Funny how nostalgia works. For most people, it’s safe to say that their first car was not their best car, just the one they have the best memories of.
Ron Smith was 15 when he bought his first car, a ’49 Ford with a flathead-six and a column three-speed with overdrive. He worked all summer at his dad’s Western Pennsylvania coal business to earn the $250 he needed to buy the car. When Ron was 16, the car was crashed and scrapped, and that was that. Like they say, gone but never forgotten as Ron continued to think about driving another ’49.
“I attended a swap meet about five years ago with no intention of buying a project car,” Ron says. “When I saw a ’49 Ford two-door sedan sitting on a trailer, everything changed. I had to have this one. I paid $2,500 for it. The body appeared to be in good shape and it was all original. I knew it would be great if it was modified.”
Ron had the car in storage for two years before starting the project. When he started taking it apart, he discovered that his “good shape” sedan was pretty beat up, presenting more work than anticipated.
“Several years before, I met Larry Stewart, owner of One Off Rod & Custom, at the Goodguys Nationals in Columbus and saw several cars that he had built. They were immaculately done. I quickly decided this was the shop that I wanted to complete my car. After several meetings with Larry to discuss the project, I had the car transported to his shop in Middletown, Delaware. I had several ideas about how I wanted the car set up, and during the process Larry had some very subtle ideas of his own. I accepted these ideas and am very glad that they were implemented.”
The immediately noticeable changes are the shaved door handles and drip rails, hood, and decklid, and filled gas filler door. More subtle are the grille’s floating centerpiece, modified bumpers, and Studebaker/Avanti mirror; chrome was done at Polished Treasures in Chesapeake City, Maryland. Even more subtle is the reshaped top. One Off chopped 1-1/2 inches out of the A-pillar, and an inch out of the B-pillar, then pushed the rear section forward approximately 4 inches to shorten the whole thing front to back. The result is a top that’s about 4 inches shorter than a sedan and 4 inches longer than a coupe, splitting the difference for a unique look. The split windshield was retained and the door windows were replaced with one-piece glass.
“The biggest problem I encountered was choosing the paint color,” Ron says. “It took over a year to decide on the color, and this after numerous spray outs and trips to the paint store.” Ultimately, Ron picked root beer pearl and Dave Strong at One Off sprayed the DuPont paint.
Schott I-Force five-spoke wheels complete the impressive outward appearance of the ’49. The rear 20-inch rims wear 275/45R20 Fuzion ZRi tires. In front, 18-inch wheels roll on 225/40R18 tires.
A complete Art Morrison IFS chassis replaces the factory frame, with RideTech airbags improving the ride and stance all around. The 9-inch rearend runs a 3.70:1 ring-and-pinion ratio. Wilwood discs, with 12-inch rotors up front and 13-inchers in back, along with an ABS Power Brake Electric High Power master cylinder, provide plenty of braking power.
The sheetmetal fabrication extends into the engine compartment in the form of a flowing, sanitary custom firewall, inner fenderwells, and radiator cover. The beautiful work is not spoiled by an ugly engine. The Chevy 383 crate engine is equally impressive. Snug Harbor Hot Rods in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, did the machine and assembly work, using Speed Pro 10:1 pistons, Eagle rods, and an Eagle crankshaft, plus Patriot aluminum cylinder heads. A Quick Fuel Technology 750 carburetor and Edelbrock Air Gap manifold provide fuel and air, lit by an MSD HyFire 6A ignition. The air cleaner is from Billet Specialties. Custom exhaust pipes connect a pair of Sanderson shorty-style headers to Flowmaster mufflers. The 700-R4 transmission was rebuilt by Deltrans in Newark, Delaware.
The interior was completely redone, based on concepts created by designer/illustrator Eric Brockmeyer, and turned into reality by Paul Atkins Interior in Hanceville, Alabama. Atkins used two-tone tan leather to re-cover seats out of a Lexus SC400. A custom center console runs the full-length and houses the Gennie shifter and controls for the Vintage Air A/C and the Clarion sound system. A Grant steering wheel was customized with a One Off horn button and mounted on a Flaming River tilt column. The dash was extended and smoothed and Haneline 5n1 gauges were added. One Off Rod & Custom installed the American Auto Wire harness.
Spectators at the most recent Goodguys Nationals in Columbus got to see one more immaculately done One Off Rod & Custom creation—Ron’s freshly finished ’49. We took these photos on the first day of the event. On the final day, the car won a Builder’s Choice award. Since then, we heard the story about Ron’s first car, the car that inspired him to build this one. So we had to ask him if this ’49 is a lot like the ’49 he worked so hard to buy when he was 15. He kind of laughed. “Not even close!”