Old-school ’40 Ford coupe roadworthy again

Old-school ’40 Ford coupe

Rex and Denise Sageser’s amazing 1940 Ford DeLuxe coupe.“It was all brand new. We each had one bolt to put in on each side,” recalls Denise.(Mike Berry/
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Rex and Denise Sageser’s amazing 1940 Ford DeLuxe coupe.“It was all brand new. We each had one bolt to put in on each side,” recalls Denise.(Mike Berry/

There are landmark moments in any old car project, times when fate hangs in the balance.

In the case of Rex and Denise Sageser’s amazing 1940 Ford DeLuxe coupe, it was just at the moment the husband-and-wife build team was about to finish bolting on the straight front axle.

“It was all brand new. We each had one bolt to put in on each side,” recalls Denise.

“I stopped and thought, `I really want a road car,’ ” Rex said. He told his wife he thought they should stop right there and switch to a modern independent front suspension setup. She agreed with the change of plans immediately.

So they pulled the almost completed straight axle out from under the coupe and ultimately sold it to another hot rodder. In its place they installed a TCI fully independent front end, complete with disc brakes and power steering, and they have never regretted their decision. The coupe drives and stops like a dream now.

Rex and Denise Sageser’s amazing 1940 Ford DeLuxe coupe.“It was all brand new. We each had one bolt to put in on each side,” recalls Denise.(Mike Berry/

They had located the ’40 coupe, still equipped with a flathead Ford V-8 engine, in west Texas in the fall of 2012.

“It was a complete car, except for the gas tank,” said Denise. “We figured it had been rebuilt a little, like someone did some redecorating, in the ’70s or ’80s,” she said.

They did find a dash plaque indicating the coupe had been built for a Texas senator; they’re not sure which one or how famous he might have been. But they wasted no time disassembling the car.

“There’s not an original nut or bolt left in it. We replaced everything,” Rex recalled.

“With stainless steel,” Denise added.

They wanted the car to stand up to time and use.

So they had Dave Harrison take the frame apart and paint it before they started bolting new components into place. Out back, the installed a 9-inch Ford Positraction rear end suspended from a set of parallel leaf springs, also with disc brakes. They knew they were going to use a GM 200R4 automatic overdrive 4-speed transmission, so they opted for a set of 3:50 gears for the best cruising/acceleration combination.

Under the hood, they installed a venerable Chevy 350 V-8, basically stock, with the exception of a polished Edelbrock intake manifold and 550 cfm carburetor, as well as Sanderson tubular exhaust headers. Exhaust Pros of Wichita handbuilt the custom, remarkably quiet, exhaust system. To keep things cool, a big Walker radiator was mounted behind the iconic ’40 Ford grille.

The Sagesers aren’t big fans of underhood bling, noting that too much chrome and polished metal tends to overwhelm the eye. So they installed a pair of old-school Offenhauser finned valve covers painted to match the body color, along with a color-keyed early ‘50s Cadillac-style batwing air cleaner. The Vintage Air air conditioning compressor and alternator also received the body color treatment, along with the metal upper radiator hose, giving the engine compartment a coordinated, somewhat understated look.

The curvaceous coupe’s body was prepped for paint by Derrick Blagg at Blagg Body Shop in Derby. The color choice was simple: it had to be Porsche Guards Red. Blagg also handled the layout and painting of the bright yellow flames that appear to flow out of the head light bezels across the front fenders.

Pinstriping details went to Ron Myers of Tulsa, who did a masterful job of highlighting features like the trunk handle.

Denise Sageser handled all of the wiring, except for the engine, and also handcrafted all of the brake, transmission and fuel lines.

Black steel wheels fitted with chrome trim rings are used front and rear. BF Goodrich wide whitewalls add to the nostalgic appeal, with big 235/70R15’s at the rear and smaller 205/70R15’s up front.

When it came time for a one-of-a-kind interior, they chose Scott Downey of Downey’s Auto Upholstery in Wichita. He rebuilt a split-back Wise Guys custom bench seat with added side bolsters before covering it in white Ultraleather tuck and roll, trimmed in red piping and French stitching. Both seat backs can be reclined and the seat allows for 12 inches of travel to fit whoever has driving duties. The door panels, headliner and rear storage compartment behind the seat received matching upholstery.

The two-toned dashboard received an aluminum instrument panel insert filled with small-diameter Classic Instruments gauges. A matching clock was fitted in a custom made aluminum bezel on the passenger side of the car, while air conditioner vents took the place of the original ash trays in either end of the dash.

A downsized ’40 Ford two-spoke steering wheel was installed on top of a Flaming River tilt column and Kool Rides of Arkansas City provided the red and white layered teardrop dash knobs. A Pioneer sound system is hidden beneath the passenger seat.

The Sagesers had made a second long distance road trip to pick up a fully louvered ’40 Ford hood that they thought they could swap back and forth with the smooth hood. But after spending literally days lining up the gaps between the hood and fenders, they decided to leave well enough alone - another of those landmark moments.

Rounding out their road-trip package is a nifty Mullins-style fiberglass reproduction 2-wheeled trailer painted to match the coupe, right down to the flames. It rolls on 6.70x15 wide whitewall bias ply tires. It hooks up with a custom trailer hitch the Sagesers built that can be installed or removed in two minutes flat. The trailer provides ample room for storing luggage and other car show necessities.

“You don’t even know it’s back there,” said Rex, who splits driving duties with Denise. Their “Road Dog,” a feisty miniature pup named “Pookie,” rides between them.

“The late ’50s or early ’60s … that was the theme for this car,” Rex said. “As a teenager in the ’60s, this is what I would have done.”

It may have taken a few decades beyond that timeframe to make it happen, but with the help of Denise, they now have their old school hot rod road-ready and looking awesome.

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