Sunday, June 23, 2024


After completing a Hemi equipped Model T coupe for his son Trent over a decade ago, followed by a tail dragging ’41 Chevy to keep him company, self-confessed gear head Jerry Briese decided it was time to piece together a bitchin’ fenderless hot rod for numero uno. “I wanted a highboy coupe with suicide doors,” he declared. A simple request on the surface, but that last prerequisite also limited Jerry to a very small time frame where vehicle manufacturers offered that combination. Locked into the 1933-34 era, Jerry started his quest to hunt down suitable rod fodder in the new traditional way – the internet! 

Eventually a potential body shell fitting his prerequisite was unearthed in Colorado, along with an affordable price tag. When Jerry first laid eyes on the neglected coupe he was faced with the dilemma of its condition and unknown origin. “It was just a rusty shell perched on top of a rock pile with dents, bruises and bullet holes,” he recalls, “thankfully it still had its doors, trunk lid, handles and window regulators.” 

Still unsure of the coupe’s maker, Jerry sought verification discovering that it was built by the Dodge Brothers in 1934. Whilst very similar to the more popular coupes built by sister company Plymouth, only about 5,300 Dodge coupes were produced. A further intriguing fact, for its new custodian at least, was the roof height, as its profile looked factory chopped compared to that of a Ford equivalent. It’s a component that inadvertently would become a signature feature of the completed Dodge.     

Just as Jerry was adamant about the desired body style, his choice of power plant was also unwavering. From the word go, he wanted a vintage Mopar mill and landed a potential contender, back in Colorado. Coincidence or fate? Maybe the Pentastar gods were intervening, assisting Jerry to resurrect one of their own with an appropriate heart in the form of a Desoto Firedome Hemi. With two major puzzle pieces in the bag, Jerry and Trent embarked on rebuilding the forlorn ’34, accumulating various parts along the way that when assembled as one, paid homage to traditional built hot rods of the past.

“I knew what I wanted to build, but it was Trent that articulated the style and components used to keep it period sensitive as a traditional hot rod.”

As every rodder knows, commencing a build from the ground up requires a strong foundation. In this case, there was no rule book. Ingenuity and creative engineering replaced previous tried and true components, so Jerry enlisted the help of Brad Thompson of Brad’s Custom Welding, to help dial in a suitable frame. To assist visual aesthetics, Jerry chose a pair of ’32 Ford rails to kick-start the chassis progress, they remain unmodified from the firewall forward. Beyond the engine turned compartment though, custom augmentation of the unseen perimeter was performed to marry it with the rare body.

Outback a 1974 Ford Bronco  9” was selected for its preferred original width as well as its bullet proof strength and efficient standard drum brakes. Now located on coil-over shocks and secured by parallel four bars, the ride height is tailor made for the light weight coupe. Supporting the bulky block up front is a dropped and drilled Model A axle residing four inches closer to the pavement. 1960 Buick drums rotating around ’39 Lincoln backing plates complete the all Ford brake package. Stainless hair pins, tube shocks and a transverse front spring continue the old school underpinnings. A Vega steering box is now employed to direct the quartet of chrome Wheel Smith smoothies and black wall Excelsior Stahl hoops. 

With the chassis complete, Jerry focused his energy to massaging that maligned body shell into the hot rod that occupied his spare waking thoughts. While the bruises were healed, bullet holes filled and rust repaired, he elected to leave the factory fabric covered turret insert unfilled and the roof stock height. Besides, most admirers figure it’s chopped anyways! To plant the coupe perfectly over the reworked frame, Jerry channelled the body over the exposed rails stopping just short of completely concealing them in the process. It’s little details like this that truly defines a cars character and this ’34, has them in spades.  

If you have been paying attention there was no hood included in the original parts purchase and where do you find one? Jerry solved the problem by contracting Jordan at Union Speed and Style to fabricate one from scratch. It would be a brave man to say that it wasn’t factory formed as fit and finish is flawless. Just like the hood, the extremely rare grill shell was also non-existent. In its place, Jerry installed a 1933 Plymouth version almost by accident, but it certainly keeps the Mopar aficionados guessing and further enriches the coupe’s unique identity. 

“When I was building the car, I was under the assumption that everything was the same between ‘33 and ‘34 on the Dodge and Plymouth because the exterior bodies are the same, so I originally ordered a custom made insert for a ‘34 Dodge/Plymouth.  It took about 10 weeks to get it. When it arrived it was for a ‘34 and it did not fit my grill shell. Therefore, I re-measured and took pictures and then they made me a ‘33. The Dodge and Plymouth are both different for those two years. The grill shell that I have is customised and further fabricated than what came off the shelf for that year. The insert is made by a company that has the moulds and they just make them one at a time. They did turn around the order on the second one quickly and I got it in just three weeks.”     

As for an exterior finish, why coat such an inimitable coupe with a belly button paint job! Once the prep work was complete, Rick Grandhoerfer was the chosen gun for hire to shoot the Keystone Khaki green hue. With the chassis sprayed in basic black, it almost disappears from view against the subtle body tones. Add a few well-appointed pinstriped brush strokes by Jeremy Pederson from Austin and call it quits. 

Beneath the charging ram prancing over the beautiful grill shell, lies the heart of a beast; a Hemi! Vintage Mopar mills are Jerry’s personal automotive porn and this Desoto donk wasn’t just randomly dropped between the rails. On the contrary, it was finessed into position with innate accuracy for preferential alignment. 

“Trent and I are a bit pedantic about how the engine sits in the frame in relationship to the body and visual aesthetics,” he says almost apologetically.

Once satisfied with its placement, the 276 block was yanked and treated to a 030 overbore and packed with Egge pistons that are bumped by a custom grind cam. A pair of heads by Hot Heads are dressed with original Firedome tins that feed on fuel from a single Edelbrock 600CFM perched above a high-rise intake. Backing the hulky Hemi is a turbo 350 transmission, lifted from a ’79 Camaro. It’s attached to a Lokar 22 inch shifter for fingertip gear selection.

With all that exterior appeal going on, a glammed up interior would be like a rat with a gold tooth; stupid!  For a befitting cockpit, Jerry enlisted the expertise of Al’s Upholstery in Sauk Rapids to stitch an appropriate interior. The black on black Naugahyde and carpet combination is simple, functional and without fanfare, yet charmingly executed in wide pleats and piping. Occupant upgrades include state of the art stereo and climate control by Vintage Air for those long hot Mexican summers. Other notable interior items are the textured headliner featuring exposed timber bows, owner made mahogany dash rail and fabricated gauge panel that plays host to appropriately chosen Stewart Warner gauges.

Hard to spot by the untrained eye are 1939 Plymouth door handles and window cranks that pay respect to the coupe’s heritage. But that’s Jerry’s forte, a soft spoken perfectionist with a passion for old cars and a stickler for presenting all elements of his creation at their finest.

When Jerry first started on his hot rod project he was living in Minnesota, but over the five year duration of the build he relocated to his current abode in New Mexico. Part of his original plan was to drive the coupe to Bonneville with son Trent to partake in Speedweek 2014. Well the salt lake was reclaimed by the weather gods that year and the meet cancelled, but for the Briese’, it was a trip that they will never regret. 

Thoughtful and clever choices adopted throughout the duration of this coupe’s resurrection by both Jerry and Trent, have delivered more than just a fenderless hot rod with suicide doors. It is exceptional, rare and thanks to its rescuers, exceedingly individual.

It's only fair to share…