Everyone’s heard the line about someone making you an offer you can’t refuse. Ron Calabretto knows it only too well.
Twenty years ago, he took his prized street-rodded 1930 Ford coupe to “Back to the 50s” in St. Paul, Minn., looking to have a good time. But it turned out to be a sales event.
“I had so many offers to buy it. But I wasn’t interested,” Calabretto said. But then a guy from Wisconsin got super serious and made that offer he just couldn’t refuse. So suddenly, he was out of the street rod business and had no plans to build another one.
“I went about three months swearing I would never do it again. And then I got bored … and started looking for a project,” he said.
He found it in the form of a 1937 Ford 5-window coupe body shell that had been used as a parts pattern by an entrepreneur in McPherson, who crafted replacement parts for vintage cars.
An idea had been percolating in Calabretto’s mind even before he sold the Model A coupe.
He thought it would be interesting to build a street rod with a flip-up body that would reveal the drivetrain and running gear when the car was displayed. But it didn’t make sense to tear the 1930 coupe apart and start over. The ’37 would be the perfect point of departure.
“Now is the time,” he said. “I made everything from scratch … it was from the ground up.”
The one-of-a-kind chassis began as two pieces of 2-by-4-inch rectangular tubing, 20 feet long. He fabricated the frame to accept the independent rear end from a 1995 Corvette ZR1, complete with disc brakes, and incorporated the ZR1 front suspension into the design, using air ride suspension at all four corners.
He designed a hinge assembly using heavy urethane bushings that would allow the finished body to be lifted upward by electronically actuated hydraulic rams. The body would be secured in the lowered position by an automatic latching mechanism that would not allow the car to move unless the body is locked in place.
Calabretto built a metal interior framework to strengthen the all-metal body and give it stability whether the car is on display or traveling down the highway. The doors were “suicided” and modified to open electronically, along with the trunk lid.
A total of 28 electric relays are used to activate various systems on the coupe.
“Everything is on a remote. It gets involved,” Calabretto says, with considerable understatement.
Each new concept that he built into the car inevitably involved still more design and engineering work.
“I never put anything down on paper, though,” he said. “It was all in here,” he explained, pointing toward his head.
He wanted a sleeker roofline on the coupe, so he cut 2 1/2 inches out of the front windshield pillars, but only an inch out of the rear. When it came time for a grille, the solution was to build one himself, slicing individual horizontal pieces out of a huge sheet of stainless steel. He built the grille on the car, creating a thin frame that matched where the hood, hood sides and fenders came together, and then tacked each grille piece in place individually.
The carbon fiber hood is the only non-metal body piece on the coupe; the hood can be opened from either side or removed entirely to expose the engine bay.
And what an engine it contains. Calabretto says he didn’t want to use the all-too-familiar Chevy 350 small block V-8 with a 350 Turbo automatic. He wanted something different, so he found a 1958 vintage 392 cubic inch Chrysler Hemi and had the block machined at Advanced Racing Engines in Salina.
He then assembled the power plant himself, building it to resemble a classic drag racing engine with a BDS 671 supercharger outfitted with a pair of Edelbrock 650 cfm carburetors; Hot Heads ceramic coated headers send exhaust back to a pair of Flowmaster polished stainless steel mufflers than end in oversized exhaust tips ahead of the rear fenders. He built his own custom air cleaner when he couldn’t find an aftermarket one to fit.
The engine, which runs on 91 octane pump gas, produces just under 600 horsepower, which is routed through a fully polished Doug Nash 5-speed manual transmission. In fact, everything from the aluminum floor pan to the hand-built fuel cell in the trunk is polished to a high luster.
Running gear consists of Billet Specialties 5-spoke mag wheels mounting Yokohama tires, 205/40R18s in front and massive 285/30R20s in the rear.
Inside, a pair of Corbeau high back bucket seats are mounted to the interior framework so they swing up with the body. Calabretto enlisted Scott Downey to clad the seats in soft gray leather, but did the rest of the interior appointments himself, including the inner door panels embossed with the logo “Hemi” and the rear engine cover embossed with “392.”
Calabretto did all of the bodywork himself, modifying almost every panel or feature subtly. His goal was to maintain the car’s original design, but to improve it wherever possible.
“There’s a lot of detail that doesn’t show if you don’t know it’s there,” he said. “About the only thing original left on the car are the headlight buckets and trim rings and the glove box door.”
Once everything was just right, Ron Calabretto took on the daunting task of spraying the mile-deep Bordeaux Red Reserve paint job on the ’37, adding the occasional red metallic fleck by hand to make the paint pop even more when exposed to sunlight.
The car’s first outing was at last month’s Starbird-Devlin charity car show, where it wowed the crowds with its flip-up body in the open position. Its GPS speedometer shows just 9 miles on the odometer. But that will change.
“I built it for the street,” Calabretto says. “It’s probably a bit overbuilt.”
It took a full 20 years to bring his masterpiece to fruition, and it was all done by him in his own 2-car garage. And don’t even think of making him an offer. This time, he’s definitely going to refuse.
Mike Berry: email@example.com