1946 Ford Sedan Delivery-Employee Rides: Jeff Karls
Note that Jeff joined us for the very first episode of our What Moves You podcast. Check it out here to hear the amazing full story!
I feel like the time is long overdue to make a proper introduction to both the oldest and newest member of our family. It’s been known by a few names over the years, The Delivery, The Louver Co., Looney Tunes, Elmer. Whatever you call it, I feel the need to give a little background on why some of the seemingly outdated, oddball parts and combinations seem to keep sticking around. A few that have raised the most questions are the obsolete ’65 Corvair IFS, weak ‘66 Nova 10 bolt rear and (not quite old enough to be anything but outdated) pillowed, grey velour interior. All wrapped in a 36 year old, cracked lacquer, candy shell. Complete with airbrushed murals.
This is an introduction to "Looney Tunes", A ’46 Ford Sedan Delivery in its prime and before. Believe it or not, it started life as an old fishin' truck. Stove pipe through the roof and all!
My dad bought the delivery in early 1980 from a guy in Kansas. It had been used as a “fishin’ truck” by the previous owners. They would park on the lakeshore and situate themselves on the roof with lawn chairs. When the nights got a little chilly, they had a solution to that, too. A small pot-bellied stove in the rear would radiate heat through the roof skin to keep the fishermen warm, in addition to giving them a place to cook the days catch. Seriously.
Once the major issues had been sorted out and upgrades done, it made a pretty bulletproof street rod. Of course, this happened in an era of junkyard sourced parts and lots of home-made ingenuity. Hence, the plethora of repurposed OE parts. In fact, before I started monkeying with it, there were no parts on it later than 1970. Mainstay stuff like a Corvair front converted to Chevelle Spindles, brakes (drum), and steering. Not to mention the power Strato buckets and ’67 olds 98 armrests. Oh, and the obligatory ’70 350 with double-hump heads and early TH350. The paint was redone in 1982 with the addition of airbrushed murals by Jack Leesly.
Between 1980 and 1982 my dad built it into a car that we all enjoyed as a family. We took a California vacation in it when I was five. It also gained some national attention through a feature in Street Rodder magazine and took an ISCA International Class Championship in ‘84. My fondest memories of street rodding took place in and around this old blue Ford. Then, we sold it.
It was sold in the fall of 1985 to a fella named Bob Bauder in Crestline, California (Google him). The following fall my dad was gone too. I was only 8 years old when we lost dad but I have very vivid memories of the time we spent together at "The Old Car Company" during the days before I started in school and the couple of summers after. I also remember that the delivery was almost always around, no matter how many other rods came and went.
Looney Tunes' journey back home to Nebraska started in 1999 when my stepdad, Bob Catron opened his motel room door at the Indy Goodguys meet to be greeted by a familiar blue face. He left a note for the owner to contact us for information on the vehicle. A short time later he received a letter from a man named Sal Trujillo in West Virginia. Sal had some questions. . .
Over the next year or so he consulted with my older brother Jim about what was what in the suspension and other general questions in trying to make it truly roadworthy again. Sal had purchased it in 1998 from an acquaintance in Ohio who, "Had a fat fendered Ford in the barn he thought could be redone". It had deteriorated very badly mechanically and had been neglected for quite some time. The heater core had developed a leak and rotted through the passenger floor. The rest of the truck had actually weathered the years fairly well. His original plan was to entirely re-do the truck to fit his vision.
When Sal started working on some of the damage, he found the thing that helped Looney Tunes keep his identity. In 1985, my dad had put a copy of the Street Rodder magazine with the feature in the map pocket of the driver's seat. It was then that Sal had decided NOT to completely redo the truck. He wanted to stay true to its history and preserve it. That was a year before Bob spotted it in Indy.
Over the years, Jim and I both had kept in contact with Sal and his wife Carole about "Elmer", as they called it. All with the understanding and promise that when the time came someday for it to change hands that it would have a home here.
Sal and Carole cared for and enjoyed the delivery for 16 years and 42,000 miles. They took it everywhere. From their West Virginia home, they travelled all over the East Coast and Canada. From Florida to Ontario and Quebec all the way over to Minneapolis and most importantly to Goodguys in Columbus Ohio in 2011.
That's where I saw Looney Tunes again for the first time in 26 years. It was like seeing a ghost. Here is a picture of myself around the age of 4 with the car.
A gentleman whom I'd never met in person, quickly greeted me as I crawled out from under his car. As I rolled out from beneath it and we locked eyes I said, "You must be Sal?" He was a little surprised. We spent quite a bit of time together that weekend talking. It was then that I re-affirmed to him that I was seriously interested in bringing the delivery back home whenever they were ready to let it go. He reassured me that they’d even stated in their estate planning, first right of refusal for my brother and I.
In June 2013 Sal called to let me know it was time. That fall, my wife Jenny and I brought Elmer home from Weirton, West Virginia on our honeymoon. After nearly three decades, it all came back to me. It sounded the same, rode the same, the interior even still smelled the same as it did when I was a kid. A combination of off-gassing poly-foam and velour with a hint of gasoline. Just like it should be. It was an amazing experience being able to share the experience of cross-country in a street rod with my new wife. We made the 1,200 mile trip home with not so much as a hiccup. I’ve since subjected my own children to a California vacation and many rod runs in hopes of passing down the same kind of memories I have of that old blue Ford. There are just over 180,000 miles as a street rod to date.
I’ve used the analogy of picking up the needle on a familiar record and moving it forward a couple of tracks. I’ve since gone through all of the “original equipment” and freshened up or rebuilt most everything that was worn out. I’ve made a few updates as well, but I use the motto “First Do No Harm” whenever approaching a project on the delivery. To me it is 10% restoration, 80% preservation, 10% improvement.
That said, as a little kid, I always thought it would be so cool for it to have a 6-71 blower stuffed under the hood. After all, in the Era of Project ’40 and Fat Jack’s ’46, my six year old brain couldn’t picture a fat Ford without a huffer on it. You know. . . the old 350 with the double hump heads IS getting pretty tired. We shall see what life after the Chevelle project brings. . .