Editor’s note: This story originally appeared at SummitRacing.com on 11/02/2007.
His restored and customized 1938 Chevrolet Business Coupe looks like a million bucks, but only because he spent five years and several industrial-sized cans of elbow grease to make it look that way.
Being farmers, Denny and wife Wanda are no strangers to hard work. They also have some experience with the hard work of motorsports.
“Our son Tim was into sprint car racing for years, and we helped support him for a long time,” Denny Tonn said.
“Breaking down those dirty cars every week just became too much work,” Wanda Tonn said. “So when we decided to find another car hobby, I wanted to do something cleaner. Some of our friends were into the custom show car scene, and they seemed to enjoy it, so we thought we’d give it a shot.”
Since his dad had owned a 1938 Chevy Business Coupe, Denny Tonn decided that he would find one of his own and fix it up. He found this one in Bowling Green, OH, but the car certainly didn’t fit in with his wife’s desire for something clean.
“It was pretty rough and pretty ugly, like someone had started working on it and gave up,” he said. “When our friends saw us haul this car home, they laughed because they thought it would be way too much work for what we wanted.”
The project was indeed a lot of work, but the results speak for themselves. “We had no idea how the car would turn out when we started, but we knew we wanted a cool cruising street rod, so we just made it up as we went,” Denny Tonn said. He and his son Tim handled most of the mechanical work and wiring themselves, including the Air Ride Technologies suspension kit. Friends Lynn Neiss and John Nussbaum pitched in with the bodywork.
Pop the hood and you’ll find an L82 350 from a 1974 Corvette that makes about 400 horses at 6,000 rpm. It’s outfitted with World Products cylinder heads, an Edelbrock intake and carb, ACCEL distributor, Powermaster alternator, and more. Everything that could be chromed has been chromed; the hoses are all braided stainless steel. The underside of the hood has a gorgeous airbrushed mural that shows the coupe at a neon-covered diner.
Slip inside and you’ll be sitting in front of a dash from a 1955 Bel Air. It houses a set of Dakota Digital gauges and the Air Ride air suspension control panel, plus an Alpine CD/DVD system, Alpine GPS system, and video game console. Two 480-watt amps and 11 Alpine speakers take up the space behind the seats. In the trunk you’ll find an LCD monitor—perfect for watching movies or playing games at the cruise-in.
Denny Tonn said the project wouldn’t have turned out as nice as it did without his wife’s guidance. “People come up to me at car shows and tell me what a lucky woman I am,” Wanda Tonn said, “and I just laugh and tell them Denny’s the lucky one!”
After five years of building and modifying their creation, are the Tonns done with their dream car? Of course not.
“Every year we change something on it,” Denny Tonn said. “That’s our problem! I think the next thing we want to do is cut out the posts and make it a two-door hard top.” Then he glances over at Wanda before adding, “Maybe I should have talked to my wife about that before I mentioned it…”
Frame: Boxed stock frame
Rear Axle: Camaro 10-bolt with 4.11 gears
Front Suspension: Mustang II clip with Air Ride Technologies airbags
Rear Suspension: Four-link with Air Ride Technologies airbags
Brakes: Stainless Steel Brakes 10 ½-inch four-wheel disc, master cylinder, and power booster
Wheels and Tires: Colorado Custom Lazear wheels (17 x 7 front, 18 x 8 rear), Dunlop Road Hugger tires (205/45R17 front, 205/45R18 rear)
Engine and Transmission
Type: 1974 Corvette L82, 350 cubic inches
Cylinder Heads: World Products S/R iron heads
Valvetrain: Crane hydraulic cam, lifters, and pushrods
Induction: Edelbrock Performer intake manifold and chrome-plated 600 cfm carburetor
Exhaust: Sanderson Block-Hugger Headers with Ford Blue Jet-Hot coating, two-inch dual exhaust with Flowmaster mufflers
Ignition: ACCEL distributor and coil, Taylor ignition wires
Other Modifications: Chrome aluminum air cleaner, Chevy valve covers, and 100-amp Powermaster alternator; Weiand water pump; Billet Specialties serpentine pulley system; braided stainless steel hoses
Transmission: GM 700-R4 with Lokar shifter
Engine Blueprinting: Doug Wood
Chrome Plating: Custom Chrome
Body and Paint
Modifications: Hidden door hinges; peaked hood with custom side panels; stainless steel grille; custom-built headlight buckets with Harley Davidson V-rod headlights; one-piece curved windshield
Paint: House of Kolor Kandy Brandywine over gold base and custom-mixed Champagne Pearl
Graphics: House of Kolor Smoke Gray
Bodywork: Lynn Neiss and John Nussbaum
Paint and Graphics: Krug Custom Paint
Upholstery: Bisque and gray leather combination, with gray Mercedes carpet
Dash and Gauges: Modified 1955 Chevy dashboard with Dakota Digital gauges Audio/Video: Alpine CD/DVD system with two 480-watt amps and 12 speakers; Alpine GPS system; 15-inch LCD screen in the trunk
Upholstery: Dave Shank
Special Thanks To:
Our son Tim, Lynn Neiss, Emerson Royer, Ron Nemeth, Doug Citko, Jon Wright at Custom Chrome…and Mothers Polish!