Story and photo by John Gunnell
When Pete Chapouris built the Father’s Day Ford, he based it
on a 1926 Model T. His goal was to make a street-drivable car
that looked like the track roadsters his father once loved.
About a dozen or so years ago, the Petersen Automotive Museum mounted a hot rod exhibition, probably a bit before other museums and car shows chose to be honor this uniquely American type of car. We know that William F. Harrah had some hot rods in his massive collection in Reno, but we can’t recall him showcasing them in a special exhibition. Whether or not the Petersen Automotive Museum was first to go this route, the cars that it put on display in 1996 or 1997 included some particularly beautiful hot rods.
The cars included Bruce Meyer’s ’32 Ford roadster, which had been a Street Rodder magazine cover car. There was Tony Nancy’s gorgeous red 22 Jr. car, which appeared in Hot Rod magazine back in 1960. There was Billy Record’s competition-themed roadster complete with a Paxton blower and a roll bar. And then there was Pete Chapouris III’s “Father’s Day Ford.”
Pete Chapouris III grew up in El Monte, Calif. He started cruising the streets in that area around 1955. His first hot rod was a ’32 Ford roadster, but he fell in love with Gil Granuci’s Model A coupe and knew he wanted one like it. Chapouris sold his roadster body, bought a Model A coupe body and channeled it to fit over the ’32 Ford frame rails. Like most enthusiasts, Chapouris went through a string of cars and worked his way up to a new ’61 T-Bird that he mildly customized.
Back in the 1970s, Chapouris began work on a black ’34 Ford coupe that was chopped and flamed. The car made the cover of Rod & Custom, along with a similar canary yellow coupe that belonged to Jim “Jake” Jacobs. The two hot rodders hit it off and decided to start a small hot rod repair business in Temple City, Calif. This was the origin of a business called Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Parts.
Howie Horowitz, producer of the “Batman” TV series, wanted to use Pete’s car in a TV movie called "The California Kid" starring Martin Sheen. The movie put Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Parts on the map. The business thrived and moved more into the public eye. Pete later worked for SEMA and became the licensee of the SO-CAL Speed Shop brand. Pete’s hot rodding interest came from his dad, who was a big fan of early track roadster racing at Ascot Speedway.
When Pete built the Father’s Day Ford, he based it on a 1926 Model T. His goal was to make a street-drivable car that looked like a track roadster. The build started in 1976 with fabrication of a custom-made tube frame. The front suspension was an original ’34 Ford I-beam setup that was dropped a couple of inches and fitted with ’40 Ford spindles, a Bell disc brake conversion, a P&J four-link geometry arrangement and Chevy Vega steering gear.
Set into the car’s 103-in. wheelbase chassis was something a bit different in the powerplant department — a 1976 Capri 2.8-liter V-6 with custom-made headers by Tom Vandenberg and a Ford C4 automatic transmission. This car was built just a few years before hot rod legend LeRoi “Tex” Smith came to work at Old Cars Weekly, and I can remember him talking about it and other V-6 rods being constructed at that time. Tex dreamed of putting together a Buick V-6-powered rod (which he later did), but the Capri V-6 was another nice way to go.
At the rear, the Father’s Day Ford utilized an 8-in. Ford rear with 3.78:1 gearing, an unequal four-bar setup, Pete & Jake’s shock absorbers and coil springs from a Chevy Corvair. Eric Vaughn supplied the steel wheels that carried 145Rx14 Michelin tires up front and Firestone dirt track-type tires at the rear.
Craftsmen like Steve Davis, John Buttera, Pete Eastwood and “Scotty” Scotten handled some of the body and trim details for the little car. The fiberglass ’26 Ford Model T body came from a company called A-1, which was squirted with British Racing Green paint. Dennis Rickleffs pinstriped the car, while upholsterer Jim Bailey stitched the tan Naugahyde interior and other soft trim. Part of the reason for enlisting all his friends to help finish the car was that Pete III had discovered that his dad had medical problems. He wanted to gift him with the car while he could still get enjoyment out of it. Fortunately, the goal was achieved.
The car was completed by Father’s Day 1978, when Pete gave his father the keys during the L.A. Roadster Show. The track roadster was featured in Rod Action magazine that year and later illustrated in Street Rodder. Pete’s dad got to use it quite a bit over the next seven years. After his dad passed away in April 1985, Pete put the car into storage. It was not used for the next decade.
In 1995, the late Gray Baskerville and Jim Jacobs teamed up to convince Pete that it was time to revive the ride. Rod & Custom magazine did a feature story about the car. Pete opted to alter it a bit by adding wide whitewall tires and ’50 Mercury hubcaps. This is how the car looked when displayed in the Petersen Automotive Museum.
The roadster’s clean look, simplicity of line, subtle detailing and overall design stood out as something special. For years, this memorable roadster has been referred to as the “Pete Chapouris track roadster,” but maybe it’s best referred to as the Father’s Day Ford.
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