Custom History

November 8, 2016

Front-end Swap on Early Customs

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Written by: Rik Hoving
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In the 1940s and early 1950s quite a few older cars were Custom updated with more modern front-ends. To make them look more modern and above all better

From early on a very popular method to update your car, to make it look more expensive, or newer was to add a newer grille, preferably from an upscale car. The new grille disguised the cars origins, made it look a lot better, more powerful and more exclusive. At one point somebody, and we have no idea who this was, or when, came up with the idea to not only add a grille from a different car, but rather add the complete front end. One thought is that it might have happened in the case of some frontal damage, and the whole front end needed to be replaced anyway.

In the research about this topic I came across a great number of Fords from ’35 – ’38 that had received more modern front ends as part of their Custom Restyling. In contrast with what was done with “just” a grille replacement, the new front ends used on the older bodies were mostly Ford and Chevy units. And not like on the grille replacements from the more expensive, exotic brand cars. Main reason for this is obviously the size difference which would require a lot of extra work to make both brand cars fit together. While staying with all Ford designed material (or similar sized cars) required a more reasonable amount of work to merge the two components together to become one.

The method of Custom restyling with updating the complete front end of a car with a more modern unit is not described in any of the early Custom Car manuals I have been bale to find. Unlike most other techniques this one, even though it was used quite a bit in the 1940’s, was never discussed or explained, or promoted much.

ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-27-chevy-al-hawkinsAl Hawkins 1927 Chevrolet Phaeton with a ’34 Ford Grill, hood and modified fenders. Perhaps this one does not fit the subject of this article completely, but I wanted to include it here since it does demonstrate how much more modern a car can look with a new front end. From a rather boxy ’27 Chevy to a beautiful streamlined 34 Ford, with a almost sectioned main body. Very clever use of material. The ripple disk hubcaps, teardrop headlights, reshaped front fenders and ’40 Ford bumpers give the car a nice modern custom look in the mid 1940’s.  (Don Montgomery and NHRF photos)


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-011936 Ford sedan convertible with a ’40 Ford front end grafted on. Beautiful early/mid 1940’s look and feel Custom car. It looks like the owner posing with the car is really proud about it as well. The black wall tires and overall look make me believe this car was done during, or shortly after WWII.


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-02A better look at the same ’36 Ford with ’40 Ford front end shows how nice the two car components work together. Even though the beltline on the ’40 Ford hood does not match with the lower belt line on the ’36 Ford, it does give the impression that the line is continued on the door character line above the belt line. The convertible doors make this work really well, actually better than roadster doors. Hot (Oiler Hot Rod club member Elrod mentioned on Instagram that this ’36 Ford belonged to Bup Kentner, founding Oilers member. The car was built by Gene Shelby)


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-03Photographed in the early 1950’s, this ’36 Ford convertible is often overlooked as an ‘1940 Ford. The ’36 Ford convertible had its windshield chopped and the beltline smoothed in. The ’40 Ford front end was grafted on, and the hood sectioned with the belt line taken out in the process.


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-04The same car in the early 1960’s.


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-06And fully restored in 1980’s at an Paso Robles car show now with padded top installed.


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-07Chip Chipman took this photo at an 80’s Paso Robles event and it gives us a better look at the work that was done to get the lines of the hood and body match. removal of all body character lines, for a much smoother look than the original ’36 Ford.


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-08’37 Ford coupe wit filled rear quarter windows and ’40 Ford front-end grafted on. This is also an original ’40’s custom, although the original builder has not yet been identified. The work on this one was done very nice and the way the belt line of the ’37 Ford body and ’40 Ford hood is really nicely done. The removal of the running boards indicated that this car was originally restyled in the early/mid 1940’s. It was completely restored a decade or two ago.


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-22This front 3/4 view shows how great the two different bodies work together. The stainless around the ’37 V-windshield works so much better than the original ’40 Ford coupe windshield frame. To make it all work  the rear of the front fenders had to be extended down to meet the bottom of the body (where the running boards used to be) and the wheel openings were raised for a better balance and make sure the wheels could be turned for sharp corners.


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-10Photo taken at the first annual Pennsylvania Autorama in 1954 shows Ralph Hayes’ 1936 Ford Coupe with a new front end that looks to have come from a 1940-41 Studebaker combined with a ’36 Chevy grille, and 49 Plymouth bumpers. It gave the ’36 Ford a completely new bold look. 


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-11Another photo taken at the Pennsylvania Autorama in 1954 shows this 1937-38 Ford coupe with 1940 Ford front end grafted on. A great looking coupe with the rear quarter windows filled in. The ’40 Ford end sure makes the cal look smoother and newer. (Scan courtesy of Craig, Shanon, and Tracy Bowman. scanned by Antiqueynot)


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-12Brian Butler shared these photos of an 1935 Ford Phaeton he found that uses a ’39 Ford front end. The restyling on this old custom was done really nice and everything looks to flow really nice. I really wonder how this beauty might have looked al finished back in the early/mid 1940’s.


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-13This high angle photo show how nice the bold, v-haped hood flows with the smooth roadster wrap around cowl. The best of both worlds.


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-14Louis Cote 1936 Ford roadster with a ’40 Ford front-end grafted on. Another great sample of this Custom Restyling technique and how it updated the older body. 


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-15The side view shows that the belt-line of the ’36 Ford roadster body and the ’40 Ford hood do not line up at all. The builder took the easy way and reshaped the belt-line section on the cowl, to make the belt line from the hood flow into the door line. 


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-16Low angle front 3/4 photo shows the much more modern look of the ’36 Ford. The 46 Ford bumpers help even more. The dip in the beltline on the cowl is something we have seen one more of this type of restyling. It sets apart the more home built customs from the professional shop built samples.


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-17The March 1953 isssue of Rod & Custom magazine showed Dick Reeves 1936 Ford Phaeton with an 1948 Chevy front-end with 48 Cadillac grille grafted on. A set of full fade away fender was added to update the main body even more and the windshield is said to be a Kurtis unit. The article gives credit for the body work to Custom Craft and Valley Custom Shop for the work. I sadly have never seen a picture of this car showing if it has been finished or not. Very interesting Custom.


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-18An late 1990’s issue of Rod & Custom magazine shared this ’36 Ford roadster with ’39 Ford front end. There was no information given about the cars origin, but by the looks of it I guess it was based on an 1940’s created custom. 


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-19Trend Books Restyle your Car from 1952 showed this ’36 Ford Roadster with ’39 Ford front-end added to it. Very similar to the one shown above, but on this one the body was channeled with sectioned hood and the fenders cut to sit level with the bottom of the body. 


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-20One of the best known more modern front end swaps is done by the talented crew at the Valley Custom Shop. They used an 1940 Ford front end on an 1938 Ford sedan convertible body for owner Ray Vega. The result is a stunning perfectly balanced more modern looking custom.


ccc-early-custom-front-end-swap-21To be able to make the ’40 Ford front-end work with the ’38Ford main body the hood was sectioned, the belt line on it smoothed and the bottom of the front fenders on the rear extended down to meet the running boards. The new front end made the car look much lower and wider than original.


Updating cars with newer front ends was used later on as well,but not as much. I have seen ’39 Mercury’s with ’40 front ends, 46-48 front-ends on the ’41 Fords, ’49 Ford with ’51 Ford front ends etc. All modifications to make the cars looks a bit more modern, but the results were never more obvious than what was done with these early body style cars shown in this article. It is a very interesting early restyling technique with great results, especially when done right.


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About the Author

Rik Hoving

Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what’s going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)



  1. Great article Rik . An under appreciated aspect of our hobby and as some one that has done this, I can attest to it being quite a bit of work getting all the parts to fit and work together.
    That 36 phaeton with the 48 Chevy front clip looks real interesting. Picture a great padded top and paint in a dark Blue or Maroon. Some skirts and twin 112’s. Bitchin…….. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Rik, for your research and observations on yet another often overlooked area of restyling from those “can-do” and “why-not” times of anything was possible, with what was available in post-WWII.

  3. Great article as usual but it was the 49 Cadillac roadster in the foreground of the Pennsylvania autorama pic that got me excited. It’s not the Dean Fellows or Lon Hurley car either.

  4. Great article…some of these are very tastefully done while others are a bit rudimentary. The blue ’37 with ’40 front clip has a great look to it…would love to see more of the white ’37 with ’40 clip and dash…really interesting.

  5. allways nice articles rik, the vega car killer, i found one all trashed out an the guy wanted barrells full of gold for it an latter on i heard they junked it,

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