What began as a nightmare has turned into a dream ride for one ford fan. We inspect a mint 1935 cabriolet, an 83-year-old in great shape.
It’s not unusual for people to find love online these days and it’s also how many a car romance can germinate. So it was for Aucklander John Holmes who began his search for a Ford Model 48 on the world wide web. While his heart was set initially on finding a nice 1936 example, the more he looked for his desired Ford, the more he fell in love with the 1935 version. After a six-month search he thought he’d found the car of his dreams in a 1935 Cabriolet.
It was 2009 when he took the plunge into classic car ownership, buying the car out of the States that he’d found online. He paid for a ‘thorough’ inspection to make sure it was a good runner and was supplied with over 60 photographs to highlight its tip top condition. However, none was taken that revealed the rot in the floor behind the dickie seat or the bits of steel plate welded over other infestations of rust.
And so when it arrived in New Zealand it failed compliance. The fix necessitated the body to be removed from the frame, and this set the ball rolling on what would be a total restoration of the every-nut-and-bolt variety. It was a process that took four years and it was 2013 before Mint 35 was ready for the road again.
The Model 48 was Ford’s main offering in the middle of the 1930s, and when it rolled out of the factory in 1935, it had been refreshed for the new model year. Ford had repackaged the car by positioning the passenger compartment and engine to sit within the wheelbase, which improved both passenger space in the cabin and handling. It was the first Ford to feature an integrated boot or ‘trunk’, as they called it.
There were multitude body styles offered, including various coupes, and both Tudor and Fordor sedans. Along with a four-door convertible sedan, Ford offered a brace of two-door drop tops in the Roadster and Cabriolet. While the latter was the more expensive variant, it offered a more practical approach to open top motoring with its wind-up windows and fully retractable hood whereas the Roadster’s weather protection was more rudimentary.
And so they made more of the Cabriolets with around 17,000 of them leaving the factory in 1935 while only 5000 of the Roadsters were minted. Ford’s flathead V8 was the motor of choice for the range and its 221 cubic inch capacity offered 85hp (63kW) and 200Nm of torque. New for ‘35, the flathead gained a fresh block design with crankcase ventilation as well as a new crank and pistons. The three-speed manual was said to offer an easier shift and the mechanical brakes carried over.
While this ‘Make You Blush’ metallic red cabriolet looks pretty standard, it’s had a few mechanical upgrades during its restoration. The flathead was built up from what they call a French block. This derives from a Ford joint venture dating back to the fifties with a French firm Mathis, and later Simca, providing engines under license for the French military. The block was used for nearly four decades by the French, testament to its simple but robust design.
Sitting in the chassis of this Cabriolet, it has a four-inch balanced crank and forged pistons, and breathes through twin carbs. There are a few modern additions to this flathead to help alleviate some of the old timer’s reliability issues. It’s been converted to a 12-volt electrical system with electronic ignition added along with an alternator in place of the old generator.
There’s an oil filter, something that wasn’t part of the original set-up, and there is an additional electrically-controlled cooling fan in front of the radiator to help it keep its cool after a rather public display of heat exhaustion. Holmes took part in the Meguiar’s Charity Cruise in the lead-up to the Speedshow, and with extended periods of idling, his ’35 started steaming during the parade loop of the showground’s arena.
The V8 is now paired with a T5 five-speed gearbox, complete with the synchros the original three-speed never had, and it has been upgraded to hydraulically operated brakes. While it all runs peachy now, the flathead wasn’t without its problems to begin with. Fitted with a lumpy cam, it ran rough and leaked oil. Holmes had had enough and got to work on it, removing the cam and sorting the leaks. It was then he discovered one of the oil rings had been trapped during installation, and it had scored the cylinder bore.
So it ended up being a complete rebuild, which he did largely himself, being a fitter and turner by trade before he turned to mechanic-ing later in his career. It was one disappointment of the rebuild as he says it was hard to find genuinely skilled tradespeople to complete the work to his expectations. He was pleased however with the results of the panel and paint work, as well as the retrimming of the interior.
The Cabriolet’s flowing sheetmetal was refurbished by Custom Metal Shapers, the entire body having to be removed from the chassis and stripped to deal with all the cancer eating away at the old girl. Steel patch panels were then welded in to make her whole again. He says their work was top notch and gave the painter, John Lisle of Cascade Auto Finish, a fine foundation to apply the many lustrous coats of paint upon.
The finish is superb and it’s a colour that takes on different tones ranging from a deep ruby glow to a reddish pink depending on the light. The interior was taken care of by the team at Stu’s Trim and Sound, the leather work consuming half a dozen hides, including the dickie seat out back, and there’s a complete new hood.
The dash has been meticulously painted to replicate a wood grain finish and a few things like the parcel shelf underneath the dash, the stereo and clock in the shift knob have been added for a personal touch. One of the few cost options at the time was the greyhound hood ornament, a treasured trinket among the V8 fraternity and hard to come by now. The original dog on this 35 had seen better days, his tail broken and his mount wobbly.
Holmes didn’t have much faith in finding a new one but placed a wanted ad in Petrolhead, which was answered by a hoarder in Morrinsville who had had one squirrelled away for the past 20 years and was finally willing to part with it. It’s a suitable finishing touch to this masterpiece. Holmes is a member of the Early Ford V8 Club, the like-minded enthusiasts meeting each month. He says they refer to themselves as the last of the summer wine, hinting that they are all getting on in age but no less passionate about their Fords.
While the Cabriolet has attended various classic meetings over the past few years, it has only clocked up about 5000 miles in the past five as John’s daily driver is a 2016 Mustang GT. It’s one of the 20 Beach Hop editions, while Holmes had his fitted with the 700 horse supercharger kit from CTB Performance.
As time marches on, the Model 48 gets ever rarer, and while there’s a limited market for them, they remain sought after. With these unusual types, it is hard to pin a price on them as they are worth what someone is willing to pay.
And while this one is not for sale, it’s insured for $150,000, though as Holmes says, “it cost a hell of a lot more than that to get it to this pristine restored condition.