Sam Gates' 1947 Ford

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Taken in 1950. These pictures show how Sam separated the turret top from the body sides, which were then cut down in the accepted manner. With the remainder of the top lowered it was necessary to remove and replace a large square section.
The picture on the left shows how it was when completed the first time, compared to the picture on the right, which shows it after Rick had it restyled.
The Ford as it looked after Rick Whitson had Hagan's Body Shop restyle it. [1]
Photo from the Kellog Auto Archives
The car as it sat when it appeared in Rod & Custom April 1992.
The coupe as it sat in 2011. Photo from the Rik Hoving Custom Car Photo Archive.[1]

1947 Ford Club Coupe owned and restyled by Sam Gates of Pasadena, California. In 1948 Sam wanted a custom car more than anything else. He wanted the best workmanship on his car, so he looked around for a while checking the prices on various shops compared to the work they turned out. After a while he realized that the car could only become the car of his dreams if he did the work himself. The drawback was that he did not have any experience building custom cars. Many would have borrowed a few tools and started the job, hoping for the best result. This was not the case with Sam. Sam registered in a Los Angeles trade school where he attended metal working classes for two years. When he was finished with the course, he felt that he knew enough about body work to start on his long-awaited project. Having enough capital to start his customizing expedition, he went out searching long and hard through the local used car lots until he found a clean 1947 Ford Club Coupe for a reasonable price. On his way home he stopped by a supply store and picked up enough tools to carry him through the project. The desired modifications on the car were first carefully thought through and transferred on paper. This required several weeks, several boxes of pencils and a lot of paper. Not only did Sam consider what he was going to do to the car, but how and where. His course in metal work had taught him that a proper place to work was just as necessary as something to work with. Also, besides the usual selection of body tools, building a radical custom required the use of hydraulic jacks, a hoist and a heavy duty arc welder. Sam did not have any of these. Many would at this point gone ahead with what was on hand as a consequence and probably botched up the car. Sam did not want to do that and made the rounds of the body shops in his area until he finally landed a job at Link's Custom Shop in Glendale.[2]

Sam worked on his own car in the back of the shop, out of everybody's way. In order to do this he would devote at least two days a week repairing customers' cars for free in order to pay for his keep. It didn't take long before the car was reduced to an empty shell. Tackling the easiest jobs first, he filled in many of the chrome stripping holes eventually progressing to the more difficult projects such as filling the deck lid, hood and the door handle holes. The next major undertaking was the frenching of the rear fenders and the filling of the taillight holes. He was exacting even to the smallest detail, so he sprayed maroon lacquer over all the worked areas, rubbing it out to a glossy finish. After that he shined a flashlight along the body to see how smooth it was. Naturally this was no way to check metal work because even the tiniest flaw would cast a shadow the size of a mountain. However, Sam stuck to his spray guns and continued sanding and priming until the spot was as perfect as possible. By gradually working his way around the car in this manner, the metal work he had done was entirely out of the way and would require no further work. By changing operations this way, he prevented himself from getting bored.[2]

With the simplest tasks out of his way, Sam began on the top. He methodically separated the turret top from the body sides with an air chisel, leaving it joined to the remainder of the body at the front windshield posts and at the rear. Then, the metal surrounding the quarter windows was cut down 3 1/4 inches, the sections were welded together, leaded and primered. By working like this, parts of the work was done entirely, thus getting it out of his way. The next step involved chopping the upper door frames. By the doors left on the car, Sam could align the doors perfectly in the openings. Not wishing to slant the windshield posts, Sam moved the top forward instead. A 2 inch wide panel was formed and fitted between the rear of top and deck lid, filling the gap. Finally the areas between the quarter windows and the rear glass were severed and a new panel formed and inserted so that the original shape of the top could be retained. After many months of labor, the bodywork was completed and the car was rolled into the spray booth to receive the final touch. During all of this, Sam would allow no one from the shop to lay a hand on the car, but he did graciously accept hints and suggestions from Bob McCutchen and shop-owner Link Paola. When all the metal work was done, many coats of Royal Maroon metallic lacquer were sprayed on the car with color sanding being done to get rid of the surface "orange peel" that results from the use of lacquer. Rarely done, Sam block-color-sanded the car between each layer. After the paint was thoroughly dry, he block-rubbed the finish, even the door jambs and other areas generally subjected to such perfection. Wheel discs, a lowering job, fender skirts, dual exhaust pipes, and a complete reupholstering completed the project, and at last Sam had the car he had dreamed about for so long. The interior was done in brown and white tuck & roll. The engine was fit with custom headers and high compression heads.[2]

Uncle Sam Calls

Sam did not own the car for long, barely a month after it was finished he received a call from Uncle Sam. He had been drafted into the army and needed to get rid of the car. After he sold it, he was deployed to South America. In South America he spent his spare time dreaming about his next custom car. The next owner kept the car in tip-top shape, but got tired of it pretty soon and sold it. The third owner, Rick Whitson of Glendale, California was in college at the time he bought it. He brought the car over to Hagan's Body Shop in Glendale for a makeover. Johnny Hagan started at the front. The top grille bar was frenched to the fenders and a new opening was made and fit with two parallel Kaiser bars. Both gravel deflectors were frenched to the body. The joints dividing the tops of the front fenders were also filled. A dropped axle was installed, which along with the de-arched springs, lowered the car to the extent that the front wheels contacted the fenders when near the limits of the steering box. Therefore, Hagan raised the wheel openings by cutting away several inches of metal and rerolling a new edge. The frame was kicked up in the rear to increase the clearance between the axle and the frame. Ground clearance was now 5 inches fore and aft since Rick did not like any rake in either direction. Sam had left the chrome fender strips and parking lights on the car, but Rick wanted them removed. Hagan also rounded the upper deck lid corners and the rear lower hood edges. The headlights were frenched and a pair of Studebaker taillights were installed. The bolt holes on both the front and rear bumper were filled by welding the bolts on to the back of the bumper. Once the bodywork was completed for the second time, it was treated to another lacquer job, this time the color was a combination of green and blue with a large amount of metallic being thrown in for good measure. Once Sam returned to civilian life, he opened up his own shop at 1271 East Green Street, Pasadena, California.[2]

Where Is It Now?

The car disappeared from the scene after being featured in Rod & Custom January 1954. Andrew Tweet of Kalispell, Montana and Bill Keller of Thompson Falls, Montana found the Little Pages article and wrote to say the car was alive. The car had lived a rough life, but was still around. Tweet wrote that his brother Mel Tweet, traded away his chopped 1936 Ford 3-window coupe for the car in 1962. By then it was located in Anaconda, Montana and was almost as it appeared in January 1954. In 1964, a devastating flood hit the town of Kalispell and buried the coupe up to the windows with mud and silt. However, Mel dug it out and sold the car. The next three owners cut out the floor with a torch and mounted the body roughly on a 1956 Ford frame. The firewall and inner fender panels were gutted and a 440 Mopar engine was squeezed in to it. The molded gravel pans were torched off both front and rear. Despite its sad and rough state, Bill Keller rescued the car in the late eighties. He threw away the 1956 Ford frame and mounted the body back to a boxed 1947 Ford frame with a Nova 10-bolt rear end, Mustang power rack, and a 351 Cleveland with a FMX transmission. A new firewall was also installed along with a new floor.[3]

Tom Sherman purchased the coupe from Bill Keller's son. After getting the car, Tom personalized it further after his own likings.[1]

Magazine Features

Rod & Custom January 1954
Rod & Custom April 1992



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