In The Garage Tale of a Tub – Part 2

Part 2: Bringing Vintage Tin Back to Life

By Gerry Burger – Photography By Art Fortin

When Art Fortin decided he had “one last build” he knew he wanted something traditional yet different, so he settled on a Model A DeLuxe phaeton. The DeLuxe phaeton is the Tudor model, while the standard phaetons are all Fordor models. Now, we all know deciding on the body you want and locating that body can be challenging. The 1930-31 DeLuxe phaeton is relatively rare by Ford standards, so much so Fortin had resigned himself to using an old Gibbons glass body he bought at a swap meet with plans to possibly use it as a template for new steel panels. When a steel body presented itself the fiberglass body was sold.

- Advertisement -
A group truck was used for an annual trip to Hershey Swap Meet where the body was picked up. This is what the body looked like when Art Fortin unloaded it in his driveway. Like all old bodies, it looks good from 10 feet away.

It was during a bench racing session at the 2010 Goodguys Pleasanton event that a fellow rodder mentioned he knew of a genuine steel body, but it was located in New York. Phone calls were made and there was an agreed price, but now the challenge was how to get the body home from the East Coast. The owner said the body could be brought to the huge Hershey Swap Meet for delivery. As fate would have it, Fortin is friends with Bill Perry, owner of All Ford Parts and they go to Hershey every year hunting for great vintage parts. They rent a huge van and several people rent space on the van to get their parts home. Bill was looking for a driver, and Fortin and his pal Ben Barnhart jumped at the opportunity to drive coast to coast, take in a great swap meet, and pick up the ’31 Model A tub in the process.

This is truly a body shell, no floor, no structural ’rails, or wood, just sheetmetal. New wood was included with the body, but most of it could not be used with the Deuce frame.

In the Apr. ’22 issue of Modern Rodding we showed the chassis construction, a beautifully homebuilt frame based on a set of original 1932 framerails. The entire build is themed on the 1958-60 time period and the gutted body was the perfect start for this highboy project. Well, maybe perfect isn’t exactly correct. The body was showing rust in the wheelwells and other lower extremities, there was no floor, but it had a very nice firewall. Yes, it was a bit rough around the edges, but it was a great start.

Here is the rear portion of the body after rust repair. One wheelwell was completely replaced while the driver side was saved. Note the extensive reinforcing with 1-inch box tubing around both the top and the bottom of the body shell.

Like the chassis, the bodywork would be completed in Fortin’s home shop. Work began at the rear of the body as it was imperative that the wheelwells were centered on the rear wheels. Fortin took a unique approach to the body, assembling it in three independent pieces, beginning with a newly fabricated floor in the rear portion of the body from the B-pillar back. The doors determined the distance between the rear portion of the body and the cowl section and a new floor section was fabricated to the proper door opening. The cowl section had a new floor fabricated to fit the contours of the 1932 chassis. The original Model A uses wood headers to connect the front and rear body sections and while new wood was included with the body, those headers would not work on the Deuce frame, so Fortin decided on the three-piece approach with steel connecting headers rather than wood. This also allowed him to perfectly gap the doors.

- Advertisement -
The body would remain three independent pieces mounted to the frame. Here the rear portion has new steel floors installed to the box tubing bracing that runs the perimeter of the body. This is stronger than ol’ Henry ever dreamed.

The rust repair involved replacing one wheelwell and fabricating a new doorskin for the passenger side door. Other lesser rust was repaired around the lower extremities of the body. The center of the rear section now has a nice cutout formed to expose the vintage Halibrand quick-change rear. A pair of recessed 1946 Ford taillights are found on either side of frenched license plate. A mild recess was formed in the firewall for distributor clearance and the entire body was braced with box tubing. It was decided early on to eliminate the rear seat in the car and use that space as storage. It would also locate the gas tank and the battery, and it is all covered with a very cool hard tonneau cover. The original Model A gas tank was cut out and the front panel is now the basis for the custom dashboard.

Beyond rust repair and filling some hole, the body is relatively stock. Out back a pair of 1946 Ford taillights are frenched into the rear panel and the license plate is also frenched.

The doors and the hinge pillars are still framed in wood to facilitate the original hinges and latches. A 1932 Ford windshield is laid back and while Fortin found the Deuce windshield fit better than a Model A in the laid-back configuration, it also required a set of custom-fabricated windshield posts that Fortin mentioned “was a ton of work.”

A skim coat of filler straightens out the 91-year-old panels but note how clean the new floor is from below. The fabrication is completed with just good, basic metal fabricating skills.

When all the fabrication was complete routine bodywork followed with the custom-mixed maroon paint being laid down by Henry Rossi, and while there are many of details, we’ll save that for the final feature story, for now let’s dig into how to rescue a 91-year-old body in a home shop. MR

These hardwood doorjambs were included with the body and were reproduced many years ago, so they are well seasoned. The craftsmanship was first class and Fortin reports they fit perfectly.
Here we can see the wood doorjambs installed in the quarter-panel. The original brackets attach the wood to the new steel floor.
The rear body section is now in final primer. Note the extensive bracing that will act as a divider between the front seats and the rear section. There will be no rear seating in this phaeton.
The driver side door was in remarkable condition. The usual bumps and bruises but fairly rust free. The same could not be said for the passenger side door.
A coating of surface rust on the inside was easy to deal with, while making sure the door was straight and square would be a bit of a project.
The passenger side door required an entire new skin from the body bead down. The original doorjambs and upper and lower panels would be reused.
Here we see the original doorjambs and upper panel joined together with Cleco fasteners to form a new door. Once again, this is doable at home with some typical welding equipment and plenty of patience.
With the sheetmetal work done the doorskin was framed with the reproduction Model A wood. Custom-made brackets incorporate a turnbuckle that was instrumental in gapping the doors and getting them perfectly square.
Once again this body remains three independent pieces and so the floor section that fits between the doors is independent of the rear tub. More nice metalwork is shown here and the seat rails have been welded in place, too.
Fortin started with a seat frame from Wise Guys Seats and Accessories and did a lot of modifying to fit his application. The stainless steel steering column comes from Speedway Motors.
The firewall required a minimal recess for distributor clearance for the 283 Chevy motor. The windshield frame is actually a 1932 Ford roadster frame while Fortin fabricated the stanchions.
Now this is one very cool dashboard. Of course, this began life as a Model A gas tank but was modified to accept Auto Meter gauges. Since this was a gas tank for many years be certain to neutralize all vapors before cutting any metal.
Here we see the dash/tank installed in the car with a small panel to the left for switches. The owner-fabricated stanchions mount the Deuce windshield frame in a fixed position.
Before the front cowl section could be mounted to the floor the doors had to be gapped. Note the 1931 Ford DeLuxe phaeton was one of the first Fords to have flush-fit doors. The aforementioned turnbuckles were instrumental in fitting the doors.
Here we can see the extensive bracing in the body ensuring all panels fit perfectly and there is zero flex in the body. It’s come a long way from that empty shell he bought in Hershey.
Fortin built this industrial-style dolly to do the final bodywork and panel fit. Here he is mocking up the hood to fit between the Model A cowl and the Deuce grille shell. Those owner-fabricated windshield stanchions are so nice they look like a factory item.
Things are really taking shape, the hood is punched full of traditional-style louvers while out back a simple, single nerf bar stretches above the Halibrand quick-change rear.
This is a good look at the seat bracing from the front and the folding hard tonneau cover. Note the gas filler in the front corner of the rear compartment.
Kirby Kendell formed the plywood panels prior to doing the upholstery. All that wiring you can’t see was done by the owner and his good friend Ben Barnhart.
The bodywork is complete, and all panels fitted, now it was time to fabricate custom top bows. Arriving at the proper top shape and angle is critical to the overall look of any open hot rod. The top is a non-folding, lift-off design.
This view is pure hot rod. A vintage Halibrand quickie, finned brake drums, buggy-spring suspension, and a simple nerf bar below frenched taillight openings. Clean and simple, works every time.
Wow, finished primer on the body while it rests on a freshly painted and assembled chassis. Three deuces peeking from the engine bay add to the traditional feeling. We’ll be bringing you a finished feature very soon, so stay tuned.
- Advertisement -

Related Articles

Search Our Site

More Modern Rodding

Beth Myers’ 2024 AMBR winning 1932 Ford Phaeton Built by Roy Brizio Street Rods

By Brian Brennan   -   Photography By Michael Christensen ...

Vintage Sheetmetal: Repair Or Replace?

An age-old question for DIY Hot Rodders By Gerry Burger  ...

Not Your Everyday Ford Pickup

This 1940 Ford Pickup’s Rare Restoration With Plenty of...

Inside the 2024 Detroit Autorama

The Great 8 & Don Ridler Memorial Award Recipients By...

Intricate Fabrication On Myers’ Fenderless Ford Roadster

Part 3: Custom Fabricated Decklid, Wheel Wells & Floor By...

Deuce Coupe With Vintage Vibes

The 1932 Ford Three-Window Highboy Coupe Brings Back Dry...
More Modern Rodding

Unmistakable Bahama Blue Deuce Coupe

Custom Flair & Hot Rod Appeal By Brian Brennan   - ...

1000HP LS Engine Built For Street, Strip, & Track

The Best Engine Oil For Your LS Engine By Ron...

Building a One Of A Kind Roadster

Part 1: Rad Rides by Troy Builds a One...

2024 Grand National Roadster Show Names ’32 Ford Phaeton As Winner Of The AMBR

Roy Brizio Street Rods Build Winner Of America’s Most...

2024 Grand National Roadster Show … First Look At AMBR Contenders

Want To See Who Is Competing For America’s Most...

Looking Back at Some of America’s Most Beautiful Roadsters

By Brian Brennan It’s just around the corner … the...

Our digital and print versions offer tons of exclusive content not offered here. Click here to subscribe >