Saturday, June 22, 2024


The key to success when playing with modified cars, hot rods and customs, is having a clear vision. Having the foresight to visualise the final concept and sticking to the plan will always save you time, money and hopefully from failing to finish. How many projects have you seen relegated to the far corner of the shed due to a lack of planning, dried up funds or constant changes from the original brief? 

After selling his California Kid-inspired ’34 Ford five window, Steven Galdes went tin hunting at the world’s virtual swap meet; the internet. His favourite sites were the big E, the H.A.M.B. and the Ford Barn in an attempt to uncover FoMoCo gold. His goal was to locate a ‘39-‘40 Mercury coupe and he succeeded, tracking down a treasured example in the state of Virginia, USA. 

“I had a vision for what I wanted and I definitely wanted an original car that hadn’t been touched. This one was mint!”   

The unmolested Mercury was part of a private collection and the owner had already had the car independently appraised. After hearing so many horror stories about overseas deals gone wrong, Steven wisely called the appraiser for a complete analysis. Once confident that this was a good deal, he finalised the purchase and had it shipped to Melbourne.

As carpenter by trade, Steven’s metal skills were not quite up to tackling a roof chop on a virginal desirable Ford, a major modification he had envisaged for the Merc all along. After the car sat dormant for almost 12 months, Steven enlisted the help of Daniel Cassar at Fast Lane Speed Shop to perform the surgery.

Daniel collaborated with Steven on the desired profile, pouring over photographs and magazine articles until they had clarity of his vision. Before Daniel was let loose with the sawsall, Steven stripped the entire roof section of the Merc in preparation for the procedure. Confident with Daniel’s ability, he left him to his own devices to perform the chop. Steven explains that there was no clear amount of material to be removed, just that it had to look right. As Daniel progressed it was a ‘suck it and see’ technique with a lot of standing back and observing the profile as he went. 

In my opinion the real trick to this whole makeover was the clever blending of the repainted roof with the existing original paintwork. Together they melt into each other seamlessly, creating a factory finish to the modified Merc.   

Almost trumping that skilful lid lowering are the one-of-a-kind flush fitting fender skirts, also created by Daniel. Steven admits that he hasn’t done a lot of modifications to the original body, but what he has done evokes the true spirit of customs from the past. Anyone can remove items at will with basic hand tools, but to preserve the honest heritage of an outstanding vehicle shows his respect for the original design.

The chopped Merc did require a reduction in curb height which Steven achieved by adding a dropped I beam up front and reversing the eyes on the reset rear spring; subtle but effective. As the ‘39 came direct from the factory with new and improved hydraulic brakes, they have also been retained. The only upgrade the vintage rolling stock received were a full set of original 50s single bar flipper caps that cement the post-war mild custom persona.

Under the stock hood, the racer-preferred Mercury flathead has been enhanced with finned Offenhouser high compression heads and twin 97 fuel jugs on a matching intake. Spark is now ignited by a Joe Hunt angle drive magneto and volts are bolstered to maximum output via the Powergen alternator. Smooth gear changes for the old 239ci sidevalve are simplified by the addition of a C4 auto that is engaged by an original appearing stick shifter that fools most old timers on a daily basis.

Laying your money down for a good example of your desired vehicle certainly pays dividends if your ideal finish is ‘old time traditional’. Case in point: the interior. Steven is quick to admit that the only parts modified or touched on the inside of the coupe are the window garnish moulds. Obviously with top and doors remodelled, so too were the stainless window frames and moulds. As the existing interior was in such good condition and fitted the brief to complement the exterior, Steven intelligently let it be.     

The finished custom shares garage space with an equally traditional and almost stock 1933 Ford five window coupe. On reflection he feels that he is blessed to enjoy the best of both worlds. I feel that it is the public that are blessed to share his vision, in three dimensional splendour.  

Steven would like to show his immense appreciation for the skill and attention to detail performed by Daniel Cassar, and the support from wife Fiona and daughters Stephanie and Nikki who enjoy the chopped coupe regularly.

It's only fair to share…