“I like shoebox Ford customs.”
That statement is nothing more than a straightforward declaration that bears great truth, courtesy of NSMC Member Jim Thompson when asked what led him to build this extraordinary ’49 Ford custom. It’s a simple answer to an open-ended question, to which most people give long-winded responses. But in Jim’s case, there’s no reason to make it complicated; it is what it is.
You see, this isn’t the first custom Thompson has built, nor will it be his last. His fascination with the low and smooth style of street machine is deep rooted, stemming from his childhood and growing over the decades that have followed. While Thompson’s first car, a 1937 Chevrolet coupe, wasn’t a traditional custom, his second, a ’54 Chevrolet, was. Thompson eventually took what he learned personalizing the ’54 Chevy and moved on to a ’52 Buick. He turned the ’52 into a full-on custom before starting the build process for what he considered a more mainstream custom, this ’49 Ford.
When Jim bought the ’49 from a friend of his, it was in poor condition and needed considerable work. To assist in putting the car back together, he acquired a second ’49, which would serve as a donor for many of the parts needed to complete the car. Jim had big plans for his Ford, and being that he’s a retired steel worker, he was eager for the lead slinging to commence.
Speaking of moving metal, Thompson made many changes to the steel exterior of his two-door sedan, some more memorable than others. “My buddy Ross Grantz and I chopped the car on New Years Eve of 2001,” he explained. Together, the pair removed six inches in the front and 7 ½ from the rear. In addition to the chop, Thompson also performed numerous other modifications.
Starting up front, Thompson added a ’49 Mercury grille surround, which he filled with a narrowed ’55 DeSoto grille. The steel hood features a peaked center and rounded corners, and is flanked on either side by a set of ’55 Oldsmobile headlights. Beneath the custom grille combination is a Ford bumper paired with ’54 Kaiser bumper guards.
The rear of Jim’s Ford is as customized as the front. A ’55 Pontiac license plate guard provides additional style to the bumper while ’52 Buick taillights peak out from the rear fenders. Jim also rounded the trunk lid corners, added ’55 Pontiac side trim, and flush-mounted the fender skirts. Additional modifications included slanting the B-pillars, rounding the door corners, and molding the front and rear gravel pans to the body.
Thompson chose to hide his quality metalwork beneath multiple layers of DuPont’s Evening Orchid paint, which like the bodywork, he handled himself.
Complementing the metalwork and resulting stunning exterior of Jim’s ’49, the interior also boasts top-notch fabrication and finished quality. The centerpiece is a ’56 Oldsmobile dashboard, which Jim spent countless hours installing. “One of the most difficult things about building the car was the installation of the ’56 Olds dashboard,” Jim admitted. Because he wanted it to fit perfectly and look original, Jim used the stock ’49 Ford dash to create a template for the ’56 Olds piece. He explained, “I put the stock dash in the car and then trimmed it to fit. Then I trimmed the Olds dash to match, so it would fit in the car.” While his description makes it sound relatively easy, Jim was quick to point out that it took quite a bit of work. “I had to cut the dash where the Ford door opening was because the Olds had a wraparound windshield; the dash wrapped around toward the rear of the car.” He continued, “The piece that was left over was welded on to the window frame of the Ford, so it all flowed together.”
In addition to the Olds dash, Thompson also installed a ’62 Ford Galaxie XL rear speaker grille in the rear seat. Thompson again worked with his friend Ross Grantz, this time at his shop, Kiski Valley Upholstery in Vandergrift, PA, to cover the stock seats and original door panels with white Ultraleather. Dark purple marine carpet lines the floor, complementing the upholstery nicely.
Underneath all of this custom goodness is a similarly modified chassis that features a Fatman Fabrications Mustang II front frame stub with two-inch drop spindles up front and a C-notched frame with a triangulated four-bar from Outlaw Performance in the rear. This conventionally sprung custom features power rack and pinion steering and a front/rear disc/drum brake combination.
This all-steel custom is powered by a small-block Chevy V-8, featuring a nostalgic set of finned aluminum valve covers from Cal Custom and a ’55 Cadillac air cleaner, backed by a TH350 automatic transmission.
The crowning touch is a set of 15-inch steel wheels wearing ’57 Cadillac hubcaps, surrounded by a set of BFGoodrich Silvertown wide whitewall tires.
After spending five years building this ’49 Ford, with help from friends Ron Rossi, Fred Brient, Wayne Dobos, and Grantz, Thompson couldn’t be happier. “I really like the way the car turned out, it’s everything I planned from the very beginning,” he said. But, despite his satisfaction with his shoebox Ford, Thompson has already started his next project. “I’m working on a ’36 Ford Cabriolet that’s going to be a Westergaard style custom with a lift-off Carson top, a Packard grille, and ’40 Chevy headlights,” he explained. While Jim hopes to have the ’36 Ford done by summer 2011, there’s no doubt he and his wife Pam will be cruising the streets of their Saxonburg, PA, hometown in their low-slung custom until then.
1949 Ford Two-Door Sedan
Jim & Pam Thompson, Saxonburg, PA
Paint & Body by: Jim Thompson, owner
Modifications: Chopped top, ’49 Mercury grille surround, narrowed ’55 DeSoto grille, rounded door, trunk, and hood corners, ’55 Oldsmobile headlights, ’52 Buick taillights, ’55 Pontiac side trim, ’54 Kaiser front bumper guards, ’55 Pontiac rear license plate guard, flush-mounted fender skirts, Paint: DuPont, Evening Orchid
Upholstery by: Ross Grantz, Kiski Valley Upholstery, Vandergrift, PA
Upholstery: Ultraleather, white
Dashboard: ’56 Oldsmobile, custom
Steering Wheel: ’65 Chevrolet Impala
Engine Make, Size: Chevrolet, 353ci
Induction: Edelbrock Torker II intake, 600cfm carburetor
Valve Covers: Cal Custom
Air Cleaner: ’55 Cadillac
Transmission: GM TH350
Rear Axle, Ratio: Ford eight-inch, 2.79:1
Brakes (front/rear): ECI discs, drums
Wheels (front, rear): Stock steel, 15x5.5
Tires: BFGoodrich Silvertown, 205/75/15