DONN LOWE 1940 FORD
Donn Lowe reshaped the 1940 Ford coupe into a perfectly balanced piece of automotive art.
Donn Lowe from Oregon has been building uniquely styled Custom Cars for many decades. His Custom creations are always very recognizable. Perfectly balanced cars, with a huge amount of body work, some of which is very obvious, while a lot might go unnoticed by many. Body work performed not to make a change to the car, but to restyle it, to improve its lines and overall impression. The way Customizing should be done. Don is not afraid to cut up a body in many pieces, shift things around and inch here and inch there, change the rake, the angle and round corners, just enough to make the overall shape just the way he had it in his mind. His creations always have a really nice balance between modern and vintage, as if the Custom Masters from the 1940’s and early 1950′ came back into the modern time and create a vintage styled Custom with todays technology.
The 1940 Ford named Futurama Forty which he created for Doug and Diane Beattie is the perfect example of the Donn Lowe way of building the ultimate Custom Car. Doug wanted to build his ultimate 1940 Ford Custom Coupe for many years, and when he found the perfect base for it he contacted Custom builder Donn Lowe and designer Eric Black to visualize his dream. Doug’s ideas were translated and improved by Donn’s vision and executed in 2D by Eric Black to create the perfect design visual and inspiration image. Eric’s overlay of a stock 1940 Ford coupe line art shows how much the new designed Custom needed to be reshaped to become the Futurama Ford. The 1940 Ford is not the most easy car to customize. From the factory the car has a more Hot Rod than Custom look with its forward angle of the top. But Donn Lowe knew what needed to be done to reshape the top and body to make the whole car fall back like those wonderful late 1940’s Custom Creations.
Hot Rod and Custom Car designer and Illustrator Eric Black created the wonderful side view rendering before the actual work on the car started. The Illustration remained an inspiration source thru-out the metal shaping staged of the project.
Eric Black also made this nice sketch showing the difference of the stock body compared to the restyled custom body. The new lines of the car are all falling back, while the stock ’40 Ford coupe has a very much forward rake feel to it.
Donn Lowe and Eric Johnson started the project with the frame work. The stock 1940 For frame was cleaned and then completely boxed. The rear of the frame was modified to allow the car to be lowered. A four link 9-inch rear axle was used in the back and the front axle was replaced with a Heidts independent front suspension set at the perfect height. Ad Ford 251 engine was rebuild by Wayne Harry, and made to look at its very best. The chassis was put on a set of 16″ wheels and 205/75/16 Diamond Back tires. Once the frame work was basically done it was time to put the body back on the frame and start reshaping that to match Donn’s idea and Eric’s Visuals.
Early stages of the build. Donn has removed the side window openings completely and is now cutting the top in pieces so he can lower it and reshape it to match the design.. which can be seen taped on the wall behind Donn.
The body was braced on the inside to make sure it would keep its shape and then channeled over the frame with the lower portions of the body overlapping the frame a lot. The cowl was sectioned in the process. The lower sections of the body would later be cut of, but the the shape of the top was the first thing on the list to do. The design showed that for the perfect balance the whole cockpit needed to be moved rear wards. So the cowl was cut vertically and the whole main body moved back several inches and the cowl stretched. Next the rear quarter windows were cut out of the body completely at this point. Donn then cut the windshield at the bottom of the a-pillars, and made cuts at the top of the door opening. The rear of the top was cut just above and below the rear window. Now Donn could bend the windshield back several inches at the top, enough to get the top of the roof down the right amount. The whole top was lowered several inches more in the back than in the front to get the perfect flow.
A little further in the process. This photo shows how much the cabin was set back and the amount the cowl needed to be extended. It also shows how much the body was dropped over the frame, and how much still needs to be cut from the bottom. The door window shape is already pretty much there, but the rear quarter windows still need to be reshaped.
The rear of the top was heavily reshaped with many sectioned recreated in new metal to get the best possible shape of the top. Once the roof had the right shape the door tops were removed and reshaped to match the new side opening. The original idea was to place the door line in the center of the B-Pillars, but later it was decided to keep this the way it came from the factory. With a heavy post on the door and a very thin one on the rear quarter window. The lower line of the side window opening on a stock 1940 Ford Coupe flows up compared to the beltline. Which looked good on a stock body car, and perhaps a Hot Rodder version. But for a Custom the upward angle works against the general tail dragging speedboat flow. So the section from the beltline to the bottom of the side windows was pie-cut sectioned taking more out of the back. The new lower window opening now follow the shape of the belt-line. The rear quarter windows were completely reshaped and are now in perfect balanced with the door window. The rear quarter windows often are made too small when a 1940 Ford gets chopped making it look a bit odd, not so on the Futurama Forty.
The car was put on an adjustable jig so that it could be moved into the most comfortable position for Donn to work on it. In this photo a lot of the major body work has already been done, including the chopped and moved rearwards top. The front fenders still need to be reshaped. Notice the fantastic flow of the new roof and window openings.
With the base body shape roughed in it was time to concentrate on the other parts of the body. First all four fenders were roughly placed into the best possible position compared to the ground and the body. Not looking at their original location, just placing it where it looked best, that is the way Donn likes to work. The rear fenders were moved up to almost sit level with the belt-line. The rear fenders were reshaped to fit the body and extended at the back to make place for the 1954 Plymouth taillights. The wheel opening was cut out and a set of flush fitted teardrop skirts were hand made to fit the new fender opening. The front fenders were also positioned higher on the body, compared to their stock position. They were extended at the back to compensate for the longer cowl and reshaped to get the perfect shape. The wheel openings were raised into the fender and reshaped with a slight teardrop shape. At the front the fenders were reshaped to make place for the 1940 Lincoln headlights.
With the fenders installed it was time to cut the bottom section of the body which was overlapping the frame. The doors were shortened and the botom of the body was reshaped to make place for a set of Coke-Bottle shaped smooth running boards which Don hand shaped. The running boards were molded into the body and fenders. Later the whole botom section of the body would be dressed up with an hand made Art-Deco styled chrome plated trim piece.
The rear fenders were reshaped, moved up and molded into the body. The openings in the rear fender will house a set of 1954 Plymouth taillights with hand made bezels. The double splash-pan was hand made by Donn.
Donn standing proud with his nearing completion 1940 Ford Futurama Forty. The taillights and bezels are now in place and so is 1950 Pontiac rear bumper that is still in need of reshaped bumper ends.
The higher mounted front fenders dictated the hood to be sectioned, which made it look longer, as original designed. The hood was made into a one-piece unit, and the front section was reshaped and peaked. A new grille opening was created and a new more flowing grille was created from individual bars. A 1950 Pontiac rear bumper was reshaped and dressed up with a reshaped 1949 Chevy license plate guard. An Art-Deco styled ribbed center section was added to the center portion of the guard. This ribbed center section was also added to the much reshaped 1961 Corvair bumper that was used up front. The ribbed sections used on the bumpers nicely echo the ribs on the Lincoln headlights. When both bumpers were reshaped and finished Don created matching splash pans which he welded and molded to the body. At the rear Don even created a double splash pan to hide the underside of the bumper from viewing.
With the project nearing completion Eric Black was asked to do a few more renderings showing the finished car helping the team to finish the car in time for the 2011 Grand National Roadster show in Pomona California.
Inside Donn reshaped all the garnish molding and combined a 1940 and 1941 Lincoln dash to come up with an unique design. The new dash was matted to the original 1940 Ford dash front section for the perfect fit. Don modified a 1940 Lincoln steering column and reworked an 1940 Lincoln steering wheel fitted the design really well. All instruments were completely restored, customized and detailed by Classic Instruments. Mickey McVay from Reno, Nevada is responsible for the upholstery of the car, and was brought into the team early on, to make sure everything was done to get the interior work the best with the exterior. With the body chopped, sectioned and channeled it was needed to create an custom seat to make it all work, and of course to have it a bit more comfortable than the original Ford seat. Donn and Johnson scratch-built the complete seat. Mickey used an off white leather and medium red fabric for the upholstery with the carpets were done in a slightly darker red. Mickey was able to mix a vintage tuck&roll style with some more modern elements and created an interior that matched the feel of the exterior.
Final work on the Futurama Ford. Notice the special access panel for the rear axle in the trunk.The grille was hand made and the dash constructed from 1940 and 41 Lincoln and 1940 Ford dash components.
Don and his team created all the side trim from scratch and added trim pieced for the windshield as well as the rear window. The original 1940 Ford lacked both, and the addition ot the Futurama Ford of these trim pieces makes a huge difference. Bob Belozer of Oregon City helped a lot in the final stages of the build, making sure everything fitted well, and adding details where needed. Then the car was send off to Dave Baham of Vancouver, Washington who would do the final body work and prep the frame and body for primer and paint. Dave painted the Futurama Forty with a custom mix of Glasurit Bronz Maroon. A color that give the car an almost Candy Red effect.
All finished…. in time to debut at the 2011 GNRS in Pomona California. The wheels were designed and machined especially for the Futurama Forty. The front fenders were reshaped at the front t accept a set of 1940 Lincoln headlights. The front bumper was based on a 1961 Corvair bumper, but heavily reshaped to flow with the ’40 Ford body.
List of modifications
- Chopped and completely reshaped top.
- Body above the belt-line pie-cut sectioned.
- Cabin moved back.
- Cowl extended.
- Body channeled over the frame.
- Fenders front and rear moved up.
- Bottom of body cut.
- Hood sectioned, made into one piece, reshaped and peaked.
- Reshaped and extended front fenders.
- Front of fenders reshaped to accept 1940 Lincoln headlights.
- Reshaped rear fenders with homemade flush fitting fender skirts.
- Leaned back wards windshield.
- Custom made molded in drip rail.
- Custom front and rear splash pan.
- Reshaped grille opening and hand made grille.
- Hand-made smooth and molded in running boards.
- Rounded top trunk corners.
- All side trim hand made from brass.
- Added windshield and rear window trim.
- Reshaped 1950 Pontiac rear bumper with 49 Chevy license plate guard.
- reshaped 1961 Corvair front bumper.
- 1954 Plymouth taillights with hand made surrounds.
- Custom machined wheels.
- Custom dash made from 1940, ’41 Lincoln Dash parts mated to the 1940 Ford dash.
- Many more details.
Debut at the 2011 GNRS
Back at Donn Lowe’s shop the team had to work on a tight schedule to assemble the car and finish it in time for its debut at the 2011 Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona California. This show was the absolute best place to debut the car since the 2011 GNRS had the special Customs Then & Now exhibit in building number 9. So the show had many more Custom Enthusiast from all around the globe than the usual show has. The car ended up winning the World’s Most Beautiful Custom award at its debut show.
Outside the special Customs Then & Now building the Donn Lowe created Doug Beattie 1940 Ford was my favorite Custom at the show. The car looks fantastic in the photos, but being able to walk around it and see all the details and massive amount of body work that was needed to make all the lines work together was just very, very impressive. The design and build team have created a unique 1940 Ford with a great blend of old style with a more modern twist.
The dead on side view shows how wonderful the reshaped top falls back and how great the balance is between the door and rear quarter windows. Sadly the car was displayed on stands for the show so that all the undercarriage details could be seen and judged. This of course took away from the overall look and feel of the car compared to the ground… stance.
Close up of the restyled side window openings and the hand made and molded in drip rail. The hand made smooth side trim is mounted a little closer to the belt line than on a stock 1940 Ford, which helps make the car look more elegant.
Notice how the ribs from the top of the 1940 Lincoln headlights match the ribs on the front and rear bumpers… nice detail. The grille is more v-shape at the top than it is at the bottom. The hood has been peaked and reshaped. And the splash pan was custom formed, molded to the front fenders and cut out where the grille fits in.
My personal experience with the Futurama Forty.
I was very fortunate to be at the 2011 GNRS, and was there when the Donn Lowe, Doug and Diane Beattie’s 1940 Ford Futurama coupe was made ready to debut at the show during set up day. It was the first time I met with Donn in person, and he was kind enough to share some of the many details on the car with me. I have spend several hours during that weekend walking around the Ford checking out all the details, and most of all the overall shape of the car. I think especially the chopped top, the raised fenders and cut down body proportions are absolutely perfectly balanced on this car. I’m aware that a lot of 1940 Ford purist feel that chopping the top on a 1940 Ford coupe is never an improvement. I personally do not agree with that at all. The 1940 Ford has a very much forward Hot Rod look and feel when it came from the factory, but with the right style and balance the 1940 Ford coupe can be chopped very well to create a very elegant Custom. Donn Lowe however took the chopped 1940 Ford coupe concept to a whole new level. The body restyled body shapes of the Futurama Forty are pure art in my eyes.
The rear quarter view shows the wonderful flow of the chopped and reshaped roof. The reshaped ’50 Pontiac rear bumper and 1954 Plymouth taillights al work extremely well together. The beautiful shaped hand-made running boards tie the fenders and body together.
The Dashboard is a combination of 1940 and 1941 Lincoln units. The center grille section hinges from below and hides several controls. Steering wheel and column are from a 1940 Lincoln. The door and side garnish are painted to match the upholstery, the windshield garnish is chrome plated. The upholstery work was done by Mickey McVay.
Resources and more info
- Street Rodder Magazine
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