351 Cleveland-powered 1934 Ford Coupe

Drawing inspiration and styling cues from an era that time forgot, John Curtin lays the foundations for a new wave of nostalgia hot rodding

Photographers: Mitch Hemming

This article on John’s Ford coupe was originally published in issue no.17 of Street Machine’s Hot Rod magazine

WELL my dreams are coming true. As a tragic for car builds inspired by the 70s, it truly warms my heart to see the likes of tramp rods, flared guards and positive rake making tentative steps towards a comeback. I may sound as nutty as a velvet-wrapped fruitcake, but I’ll be having the last laugh from the asylum window when the pages of Street Machine and SM Hot Rod glisten with chromed Jag diffs and velocity stacks.

John bought the car as an unfinished project. “It was only partially steeled out and all of the hanging panels were tek-screwed on it so needed plenty of prep work.” The ’glass three-window shell features a three-inch chop for perfect proportions. Steve Hall laid down the stunning Ignition Orange over a red base, topped with a gold pearl. The Vintique short stem tailamps are a neat touch

Ok, we have a ways to go before total domination becomes a reality, but 70s rides weren’t limited to the muralled panel van or jellybean-clad EH set. No sir; hot rods of this time are a breed of their own.

Whereas traditional 50s and early-60s rods hark of stripped down bodyshells over channeled floorpans, the flared jeans and sideburns era brought with it a return to full guards and near-resto looks in the body department, sitting ‘properly’ on the chassis rails. Modern wheels, pinstriping and endless-line paint carved out a look that proudly rubbed shoulders with street machines of the day.

’34 coupes have been built to all manner of styles and trends. Their swoopy styling and suicide doors are both iconic and lend themselves well to any favoured look

One look at John Curtin’s 70s-inspired ’34 coupe and you’ll get my drift; slot mags, white tyre lettering and pinstripes boxing the panels are critical old school cues. And why not? The traditional rod and custom scene has exploded in recent years so I think the boogie era is ready for its turn in the strobe light.

“I had the late-60s, early-70s build concept in my head from day one,” says John. “I just love that style. I only got into hot rods about five years ago so there wasn’t any long-standing ideals or pressure as to what I should build. I was pretty much a newbie to the scene and what makes it tick.” Hot rods yes, but not when it comes to modified cars. With a pair of magazine-featured RX3 coupes to his credit, John knows his way around a quality build and is happy to step outside the square.

John chose extensive two-tone pinstripe work from the hand of Greg Vels of BrushFX to highlight the curves of his ’34, which along with subtle rake and period wheels firmly stamps the 70s influence

Armed with 70s hot rod magazines and ZZ Top album covers for inspiration, John went on the hunt for a suitable project. “I leaned towards the larger 30s era Fords to better suit my height, but really just love the Eliminator coupe so it was an easy decision.”

In 2012 he found an unfinished project which ticked the right boxes. “The bloke had got as a far as doing a basic rolling chassis and partially steeling out the ’glass body. He lost interest and it sat for a few years so I took the gamble and shipped it home to Brisbane.”

A recessed firewall makes way for a 351 Cleveland donk, built to provide both form and function. The tunnel ram, twin fours and Crane solid cam are a punchy but reliable combo that doubles as eye candy, making best use of the ’34’s nil-bonnet styling

“I based the entire build around a pair of tappet covers [laughs]. They were the first part I bought. The Edelbrocks have the right look and decided that I wanted the sand cast finish instead of chrome for everything else too. The best advice I received was to choose a theme and stick to it.”

“I don’t have a bonnet for it,” John says. “Right from the start I never contemplated fitting one.” Scoops are Richies finned items while the Edelbrock tappet covers give the illusion of big block cubes

With those words ringing firmly in his mind, John sold the Convo Pros and Commodore buckets that came with the car and got down to business.

The chassis is original ’34 steel that has been boxed and strengthened. A Rod-Tech transverse leaf front end mounts a dropped I-beam axle that lays the coupe nice and low in conjunction with drop spindles. The rear comprises a four-link setup and QA1 coilovers that suspend a narrowed Mustang 8.75-inch diff retaining 3.0 gears.

Brakes are Ford front discs clamped via VS Commodore calipers, while ventilated XA rear drums look right at home through the slots of the rear wheels. Those rims are 15×7 and 8.5in Ansen Sprints that have been sandblasted and sprayed in a flat clear to seal their raw look. “They were a great looking set of polished wheels and the sandblaster said: ‘You want me to what?’ I assured him I wasn’t going to change my mind so he blasted them, although pretty reluctantly.” The two-bar knockoffs are genuine E-Type Jag brass spinners, painted to match the raw finish of the rims and CNC-machined with an internal thread to still knock off as nature intended. Dunlop 195/60s and 255/60 T/As round out the rolling stock, proudly wearing their white tyre lettering front and centre.

An all Ford combination for the body and running gear was another strict requirement for John, which was rather timely with the chassis already specced for a Cleveland. The 351 runs all the necessary innards to ensure maximum reliability, while a solid Crane F246 cam provides the necessary lope for a period perfect idle. Cast 2V heads have been ported and polished while a Redline tunnel ram and twin 450 Holley carbs nicely fill the sans-bonnet engine bay.

Castle Headers swirl back to a twin 2.5in system while a traditional style Walker four-core radiator and Spal thermo fan keep a lid on Queensland summers. A shift-kitted C4 transmission is fronted by a Hughes 3000 stall, with gear selection by way of a Lokar shifter.

A Rod-Tech transverse spring set-up works in conjunction with a dropped I-beam axle and lowered spindles to sort John’s desired ride height. The guards hug Ansen slot mags, which have been blasted and matte cleared for a permanently raw finish

The ’glass body is a Kraze Rods item that features a three-inch chop and concealed door hinges, with the firewall recessed a further inch to provide sufficient clearance for the Cleveland donk. “It had been partially steeled out by the previous owner but still needed plenty of work to bring it up to ASRF guidelines,” John explains. “Eighteen metres of additional steel was added by welder Ashley Reason to ensure the body complied.”

Steve Hall was responsible for prepping the body before laying down a red base and the Ignition orange overlay. Gold pearl was added for extra pop before Greg Vels of BrushFX laid down the extensive two-tone peach and red freehand pinstriping. “I spoke to a number of stripers but no one was interested due to the style and size of the job. Greg normally specialises in trucks but happily stepped up to the plate. He did amazing work and has totally transformed the car.”

A ’34 windscreen frame was cut down to suit and is one of a number of original items John scrimped and scrounged from swap meets. “Finding parts that look just right becomes addictive. I searched all of the local swaps and even travelled to Ballarat on the hunt for the right stuff.” The Morris Minor wipers, Delco klaxon horn and 1930 Chrysler hood ornament all ticked the right boxes, while the 1930 Buick headlamps were rebuilt with H4 internals.

The Vintique tail-lamps are new, but perfectly suit the style of the build and incorporate an indicator conversion from Classic Plastic Kustom Lenses.

Swing back the front doors and you’re met with a black leather interior stitched in tuck ’n’ roll by Fiona Coombs. A Glide Engineering bench lifts at the base to access an NOS XA Falcon release for the boot — more of John’s swap meet gold — along with the vintage rear view mirror and Model A interior lamp. Jaguar leather door pulls are functional hardware whereas the XY winders are just for period show — switches for the fast glass are hidden under the dash.

“I’m totally happy with the coupe and now it’s finished will stay as-is. It has a special place in my heart too: My Mum, Pam, was so excited when I bought the car because she was born in 1934. She sadly passed away a few months later so I dedicate this build to her memory.”

A Glide Engineering bench seat sports additional storage room and features an adjustable backrest for maximum comfort within the three-window’s confines. The black leather tuck’n’roll interior trim was stitched by Fiona Coombs while the Moon pedals tie in nicely with the Lokar shifter and parkbrake assembly. A Mazda 929 donated its steering column which is topped with a 323 twirler flanked by early Smiths gauges

John isn’t one to rest on his laurels and has pushed the time machine back a decade or so with his current project, a steel ’28 Roadster. “It’s a fenderless build with a five inch channel and flathead running gear. It’ll be a while before it’s done so I’ll keep driving the coupe in the meantime. It was only registered in February this year — on my birthday actually. Yep, best present ever.”


Colour: Ignition Orange

Make: Ford 351 Cleveland
Crank: Factory cast
Camshaft: Crane F246 solid
Heads: 2V, ported
Intake: Redline tunnel ram
Carbs: Holley 450cfm
Ignition: MSD Pro Billet distributor, MSD Blaster 2 coil
Exhaust: Castle Headers, twin 2.5in Fat Pipes system

Gearbox: C4, stage 2 shift kit
Convertor: Hughes 3000 stall
Diff: Mustang 8.75in, 3.0 gears

Front: Rod-Tech transverse leaf, dropped I-beam, four bar, dropped spindles
Rear: Four-link, coilovers
Shocks: Rod-Tech (f), QA1 adjustable (r)
Brakes: Ford disc, VS Commodore calipers (f), XA finned drums

Rims: Ansen Sprint 15×7 (f) 15×8.5 (r)
Tyres: Dunlop Sport 195/60 (f) BFG T/A 255/60