At the 2022 Detroit Autorama, we caught up with Logan and Tanner Kucharek, brothers from Howell, Michigan. Logan is now 23 and Tanner is 20, and their flathead 1932 Ford coupe is one of the coolest hot rods we’ve seen all weekend.
1932 Ford Coupe built by teenagers
In the 1950s, it was quite common for hot rods to be owned and built by young guns like Logan and Tanner. In 1956, their uncle Jon Grinager was a sophomore at Farmington High School near Detroit. He bought a battered 1932 Ford three-window coupe body and took it to his school workshop classroom, where, over the next few years, he and his friends honed their mechanical and manufacturing skills and turned the Jon’s Deuce coupe into an impressive lowboy hot rod.
Jon went to Vietnam in 1966. “We have the letters he sent home,” Logan told us. “He wrote, ‘I know after this I won’t have much, but I have my boat and I have my hot rod. He struggled when he got home, and his car was what helped him as he battled PTSD.”
The Kucharek brothers describe their uncle Jon as a Renaissance man. “Until we demolished the car down to the chassis, we really didn’t understand how much work had gone into it. He did his own bodywork and fabrication and built his own wiring harness. He did his own He packed up the frame and Z’d the “rails to lower the car, and moved the front crossmember forward two inches and up two inches to get everything snug. He used everything he had at his disposal. We figured out that the inner part of the firewall is made on an aluminum baking sheet, again with a handle. The tunnel above the driveshaft is a piece of chimney tube, but it worked.
50s and 60s style
The coupe’s surprisingly low profile is achieved through its 7-inch channel above the Z’d frame rails and a 4 1/2-inch top cutout. Logan and Tanner heard repeated reports that the chop could have been made by another pair of Detroit brothers, Mike and Larry Alexander of the legendary Alexander Bros. CustomShop. The work on the coupe has the style of Alexander Bros. metalwork, and Logan and Tanner are still trying to authenticate the story.
70s and 80s style
Throughout the 70s and 80s Jon continued to work on the car, modifying it from its traditional 50s style as trends changed. The 239 Flathead was retained, but the front suspension was updated with a four-link suspension and the appearance was modernized with smooth lines, fresh orange paint and lots of chrome.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the new paint to start falling off the sheet metal. Despondency over the painting’s failure, along with his struggle with PTSD, caused Jon to give up the hot rod work he had so enjoyed. “He took a snag grinder and ripped off all the paint he could,” Logan said. “He stuffed the car in the back of the garage and it sat there for 30 years until his death in 2015.”
Beginning a reconstruction
Logan and Tanner were teenagers when they inherited their uncle’s scrapped and disassembled hot rod. “Since then, we’ve been working to bring it back to life,” Logan said. “We worked for the first few years with it and got it working fine. Originally we were just going to run it again – heads and brakes. We didn’t plan to disassemble the motor. Obviously, it snowballed a lot of that.”
They went to online forums and read books to learn how to rebuild the flathead motor, but needed professional help to “push it overboard”, as they did. said. During an online search for “flat head repair in Detroit”, they came across Brothers Custom Automotive in Troy, Michigan. Brothers, owned by Bill Jagenow, is nationally known for its exceptional vintage hot rods.
“We brought our car to them and immediately hit it off,” Logan and Tanner told us. “They were totally interested in our history and what the car meant to us. Bill was really tied to the fact that the car has been around since the 1950s and it would be young people working on it, keeping the history alive. We were convinced that Bill had a very traditional view of the car and that was what our uncle would have wanted, and Bill is a flat-headed wizard, to say the least.
Redo the flat head
The 239, originally installed by Jon Grinager, was machined to 286ci, running a Mercury crankshaft, L100 cam, stainless valve components and Offenhauser cylinder heads. The Edmunds aluminum intake manifold is topped with a pair of brand-new Stromberg carburettors. The exhaust is pulled through a pair of Red headers, with a straight exhaust on the sides. “It’s ridiculously loud,” Tanner said. “When we moved the car to the lower level of the Autorama, people were coming down from the upper level. The ground rumbled. The flat head has a sound all its own.”
Two cents for the exhaust noise
Tanner told us they used an old hot lapping procedure called the wheat penny trick to change the flathead’s exhaust tone. The old 1909-1958 pennies (with wheat stalks depicted on the back side) are the correct diameter to block the heat riser holes from the exhaust passage to the intake manifold. The result is more “pop” and “snap” in the exhaust, in addition to keeping the carburetors cooler. Logan and Tanner used 1948 as, from Jon’s birth year.
The New Orange
In rebuilding the coupe, the goal was not to replicate everything Jon had done, but to honor him. When it came time to paint the car, Logan and Tanner went for a variation of the bold red/orange it had worn in the ’50s. The new color is Volvo Saffron Metallic. Bill Jagenow photographed the fresh paint in the Brothers Custom booth, just spraying a base coat, no varnish or buffing, to achieve the look of 50s driveway paint. The effect can be seen by comparing the body with the dashboard, which got a bit of a contrast.
Tanner said: “It will be a driver. If we have a pebble chip in the paint, it’s not the end of the world. We can touch it up as we go. The chips are proof that we we drove – and that’s what we want to do – drive everything.”
Past part, present part
In restoring the coupe to its old hot rod style, Logan and Tanner stripped out some of the ’80s elements Jon added, like the four-link suspension, which was downgraded to split wishbones. The rolling stock is hot-rod style stuff. Skinny bias-ply Firestone tires roll on 16-inch painted steel wheels with 1947-48 Merc caps. The bench seat is treated with old-fashioned “blanket padding,” facing a 1940 Ford steering wheel and Stewart-Warner Wings gauges.
Other parts have been subtly updated. The 6 volt electrical system was converted to 12 volts. The new Stromberg E-Fire ignition is electronic but looks like an old “crab style” distributor. A dual-core radiator and electric fan will keep the coupe cool on the streets this summer, and Logan and Tanner said they plan to spend plenty of time on Detroit’s famed Woodward Avenue in Normandy. Look for them.
The final beating
Brothers Custom Automotive always has a prominent display at the Detroit Autorama, in the show’s lower-level Autorama Extreme section dedicated to hot rods and nostalgic customs. When Bill Jagenow invited the Kucharek brothers to display the Shop Class coupe in the Brothers exhibition, they still had a lot to do to put the car together. “We worked very hard on it. On January 8, we had a bare frame on the floor. There were a lot of late nights. I was spending a whole day at work, finishing up and going down to shopping until kick me out,” Logan explained. “And we were practically bolting stuff on it while it was rolling on the trailer to go to the Autorama.”
A Detroit Icon Returns
When the Shop Class Coupe pulled out of that trailer at the show, Logan and Tanner learned just how important their car was and is. “Autorama is probably his first public outing since the late 70s. We weren’t ready for the response he received. We didn’t realize how much this car meant to so many people.”
Tribute to their uncle
“We talked a lot about what he would like and what he wouldn’t have liked, and we thought about that with the style choices we made with Bill,” Tanner told us. “This car is a hot rod through and through. Bare bones. Utility. Not a lot of creature comforts.”
“For us to have the car in this finished condition is really something. Our uncle would have laughed at us while we were working on it,” Logan said. “I don’t think he would have ever imagined his hot rod being at the Autorama – and it being the first thing you see coming down the escalator to the Autorama Extreme. That’s pretty cool.”
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