Steve Foster’s Hemi-powered 1936 Ford coupe GR8VBE – flashback

Looking back on the final creation of an artistic NZ hot rodder


This article was originally published in issue no.14 of Street Machine’s Hot Rod magazine, 2014

THE ’36 Ford you see here is nothing short of breathtaking; from its elegant early custom styling cues to the gorgeous bare metal finish and tri-carbed DeSoto Hemi. For the New Zealand hot rod scene this car is certainly one of the most tasteful customs ever built in the land of the long white cloud.

Numerous body modifications by Bodymods. 1939 Cadillac LaSalle grille, louvres, rear number plate surround, radiator emblem replacement

To be honest, we expected nothing less when we heard the late Steve Foster was responsible for the vision and execution of this fine Ford. It’s well known within the NZ rodding scene that Steve was one of the good guys. He was highly regarded for his artistic talent and his appreciation for traditional hot rods.

He had a lifetime of amazing cars and motorcycles, everything from a ’33 Ford coupe and ’40 Ford pick-up to a ’51 Ford custom, early Camaros, Tri-Five Chevs, Mustangs, vintage Harleys and a bunch of hot rods. His vision for this car, along with his artistic background, made Steve very firm in his ideas, and as his health suffered, his mind remained active and the car was completed just in time for him to appreciate it. Steve passed away on Sunday 20th October, 2013; he was just 58 years old. In the short time he had he spent it wisely to achieve his goals; with the love and assistance of his wonderful wife Tania, his family, his friends and his fellow Mid West Street Rods mates, of which he became their first life member.

One of the greatest talking points of the Foster ’36 is the ’39 LaSalle grille fitted by Bodymods. It’s a nod to late-30s early-40s customising by the late Harry Westergard of Northern California. It’s Westergard who is credited in custom car history for being the first to use the narrow grille from the LaSalle – a by product of Cadillac – on ’36 Fords. This would have to be the first example of Westergard custom styling done in NZ

To backtrack a little, initial inspiration for Steve came from the Jack Calori coupe of the 40s, and a few other similarly styled recent builds by John Mearns of ACME Speed Shop and Jon Fisher of the Burbank Choppers. Steve was about to embark on perhaps what was NZ’s first late-40s styled custom coupe and was yet to source a body. Squeak Bell in Bakersfield, California knew of two ’36 coupes at the time of Steve’s initial inquiry. Steve’s coupe arrived into Auckland in 2006 and he continued to do his homework as to how he wanted every square inch. The top chop was completed in the USA, so from there the bodywork continued with Steve’s brother Barry before he returned to Australia. Steve decided it was certainly worth talking to Paul Duff at Bodymods in Hamilton and it was to be a choice well worth making.

Paul says it was a privilege to be part of a build which was backed by an owner with such good knowledge and who combined a lifetime of ideas into one dream car. Steve had always said that a hot rod should be hammered and filed and driven hard. So with that in mind it was decided to clear coat the car to showcase the beautiful craftsmanship. Mark McAlpine of Alpine Panelbeaters stepped up and painted the ’36 in an epoxy clear coat from PPG. The ultimate goal was to have the car painted in mile deep black, ala the Calori coupe, but time was of the essence and the current finish provided the car with an identity all of its own.

Back to the driven hard part. It was Dave and Craig McDougall, of D&V Autos, who carried out the chassis work in a traditional manner. The chassis features a So-Cal forged dropped I-beam axle on a ’36 Ford spring and wishbone with a Ford nine-inch rear on triangulated four-bars and QA1 coilovers. Under the hood is a ’55 291ci DeSoto Hemi engine topped with four Stromberg 97 carburettors on an Offenhauser intake rebuilt by John and Scott Sampson at Glendene Engine Reconditioners. A modern concession is the Borg Warner T5 gearbox for improved driveability of the older Hemi engine. Fellow Mid West Street Rods member, Trev Saran, handled the wiring as family, friends and club members pitched in to get the car running.

Master fabricator Dave Graham worked his magic on many cool aspects of the car, including the bullets on the hub caps and the licence plate guard, among other things. It was a kind gesture of Dave’s employer — James at Bumac Engineering — who told Dave to do whatever it took (during work time) to get all the jobs completed on Steve’s ’36.

Shortly after Steve’s passing many friends, and fellow rodders, wondered what was going to happen to the car. They needn’t have worried; Tania is doing the car, and Steve’s legacy, the justice they both deserve. The car was displayed at the Kumeu Classic Car and Hot Rod Festival in January where it deservedly won Best Ford and Best Hot Rod. It was then displayed at the CRC Speedshow where it won Best Traditional Hot Rod.

Steve was very thorough in his choice of styling for the ’36, and the choice of power is just one example. The 291ci baby DeSoto Hemi topped with four Stromberg 97s on an Offy intake is pure hot rod porn. Steve was also careful to not use any visible modern components or coatings. The result: a period perfect masterpiece

Ian Goodwin has since completed the interior. Steve met with Ian shortly before he passed away and went over the ideas for the upholstery which, as you would expect from Ian Goodwin, is world class and represents exactly what Steve envisaged.

Lime Works Crestliner steering wheel and column, ’40 Ford dash

From Steve’s initial vision of his final masterpiece, right through to all those who lent a hand in achieving the end result, this hot rod is well and truly a work of art. The “GR8VBE” licence plates were a gift from Tania to Steve, and are more than fitting for the car. You sense a great vibe when you see it. They also represent Steve’s appreciation for loud rock music and a stick-shift hot rod.

RIP Steve. Tania does wash and polish the car — not one of your strong points — and the car has received a speeding ticket, and run out of gas, just as you had done in previous cars!


To understand where Steve was coming from when he commenced the build of this car a small glimpse back into early American hot rod and custom car history is required. The Jack Calori coupe takes us back to Long Beach, California, USA in the late 40s. Calori was searching for a tow car for his famous Clay Smith-prepared 1929 Ford Model A racer when he discovered a 1936 Ford three-window coupe for sale, by its original owner, in 1947. It was not long before Calori’s friend, local body man Herb Reneau, convinced Calori that the Ford needed custom treatment, and one of history’s most stunning custom 1936 Fords was born. Reneau installed a drop front axle and Z’d the frame at the rear to lower the car, chopped the top three inches, massaged the front end to accept a 1939 LaSalle front grille and 1941 Chevrolet headlights, added fender skirts, 1941 Hudson tail-lights and 1941 Ford bumpers with Lincoln over-riders. He finished it off with lustrous black paint.

Just prior to the car’s completion, Calori installed the race-prepped 1946 Mercury flathead from his 1929 Model A, giving it the power to run 114.50mph at a 1948 Russetta Timing Association meet. Calori and his coupe made history the following year, appearing on the front cover of the November 1949 issue of Hot Rod magazine. In 2002, Jorge Zaragoza commissioned Roy Brizio to restore it in time to win the first-ever Early Custom Cars 1935-1948 Class and the Dean Batchelor Award at the 2005 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where Brizio and Calori himself accepted the prizes. It has been displayed at the Petersen Museum as a living piece of hot rod history and was featured on the front cover of the prestigious Rodder’s Journal, Issue 31.


Paint: PPG epoxy clear

Engine: 1955 Desoto Hemi V8 291ci
Ignition: Pertronix
Induction: Offenhauser intake, 4 x Stromberg 97s
Cooling: Walker radiator
Driveline: GM T5 five-speed, Ford 9in rear

Box: T5 five-speed
Diff: Ford 9in

Suspension: So-Cal dropped Ibeam on ’36 spring and wishbone, triangulated four-bar rear on coilovers
Brakes: Ford F100 drums on the front, Holden VK master cylinder, Ford drum rear
Chassis: Original ’36 Ford modified by D&V Autos

Wheels: Steel wheels with custom smooth hubcaps 15×5 (f), 15×7 (r)
Tyres: 195/60R15 (f), 235/70R15 (r) wide white wall radials

Exterior: Numerous body modifications by Bodymods. 1939 Cadillac LaSalle grille, louvres, rear number plate surround, radiator emblem replacement
Interior: Lime Works Crestliner steering wheel and column, ’40 Ford dash