Keith Smith believes his 1939 Ford coupe has a soul. As such, he considers himself merely the current custodian of this rolling piece of B.C.’s hot rod history.
The car has a colourful past dating back more than 60 years from the time it was first customized in Victoria. The hot rod changed hands over the decades, and in the process appeared in many early custom car shows from Seattle to Vancouver to hometown Victoria where she was featured in local parades.
The old coupe was first customized by owner Brian Kirk in 1956. He commissioned a highly skilled local body man named Bill Fernie Sr. to chop the roof and add other custom touches. It has always had a special look because it’s a 1939 Ford coupe with hood, grille and front fenders from a 1938 Ford and dashboard from a 1940 Ford.
One Victoria resident was so smitten with the car that he stole the night deposit from Woodward’s department store where he worked to buy the car in the late-Fifties. He was arrested and ultimately jailed. The hot rod Ford ended up in the police compound. The operator of an ESSO service station at Shelburne and McKenzie in Victoria rescued the car from the police compound and promptly sold it.
The next owner was future Victoria lawyer Barrie Neff who was in his early 20s when he bought the car in 1958. He had an early hot rodder named Baby Huey replace the hopped-up Ford flathead engine with a big Cadillac V8. Assisting in preparing the body for paint was a helper who blurted out ‘Bloody Mary’ when the bright candy apple red paint job was applied. The name stuck.
Saanich firefighter Don Shaw bought the car in 1961 and added his own custom touches. He did the black diamond tuft upholstery in the basement of his house on Burnside Road West. He also fitted the car with pink furry carpets. That was nearly 60 years ago.
Ironically, current owner Keith Smith lives on Burnside – right across the street from where the car was once parked.
As Bloody Mary‘s fame grew as a big draw at custom car and hot rod shows throughout the Pacific Northwest, she was featured in a 1963 edition of Popular Hot Rodding magazine. Laterally, a story with photos appeared in Rodder’s Journal.
“Everybody knows the car as Bloody Mary. It’s amazing how many people’s lives she’s touched – even in the U.S.,” Smith says. “When you own an iconic car like this, people tell you stories and give you pictures. She’s part of of our hot rod heritage in British Columbia.”
Smith is compiling a history of the car that spent 35 years in storage after being so well known from the mid 1950’s through the 1960’s.
The submarine logistics superintendent for Seaspan in Victoria got into hot rodding in the past decade after restoring a series of vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycle including a 1934 model, a 1941 Big Twin Flat-Head with a sidecar and a 1942 WLC. He chose a 1934 Ford Tudor for his first hot rod. Next came a 1931 Ford roadster and then Bloody Mary two years ago after making repeated attempts to buy the old custom car.
“I drove her home but she needed a lot of help,” Smith says, adding he tore the car apart, installed a new floor and wiring, rebuilt the front suspension and steering and made other improvements.
“I wanted to keep the old look but make it safe,” he says. “I love driving her. I put a lot of miles on her going to shows last year including Sechelt and Penticton. She’s wonderful to drive and rides like a Cadillac.”
His ultimate plan is to bring Bloody Mary back to the way she was in the early 1960’s with a bright candy apple red paint job and a Cadillac engine.
“She was a beautiful car back the day. She still is,” he says.
Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company. [email protected]