1952 How-To Story Proved DIY Hot Rods Can Look Great
Can you really build a decent hot rod in your backyard? Las Vegas architect Glenn Johnson did just that in the early ‘50s and dream car collector Joe Bortz owns the car today. He says it’s a unique piece of hot rodding history. The ’37 Ford coupe’s build was the subject of an article called “We Channeled & Chopped our car at home” in the April 1952 issue of Hot Rod Magazine.
The Ford was the first car Johnson ever did. Before tackling it, he did his research, reading many books and talking to a lot of people. Then, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work. The car was his daily driver and he drove it 60 miles a day while the work was in progress. It came out so good that it became was on the cover of Hot Rod with his wife Vivian and his home.
The article told how Johnson started by sketching his ideas. At the top of the page was a “contour sketch” that showed the profile of the original car with the profile of the lowered version of the coupe, colored red, drawn over it. The red car’s hood line, window sills and rear roof-to-deck lid merge point lined up with the original car’s beltline. The running boards were eliminated; both front and rear fenders hugged the tires tighter and the roof was lowered.
Dotted lines on the drawing indicated where the A pillars would be cut at the top of the windshield and the C pillars would be cut from the bottom rear of the roof forward to a point just above the rear window sill. Other dotted lines on the lower end of the car showed where the body would be channeled over the frame rails, lowering the fender lines at the rear. Glenn was a pretty good artist.
Johnson worked outdoors under the nearest shade tree in summer and a sunny wind barricade in winter. The article traces how Johnson measured his cuts from different angles (going from hinges, handles and sills) in order to slice four inches out of the roof. He tells about removing the glass and garnish moldings, how he cut the roof posts and how he veed the windshield posts.
Despite Johnson’s claim of being a total amateur at building a custom car, the Ford came out looking as if Sam Barris had crafted it. Johnson added a ’41 Cadillac front bumper and ’42 De Soto rear bumper. He split the rear bumper so his Nevada tags with his “Gamblers” hot rod club plaque above them could be displayed in the center. Dual exhausts with chrome tips exited at the rear.
Up front, Johnson fabricated a Cadillac-style grille and constructed one-piece hood side panels that extended around the car’s nose. The interior was trimmed in a two-tone ivory and red color combo with white rolled-and-pleated door panels and a matching dashboard cover. Johnson build an overhead gauge panel that strung the instruments out in a neat row above the windshield. Johnson’s fabulous build was a inspiration to many young hot rodders, since the car turned out so amazingly beautiful.
Bortz purchased the car in 2010. He says sometime around 1955, Johnson parked the car by his house and it sat there until about 1996. He then restored the Ford, took it to one show and passed away. His family later sold it.