It's been said, "The best laid plans of mice and men go often awry." It's an idiom that illustrates the futility of making detailed plans when the outcome is uncertain, and it should be painted across the threshold of every workshop across America. After all, very few cars that enter a garage emerge the way their aspiring builders first imagined them. In fact, some just leave as parts.

But every so often rank amateurs exceed their wildest dreams. To call Mike Frank an amateur doesn't exactly do him justice; he did build a Cobra replica that's so faithful to an original that you have to feel under the fenders to know it's an imposter. But a kit implies a certain level of certainty: If you build it by the book, it'll come out all right. Building a car from scratch is another story; rather than an instruction manual or a box top for reference, you get a succession of potential pitfalls to avoid.

What's more, his '31 Ford Tudor isn't entirely his; he and his two sons, Brian and Jason, collaborated on it. Machining and upholstery withstanding, the three did every bit of work themselves or with the help of other amateur hobbyists. Factor the uncertainty that lurks under the paint of an old car, the personalities of three grown men, and the opportunity to spend into a second mortgage, and it's a wonder the project didn't culminate with a mushroom cloud

They found the car at Portland's Memory Lane Motors. Rust-free, original paint, wearing most of its mohair gut, and driving around on a set of '35 wires, it was a prime candidate for a drivetrain and stance update. In fact, the original plans called for something along those lines. "We started thinking we would make a few modifications to the body, bolt it to an aftermarket frame, and be done," Mike revealed. Then they rented a welder, listened to some friends, and took their first whack at car building by replacing the stock firewall with a recessed Bitchin' Products panel.

The rented welder did more than help install the new firewall; it lit a fire of sorts. "With strong hints from my two boys, my supporting wife bought me a small Lincoln welder for my birthday. Now we were in for some serious modifications." So much for those best-laid plans

Bolstered by their success, "We decided to weld up the rear body seams, sun visor and the cowl. As our welding skills improved we tubbed the rear inner fenders and welded the fenders to the body." Their confidence grew with each completed task. In fact, it wasn't long before they took on a chore that not many professional builders willingly tackle: They married the smooth running boards to the splash aprons and front fenders.

"Once all the fabrication was done we took it to a friend's garage to help us modify the rear bumper and fabricate a rear hitch receiver. He taught us a few more things about fabrication. Thanks, Larry, for all of your help.

"Next step was off to another friend's (Mark Comella's) for some lessons on body and paint," Mike reflected. "Mark and I spent countless hours doing the body work. One of my boys headed off to college in Spokane so I was sending him weekly pictures of the progress that Mark and I were making. Thanks to Mark and his countless hours and skill we have a paint job that is unsurpassed by even some of the industry's best." And, for the record, Mike earned the right to brag; the finish is House of Kolor's Tangelo Pearl, a multi-coat job that causes even seasoned veterans to fret, and it's near perfect. "No one believes it was done in a garage," he said, as he leafed through photos of freshly painted parts in a foggy impromptu spray booth made from an ordinary home garage and lots of plastic sheeting.