DERBY — Some do-it-yourself projects you pick up at a home improvement store — others, you find online and have to trailer home from Texas.
That was the case with Marc Bitler's unusual 1940 Chevy business coupe.
"I found it on eBay. It was primered and looked pretty good in the pictures. But when I got there, the rockers, the cowl panels, the floor pans... everything was pretty well ratted out. It was basically a shell on a frame," Bitler said.
Although Bitler and his late twin brother, Morris, had done quite a bit of drag racing years ago, he had never built a street rod; in fact, he said, "I had to teach myself how to weld."
"I brought it home and took the body off and started a complete frame-off reconstruction," he said. Ironically, Bitler is actually the second owner of the car, which had a replacement 235 cubic inch Chevy six under the hood when he started on it.
"I had a '39 Chevy at one time, but I always wanted a '40. And you don't see many '40 business coupes around," he said. So he was happy, despite the fact his wife, Kristi, said the car looked "like a turtle" and nicknamed his new project "Myrtle." That was in January 2004, and the project would consume four years of Bitler's time, as he learned the ins and outs of car building.
The coupe got a '78 Mustang II independent front suspension with 11-inch disc brakes and rack-and-pinion steering.
Firing up his new welder, Bitler discovered welding the two-piece hood into one unit in one long run can warp sheet metal. "I spent a lot of time straightening that back out," he said.
But as his confidence grew, he continued to experiment. "Ever since I was in high school, I wanted a car with nerf bars on it, so when I rolled the (front and rear) pans, I built my own nerf bars," he said.
He didn't want the gas tank behind the front seat, so he raised the trunk floor and moved the tank beneath it.
He also ditched the original twin windshields in favor of a V-butted single piece unit and did away with the vent wing windows, using new glass cut by Lewis Street Glass.
Bitler built his own center console to house the Lokar shifter, a tachometer and a pair of electric door poppers to open the shaved doors on his 5-window. He chose Acura bucket seats, upholstered in tan leather and fabric by Gerald's Auto-Furn in Derby. The theme carries over the trunk, where panels hide the battery/tool area and the gas filler neck.
The basic dashboard was retained, but a polished aluminum instrument panel filled with white-faced all-electric Dolphin gauges was substituted. A Hot Rod Air A/C unit cools the interior.
For motivation, Bitler had Gary Cline build up a 350 Chevy V-8 bored .030 over, equipped with a Comp Cam, Vortec heads, Edelbrock intake, Holley carb and a set of block-hugger headers. Output is estimated at 400 horsepower, and the engine is mated to a 700R4 automatic overdrive linked to a 4:10 Positraction rear end out of a '67 Camaro.
"It's real impressive off a stop light," Bitler smiled, adding that the overdrive lets the coupe cruise at reasonable highway speeds.
After finishing the body work, Bitler set about painting the car Valspar Hot Red base/clear coat. "It was the first time I ever had a paint gun in my hand," he confessed. "My wife and I painted it one Saturday. The next day, the humidity was up and when I started painting the clearcoat, I noticed it was orange-peeling. It took two months of sanding to get the orange peel out," he said.
But he is rightfully proud of what he has accomplished. "This was a Plain Jane, nothing car... radio delete, no clock, not even a heater," he said. Now it is a comfortable, fun-to-drive head-turner that gave him the skills and confidence to tackle his next DIY project, a '65 Olds 442, also like a car he had years ago.