Dan Duckworth, courtesy of Mecum Auctions
  • Hot Rod magazine cover car November 1949
  • Built by rodding pioneers Jack Calori and Herb Reneau
  • Bored and stroked ’46 Mercury 59AB flathead
  • Clay Smith cam; Eddie Meyer high-compression heads
  • Three-inch chopped top, La Salle grille, ’40 Chevy headlights
  • Best in Class at Pebble Beach Early Custom Class in 2005
  • Dean Bachelor Award for the “Most Significant Hot Rod”

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1936 Ford Jack Calori 3-Window Coupe
Years Produced:1936 (1947)
Number Produced:21,446 DeLuxe 3-window coupes
Original List Price:$570
SCM Valuation:$40,718
Tune Up Cost:$250 (estimated)
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on the frame rail near the firewall, driver’s side
Engine Number Location:Cast in bellhousing
Club Info:Goodguys, National Street Rod Association (NSRA)
Alternatives:Other ’30s-to-’40s-era period customs restored to their as-built configuration
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot S82, sold for $407,000, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s auction in Monterey, CA, on August 23–25, 2018.

Arguably, it’s the most famous restyled ’36 Ford coupe of them all, beginning with an appearance on the cover of Hot Rod in November 1949. Four inches off the pavement, with a hint of a tail-dragger stance, de-chromed, simplified and full-skirted, Jack Calori’s ’36 3-window accomplished what everyone who built custom cars wanted: It turned heads and attracted ladies.

On that now-famous Hot Rod cover, Jack Calori’s pretty girlfriend Juanita stands casually alongside. Calori, a handsome Lynwood, CA, motor officer (motorcycle policeman), understood the allure of his ’36 coupe.

An active member of both the Dolphins and the Lancers hot rod clubs of Long Beach, and a competitive dry-lakes racer, Calori was already well known for his jet-black ’29 Model A-V8, with chopped split windshield and distinctive twin chromed exhaust pipes that ran diagonally up each side of the car.

SCTA roadster racers built increasingly hotter engines that were no longer suitable for street use, so Calori acquired this one-owner ’36 coupe in 1947 to use as a tow car for his roadster. Expert metal man Herb Reneau suggested to Calori that they build a custom out of it, so Jack installed a dropped front axle and kicked up the rear of the frame to lower the stance. Reneau chopped the coupe’s top three inches for a perfect silhouette.

Building “the look”

Reneau completed the restyling with an alligator-style hood that was extended three inches, and fabricated matching solid side panels. The pièce de résistance was a slender vertical ’39 LaSalle grille. Given the coupe’s low-slung look, it made perfect sense for Reneau to cut off the stock ’36 Ford headlight stands and replace them with faired-in lights from a ’40 Chevy.

In the rear, the trunk handle was shaved, the rear license plate was inset, and a pair of 1947 Hudson taillights replaced the stanchion-mounted Ford units. The coupe was updated with 1941 Ford bumpers and teardrop Buick fender skirts. Whitewall tires were never fitted. The finishing touch was multiple coats of hand-rubbed black nitrocellulose lacquer. The result was commemorated with a Rex Burnett Hot Rod cutaway drawing.

Inside, the mohair interior was replaced with dark red leatherette, accented with ivory piping. A number of moldings and fittings were plated. The dash was modified to accept six Stewart-Warner convex-lens gauges. Reneau fabricated a slick chrome tray, which could be pulled out from underneath the dash panel on the passenger’s side. Given the preference for drive-in restaurants in that era (the better to show off a custom car), that tray came in handy.

From custom car to custom rod

Calori sold his roadster but kept its Clay Smith-tuned 59A Mercury engine, and installed it in the ’36. A hot mill by late-’40s standards, it was bored 1/8th and stroked the same amount by offset-grinding the crank. The displacement was 267 ci.

Calori modified the car’s Merc V8 with the top speed equipment of that era, starting with a Clay Smith cam and a modified Lincoln-Zephyr dual-point, dual-coil distributor. Eddie Meyer supplied the polished, finned, high-compression heads. The racer-style dual intake, also polished, was a Weiand product. Period touches include a Bell fuel pressure pump under the dash, with a pressure gauge and a Ford Crestliner steering wheel.

In contrast to the car’s exterior, which featured a minimum of brightwork, the entire oil pan was chromed, as were the twin water pumps, the generator’s external casing, the oil filler/breather and the dipstick assembly. The SCTA did not permit coupes (or sedans) to compete, so Calori ran the 3-window at a Russetta Timing Association (RTA) meet in 1948 and was clocked at an impressive 114.50 mph.

The narrow LaSalle grille looked great, but there was no room for a fan, so air flow was limited. Calori and Reneau tried a number of solutions, such as an air scoop under the front bumper, a larger radiator water tank, and even hood louvers, but none of those steps ever kept the much-modified engine from overheating.

Restored to a fare-thee-well

Calori eventually traded in his custom coupe toward a brand-new 1950 Mercury. Many customs from the early ’50s did not survive, but this car did. It went to an owner in Minnesota and was eventually found by Roger Domini in Spokane, WA, who owned it for many years. Noted collector Don Orosco had the coupe before it was acquired by Jorge Zaragoza of El Paso, TX. Zaragoza, who owned the ex-Tom McMullen ’32 roadster, commissioned Roy Brizio Street Rods in South San Francisco, CA, to restore the Calori coupe to its primo 1949 configuration.

I saw the disassembled coupe at Roy’s shop before the meticulous restoration started. It was remarkably complete, with nearly all of its custom touches, including all the original Stewart-Warner instruments, and even the special interior tray. Roy and his crew contacted Jack Calori, who was still living at the time (he died in 2008). He remembered many details, ensuring a period-perfect restoration.

Calori visited Roy’s shop to help. Brizio had original photographs of the car for a guide. His team solved the car’s chronic heating problem with a modern electric fan that could be removed when the car was shown. The coupe only had one Appleton S-552 spotlight. Brizio’s crew, led by Bill Ganahl, resisted temptation to add a second light.

A winner, then and now

In 2005, the ex-Jack Calori coupe won the first Historic Early Custom Cars 1935–1948 Class at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, as well as the prestigious Dean Bachelor Award at that same event, for the most significant hot rod present.

The $407,000 sale price is a record for a ’36 Ford — there are Duesenbergs that have sold for less. The hammer price also was $89k more than a 2012 sale for the same car. The winning bidder, Scott Gillen, also owns a Brizio-built ’35 Ford 3-window. A man with an eye for design, Gillen said he has always admired this car, and he just had to have it.

Beautifully restored, the stunning Calori coupe set the standard for custom ’36 Fords back in 1949, and 70 years later, it still does. I’d call this a great deal for the seller, and while the price may seem high right now, we may look back in a few years and think this sale was a bargain.

(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

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