By the mid ’30s automotive styling was rapidly changing. The last Ford with a flat, vertical grille with independent grille shell was the 1932 Ford. The following year, for the 1933 Ford, the grille shell was eliminated and the grille leaned back to meet the hood. But for 1934, the Ford’s grille had a more pronounced V-shape and by 1935 the Ford fenders became fat. These rapid automotive design changes made for some interesting blending of old and new parts. So, taking lessons from that era, we install custom headlights stolen from a 1940s Chevy Truck and install them on our 1936 Phaeton.
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In my humble opinion, while the ’36 Ford is handsome in original form, there are things that look too old for the car. First is the factory bumper with the center drop to facilitate access to the crank hole, the bumper looks like a ’34 piece. Also, the independent headlights mounted atop rotund fenders date the car. By 1937 Ford had advanced the design of the lights, the hood, and the bumpers. The headlights were molded in the fenders, the hood top was one-piece hinged at the rear and the first straight front bumper appeared. None of these styling changes were lost on early hot rodders and customizers, updating power and style is the very definition of early hot rodding.
Hot rods and customs tend to take you on a journey and we’re not talking about driving to some faraway hot rod show. No, we’re talking about building a car from the ground up and allowing the car to “talk to you,” letting you know just what it needs. In the case of our ’36 Ford phaeton it all began by eliminating the rear-mounted spare tire, the stock bumpers, and taillights. Uncertain of proper tail lights, when we saw a set of ’40 Packard rear lights we knew they were the ones. Along with highly modified ’39 Buick bumpers the ol’ ’36 Ford was talking loud and clear, it was headed toward the early custom look in the Westergard tradition. It became clear stock headlights could no longer light the way on our phaeton.
Once again, we turned to the early custom look and decided to mount later Chevy headlights directly to the fenders. This is a traditional treatment used by customizers in the ’40s and ’50s. No doubt influenced by the elegant European cars like Jaguars, dropping the headlights low in the fenders added a sleek, expensive, fast appearance to your old ’36 Ford. While ’40 Chevy headlights are one of the better fits on a ’36 Ford fender, we opted for a set of ’41-’46 Chevy truck headlights. Reasoning was simple, availability and price.
The task at hand was to reshape the lights so they perfectly matched the contour of the fender. Interestingly enough, the actual contouring of the light was a fairly straight-forward process once you located the lights on the Ford fender. Locating the lights is largely a matter of “eyeball engineering” and since the fenders are curved, the grille leans rearward, the GM headlights are curved, it was quite a challenge deciding when they were finally straight. It seemed they really wanted to be cross-eyed, so take your time (and then some) carefully locating the lights. An angle finder and a straightedge will tell you when the lights are vertical, which is an important consideration for both aesthetics and being able to focus the lights. Honestly finding the correct location of the lights drove me crazy. (Editor’s note: A relatively short ride for Burger. —B.B.)
With the GM headlights finally located on the Ford fender we drilled a hole through the light and through the fender to locate the rear of the light. We used a 3-inch-long screw designed for wood decks to hold it in place simply because that’s what was on hand. This single screw allowed us to still adjust the light side to side and also raise and lower the rear of the light. In the end the outside, front half of the light had a near-perfect contour for our ’36 Ford fender, but the rear of the light was standing a full inch above the fender. So, the recontouring process would take place from roughly the center of the light rearward on the outside, while on the inside of the light we would be adding metal to the front half of the light to meet the fender, and also recontouring the back half. Under the front of the light metal must be added to extend the light back to the fender. If this sounds like a lot of work, it is, but work slowly (actually my only speed now) and it will work out quite nicely.
Tools required are basic bodywork tools, hammer, dolly, and bead bag, along with welding equipment. We found the small pneumatic reciprocating saw from Harbor Freight to be invaluable in slicing the lights. After that it’s cutting, bending, and welding. We won’t go into great detail here, rather we will save the space for more photos showing the process. This is part one of the story, mounting the lights, in part two we will deal with re-indexing the seal beams so they are straight in the buckets. Since we opted to use Lucas PL700 tripod headlamps, curved lens lights this was critical. But for now, let’s get those headlights mounted. MR