Jim & Nan Hoffman's 1937 Chevy "Ex-Sedan" (from Volume 11, Issue 121)
story by owner Jim Hoffman, photos by Michael B. Kelly
I had recently finished restoring a 57 Chevy pickup truck and was enjoying taking it to local shows with the family. It was one of those events where a guy who had taken a liking to the truck approached me. He jokingly asked if I would be interested in trading the truck for his 37 Chevy Sedan, a cherry 54K mile original. A deal was struck shortly thereafter and the Chevy Sedan had a new home.
For a time, we were content to enjoy driving the car around on weekend in stock form. Eventually, however, a set of rally wheels and tires were borrowed from a friends 38 Chevy and the car was driven to the NSRA Nats in Columbus in 1987. As fate would have it, being in the company of so many other rods, combined with a long time interest in street rods, and a decision was made to modify the Chevy.
The tear down started in the fall of 1987 with the goal in mind of creating a mild resto-rod driver. The project became a family affair: My wife Nancy spent countless hours stripping the entire car down to bare metal. My younger son, Rob, was instrumental in massaging every panel until the body was arrow-straight and ready for black paint. Charles, my older son, is a designer/artist by trade and he helped out with the design decisions and directions.
As is so often the case, the project lost momentum as other vehicles took center stage. A few more years passed until Charles set about rendering alternate versions of the car with different color schemes in an effort to re-invigorate the project. In addition to the color exploration studies (and a brief flirtation with a chopped top idea) Charles created a what-if? rendering of the car as a 2-Door phaeton. After considerable deliberation, a decision was made and in the fall of 1996 the 75% completed rod was stripped down once again. This time, however, the modifications were going to be quite extensive with some being subtle and others, such as removing the roof, not so subtle.
Alan Johnson and his crew at Johnsons Hot Rods in Gadsen, Alabama were given the task of doing the major bodywork required to bring the concept rendering to life. The primered Sedan, which by this time was sitting at a lower altitude courtesy of a freshly installed Mustang 2 style IFS with a Chassis Engineering crossmember and K member, was delivered to Johnsons Hot Rods where work commenced on creating the Ex-Sedan.
The most important part of the surgery being performed was to have the end result look convincingly like a real convertible sedan. The body was thoroughly braced before the top was removed. Additional permanent bracing would be added to the body structure as construction progressed. A considerable amount of effort went into reshaping the A pillars by straightening and thinning them as they tapered upward. The reworked A pillars and windshield were then chopped and laid back several degrees to create the swoopier profile of the rendering. A new top edge was created for the attachment of the roof header. The top edges of the doors had to be altered to accommodate the one-piece hardtop style glass. A channel was then created just above the beltline reveal which started at the C pillar on one side and wrapped around the rear of the roof to meet the other side. This channel permitted the removable aluminum framed hardtop to sit flush to the body.
While the top treatment is certainly the most obvious modification, the other areas of the car received no less of an amount of attention. Starting at the front, the grille shell was laid back several degrees and the stock headlight buckets were lowered 2 inches. Jim Rench was contacted to create a new one-off grille to fit the reshaped opening. The new grille is protected by a 37 Chevy Master Deluxe bumper which was reshaped. The stock 2-piece hood was carefully stitched together to create a 1-peice unit that hinges from either side. The leading edge of the beltline detail on the hood was also reworked to give more flow to the lines of the front end. Smooth hood sides, hidden hinges and shaved handles helped clean up the rest of the body sides. At the back end, 37 Ford taillights with custom stanchions sit on either side of the deck lid which now features hidden hinges, and a reshaped 37 Chevy bumper tucks in close to the body.
Inside, a new dash was constructed which flows into the side door tops and garnish moldings. The A/C ducts share dash space with two gauge units from Classic Instruments: a speedo and a 4 in 1 gauge. Both gauges feature custom designed faces. All switches and controls were concealed to provide a clean, uncluttered appearance.
Upon completion of all the major surgery, the Ex-Sedan was transported back home to Ohio to complete the next phases of the build. The Air-tique A/C unit was tucked up as neatly as possible under the dash and hidden from view without any clumsy or bulky panels.
My younger son Rob was enlisted to begin the final bodywork before the body was removed from the frame. The chassis was taken apart, the frame rail seams welded and everything was thoroughly smoothed before applying the glossy black enamel. The painted and detailed engine and tranny were mounted in place and a stainless exhaust system was hung. Out back, a painted and detailed 74 Nova rear end was setup on Chassis Engineering leaf springs.
Alan Johnson and his very talented crew installed smoothie running boards and then proceeded to tend to the details that set a car like this apart from the norm. The car was covered in a mid-90s Chevy truck green metallic while parts of the interior were painted a beige color to match the leather that was to be used for the upholstery. In addition to those colors, a third color was laid-down on much of the dash and garnish moldings to serve as a base for the wood-graining (to match the Grant mahogany wood steering wheel) that would follow.
At this point, the car was sent over to Paul Atkins in nearby Cullman, Alabama. My older son, Charles, designed the interior and provided sketches as a guide in the creation of the upholstery. Paul and his team did an excellent job of making the conceptual drawings a reality. Yards of leather now cover the interior surfaces, including the headliner, the Pontiac Sunfire bucket seats (with removed headrests) and the custom made backseat. The aluminum-skinned roof was covered with a thin layer of foam before being wrapped in convertible top material. Upon completion of the upholstery work, the car was transported back to Johnsons Hot Rods one last time for the installation of the windows as well as many other little details.
The final result stayed very true to the design rendering that inspired its creation. Many of the modifications are subtle, however they were all done for a purpose. The prevailing theme of timelessness over trendiness has been successfully achieved. CN