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Custom HistoryEarly Custom CarsThe Tom Nielsen Collection

Re-creating That Special Car




Lots of car fans have fond memories of the First Car or a Special nice Car that they owned as a young person.

Re-creating that “Special Car”
By Tom Nielsen

First love is a strong memory that many people find hard to forget. Lots of car fans have fond memories of the “first car” or a “special nice car” that they owned as a young person. If that car was a “nice hot rod” or “cool custom car”, those memories linger even longer and are much more intense.

Sometimes car fans are even motivated to recreate this memorable car later in life. Usually this occurs when they have the some leisure time and the financial resources that they didn’t have when they were younger. Using old photos and a good “car memory” they seek out the same year, make and model of car that they had back in the day. Then the task of restoring and modifying it continues until that car has been re-created.

Ken Wall was a young man working in the parts department at Davis Ford in Denver, Colorado around 1948. He had been borrowing friend’s cars and riding the street car to get around town. Ken had been looking for a car to buy, but nice cars were in high demand after the war. When a very clean 1940 Ford Deluxe coupe came into the dealership on a trade-in, young Ken quickly bought it. This would be his “first nice car”. He had briefly owned a 1940 Mercury sedan before the ’40 Ford, but it was not the car he wanted to keep.

Ken poses proudly with his newly acquired 1940 Ford Deluxe business coupe in 1948.

Some of his friends also had ’37 to ’40 Fords and a couple of ’39-’40 Mercs too. His buddies had customized and hopped up their cars. Young Ken had the same idea for his newly purchased gem. There wasn’t a car club that he belonged to, however his car friends would all get together at various places around Denver. Around 1948 they especially liked to hang out at “Pic A Rib” which was located at Broadway and Platte River Drive.

An impressive line-up of friend’s cars taken in 1948.

The cars were photographed in the parking lot of Miller’s Market which can be seen on the left.

One of the car owners was a photographer and luckily took these great photos.

It didn’t take Ken long to start to personalize his first car. His first change was to smooth the decklid and the hood. A set of Ford accessory fender skirts and single bar flipper hubcaps were also added by. 1937 DeSoto bumpers were popular custom touches to have on Fords at that time. It wasn’t long before he had put a pair of them on his “forty”. When the body changes were completed he was ready to have the car repainted. A friend named Jack Stephenson painted it in a ’47 Chev “Ozone Blue lacquer.

Since his nice looking Forty Ford was less than ten years old it was in pretty good mechanical shape. But there were some changes he wanted to make. Ken added dual pipes with Smitty mufflers to his “forty”. Lincoln gears were put in the Ford transmission. A Columbia two-speed rear end was another nice upgrade that he put into his coupe.

This photo taken later in 1948 shows the tasteful changes that Ken made in customizing his “forty Ford coupe“. This photo would help him years later re-create his “Special Car“.

But he also wanted more power for his custom “forty” Deluxe. So an engine change was the next step in building his “dream car”. In the late forties and early fifties there were several speed shops, like the well known Kenz and Leslie, around Denver. These shops had all the hot rod parts and know how to help out Denver’s young hot rodders. Ken purchased a 59 A block to build up and put in his coupe. He had it bored, added a ’49 Merc crank and a Winfield ¾ cam. To finish this “hot motor he put on 81 A S Ford high compression heads and a re-jetted Stromberg 97 carb.

Great angle highlighting two chopped custom converts and a mild ’40 convertible.

Some of Ken’s friend’s cars parked near his home. The rear of the chopped convert on the right has a nice look to it.

Jim Katsimitas with his nicely appointed ’40 convertible.

Rudy Witek’s full custom 1937 Ford Club Cabriolet sports Calnevar Whitesides with single bar flipper hubcaps.

Ken and his friends had lots of fun in and around Denver in their hot rods and customs. One long trip that Ken took was when he drove to Miami, Florida with two friends. He also drove the car to the West coast going to Portland and Los Angeles. Eventually he sold his prized “first nice car” so he could buy a 1949 Mercury. But he never forgot about his special, blue Deluxe ’40 Ford coupe.

The Re-Creation

Fast forward about 30 years and Ken was now living in Washington state and building warehouses. As a hobby he was into restoring model A Fords. It just so happened that a relative had been storing a nice 1940 Ford Deluxe coupe in Denver. He was always going to do something with it, but was pretty busy with his business. When Ken asked about buying it that he told him he would sell it to him so Ken could re-create his old car.
Ken didn’t hesitate and soon was on his way to Denver with his trailer to pick it up. When he got it back to his home he knew exactly what he was going to do to the ‘40.

The coupe that Ken brought back from Denver to re-create his first ’40 Ford.

He located an engine and the parts needed to rebuild it. A Mercury crank and Winfield cam were also sourced for the motor. I helped him find a Thickstun dual carb manifold and he purchased a set of high compression heads. He also found a Columbia rear axle which he rebuilt and then reworked the vacuum controls. His time spent in the Ford dealership back in 1948 helped him in identifying the correct parts he needed for the mechanical rebuild.

I took this photo of the “new” coupe shortly after completion by Ken. “Ozone blue” paint and a “period perfect look” make it look like his first “special car”.

With the running gear pretty complete, he turned to restoring the body on the coupe. The sheet metal was rust free and very straight. The only problem was a little rust in the drip rail. His Model A restoring buddy Johny Cooper fixed it for him. Ken carefully massaged the sheet metal until it was ready for paint.

This time around Ken decided to paint his car himself. The Ozone blue lacquer used on the first car was duplicated for the “new” forty. A pair of ’37 DeSoto bumpers were replated and installed on the car. In the rear Ken used a ’41 Ford grille guard with the license mounted in it just like he had used on the first car.

Rear shows off the Desoto bumpers and ’41 grille guard along with the “genuine Ford accessory” fender skirts.

Filled hood, shortened side trim, ’37 Desoto bumpers, and single bar flipper hubcaps, just like the “First Special Car“.

In 1948 white walls were not used as often on hot rods and customs, like they were later in the 1950’s. Ken stayed true to his re-creation and used blackwalls with single bar flipper hubcaps The result stays very true to the car’s 1948 theme. In Ken’s first car the interior was the original mohair as the car was still not very old. For this version Ken selected a fabric close in color to the brown of the first forty. It was upholstered in a rolled and pleated pattern.

Interior was done in a rolled and pleated tan fabric with maroon piping that contrasts nicely with the restored dash and stock steering wheel.

Modified 59 A block with speed equipment follows the theme of this “Special Car“.

The finished car looks just like the one that Ken owned in 1948. Since he finished the car he has had lots of fun showing it and driving it to car events for over twenty years now. He even took his “new” forty back to Denver to hang out with his old car buddies.When he gets behind the wheel and hears that flathead fire up it takes him back to 1948 again! What more could you ask for than reliving such a fun and memorable part of your youth!

(This article is made possible by)




Tom Nielsen

Tom Nielsen is a long time Custom Car fan with wonderful collection of photos of 1940's to 1960's custom cars. He loves to share his collection and to tell stories about them.

2 thoughts on “Re-creating That Special Car

  • Wonderful story, Tom. Really takes us back. Something about those mild customs! Keeps us grounded in the true roots of the traditional customizing movement that swept across America’s heartland.

  • Killer little ’40 coupe! It doesn’t take much to make them look great…chopped or not, they still look sharp. Very impressive lineup of early kustoms 🙂

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