MELFORD ROBBINS 39 TUB
Oilers Club Member Melford Robbins owned this beautiful dark maroon Carson Topped 1939 Ford Sedan Convertible in the late 1940s. The Custom is still around today.
Robert Genat’s book The Birth of Hot Rodding is filled with absolutely amazing color photos of the 1940’s and very early 1950’s. It shows us, in amazing color, how the Hot Rod scene was back then, a scene we mostly known from black and white photos. Most of the photos in the book are, as the title suggests, are about Hot Rods. But there are a few photos showing some Custom Cars in the background. One of the photos is showing some guys having fun in a Model T Hot Rod project car, and in the background we can see a small portion of the rear of a, as described in the book, 1940 chopped Ford. The car is painted a beautiful maroon and the chopped padded top looks a bit weathered, as if the car had been used a lot already.
That photo was the first time I saw this car, and it intrigued me. Because it was looking really great in this color photo with its beautiful deep maroon color, low stance, ripple De Soto bumpers and padded top, but perhaps even more since it only showed a mall portion of the car. I just needed to see the rest of the car. Around the time I bought Robert Genat’s book I started to communicate with with Custom Car enthusiast, builder and musician John Williamson. John shared a bunch of photos from his collection and told me about his passion for 39-40 Ford tubs. Including in the photos he send were some of a ’39 Ford four door convertible sedan he restored and owned back in the 70’s and 80’s. A really beautiful Custom, but I never made the link with any of the padded topped tubs I knew at the time.
In Nov 2013 HouseofHotRods shares the color photo from the book on the HAMB, somebody had shared it on Facebook, and he is asking for more info on the tub in the photo. In Jan 2014 Elrod responses to the HAMB thread with some more info on the guys in the photo, and also about the Custom in the background.
Information from Elrod
“Aprox. 1949 Oilers club members planning their next build. Allen Christopherson behind the drivers seat and front passenger is Bob Telford. In the back seat on the left is Melford Robbins, in the center is Red Lewis and on the right is Jim Nelson. Melford Robbins’ red 1939 Ford Kustom is seen in the background. It is a 1939 Convertible with a Carson top. Photo taken at the “bug barn”, a chicken shed behind Jim Nelson’s house.”
Now the “mystery” Ford Custom is identified as Melford Robbins 1939 Ford. Member of the Oilers Car Club from Carlsbad, California.
The is photo from the Robert Genat book with Melford’s 1939 Ford with padded top in the background. The one photo that started the search for more information about this Custom Sedan Convertible.
Cropped and zoomed in section of the photo shows the used look of the car, dirty Carson top, dirty bumpers, all adding to the character of the car. It was in indication that Melford drove his Custom very frequently.
From the Oilers Collection comes this photo showing Melford’s Car from the front. This, and the color photo showing just the rear of the car are the only 40’s and 50’s photos we have been able to find of the car so far. To the left of Melford’s tub is Dago Cantarini’s car. Dago’s car is a narrowed 1927 T roadster body with 165 HP 1942 Mercury engine. It ran Offy heads, Offy manifold, Potvin ignition, Harman Super cam and a 3:27 rear end with 7:00×16 tires out back.
About the 1939 Ford Convertible Sedan
So far we have not been able to find out much about the car, we do not know who did the custom work on the car, or when it was done. The Padded top was crated by the Carson Top Shop using 1933 Ford frames over the rear doors. Perhaps Carson, or the shop next door to them chopped the windshield. The car was lowered, and as far as we know, although we have no photos to proof, the car had single bar flipper hubcaps same as how it looked in the 1980’s. The old black and white and color photo show that the car did have the side trim in place. The teardrop shaped stock ’39 Ford taillights were replaced with 1940 chevron units. The stock bumpers made place for the ever popular ’37 DeSoto bumpers (two front bumpers in this case). The trunk was shaved and the hood had the two half’s welded together and the center trim piece removed. The 1939 Ford headlight rings were replaced by 1940 Ford units, a set of Appleton Spotlights added. The finished car was painted a wonderful deep maroon.
Cropped section of the photo to have a better look at the tub. Notice that one of the headlight rings is missing. Chopped windshield, Appleton Spotlights, smoothed hood and ’37 DeSoto bumpers look so good in the ’39 Fords.
John Williamson new owner
In 2014 John Williamson mentioned that the car is the Robert Genat book, Milford Robbins ’39 Ford, was a car that he owned from 1975 to 1989. And that it was the car he had send me the photos of a year os so earlier. It all started together now.
John mentioned this about the car.
“I bought it from his estate thru the San Diego antique Ford store. I re did it with the help of the Guildner Brothers Custom Shop, Their Dad Frank helped me go get it in San Diego, drove it daily and really enjoyed it. At that time it had a stock 48 Merc flathead, 40 column shift with zephyr gears and a columbia rearend. It would go about 75 in seconds but took a long time to wind all the way out.
Milf was a finish carpenter and continued to use his ’39 Tub for a work truck so when I got it, it still had the back seat missing and the bracing removed so you could load wood from the trunk all the way to the back of the front seat. Between the backseat riser and front seat was a very well built series of 100 or more wooden shop drawers for all sizes of screws, nails, brackets and so on, after I removed the drawer system there was Milf’s “Black Book” of ladies phone numbers and addresses,
Melf must have been a ladies man, there was a long list of girls phone no.’s in the black book found under the seat. I always wanted to go down the list call the girls and take them for one more ride but never got around to it. I sold the car to Al Mc Kee of Bass Lake in 1989, he sold it to a truck stop owner who then sold it to Woody Pollard the current owner.”
Pat Ghanal’s used this photo of the car in his The American Custom Car book. John Williamson owned the car at this time and was in the progress of getting it finished with new paint. The car at the time had a black Padded Top and it was still in primer after the bodywork was done, The photo was taken at the 1st or 2nd Throttlers Picnic in Burbank.
“My close friend Jimmie Collins re did the outside of the Carson and I had him put a plastic rear window so it wouldn’t pull the rear of the top down. Also you can see the 33/34 Ford Cabrolet door windows used in the rear doors to make a round rear corner another 40’s / 50’s trick. I didn’t change the headliner because it had a Milf Robbins Ducktail hairdoo grease spot on it above the drivers seat, I liked that so I kept it.
Milf had also used a series of house light switches and toggle switches to control everything so there was no need for using the ignition switch, you did House Switch for car power then electric fuel pump switch then Ignition Switch and you were off and running. I made some changes to the car but not many. The front fender wheel wells were radiused and re rolled very badly, so I rolled new radiuses using a 55 gal. drum for a tool and made new opening patch panels and installed them, the car wouldn’t steer with the 16’s and 700 tires, they would hit and tear the radiuses, I rolled them and installes round tubing behind the roll and welded them in for strength and rub restance, that worked good.
The car had a 40 column and side shift with zyphers and the Columbia rearend. The car had a home made dropped axle cut dropped and plated with no hammering and stretching, just cut off moved and welded back together, 1949 technology for kids in auto shop. The car was painted with Chrysler Maroon which was applied by Tab Guildner and myself. Tab was also responsible for most of the restoration body work ”
After having enjoyed the car for many years John decided to sell the car in 1989. John sold the car to Al McKee.
“When I sold the car to Al McKee I gave him the book with girl phone numbers, I felt they belonged to the car.”
The great Drummer Joe Uele of John Mayall’s band is behind the wheel in Venice Ca when he was in John Williams Magic Blues Band “great car and musician”. The car looked good with or without the top.
One of the things John changed was the addition of small taillights mound on the DeSoto rear bumper next to the License plate. When he bought the car the ’40 Ford taillights were missing from the car. John also replaced the stock ’39 gas filler cap from the rear fender and replaced it with a newer gas filler door.
When John redid the car he added a few things, including Pickup truck running boards a front and rear gravel, these are visible in some of the color photos John supplied. These units were made in such a way that they could be removed easily. John always thought that the original owner Milf Robbins would have liked it like this. The current owner of the car has these pans and the fender skirts off the car.
Owned by Al McKee
When Al McKee owned the car they made more changes to the ’39 Ford. Al and & his son changed things like a manual rack & pinyon & a 57 TBIRD 9″, and they were going to run a 350 chev but decided to go with a blown flathead using the Merc in the car. They had Ted Frey build it. They wanted to run a B&M blower but their was no B&M blower manifold for a flathead. They went to Dave at B&M and ask if he would make a manifold them, so the manifold used on this car is a prototype. They also had an adapter made so they could use a ford c4 auto.
Owned by Leroy Sherman
Leroy purchased the car from Al at the Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield years ago.
This is what Leroy mentioned. “We both were racing there at the time, and I would always walk by the Car parked in the pits. The more I walked by, the more I liked it. I struck up a conversation with the owner Al and his wife, and ended up buying it right there. I brought it home to Eugene, OR where I live and owned Sherman Bros. Trucking.”
“While at Fosse’s Hotrod Shop in WA one day, I met a retired millwright out of Aberdeen WA. who had a buck setup, and built the stainless window frames all by hand. The Old original ones were in pretty terrible shape.
The rear taillights, when I got it, were truck turn signals mounted on the splash pan. I replaced them with the ’41 Studebaker lites. I also replaced the wire wheels, with the solid chrome & merchant caps. I sold the car to Woody Pollard.
It was a Great car! And it gave me many Great memories!”
Owned by Woody Pollard
Not much has changed to the car after Woody Pollard became the new owner. Over the years quite a few things have changed on the car, and the most obvious is the stance, now sitting rather high and with a slight forward rake while is used to sit very low, with a nice speed-boat stance. The replacement of the of the running boards with the pickup truck painted ones also made a huge difference in the overall look and feel. In 2017 Woody was looking to find a new caretaker for the car, and found the perfect new caretaker in Tom Zinke, who is planning to take the car back to its original looks.
I came across two photos of Melford’s Ford on the internet some time ago. (not sure who took them). It shows the car how it now looks owned by Woody Pollard. Modern white wall tires, ’50 Merc caps on chrome wheels, higher stance and removal of the fender skirts change the look of the car. But it is all still there, and sure can be brought back to late 1940’s specs with not too much work. Some small aftermarket spotlights replace the Appleton units that were on the car then Melford owned it.
Gas filler door in the rear fender, 1941 Studebaker taillights replace the rear bumper mounted teardrop shape taillights, which were added by John, favoring them over the ’40 Ford Chevron units added by Melford. The rear window was also enlarged to improve visibility.
Owned by Tom Zinke
In February 2018 Tom Zinke from Denver CO, became the new caretaker of the Melford Robbins 1939 Tub. After seeing your history on it and after speaking to Williamson, Tom just had to have it. So far he has made the car mechanically usable. It needed quite some work to get the car a reliable road car again. Rewired, fuel delivery, radiator and fan/shroud, oil lines, remove excess under hood, 1″ lowering blocks, 7.60 15 W white walls, chrome wheels are temporary. Next plan is to get to the cosmetics, period correct wheels and interior. Hopefully this coming winter Tom will get to work on that. No paint job in the plan, it’s perfect the way it is!
Tom met with an Oilers Club representative (Elrod) at the Hotrod Hill climb in September 2018. He recognized the Tub and will send me more information on its history.
There are still some blank spots in the history of this ’39 Ford Sedan Convertible Custom that we hopefully one day can fill in. If you have any more information about the car when it was owned by Melford Robbins or any subsequent owners before John Williams bought it in 1975, are any old photos of this car. Then please email Rik Hoving here at the Custom Car Chronicle.
Special thanks to Elrod, John Williamson and Woody Pollard for the help on this article.
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