The Right Way Roadster

Restarting the restoration of a rare 1936 Ford roadster
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The Roadster was a deluxe model with dual horns.

The Roadster was a deluxe model with dual horns.

Like many people in the old-car hobby, “Flatjack” Meyer is at the point in life where he moves at his own speed. He more or less sets his own schedule every day and does as little or as much as he wants. He keeps busy, but a lot of what he does is what he enjoys doing, such as working on his 1936 Ford roadster.

The restoration of Meyer’s Ford was recently put back on the front burner after sitting for years. According to the well-known Ford flathead V-8 expert from Oshkosh, Wis., 15 years’ worth of work has already been put into the job. It’s one of those projects that was started, then went into neutral for a short while, and that turned into a long wait.

Nobody’s blaming Meyer for not having the car done yet. A few years ago, the city of Oshkosh took over his old shop and he had to move everything to a new place that any hobbyist would love to own. Like most of us, Meyer has a lot of stuff that he never thought he’d ever be moving, so the total relocation took a long time to sort out.

Getting back to the ’36 roadster restoration was actually a benefit of the move. It’s as if Meyer’s life was stirred up by the transition and once the dust settled, he found himself realizing that the time had arrived to pick up the pieces and carry out the work. Prioritizing the ’36 Ford project was a natural, because the model is pretty rare and desirable.

Jack got the engine to spin soon after he brought the Ford home. The air cleaner in the photo is being used temporarily.

Jack got the engine to spin soon after he brought the Ford home. The air cleaner in the photo is being used temporarily.

By 1936, roadsters were losing favor to convertible coupes, which were better sealed against the elements with their roll-up windows. 1936 was the second-to-last year of a Ford roadster, and Ford only built 3862 Model 68 roadsters such as Meyer’s car, which sold for $560 and weighs about 2561 lbs. in factory condition. Meyer has already put juice brakes on the car to replace the infamous mechanical binders, so his car’s weight is different than the original printed specifications.

According to a 1936 copy of Ford News, company dealers and members of the press had their first look at the 1936 Ford line on Oct. 15, 1935. Four days later, Ford trucks and Lincoln cars were shown to the public. The Oct. 15 reveals took place at 34 United States and seven Canadian branches and a movie called “The Ford Year” was shown.

The hood has also been painted, but is not back on the car yet.

The hood has also been painted, but is not back on the car yet.

Ford’s 1936 models were highlighted by their “more conservative streamlining,” new interior treatments and refinements in chassis engineering. With more than a million on the road since 1932, the Ford flathead V-8 needed no introduction. The 1936 version was advertised at 85 hp.

Fords for 1936 had new front-end styling with a longer hood extending over the attractive new and more sharply Veed radiator grille. The rounded lower edge of the hood blended with the streamlined curve of the inner portion of the fenders. The fenders were
more widely flared and the hood louvers were also of a new design. The horns were recessed into the fenders and covered with small, round grilles below the headlamps.

Improved steering was the most important chassis improvement. Others included new steel wheels that lessened the unsprung weight of the cars and an improved transmission using quieter helical gears. The low, wide, welded-steel body was finished with Ford-developed sun-proof baked enamel paint.

The interior has leather seats, a wood-grained dash and a banjo steering wheel.

The interior has leather seats, a wood-grained dash and a banjo steering wheel.

The Ford line offered 10 De Luxe models (three-window coupe; five-window coupe; rumble seat roadster; phaeton; cabriolet with rumble seat; convertible sedan; Tudor sedan; Fordor sedan; Tudor touring sedan; and Fordor touring sedan) and three non-De Luxe models (five-window coupe; Tudor; and Fordor).

Body colors included: Washington Blue (as used on Meyer’s car); Cordoba Tan; Gray Vineyard Green; Gun Metal Gray; Black; Light Fast Maroon; Bambolino Blue; Armory Green; Coach Maroon; Bright Vineyard Green; and Desert Sand. All body types had the fenders matching the body color. On the De Luxe models, the wheels matched the body color while non-De Luxe models had black wheels. The most popular interior choices were brown taupe or light Bedford cloth.

Ford described passenger space as “commodious,” though modern drivers may not agree. Still, interior roominess was increased a bit by relocating the engine forward over the front axle. The seat cushions were deeply pillowed and set off with new piping.

Gear shifting was made easier by reducing the throw of the shift lever. Ford stuck with mechanical brakes in 1936, but improved the cooling system. An adjustable drag link was incorporated into the steering mechanism. The new steel wheels were as strong as the former one-piece steel-spoke wheels, but lighter in weight.

The Ford script tires for the ’36 Roadster came from a man in Iowa. The rims will eventually be blue and the 1938 hubcaps will be replaced.

The Ford script tires for the ’36 Roadster came from a man in Iowa. The rims will eventually be blue and the 1938 hubcaps will be replaced.

Meyer’s car has a radio, wheel trim rings, an outside rearview mirror, a correct heater, a clock, a banjo steering wheel (standard in roadsters), wind wings, leather upholstery, a radio antenna, a rumble seat (standard in roadsters) and 6.00 x 16 Ford-script white sidewall tires from Universal. The car’s odometer reads just 3210 miles.

Jack bought the car out of Green Lake, Wis., years ago. He was doing a plumbing job and the son and daughter of the people who owned the car had it stored in their garage. They were originally from Virginia and the car was used in Wisconsin during the summer. At the time, it was painted black and had a red vinyl interior and a white top.

Meyer doesn’t know how long the roadster sat in the garage, but when he saw it, the tires still held air. “I hauled it up on the trailer, brought it back to Oshkosh and eventually got the engine to turn over,” he recalled. “I had to pound out the right front fender, which had been damaged, so I could turn the wheels.”

Then, Meyer started the restoration project. He had Larry Southard from Waupon, Wis., install new floor panels and some patch panels and paint the car. Meyer did the mechanical work himself, converting it to hydraulic brakes during that process. “Now, it’s set to go out and get an interior in it,” he said. “I’ll finish up the bits and pieces and then I’ll be driving it. I have a LeBarron-Bonney top kit for it, too.”

Dual taillights and a rumble seat were standard on the Deluxe Roadster model.

Dual taillights and a rumble seat were standard on the Deluxe Roadster model.

The running boards are the originals with new covers. Meyer touts the car as being all metal with no filler. “Larry Southard pounded out that right front fender,” said Meyer. “He’s a real metal craftsman, so there’s no putty in it. He hammered and picked it.”

Meyer said roadster seats were originally leather like he’ll be using and the door panels and trim were originally leatherette. LeBarron-Bonney used to make an original kit, but it’s not available now due to its recent Chapter 7 bankruptcy. “In order to make it look right, we’re going to go with all leather, which will be installed by Craig Vesters of Little Chute, Wis. He’s a real craftsman,” Meyer said. “The roadster was considered a De Luxe model, so the roadster interior also has a wood-grained dash and banjo steering wheel.”

When asked how long he’s been working on the ’36 Ford, he answered “15 years” and then he laughed. “Obviously, I haven’t been working on it for 15 years,” he said with a smile. “But I have owned it about that long. And I want to get it done before the snow flies.” 

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