Cars

Husband-wife team builds dream ride

Rex and Denise Sageser teamed up to create their chopped ’33 Ford 3-window coupe. They started with steel wheels, ’40 Ford hubcaps, trim rings and wide whitewalls and built the glass-bodied car from the ground up.
Rex and Denise Sageser teamed up to create their chopped ’33 Ford 3-window coupe. They started with steel wheels, ’40 Ford hubcaps, trim rings and wide whitewalls and built the glass-bodied car from the ground up. The Wichita Eagle

It’s not often that you find a classic street rod designed from the wheels up. It’s even rarer to find such a car built by a husband-and-wife team.

But that’s what you get in the jet black 1933 Ford 3-window coupe owned by Rex and Denise Sageser.

“We don’t watch TV. We come out here every night and every weekend,” said Rex, standing in their well-appointed garage with the big dry-erase board filled with to-do notes and two more projects underway.

“Even if it means coming out and saying, ‘Here’s what I’m thinking … what are your thoughts?’” added Denise, who has no qualms about getting her hands dirty when there’s work to be done.

“I grew up on a farm working on tractors and combines, so I’m not afraid of anything. Being outside with my daddy was prime time for me,” she said. The Sagesers have been married 38 years and both work at Learjet and are pilots who love mechanical design.

“He gave me my choice, a ’32, ’33 or ’34 Ford. I like the ’33’s lines, so he said, ‘That’s what we’ll build,’” Denise recalled.

“They’re 12 inches longer than the ’32 and everybody’s got a ’32,” Rex said. “I pretty much had in my head what I wanted. A guy told me there are 102 differences between the ’33 and ’34. I knew eight of them. We actually designed the car from the wheels and tires.”

They had made the rounds at car shows and were always drawn to the classic looks of red steel rims and wide whitewall tires.

“You’ve got to have whitewalls, and you’ve got to have trim rings,” Denise declared. A set of Wheel Vintiques rims fitted with vintage Ford button hubcaps and ribbed trim rings was procured, along with 15-inch Coker Firestone Silvertown radial tires. With that in hand, they began looking for the perfect ’33 Ford coupe body.

For them, it turned out to be a Redneck fiberglass reproduction body, with the top chopped a precise 2 5/8 inches.

“The body is super well built … extra thick. It was very expensive, but it took about a paper cup of Bondo to do this body,” Rex said. The rear of the body was bobbed and rounded off with a roll pan that houses correct vintage tail lights. The gas tank was pulled from beneath the rear frame rails and a new tank installed inside the trunk.

A Pete & Jake’s aftermarket chassis was used as the foundation for the coupe, with a Super Bell 4-inch dropped axle and Wilwood disc brakes up front, and a Ford 9-inch rear end suspended by coil over shocks in the rear.

The Sagesers teamed up and built their own 350 Chevy small block V-8 after sending it out for basic machine work and matched it with a 350 Turbo Hydramatic transmission.

“She bends all the hard lines for the brakes, the transmission, fuel … I just get out of her way,” Rex said.

The engine produces an estimated 290 horsepower and tracks straight and true, he said. With a 3.0 rear gear, it cruises effortlessly at highway speeds.

Once the body was ready for paint, it was taken to Derek Blagg in Derby, where it was sprayed in deep gloss black. Famed pinstriper Ron Myers of Tulsa was tasked with adding minimalist red and white accent stripes along the hood, headlights and trunk. Denise Sageser came up with the overall interior design, taking the red and white wheel treatment inside, where Scott Downey executed those colors in finely crafted upholstery. He covered the door panels, headliner and the Wise Guys bench seat in red and white Allante, a high end leather-like vinyl, after building some extra lumbar support into the seat.

“The seat has 8 inches of travel, with two ports for charging phones. There’s room behind the seat for tools and the battery,” Rex said.

“She did all the cutting and fitting of the gauges and the air conditioning because I couldn’t get my hands up under the dash,” he added. Auto Meeter antique white gauges and a Vintage Air air conditioning unit were used.

The coupe took about three years to build, being finished in 2011.

“It takes a lot of people in the car hobby to do this,” observed Rex, who noted there were at least six people on hand for the initial fire-up of the engine. “We have met so many great people through this.”

“Gene Weaver was kind of our mentor,” Denise said.

“He would bring his ’32 roadster over and leave it with us and tell us to take it and drive it. That helped keep us enthused about our ’33,” Rex said.

They have logged approximately 10,000 miles on the coupe since they put it on the road, many of those miles covered in the company of their “road dog” Pookie, a feisty chihuahua.

“This is our RV,” joked Rex, noting that the travel accommodations are snug, but mighty enjoyable. But the main thing is that they designed and constructed the car together, a fact reflected by their vanity plate, which reads “WEBLTIT.”

“At car shows, she typically answers all the questions. It’s always funny, the looks on the hot rod guys’ faces who can’t believe she knows all this stuff,” Rex said.

“I guess I’m as bad as he is,” Denise observed. “He’s my go-to guy. He has taught me a lot.”

Reach Mike Berry at mberry@wichitaeagle.com.

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