Car of the Week: 1946 Ford Custom

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Story and photos
By John Gunnell

Larry Grobe’s customized 1946 Ford “Voodoo Idol” more than held its own when he took it to “Auto Exotica” in Highland Park, Ill. Grobe’s car wasn’t just the “token custom” at a ritzy classic car concours — its hard-formed panels echo the craftsmanship of coachbuilt customs.

“Voodoo Idol” is a swoopy coupe that qualifies as a radical traditional custom. In creating “Voodoo Idol,” Grobe — also known as Voodoo Larry — started with a 1946 Ford coupe. He transformed the solid old car into a tribute to legendary lead-slinging Left Coast customizer Gene Winfield. The wild metallic green of “Voodoo Idol” was inspired by that used on Winfield’s “Jade Idol.” So, the “Voodoo Idol” became Voodoo Larry’s personalized rendition of Windfield’s art form. The paint was squirted on with the classic “Winfield fade”; the green gets darker as it traces down the curvaceous bodywork.

“Voodoo Idol” looks wild until it’s compared to Voodoo Larry’s other cars. Then it becomes apparent “Voodoo Idol” is really his version of a sedate, clean-lined custom that is fairly free of graphics or any unnecessary adornments such as those adorning Voodoo Larry’s “Voodoo Psychosis” ’32 Ford coupe and his “Voodoo Kreeper” ’53 Chevy. The look of “Voodoo Idol” brings back memories of the early days of lead sleds when pioneering customizers Sam and George Barris were selling “Barris Kustom grilles” and building tinsel-free cars such as the “Four Foot Ford” and “Snooky.”

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Not only did Voodoo Larry want his car to be a nod to Winfield, but he also wanted to tip his hat to the Barris brothers, the Ayala brothers, Dean Jefferies and other early customizers. The ’46 Ford came to him from Ron Ek, who swapped it for some metal fabrication work. As soon as the car was his, Voodoo Larry started the customizing project. He chopped the top 5 1/2 inches in front and 7 1/2 inches in the rear. Eight inches were hacked out between the bumpers to shorten the body and make it into a streamlined stretch-deck coupe in the Lincoln-Zephyr/Delahaye vein. However, the rear window is the one the car left Dearborn with. The B-pillars were canted to help create a teardrop shape.

The Ford running boards, which worked against the smooth look Voodoo Larry wanted to achieve, were surgically removed. After that operation, Voodoo Larry sectioned the lower perimeter of the body 3-1/2 inches all around. He attempted to section the factory hood, but the result was a less-than-beautiful shape, so his answer to the dilemma was to scrounge up five pieces of metal and sculpt his own creation, employing his own leg and knee as his sandbag to hammer metal over. The resulting custom-made hood is attached rather uniquely to the fenders and cowl with a handmade hinge mechanism that lifts the panel slightly and shoves it forward for a peek in the engine bay.

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In the front and rear, Voodoo Larry added 4 inches to the width of the Ford so that it would accept the ’49 Cadillac bumpers that a friend donated to the project. Both of the bumpers were in rather sad shape until Voodoo Larry worked them with a welder. When he had them looking right, he attached a set of bumper guards from a “Darrin dip” Kaiser and had the whole works chromed. The bumpers add to the Cadillac-style front appearance of the “Voodoo Idol.” Voodoo Larry mounted the chrome-plated wheel covers directly to the wheel spindles, an old-school 1950s trick that keeps them stationary while the tires and wheels turn. This makes the car seem like it’s standing still while the tires slide it along.

Hired Gun Paintwork did the lead work on the “Voodoo Idol” and squirted the car’s Jade Green finish. Though the grille could pass for a 1946-’48 Cadillac or Lincoln Continental adornment, it actually came from a ’47 Studebaker as a $25 eBay find. After custom fitting the bright work, he pounded out the rear fenders and streamlined them with a pair of ’41 Buick fender skirts complete with Art Deco-type factory ornamentation. 1949 Plymouth tail lamps were added for stoplight and blinking chores, and to let motorists know that there’s an idol ahead.

“Voodoo Idol” was kept fairly traditional by using pre-1954 parts, with the exception of the under-hood technicalities. An ’81 Camaro sub frame carries a rebuilt Chevy 305 small-block V-8, which is backed by a Turbo Hydramatic 350. The engine packs a tri-power carburetor arrangement and plenty of finned aluminum and chromed accessories. Another not-strictly-traditional concession is the ART suspension that lowers the car for shows (and picture taking) and raises it for road use.

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Trimmer “Mr. Stitch” built the entire interior from old-time fabric sample books combined with a dose of fabulous needlework. The seats were sectioned 6 inches to give them the right look in the much-altered Ford body. Forest Green and Pearl White Naugahyde vinyl were teamed for a tasty two-tone trim job. The tilt steering column is fitted with a vintage steering wheel and both share a Pearl White finish, along with the gauge cluster, the passenger side telephone and the handles for the dual Appleton spotlights. The upper door panels, headliner, seat inserts and carpet foot pads are all done in Pearl White (pleated in some places), as is the piping on the seats and carpets.

Green pinstriping is used on the steering column and the old-fashioned phone. The gearshift ball has a white-and-green pearl striped design. “Voodoo Idol” is lettered on the instrument panel, which is finished in a darker green. A modern radio is mounted in the windshield header in front of the driver and the rear seats carry custom chrome-plated radio speaker grilles.

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The trunk is trimmed with Forest Green panels that have Pearl White pleated inserts, and the trunk floor is covered with green carpeting. Everything throughout the car is detailed to the nines. Even the license plate on the car is a 1954 Illinois tag with white characters on a dark green background. Dark green pinstriping (matching that on the nose) decorates the center of the trunk lid.

One of the secrets of “Voodoo Idol’s” impact is Voodoo Larry’s experience. Although he looks youthful, Voodoo Larry has been plying the customizing trade for a quarter century. He started building cars in his driveway when he was 18 years old. He became a staple at local cruise nights and car shows and his first shop in Schaumburg, Ill., rode the old school wave to success. His current shop in Elk Grove Village is more state of the art, but that doesn’t change the fact that Voodoo Larry puts his heart and soul into every build and modification.

He’s certainly the Winfield, Barris or Jefferies of today, a dream he’s worked to achieve.

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