When many folks fill in the line on a form where it asks "occupation," they have what some would perceive as a bland answer. Accountant, systems analyst, sidewalk gum remover-they all share a common trait that prevents people from stopping in their tracks when they hear what that job is.
But, if you were to fill in the blank with "musician," that usually makes people stop and think-maybe about their own high school dreams of being a rock star. Rarely do musicians get the opportunity to rise to the top of their selected field and become known worldwide, but that's what can be said for guitarist Jimmie Vaughan.
However, calling Jimmie just a guitarist is akin to saying Von Dutch was just a pinstriper. The four-time Grammy-winner has spent more than 45 years playing his own brand of the blues, often sharing the stage with legends like Buddy Guy, BB King, Eric Clapton (who credits Jimmie with getting him involved with hot rods), and of course, Jimmie's late brother, Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The 57-year-old Jimmie has had another love for about as long as he's been able to play the six-string: cool customs. Influenced at an early age by his uncle, Joe Cook, Jimmie was first strongly affected by the music of the 1950s, then by the cars of the era.
Over the past several years, his collection of unique and impressive customs has grown to include a '51 Chevy Fleetline, a '63 Buick Riviera, and a '61 Cadillac De Ville (the emerald-green Caddy has won numerous awards and was featured on the cover of The Rodder's Journal). But, all this might not have happened if Jimmie hadn't stumbled upon a customized '52 Ford built by Gary Howard.
Back in 1988, Gary had been working at a local Ford dealership fixing wrecked cars and decided he needed to be out on his own to follow his dream of building nice customs. Walking up to his car one day, Gary found a guy crouched down behind his ride studying the taillights, figuring out how they had been frenched. The guy turned out to be Jimmie, who was delighted he found someone who could speak his language, since custom cars were not all the rage in Georgetown, Texas (just north of Austin), in the 1980s.
Looking for an upgraded look to his Ford, Jimmie had Tony Chamberlain from Hatfield Restor
Soon thereafter, Gary took on the job of customizing Jimmie's '51 Chevy, moving on to his Rivi after that. But, Gary wasn't sure about his new endeavor of car building, and decided to move to Oregon and open up a mail store business. After only a few months, he realized customs were still in his blood and moved back to Texas to devote all of his time and effort to building cars.
Gary's talent didn't stay a secret for long after the exposure of the larger car shows and subsequent magazine articles on Jimmie's vehicles, and he was soon building custom cars for other Austin kustomphiles, including Mike Young and the Lonestar Round Up's Steve Wertheimer.
Jimmie also loved the '52-54 Fords, and he had believed he would own one someday since he was a kid. Though it took a few decades, Jimmie's "someday" came in 2000 when he found a low-mileage (45,000 miles on the odometer) '54 in Los Angeles and brought it home to see what Gary could do with it.
Being a perfectionist, Jimmie had very specific ideas as to how he wanted this car to look, and Gary took Jimmie's thoughts, added some of his own tricks, and came up with a formula for what a subtle but classy custom should look like.
A few years back, Jimmie was visiting Roy Brizio's shop in NorCal and spotted a nicely done custom '54 Ford in for some work. It was, and still is, owned by Andy Sargenti, a 93-year-old car enthusiast who bought the car new in 1954! One of the custom tricks applied on Andy's car was the use of frenched Lincoln Mark II headlights, which sit lower in the leading edge of the fender than the similar-year Ford.
Jimmie liked that idea, and soon Gary was cutting, shaping, and creating a new look for Jimmie's car. Another set of Mark II 'lights was located, and Gary brought them out a little farther than stock (about 1 1/2 inches), and left the trim ring on, but still frenched them, which leaves a factory look about them. The taillights were replaced with frenched '56 Olds 88 units, which were pulled out an extra 3/4-inch, too, though Gary used parts of a '53 Ford taillight assembly as well as '52 Ford front parking lights to make everything work.
The door handles were shaved, but Jimmie's uses a button to open the doors (no electronics here-even the trunk latch is cable-operated) instead of a remote-operating latch. The hood and trunk were nosed and decked, too, and no airbags were used to achieve the lowered look, though the frame did receive a C-job by Zac Robert at Full Custom Fabrication. Gary did modify the control arms and cut the coils to lower the front, while the rear was done with a set of 3-inch lowering blocks and a re-arched rear spring.
Jimmie was fanatical about the look of the engine for this Ford, wanting a factory look above all else (right down to the "Special Oil Bath" stickers on the air cleaner). Jimco's Jim Cook bored the 239 Y-block 0.030 before reassembling it with a stock, albeit a well-detailed, appearance in mind. A Ford-O-Matic trans helps with gear selection, while the exhaust note is aided by a set of N.O.S. Belond glasspack mufflers.
But, as with any true custom, all of the major work is in the body. For this car, Gary paid special attention to the front and rear ends of the vehicle, foregoing any thought of chopping the top. The boltholes were filled before both bumpers, shaved of their guards, were re-chromed by Jon Wright's Custom Chrome in Ohio.
The body mods continued with the addition of three '53 Merc teeth in the quarter-panels (the stock '54 Ford doesn't have any), but the most amount of work was reserved for the front end of the car, both inside the engine compartment and in the grille area.
No airbags here-just some creative old-school suspension mods by Gary Howard. Coils were c
When you pop the hood on Jimmie's '54, you of course notice the Y-block but don't particularly notice how Gary modified the fenderwells to accommodate the car's new, lower stance. Usually, someone would just cut and raise the inner fenderwells so the tires wouldn't hit, but that would eliminate the fresh-air ducts that run from the grille to the interior. Gary went to the trouble of sectioning the air ducts so they would still work while allowing for the tires to clear and everything remain stock-looking. It was a lot of work for something so simple.
The grille, on the other hand, was a handful from the get-go. It's a '54 Ford item, though shortened and installed without the center bullet found on stockers. The opening was reworked to mimic the one found on a '55 Ford, but Gary built the stainless by using two sets of '54 trim to make it work.
With the major bodywork out of the way, Gary turned to prepping the body with hours and hours of block-sanding-making it perfectly straight, a trademark of his paintjobs-before spraying the single-stage '59 Colonial White R-M paint (no contemporary multistage hues here) and a Pure Silver metallic for the top.
Inside the car, everything on the dash that could come off was removed and then chromed before being reinstalled. A padded dash, akin to a '55 'Bird, was added, too, as was a Vintage Air Mark II A/C system (Gary ran the hoses under the hood, and the compressor is mounted low and out of view). Wanting a bit more refinement than the baseline Ford, Jimmie chose a '54 Mercury Monterey design for the interior door panels and seating, having them covered with black and white tuck 'n' roll (black material with white pleats) by Tony Chamberlain at Hatfield Restorations. To finish off the interior, a silver-threaded nylon loop pile carpet was installed.
Although the finished product doesn't look like it could have rolled off the Ford production line in 1954 (it's too nice for that), it does look like it could have been a stocker that was tweaked by someone running Ford's in-house design studio, cherry-picking the best items from the other production lines to subtly upgrade the lowly Ford to look a bit more refined.
But, just as a good, school-trained guitarist might churn out Top 40 hits for the 8 o'clock show for a steady paycheck, then get down and dirty like he really wants to when he plays the midnight show, that's how it is with Jimmie Vaughan's '54 Ford. There is definitely more there than meets the eye!