When Mark Freeborn takes his 1932 Ford coupe hot rod to a show of similar cars, his draws the most attention.
The “designer deuce” is different from the rest starting with the colour: Cotswold Blue originally used on 1959 Jaguars.
But looking deeper into this rolling sculpture, the evidence is everywhere of a design process that evolved between the owner and North Vancouver builder Laurie Peterson of Canada Customs and Hot Rods.
Freeborn, whose award-winning production design credits include hit shows such as X-Files, Breaking Bad and Bates Motel along with films like Christmas Story, was first smitten with hot rods at the age of nine when he saw a cut-down, Chrysler hemi-powered deuce coupe parked outside a funeral parlour in his hometown of Kingston, Ont.
The red coupe with white rolled and pleated Naugahyde interior and chromed-up Chrysler hemi engine never left his thoughts. When a ferry deckhand on a trip to Mark’s Mayne Island retreat mentioned he had an old 1932 Ford hot rod body, Freeborn was interested.
He pulled the trigger and bought the hulk that someone decades before, judging by the remains of a spectacular metal flake paint job, had spent a lot of time and money on.
Freeborn had Victoria hot rod builder Al Clark create a frame for the car to handle a Chrysler hemi engine, then sent the body to Sunshine Coast metal fabricator Matt Pendergast to work his magic.
While Freeborn travelled back and forth to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the production of Breaking Bad, longtime friend Peterson took over the work in the North Vancouver shop where he and his brother Geoff turn out amazing hot rods and custom cars.
A major motivating force behind the project was fellow hot rodder Barry Hortin.
“He was a third hand, parts chaser, border broker and everything else,” Freeborn says.
The project morphed from a more traditional full-fender hot rod to one that has abundant design features that catch the eye from front to back.
Like the motorcycle fenders that were stylishly peaked by Peterson.
And the torpedo-shaped side hood blisters to accommodate the huge Chrysler industrial 392 hemi engine. Similarly shaped headlights combined from a 1936 Ford and 1939 Buick add to the torpedo look.
“Laurie did 17 pie cuts to make the shape of these work,” Freeborn says.
Small touches include shock absorbers mounted behind the chromed and drilled solid front axle instead of out in front to clean up the head-on look of the car. Headlight mounting brackets were similarly drilled and chromed to match the axle. Finned brake drums are chrome as well.
A cut-down grille shell from a 1937 Ford truck collected along the way by Freeborn — who admits to being “a bit of a magpie” — became the centrepiece of the evolving hot rod. The hood was lengthened to give the hot rod a longer sleeker look.
The top was “chopped” to lower the car, while the rear of the car was lifted to give a rakish stance.
“Because her underwear was now showing, we added a chrome quick change rear end for the look,” Freeborn says.
Louvers were punched in the trunk lid, tail lights from a 1946 Buick were fitted and a chromed flip-up gas filler originally from a motorcycle was recessed into the body by Peterson.
The interior shows the creativity of both the film production designer and custom car builder.
The art deco 1940 Ford dashboard has a pod-like tachometer that was originally a dash-mounted clock from a 1956 DeSoto that Freeborn once owned in Florida. The custom steering wheel is from a 1953 Ford. The emergency brake is dagger style and the gas pedal was scrounged from a bass drum.
Aircraft-style seats from a GMC Suburban now clad in supple black leather by upholsterer John Taylor have custom-fabricated bases that carry through the perforation theme that is also used on the inside of the roof and in the trunk.
“We used aircraft rivets and the perforation theme done with a dimple die throughout to give the car an industrial look,” explains Freeborn.
“There are all those little things that can be missed, but really work when they are assembled as a package. It’s really a collection of elements that have come together to make a car.”
As a homage to the hot rod that he saw at the age of nine, Freeborn sent the Chrysler hemi engine back to Ontario to be rebuilt and modified by Jim and Dan Rini, the two brothers who built the hot rod he saw in the early 1960s that had such an influence on his ongoing love affair with cars.
“The car has been finished for about a year-and-a-half now but I still get a kick out of looking at it and listening to it,” Freeborn admits. “The whole process of building the car was an evolution from beginning to end and it worked.”
Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company.