Larry Ernst's 1952 Ford
1952 Ford convertible owned by Pharaohs member Larry Ernst of Toledo, Ohio. Larry was a Roman Catholic priest who later became a monsignor. Owning a radical and famous custom car put him at some odds with senior members of the church. According to The Big Book of Barris, they asked him to park his car around the block from the Catholic Charities Mission where he worked. That way it would not offend members of the congregation or make it seem he lived a better life than he should. Ernst was a descendant of the Fisher Body family and could afford his passion for fine automobiles.
Larry already owned a Barris Kustoms restyled 1951 Chevrolet Bel Air when he bought the Ford. While he drove the Bel Air all the way to California to have it restyled, he decided to take the Ford to Dearborn, to have it restyled by the Clarkaiser Custom Shop. Up front, Ron Clark and Bob Kaiser restyled the grille opening by welding a 1952 Ford top grille bar to the bottom of the opening. The new grille cavity housed a 1954 Pontiac center grille bar which fit the car well. They frenched the headlights, while the bumpers were shaved by welding the bolts to the back. The hood was nosed and peaked, and the doors and deck lid were shaved. The front gravel pan was leaded in. The rear bumper was replaced with a 1952 Ford front bumper. A 1953 Studebaker rear license plate housing was molded to the new rear bumper. Dual exhaust pipes were routed through the bumper corners, and air scoops were made in front of the rear wheels by using 1953 Lincoln components. The skirts were handmade and designed to fit the lines of the fenders, a neat modification that added a visual lowness. The windshield was chopped six inches, a radical chop job, but the ragtop remained functional. The low profile of the car was achieved by c'ing the frame in the rear. Lowering blocks were also installed, and the spring eyes were reversed. Up front, Up front, Bob and Ron installed dropped A arms, along with 2 inch dropped spindles. All these modifications brought the car 10 inches closer to the ground! The side trim originated from a 1954 Lincoln. The warmed over flathead engine featured hi-compression heads, dual carburetors, a hotter camshaft and a lot of other speed parts. A Sway bar, Airlift shocks, and traction masters were installed to increase the driving performance.
Only the best was good enough for Larry when it came to cars, so he had Gaylord's Kustom Shop in Bell, California upholster the interior of the car. The seats were lowered and covered in white and gold rolled and pleated Naugahyde. The door sides and floor mats were done in the same manner. Clarkaiser gold plated the inside door handles, interior trim, horn ring, dashboard buttons and many other interior details. A 45 rpm record player was installed underneath the dashboard. Dual spotlights wrapped up the style. The build took one and a half year to complete. It was painted Lincoln Ermine White, the same color as the 1953 Ford Convertible pace car at the Indianapolis. The color is the reason why the car was named the "Pharaoh's Pacer". Larry's convertible first appeared on the indoor show circuit in 1955, and Ford Motor Company chose it to be a part of their Rotunda exhibition. The Rotunda exhibition displayed a handful of custom cars and hot rods selected exclusively by Ford. Ford's design staff picked the cars, and among these 13 custom was Larry's convertible. Ford showed these cars to inspire young American, and their own workers at Ford.
Larry sold the Ford to Sonny Rahal. Since he had family relations to GM, he bought a Cadillac, something that suited him better then a Ford. When Sonny bought the car it was plain Pearl White, and it ran stock taillights. The taillights were partially painted white, and it featured chrome bolt on louvers on the hood. Sonny had Messengers Collision in Toledo modify the rear quarter panels so they would accept a pair of frenched 1956 Lincoln taillights. They also changed the hood for him. After that, Garey Roberts outlined the side trim with Gold scallops. Larry sold the car to Grant Macklin of Toledo. It was Grant that owned the car when it was featured in Custom Cars January 1959. This version of the Ford featured gold-plated 1957 Lincoln hubcaps, and it was named "Titan." According to rumors, Grant Macklin was a fake name that Larry used to hide his custom side from the church. According to Garey Roberts, who scalloped the car for second owner Sonny, Grant Macklin was a real person, and the third owner of the car. Sometime after the car was photographed for the Custom Cars January 1959 story, it received additional red scallops.
A photo from the Dave Jenkins collection shows a gold version of the car without fenderskirts, wearing a 1964 Ohio license plate. In 1982 Dave Lenhart of Wapakeneta, Ohio found the car in a shed in Perrysburg, Ohio. " I found it for sale in a local newspaper. I don't remember who I bought it from, but if I remember correctly I paid only $1500. It was mainly stripped for paint, but it had the gold color along with a lot of surface rust. It was a pretty solid car, and I didn't have to repair too many holes. It was sitting in a 3 sided barn when I found it." The engine and transmission were missing when Dave found the car. "Me and a buddy installed a 302 cubic inch engine, along with an automatic transmission, I believe it was a C4 tranny. I also installed power brakes on it. The front suspension had lowering blocks between the lower A-arms and the spring plate, which I took out and put dropped spindles in instead. I thought that was a much nicer way of doing it. The fender skirts did not come with the car when I got it, so I had a local guy make a new set. He was a magician when it came to cars, and did a lot of customs in the area. I also put a record player in the car. From the old car books that it was in, it never had a player. It also had teardrop knobs with stones for all the controls. My father Cecil helped me redo the dash. He also helped me with the seats and door panels. We had never done any upholstery before, but I bought a machine, and we started. We would take the original apart and have several disagreements on how it was done, and mistakes, but got it done. The rest of the car, a friend of mine, Keith Rohm, helped me with. We worked every night during the week, and Saturdays until it was finished. We did all the work in my old garage. I pretty much put it back the way it was in the the old custom mags. I bought every magazine I could find with the car in to restore it as close as I could to the way Larry made it." Except for the top, the restoration was completed late in 1982. Dave showed this version at the James Dean Run in Indiana." Later on, Dave replaced the top motor with one he had from a 1957 Ford with a retractable top. The car the motor came from was in fact Dave's first car. "The 1952's were 6 volt, and the 1957's were 12 volt. The only thing I had farmed out was the top. An article I found on the top said it was made from boat top material, so I found a boat place in Lakeview, Ohio that remade tops. In 1983 I was invited to a custom car show in Detroit the 2nd year I had finished it. George Barris was there and I talked to him along with all the guys that remembered the car, there was a bunch." Dave sold the car to Chester Carry. The money was used to buy a house. The next known owner of the car is Spike McMurtrie of Jackson, Michigan. Spike liked the car and knew it sat at an auction in Auburn, Indiana. When Spike bought it, it was about time to restore the car again. The paint, engine and interior had seen better days and was in need of a restoration. The progress began in 1999 and was finished in 2002. When Spike disassembled the steering wheel, he found an engraving on the back of the horn ring - "Built by ClarKaiser Custom Shop of Dearborn, Michigan. 1954". A few changes were done to it during the restoration. The gold plated Lincoln hubcaps were replaced with Cadillac Sombreros featuring large bullets. Lakes pipes were installed and the car was fit with checkered license plate surroundings and "cat-eyes" headlight covers. The interior was redone by Show Upholstery in Silvis, Indiana. Spike gave the car a scallop paint job similar to the 1959 version of the car. While Larry decorated this version with red and gold scallops, Spike painted them all gold.
Did you enjoy this article?
Kustomrama is an encyclopedia dedicated to preserve, share and protect traditional hot rod and custom car history from all over the world.
- Help us keep history alive. For as little as 2.99 USD a month you can become a monthly supporter. Click here to learn more.
- Subscribe to our free newsletter and receive regular updates and stories from Kustomrama.
- Do you know someone who would enjoy this article? Click here to forward it.
Can you help us make this article better?
Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have additional information or photos to share about Larry Ernst's 1952 Ford.
This article was made possible by:
SunTec Auto Glass - Auto Glass Services on Vintage and Classic Cars
Finding a replacement windshield, back or side glass can be a difficult task when restoring your vintage or custom classic car. It doesn't have to be though now with auto glass specialist companies like www.suntecautoglass.com. They can source OEM or OEM-equivalent glass for older makes/models; which will ensure a proper fit every time. Check them out for more details!
Do you want to see your company here? Click here for more info about how you can advertise your business on Kustomrama.