Talk to Greg Benoit and it becomes increasingly obvious why he has a 1951 Ford Business coupe-a Shoebox, as the '49-51 Ford is affectionately referred to by rodders from several generations.
Here's the answer we received when we posed the question, "Why?"
"I drove a Shoebox to high school, the family's second car, and never forgot the fun we had," Greg recalled. "I can still feel the awesome power that flat eight had with the three on the tree as we speed-shifted around the neighborhood. The sedan had this huge backseat great for the buddies or the drive-in and could hold six 10-foot surfboards and five friends all at the same time. Well you don't forget those times growing up, and you end up looking for that connection you had with that first car."
On a rainy Sunday morning, Greg and friend Gary Hudson (who noted the car for sale in the newspaper) went for a ride to Bellflower, California, to check out their find. The car was last registered in '72 and was sitting in an alley with a frozen Flathead, but it was rust-free with straight sheetmetal. Out came the towrope and the rest, as they say, is history.
The '49 Ford was a significant leap forward for FoMoCo after the war. Not only was it a significant leap in styling, it was also the first Ford since the Model T to revise its suspension and structure. The introduction of the ladder frame replaced the cross-style frame that rested beneath all prior Fords, which allowed for a lower floor. The transverse leaf spring was gone in front and back, and coil springs up front in an independent A-arm system and two semielliptical springs mounted laterally on either side of the solid rear axle were introduced. The wheelbase was a familiar 114 inches, but the engine now sat 5 inches farther forward, giving the much needed increase to passenger space. This also marked the end of the torque tube and the advent of the driveshaft era.
Ford left a winning design alone for 1950, but the company did introduce additional models, and for '51 added a new grille in addition to another new model. Oh yes, the new Ford-O-Matic two-speed auto tranny was introduced.
With that little bit of background, Greg now started his four-and-a-half-year journey to build his Shoebox. The first project at hand was to eliminate the Flathead, since he could never get it to run, and, as is so often the case, what started out as a build in one direction changed course. With friends on hand-'36 Ray, Bill, Gary Hudson, Bob Kellison, Ray Schanafelt, Rodger Nelson, and Pop (who, at age 80, is a hot rodder himself)-all jumped in to make this project come to life.
While this '51 is unchopped, it doesn't mean there is a handful of sheetmetal alterations. Projects have a way of bringing new friends into your life, and such was the case with Bob Kellison, who became a friend of Greg's while handling the body and paintwork. The two-stage black paint with clear is testament enough to the patience Bob exhibited while massaging this Shoebox. Although unchopped, the coupe did undergo a smoothing of the hood and decklid, removal of the hood strip, door locks and trunk handle, and front and rear bumper guards. A pair of '50 taillights was used, and the taillight buckets were welded up to mount body spears.
Sergio at Orange Auto Upholstery in Orange, CA, stitched over the stock bench in red vinyl
The stock-appearing interior offers several appointments that make it an outstanding example of a classic '50s cruiser. The bench seat was stitched in pleats by Sergio of Orange Auto Upholstery. The dash, again stock, is outfitted with six-volt gauges converted to 12-volt, and then there's a Mooneyes electric tach resting behind the Crestliner steering wheel and Auto Meter gauges bolted to the bottom of a hand-formed below-dash panel. Other interior appointments include the Alpine stereo with JBL speakers front and rear and Vintage Air in-dash unit, all wired by Bill Bush, who also installed the Ron Francis wiring system.
The stock chassis spent two years of its reconstruction life at the fab shop of longtime friend Ray Schanafelt, who handled his share of the welding and fabrication. The chassis is outfitted with stainless steel brake lines and braided hose that supplied fluids to the Currie Ford 8-inch rearend outfitted with '51 Ford drum brakes, while modern Ford disc brakes are used up front. The front suspension is based on a pair of Fatman dropped (2 12/ inches) spindles, while the back is down by 3 inches as a result of the lowered J&M springs. The master cylinder was both changed and moved. Now a GM dual reservoir rests under the floorboards, although the stock pedal assembly is still pressed into service, but this time with custom linkage. The manual steering box is a Volvo unit working through a '51 Ford steering column. At the corners are wide whites from The Whitewall Candy Store measuring 195/75R15 in front and 215/75R15 in back, all mounted to Ford steelies (7 inches wide in front and 7 1/2 inches wide in back) painted red and decked out with Ford caps and rings.
The steering wheel is stock-not from a Business coupe but rather from a Crestliner featuri
Power for this Shoebox is nothing like it saw in the day. A Ford V-8 from of an '87 Mustang now rests where the Flathead did decades ago. What was once an EFI motor was converted to a more potent carb V-8 by the talented hands of Rodger Nelson of Team C Performance Center. The 5L H.O. small-block is decked out with an Edelbrock Performer intake and 600-cfm four-barrel with Ford Racing Performance Parts headers, alternator, and valve covers; Mooneyes air cleaner; and MSD ignition and wires. Russ at Mesa Muffler handled the exhaust system, which includes 2 1/2-inch exhaust pipe for the Ford Performance headers to exit into and a pair of DynaFlow mufflers. Another '87 Mustang item is the AOD tranny with a mild shift kit and a Lokar floor shifter, along with a driveshaft from PowerTrain Industries.
Greg is quick to point out that he didn't realize the build would take almost five years to accomplish and all of the pitfalls that would come along with it. He is also quick to point out that he has learned to appreciate what it takes to build your own car and that having plenty of friends to help along the way is invaluable. One last point: "Never add up the phone or gas bills for chasing parts or think about the time you will have invested-you will be much happier."
You will find Ford steelies (trimmed with Ford caps and rings) wrapped in wide white rubbe
"Year of manufacturer" plates are legal in many states and add that one last piece of deta
Facts & Figures
Costa Mesa, California
1951 Ford Business coupe
|Frame / Manufacturer ||stock / FoMoCo |
|Wheelbase ||114" |
|Chassis plumbing ||stainless lines |
|Rearend / Ratio ||Ford-Currie 8" / 3.80 |
|Rear suspension ||dropped 3" leaf pack by J&M (Paso Robles, CA) |
|Rear brakes ||stock (drum) |
|Front suspension ||stock IFS |
|Front brakes ||Ford disc |
|Master cylinder ||dual reservoir |
|Steering box ||Volvo manual |
|Front wheel make, size ||Ford steelies, 15x7 |
|Rear wheel make, size ||Ford steelies, 15x7 1/2 |
|Front tire make, size ||The Whitewall Candy Store (Orange County, CA), 195/75R15 |
|Rear tire make, size ||The Whitewall Candy Store, 215/75R15 |
|Make ||'87 Ford 5.L |
|Displacement ||302 cubes |
|Assembly ||Rodger Nelson (Downey, CA) |
|Camshaft ||Ford hyd. roller 85-9 |
|Water pump ||Ford short reverse flow |
|Cooling fan ||15" electric |
|Radiator ||Mattson's (Stanton, CA), custom aluminum |
|Alternator ||Ford Racing Performance Parts |
|Valve covers ||FRPP |
|Manifold / Induction ||Edelbrock (Torrance, CA) Performer / Edelbrock 600-cfm |
|Ignition / Wires ||MSD (El Paso, TX) |
|Headers ||FRPP |
|Exhaust / Mufflers ||2 1/2" / Mesa Muffler (Costa Mesa, CA), DynaFlow |
|Other engine facts ||polished pulleys & brackets, Street & Performance (Mena, AR) polished air compressor, Team C Performance Center (Bellflower, CA) |
|Make ||Ford AOD |
|Shifter ||Lokar (Knoxville, TN) |
|Trans mods ||mild shift kit |
|Driveshaft ||PowerTrain Industries (Garden Grove, CA) |
|Body style / Material ||1951 Ford Business coupe / steel |
|Body manufacturer ||FoMoCo |
|Body mods ||nosed, decked, hood strip removed, '50 taillights (holes welded to mount side spears), door locks removed, stainless front & rear window & trunk handle removed |
|Bodywork ||Bob Kellison (Orange, CA) |
|Color ||two-stage clearcoat over black |
|Painter ||Bob Kellison |
|Headlights / Taillights ||12-volt stock / '50 Ford stock |
|Outside mirror ||Vintique (Orange, CA) |
|Bumpers ||stock, no guards |
|Other body items ||Paul's Automotive Glass, Santa Ana Plating & J.T.'s Classic Chrome (City of Industry, CA), Ray Schanafelt on welding & fabrication |
|Gauges ||combination of stock, Auto Meter (Sycamore, IL) & Mooneyes (Santa Fe Springs, CA) |
|Stereo / Speakers ||Alpine / JBL P552 5 1/4" |
|Air conditioning ||Vintage Air (San Antonio, TX) |
|Wiring ||Ron Francis Wire Works (Chester, PA) kit by Bill Bush |
|Steering wheel ||Ford Crestliner |
|Upholsterer ||Sergio at Orange Auto Upholstery (Orange, CA) |
|Material / Color ||vinyl / red |
|Carpet ||red & black wool |
|Seatbelts ||lap belt |