McPHERSON — When Galen Swisher went looking for a cool old car to fix up, two points were non-negotiable: It had to be a ’40 Ford coupe and it had to be black.
Swisher had owned a ’40 Ford coupe while he served in the Army from 1968-70, but he didn’t get to spend enough time behind the wheel, serving two tours in an amphibious reconnaissance unit in Vietnam. He wanted to rectify that.
But why did it have to be black? "Everything I own is black," he said. I had a black ’67 Vette convertible with a red stinger hood, my truck is black, everything we own is black."
He had checked out a ’40 coupe in Georgia, but it turned out to be too far gone. Then he happened across a nice ’40 Business Coupe on eBay located in North Carolina about three years ago.
"The body was in pretty good shape. There was no rust on it anywhere, but the X-member was butchered up," Swisher said. The transmission mount also needed work. And the car was blue and covered with pinstriping.
Not a big fan of pinstriping, he began rubbing away at the stuff and soon had one side stripped enough to realize he didn’t want to keep the car blue. And besides, his original ’40 Ford had been black.
So the paint scheme needed to be remedied. He contacted Tim Bowers of Stellar Antique Auto Restorations in Windom to handle the job. "I told him I wanted it gloss black and to take it down to bare metal," Swisher said.
Fortunately, the car had lived most of its life in a California desert setting, so getting to bare metal without a lot of body work was no problem. With that part of the equation coming together, Swisher decided to accent the black paint with red reversed wheels like those he had crafted for his first coupe.
"Red and black goes good together," he noted.
Instead of making his own wheels, he bought a set of Vintage reversed steel wheels, 15-inch in the back, 14-inch up front. The wheels were powder-coated red and then treated to a set of small moon hubcaps and trim rings. The back wheels were fitted with 235x70x15 Michelins, the fronts with 195x70x14 Kumhos.
The coupe had already had a V-butted windshield installed in place of the original two-piece glass and Swisher decided to keep that. He added a new Bob Drake grille and bumpers. "I like to keep it simple if I can," he said.
Keeping that in mind, he also opted to keep the well-used saddle tan upholstery in place, but is planning to have the bench seat and door panels recovered in similar material. To spice up the interior, he had the dashboard and all of the window moldings sent off to California and woodgrained in a dark reddish burled pattern by the artisan who does Jay Leno’s woodgraining.
"It was expensive, but it was worth it," Swisher said. The coupe’s vent windows had been replaced with one-piece glass, but the trim didn’t fit right until Swisher substituted 1939-’39 window garnishes for the originals.
A wood-rimmed wheel sits atop a Chevrolet tilt column outfitted with a column shifter mated to the Turbo 350 automatic transmission. A highly polished gauge insert mounts a full set of black-faced VDO instruments and a Vintage Air air conditioning unit is neatly tucked under the edge of the dashboard.
Under the hood rests a 350 Chevy crate engine, but it is far from typical. The car came equipped with an electronic ignition system, but Swisher chose a real old-time Vertex racing magneto to fire the spark plugs. The mag creates its own electricity once the starter spins the engine to life and he says it is basically foolproof. He also had a Painless Wiring electrical system installed by Affordable Street Rods.
Another departure from the norm is the hefty Weber 4-barrel carburetor mounted on an Edelbrock intake manifold. Swisher’s coupe uses ceramic-coated Hooker headers that flow into Magnaflow mufflers, with a big Walker muffler and an electric fan keeping the whole package cool while cruising.
The front suspension has been upgraded with a set of Air Ride Technology air shocks that are instantly self-leveling even while the car is in motion, providing greatly improved handling. "It’s like a go-kart when you turn a corner," Swisher said.
"It’s a hoot to drive," he said. And drive it, he does, racking up a couple of thousand miles since the coupe was completed. "I go get coffee in it, I go get the mail, I drive it to Salina and to Newton," he said.
"I wanted to go old-school … and I did this one just like the other one I had," Swisher said proudly. Who says you can’t go back and recapture your youth?