Power tools scream and sparks fly in the garage at Brothers Custom Automotive in Troy on Tuesday afternoon as workers fine-tune a hot rod assortment that spans decades.
Although he’s a customer rather than an employee, 23-year-old Logan Kucharek, of Howell, sits among them, tweaking the wiring on a classic Ford that’s painted a stunning shade of metallic orange-bronze.
The car is a 1932 Ford three-window coupe, and it has been in Kucharek’s family for three generations, he said — ever since his great uncle, Jon Grinager, purchased it to work on in his high school shop class in 1956. Kucharek calls it “the quintessential hot rod,” and he, his brother, Tanner, and the team at Brothers have worked overtime to get it ready for the rapidly approaching Detroit Autorama, one of the biggest custom car shows in the country.
Kucharek and his brother inherited the car after their great uncle’s passing in 2015, but it was hardly ready for the road.
“(My great uncle) ended up tearing it apart and stuffing it in the back of his garage in the early ‘80s,” Kucharek said. “So it was entombed back there, completely buried in boxes. It was hardly recognizable.”
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An aerospace engineer for aircraft manufacturer Williams International, Kucharek said he grew up with a love of fixing things, and relished the opportunity to restore his great uncle’s coupe to its former glory. But he eventually realized the car’s unique needs were beyond his expertise.
“We tried for a couple years to work on it to get it to a good state,” Kucharek said. “But these cars … there’s an exact formula to make them run incredible. And I didn’t have that formula.”
The cars Kucharek refers to are known in the automotive world as “flatheads” — a moniker which refers to the cars’ iconic flat-topped engines. They were the first commercially available V8 engines, said Bill Jagenow, owner of Brothers Automotive, adding that they’re also his professional specialty.
“(The flathead engine) responded very well to aftermarket changes, so it was very popular,” Jagenow said. “It was very common after World War II to get an engine like this and have parts readily available to bolt on, and it would change the performance very, very quickly.”
Kucharek brought the car to Brothers roughly a year ago with the goal of simply getting it up and running in time for summer 2022. It wasn’t until early this year that they decided to try and finish it in time for Autorama — an event Kucharek has attended every year since he was young.
“When we started this project, we were just gonna take the the cylinder heads off the engine, and then do a little bit of a tuneup,” Kucharek said. “Right around New Year’s, we’re like, ‘You think we can do it?’ We had a bare frame on the floor. So this has come together in two months.”
They ended up stripping away a lot of the cosmetic modifications Grinager added in the late ’70s, Jagenow said, while trying to keep as many original parts as possible.
“That can be a challenge (because) the parts are old,” said Jagenow, “but these all checked out well, and so did the engine block. So we replaced things with new when needed — the electrical generating system is modernized, and the carburetors are new versions of an old style, but (they’re) identical to what used to be.”
Choosing a paint color was a surprisingly contentious part of the process, Kucharek said. While he wanted to keep the orange favored by his late great uncle, he felt the neon hue was no longer appropriate for the car’s next chapter. With help from Jagenow, he landed on the pearlescent bronze shade (a Volvo paint called “saffron”) — “as soon as we saw it, we knew it was perfect,” he said.
The finished product is a car that offers what Kucharek called “the most raw driving experience you can possibly have. It’s your feet to the floor, your hands to the wheel. No heat, no A/C, no radio, no distractions.”
Jagenow, who is nationally renowned for his work on flattop engines, echoes Kucharek’s sentiments, explaining that driving a classic car feels like an escape to him.
“It’s my own personal time warp — I get in the car and I just forget about everything else,” he said. “There’s no internet in my car, you know?”
The Ford is one of two cars Brothers Custom Automotive will feature at this year’s Detroit Autorama, said Autumn Riggle, who has worked alongside Jagenow as the shop’s manager for the last 10 years.
“We’re always excited when somebody brings a traditional style hot rod to our shop,” Riggle said. “When we started finding out a little more about the car, it became cooler and cooler to us.”
She’s hopeful that showing the car will help reveal even more of its history — including who performed the “chop,” or the process of removing a horizontal section of the roofline in order to give the car a lower profile. Rumors say the modification was done by legendary Detroit car customization duo the Alexander Brothers, who famously chopped the car on the cover of the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe” album.
“If you look at the little deuce coupe, it looks very similar to this car,” Kucharek pointed out. “So we’d love to authenticate that.”
The roar of the Ford’s engine fills the garage as Kucharek and Jagenow prepare to take it for its first post-restoration spin. It was to move into Detroit’s Huntington Place in preparation for the show, and the excitement in the shop is palpable. As a small crowd forms to watch the car coast off into the setting sun, Kucharek wonders what his great uncle would think of the transformation.
“I can’t imagine what he would think of this thing. To finally see it in a finished state, that’s hard to put into words.”
You can check out Kucharek’s Ford coupe, along with 800 other custom automobiles and motorcycles, at Detroit Autorama, through Sunday at Huntington Place. Go to autorama.com for more information.
Lauren Wethington is a breaking news reporter. You can email her at [email protected] or find her on Twitter at @laurenelizw1.