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Dennis Gagnon's 1928 Ford Coupe and 1931 Ford Roadster

Dennis Gagnon's 1928 Ford Coupe and 1931 Ford Roadster
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1928 Ford Coupe

Speed has always been a part of Dennis Gagnon’s life. Even at 16 years old, he was drag racing the point circuit and continued burning rubber for 34 years before retiring his helmet and gloves. The only reason he doesn’t return to the drag strip is that he knows he would catch the bug again. “I had to stop,” reflects Dennis, “my family weren’t into racing, but I’ve never built anything intentionally as a ‘trailer queen.’ The whole joy of restoring cars – whether it’s racing, hot rods or street rods – is the pleasure of driving them.” His profession is building engines. An apprentice at Ottawa’s oldest speed shop, Young’s Speed Shop on Gladstone (the last of the speed shops to close), he was hired as a machinist by Air Canada, and having retired just a few years ago, continues a flourishing body shop business from his two-car garage where he is presently restoring a ’58 Corvette convertible. The garage has a lived in feeling, adorned with automotive paraphernalia, NSRA banners that seem to paint the walls, nostalgic racing photographs, a complete front-engine dragster perched above his office, two long work tables, car lifts, scattered engines and the atmosphere of a greasy hand smeared on a cloth. “What I love most about building engines is the camaraderie I’ve developed over the years from Rodders and the business it generates. When I return from a holiday, my message machine is full of friends wanting to see me. This is what I would miss the most if I had to stop.”

Let’s talk about your 1928 Ford Coupe and the 1930 Ford Roadster.

 

Where and when did your purchase these cars?

I bought the ’28 Coupe in Vermont at the Champlain Fairgrounds Swap Meet. I was itching to begin a new project and I came across a brand new ’28 Ford body. After negotiating a reasonable price, I bought the tub. The rest I bought over the Internet and from friends. As for the ’30 Roadster, I inherited that car from my dad who purchased it in 1951 in Wakefield, Quebec. It was the original McCoy belonging to a farmer. It was in pretty rough shape, but my dad managed to get it road worthy. My father was always against any car being customized. He viewed it as a sort of desecration. I would never sell this car because it represents time with my dad.

 

What engines do you have in the cars now?

I have a Chevy 327 in the Coupe for a couple of reasons: nostalgia and affordability. A 1990 Corvette fuel-injected engine is housed in the Roadster. This would be to my dad’s horror. I restored everything on both cars except the tubs. I made the frames, fabrications, made the roll bar, installed the electronics, and assembled the interior. The only thing I didn’t do was the paint job.

 

How long did the restorations take?

The restoration took between 2 and 2 ½ years on both cars.

 

Who helped with the paint jobs?

BGM Auto Body did the paint job. The original colour for both cars was black, so I had the Coupe painted a Sky Blue and the Roadster a Cherry Red.

 

What takes the longest to restore?

Finding parts that fit correctly. There is nothing worse than waiting two weeks or more only for a part not to fit.

 

What is the hardest part to maintain?

Money. I’ll tell you something for nothin’, this is not a cheap hobby, but you either have to do it properly or don’t do it at all.

 

Is the car easy to drive?

Both cars drive as sweet as Pavarotti. The Roadster is easier to drive than the Coupe that was never built for long distance - at least that’s what my wife tells me.

 

Have they won any prizes?

Yes, the Roadster is a show stopper and has won numerous awards.

 

What do you intend to do with the Coupe?

I am trying to sell it to a lucky new owner.  You buy or restore a car and keep it for 7 years and eventually get tired of it. I’ve reached that stage and I’m interested in working on something new, such as the ’58 Corvette. The season is short here for street rods, but at the same time, because it’s a narrow window, people tend to savour these cars even more during the summer. As for the Roadster, it has sentimental value. It’s family.

 

Have these cars changed you?

Before working on street rods, I was a bit of a hot head. Since working on something that takes time to perfect, it has taught me patience, understanding and respect.

 

In you opinion, how do you foresee the future of the classic car or hot rod?

I think hot rods and street rods will always be popular because of what they represent – a renegade attitude – and that appeals to the young (and the young at heart). The only obstacle I can foresee is whether street rods remain affordable. Of course, one can always build a rat rod. Classic cars represent a time associated with youth or of image. For example, cars of the ‘50s and ‘60s would appeal to me, but if I wanted a classic car as an investment, then I would look at exceptional muscle cars or rare vintage models, but I don’t own Fort Knox.

 

Which leads me to my last question: If you were able to have another collectible car (money being of no object), which car would you wish for?

The one I’m building now – a 1958 Corvette. I love the body, but I want new technology in it to make it more roadworthy and adaptable. You gotta have speed, son, or it just ain’t fun.