Bruce Diehl knows where it all started. "I always wanted a '40 Ford coupe. There was one in pieces in front of a mechanic's shop that I walked past every day on my way to school," he said.
It wasn't until about 6 years ago that his dream began to materialize, though. Diehl bought a street-rodded '40 Ford coupe from the widow of a man who had built it in his home shop.
The car had a small block Chevy V-8 and an 8-inch Ford rear end in it. But the best part, Diehl recalled, was "the body was in perfect shape.
"I've done a lot of really rusty cars over the years and I wanted a really solid car," he said.
A complete body-off-frame rebuild was soon begun. "I have no problem with a small block Chevy, that's a good engine," he said. "But if it said Ford on the hood, it needs a Ford for a heart," he added.
So he had a 302 Ford V-8 stroked to 331 cubic inches, installed a set of AFR aluminum racing heads, a Comp Cams camshaft, Edelbrock air gap intake manifold, Speed Demon carb and a set of Sanderson headers.
To that he mated a Ford automatic overdrive transmission and he traded out the 8-inch rear end for a 4:30-geared 9-inch Ford differential. Despite that low-end gear ratio, he says, "At 70 miles and hour, it's turning 2,600 rpm."
The front suspension features '78 Mustang II components, including rack-and-pinion steering, and a set of coil-over-spring shocks that allow him to adjust ride height. Underneath the car, Kevin Kaiser at American Muffler bent up a custom exhaust system featuring Flowmaster mufflers that terminate in a pair of stainless exhaust tips.
It is the curvaceous body accented by flowing silver ghost flames and the 15-inch Halibrand wheels that grab everyone's attention, though. Diehl's wife, Margaret, wasn't so sure about putting a conventional flame job on the car, so the ghost flames were a compromise that gives the car a lot of its character, he said.
Kevin Dawson and J.R. Grauerholz at Dawson's Rod & Custom get credit for the super-smooth sheet metal and the Red Fire paint. Among the subtle touches are a set of louvers that Grauerholz skillfully blended into the sides of the hood for ventilation.
"Everybody said I would have overheating problems since I hadn't moved the firewall back," said Diehl, who's not a big fan of conventional louvers in the top of hoods.
The body lines were further smoothed with the removal of the old gas cap from the rear fender, replaced by a smooth pop-open teardrop fuel door. Chad Ward of Hardline Graphics laid out the ghost flames and applied the pinstriping to the finished product. Bob Drake reproduction grille and bumpers added some sparkle.
Diehl chose Morgan-Bulleigh to upholster the interior of his coupe, using late-model Pontiac Sunfire bucket seats wrapped in soft Cessna leather. The rear seat got the same treatment, highlighted by an embroidered Ford oval logo; the headrests got similar V-8 emblems. A B&M floor shift was incorporated into a leather-covered custom-built console that also mounts a pair of auxiliary gauges.
The main billet instrument panel is filled with VDO gauges, with a small tach tastefully mounted atop the dash. The two-spoke '40 steering wheel gave way to a 3-spoke '39 Ford banjo-style wheel and Vintage Air air conditioning provides cabin comfort.
"I really have to give credit to my dad, my brother and my son. We all build things together and I couldn't have done this without them," said Diehl.
In fact, one of the best moments with his '40 Ford coupe was a trip to the Goodguys show at Kansas Speedway, where he took a lap in his car alongside dad Harvey's '57 Ford, brother Brad's '72 Mach I Mustang and son Kevin's '65 Mustang.