real car was going to be built. Later I found out Sam Foose was building it. I send Sam Foose a letter asking him all kinds of questions about the car. Several weeks later I received a letter back from Sam, three pages of text and illustrations explaining what he had done on the car.
The side profile shows the perfect balanced body top relation. The rake of the body due to the pie-cut sectioning, the angled back windshield. Everything is used to create instant speed.
For the interior Sam cleaned up the original dash and the window garnish moldings were reshaped to fit the new side window openings. A custom console was created and Glide Engineering provided the seat base which Sam further modified to fit his needs and the rear bench was hand made. When everything was ready this all was upholstered in a wonderful gray mohair with leather accents by Gabe Lopez of Gabe’s Street Rods and Custom Interiors. Very much like a high end factory car from the 1940’s. The body was painted in a Mercedes blue green metallic named Fantom Green by Bill Anderson at the Foose workshop. A color that suits the lines of the car absolutely perfect.
The interior of the Fantom Ford is classic understatement. The dashboard is smoothed, the glove box filled and painted light gray metallic. The seats upholstered in mohair like material with leather ascents. The Budnik steering wheels was said to be a temporary solution, but it has stayed in the car since the beginning. A cut down original 49 Ford wheel as original planned would have look much better.
1951 Ford grille bullets are much smaller in diameter than the 1949 units, so that was used in the new scaled down grille. A set of original ’49 Ford hubcaps and beauty rings was used on gray metallic painted wheels. Over the years the exhaust tips have sagged a little. ther used to be a very small gab between the tip and the bumper. The photo does who the nice lip Sam added to the chrome portion of the bumper.
The dead on front view shows the wonderful restyled and scaled down ’49 Ford grille. The floating bar sits now inside the chrome grille surroud. Hard to see is that the inside of the grille opening is painted light gray metallic, similar as the wheels and dash. This photo also shows the connection between the grille surround and the cut outs in the lower section of the bumper.
The rear view shows the bumper inset panel, which is bigger than the one created on the front. This way the panel lines up with the trunk lines, and there is more room for the exhaust tips. The sagged over time, exhaust tips making it look a little sad. It also gives us a good look at the body colored panel in the bumper, the stock taillight bezels with hand made smooth taillights and the peak on top of the rear fenders that flows all the way to the front fenders.
Another photo by Paul Kelly shows the then owner Jack Bernard walking towards his car. It shows how low this car is.
The Harry Bradley Fantom Ford is a very inspiring car, something totally different from the 1940’s and 1950’s styled Custom Cars we all love so much. Harry Bradley succeeded, in my eyes, to blend vintage styling with modern styling. Staying with the original design of the car, and only improving on it. The smaller size white wall tires – compared to Mr. Bradley’s original design – make it look more modern than how Edsel Ford probably would have built it back then. But over-all I think that this is perhaps the best designed Harry Bradley car of them all. Of course with the fine tuning help of master craftsman Donn Lowe and Sam Foose.
More info and resources
- Wheels magazine, Swedish magazine July 1991
- Rod & Custom, magazine February 1999
- Custom Rodder, magazine March 2000