Kustoms Never Die: The ’49 Ford Thunderball

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Kustoms Never Die, those exact words adorn the inside cover of my own personal copy of the Jalopy Journal. Figuratively, that phrase means the art of customizing cars –in the traditional custom with a ‘K’ sense– will never go out of style or fade from memory.

Every kustom car, still with us or not, is remembered by someone, somewhere and it’s usually these memories that keep cars alive long after they’ve met their maker.

On rare occasion ‘Kustoms never die’ literally applies to cars that by some miracle managed to avoid getting rebuilt, parted out, or scrapped entirely. These cars are physical time capsules of build techniques and styles of days gone by.

The ‘Thunderball’ is one of those cars.

When I first laid eyes on the Thunderball I knew I was looking at something special. Presented, as it was found at the 2014 Jalopy Jam Up the car drew an excited crowd.

This wasnt a traditionally styled car built from NOS or reproduction parts, it was the real deal. It wasn’t perfect but at the same time it was perfect as an irreplaceable piece of Ontario hot rod history.

At the time I wrongfully assumed the car would be trailered around for a short while before being stuffed back into a barn or being torn apart for parts never to be seen again.

Thankfully, my predictions for the car’s future couldn’t have been more wrong.

To do this car’s story justice we need to start at the beginning, or at least as close to the beginning as possible.

First, the car is actually not a Ford but rather a Meteor.

It was billed as a Ford because the Meteor nameplate was only used in Canada. When shown in the states calling the car a Ford just made things simpler and gave America’s a mental point of reference.

The car was built in the early 60s by Louis Kovaks, a body man who owned two shops one in Mt Brydges Ontario and one in Strathroy Ontario.

Ironically, when Louis started the build the car actually belonged to a customer. At some point, using the ‘it’s easier to ask for forgiveness’ approach Louis got out his tools and never looked back.

How Louis handled the owner’s reaction to his four door hard top becoming a two door permanent convertible no one quite seems to remember.

Nonetheless one fact that there is no dispute is the cars intent. Louis built the Thunderball to win shows.

The car was one of the most heavily modified of its time, and naturally all of the traditional kustom styling modifications were employed.

It has been chopped, channeled, shaved, flaked. There’s stacked headlights, dual frenched antennas, polished wheels and porta white, white walls. When it comes to a true Kustom styling there’s few modifications this car doesn’t have.

However as cool and extensive as all the modifications are, they are not the most interesting part of this car’s story.

On the show circuit the car did quite well, evidence of the Thunderball’s accolades are affixed to the center console of the car, along with the numerous trophies that managed to survive with the car.

In its prime the car was incredibly successful before judges. Rumour has it the car also beat a Barris custom on one occasion.

After retiring from the show scene in 1969 the car was driven on the street until ’75. At that point it was put into storage. Like many a show car as the years passed it got further from top of mind until it was forgotten.

Eventually Louis passed away and the car became something his estate had to deal with. Not sure what to do with it, in its now state of disrepair, the car was destined for the crusher.

It was only saved from this fate by Strathroy hot rodder Rick Copp who knew the car deserved better.

Not in the position to take on such a project himself, Rick took the car to a local show with the intention of finding new caretakers.  This is where Kevin Grasley and his then ten-year old son Dutch enter the Thunderball story.

Like myself both realized the car was something unique. With its story thus far pasted to the window Kevin and Dutch tried to find the owner near the car but were unable.

Not ready to chalk things up to a missed opportunity Dutch persuaded his dad into one last trip past the car before they left.

It was on this trip they managed to meet Rick Copp, who took a liking to Dutch’s enthusiasm over the car. (Trust me it is infectious)

They exchanged information and two months later Copp decided to gift Dutch with the car making the Grasley men the vehicles new shepherds.

Yes, this is the first car, of someone who isn’t even old enough to drive yet. How cool is that?

Though nearly 100% complete upon re-discovery the car was quite a ways away from being a road worthy vehicle. The frame had suffered the most damage and was rotted beyond the point of no return.

Undeterred Kevin, who is car builder with experience ranging from mini trucks to Volkswagen busses, was able to find a donor frame and shorten it the required 38 inches to fit underneath the Thunderball.

Many ask, and no re-painting the car isn’t something Kevin plans to do. Refinishing it would make it just another Kustom and not the storied car it is today.

Sure a little more of the paint comes off each time he brushes past it in the shop, but that just adds to the vehicles character. After over 50 years it deserves to wear its patina with pride.

One area that Kevin did however give a complete make over was the engine bay. The 1955 Corvette 265 Corvette motor pictured above is the one that has been in the car since it was originally modified.

Kevin pulled the motor giving it a visual and mechanical refresh. While it was out he redid the wheel wells, then cleaned up the engine bay and ran some of the cleanest wiring I’ve ever seen.

Outside of the chassis and running gear the rest of the car is virtually untouched.

Considering it was in a barn for 40 years,  largely un , the interior manged to hold up particularly well. Sure it’s a little dirty, in the nooks and crannies, but it’s all still there which is what is important.

It is hard not to get a chuckle at the phone hanging off the center console. The first car phone came out in ’46 so while it’s feasible that a’ working’ unit could have been in this car, I don’t believe that to be the case here.

But putting one in just for show makes perfect sense when you’re building a show winner.

With so many kustoms of the sixties lost to obscurity, words can’t really stress just how fortunate it is that this car has managed to live on.

The Grasley’s may have just been car enthusiasts before The Thunderball, but now they are hot rod preservationists.

In their care we can all be relieved that this Kustom will never die!

If you have information about the car Kevin can be reached on . He’s trying to assemble as much history about the car as he can.

Feel free to leave any information you might have in the comments as well.

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