Australian Special: Ken Godfrey's Custom 1963 Lincoln Continental
Words Karlee Sangster Photography Luke Ray.
It’s a great story. Born in 1947, Ken Godfrey headed off to school each day, clutching his lunch money. He never bought lunch however, preferring to save the week’s worth until Friday afternoons, when he would stop by the local newsagency on his way home. That lunch money bought more than just sandwiches. It bought the 14 year old his dream world: hot rod and custom magazines. Not content with simply flipping through the pages, Ken began drawing his own versions of the machines before him. His son Michael recalls: “Not many people knew he could draw but his sketches are incredible. He also used to draw a lot of Ed Roth (Ratfink) styled pictures.”
Ken had well and truly caught the bug. A few years later, he left school and walked straight into his passion: a panel beating apprenticeship. Quickly building on his skills and knowledge, it was inevitable that he would begin building his very own versions of the cars he had seen just a few years back in magazines.
His first car was a 1948 Chev, and Ken wasted no time in cutting it up. Hi first car had tunneled tail lights, was nosed, decked, completely shaved and had rounded hood corners. Not bad for a first effort.
Always seeking to better his skills and his builds, the next car was a 1956 Cusso sedan, “which was one of the most radically customized cars in Australia in the ‘60s” remembers his son. Once again, he tunneled the tail lights, but that’s where the similarities with the Chev ended. Older and more experienced in his trade, Ken lengthened the doors 6 inches and converted the car to a two door. The original rear windscreen was replaced with an XP rear screen, which then had a moulded peak fin that ran around the glass and down onto the tops of the rear fenders that followed right through to the tail lights! He didn’t stop there. The car was then sectioned 5 inches through the entire body and continued to radius the rear wheel arches, a classic ‘60s mod. And that’s how it all started.
Fast forward a few years and Ken had his own panel shop. Word had spread and he had a steady stream of clients looking for quality results. He didn’t disappoint. Michael remembers: “His business wasn’t set up as a custom/hot rod shop. It was just a run of the mill panel shop he had for a few years. But as he was so well known for the quality of work that he did he was permanently building cars and giving guidance to new comers into the scene. He started and inspired a lot of hot rodders that are still heavily involved in the scene today. Dad spent the rest of his life building cars and show winning hot rods for himself and customers and friends.”
Ken met his wife when she was 16, and together they owned some great cars. Michael rattles off the list: “Dad has had too many to mention! Between my brother, sister and myself, we have owned a 1964 Cadillac, 1957 Cadillac, 1961 Chev, a 1960 Cadillac, 1960 Chev, a 1972 custom Harley chopper and a full custom 1965 Mustang coupe that dad build for my sister. I’ve had a 1964 Chev, 1960 Buick Lesabre, 1937 pickup, 1960 Cadillac, 1949 Ford tudor, a 1950 Ford tudor, 1954 Oldsmobile, 1961 Buick Lesabre, 1969 Triumph Bonneville bobber, a full custom 1964 Falcon (which is almost finished) and a 1956 Packard Clipper that Dad and I started building years ago, its chopped, channeled, sectioned, 2-doored, suicide doors and has lengthened hand made rear fenders. (It’s still a little while away).”
In amongst all these rides, Ken bought a ‘63 Lincoln in 2001. It was a local car, factory delivered right hand drive. It wasn’t too bad, condition wise - someone had already spend some dollars tidying it up, but it was a stock standard car with no brakes and no rego. “The body needed some attention in weird areas where it had damage. All that was done were some temporary rough and ready repairs and a quick coat of maroon (which was the original colour) to get it through rego and on the road,” says Michael. “From there it was Dad’s everyday driver for the next four or so years. During that time, as we can never leave anything alone, it underwent a few mods. First of all was the stance of the car, as we can’t have a car that you can’t wash the centre of the roof properly, we slammed the car down onto the rebound rubbers, which is where it still is now. Next thing we did was to cover the entire car in seaweed flames from front to back and a set of starburst hubcaps were added and that was it for the next few years.”
If you hadn’t guessed, the family has a passion for traditional ‘50s and ‘60s styled custom cars so when it came to the Lincoln there was only one way it could be built. “It was an early ‘60s car and it had to be built that way,” says Michael. “All our cars have always been built in a way that if you were to open a custom car magazine at the time the car came out, the car could have been a feature in that magazine, which is something that a lot of people try and achieve these days but is rarely pulled off. Even the custom body mods we do are done the traditional way, no high tech benders or folder roller machine in our place, just a hammer, a grinder and an oxy torch – just the way Dad had been doing his thing since the early ‘60s.”
The build was planned down to the last detail, but flexibility was important: “He set out with the end look in mind and something that he was working towards, but like everything he has always done, once his imagination starts, it’s hard to stop, so there were plenty of things that weren’t thought of at first that just had to be added and done. Usually it was one of us that had to try and pull him up on ideas as his imagination was always wilder than what the car needed, but I think it worked out for the best in this car,” muses Michael.
Ken was a sucker for style, too. “Every car we have ever had, the stance was always the easiest thing to sort out, slam it till it hits the rebound rubbers. Comfort never comes first over style! Dad always said to lower a car 6 inches just sounded too much, so 5 inches was always the starting point for all the cars…..but if it didn’t touch the bump stops it had to keep going. He always said it was silly to have clearance, you don’t want the car to bottom out and smash the suspension all the time, it’s not good for anything, but if it’s on the rubbers that will never happen.”
The car was on the road for about four years before it was taken off the road for an engine change, as the original 390FE was tired and smokey. Never the family to do things by halves, it was declared that it would be wrong to put a new engine back into a dirty engine bay. They began cleaning the engine bay and never looked back.
Sadly, Ken passed away before the car was finished. Continuing his legacy of traditional craftsmanship, his sons Michael and Steven set about completing the Lincoln and honouring their father’s memory. Having grown up around cars, the boys didn’t even think of outsourcing the work. “I’ve been passing spanners, holding doors, bonnets, boot lids, stripping, sanding, painting and sweeping since I was five years old. You could say I did a 35 year apprenticeship with Dad,” says Steven.
And it shows. The car is powered by a 482ci Big Block Ford, C6 transmission with shift kit and 2500 torque converter, a standard Lincoln rear end and rolls on Radir Tri-Rib wheels and Coker tyres.
A flair for custom body work runs strong throughout the car, down to the traditional home done paint work: Candy Apple Green with home made gold metallic scallops, all done the traditional way, in acrylic lacquer.
The car runs a stock ‘63 Lincoln bumper with ‘56 Packard bullets, the fenders and front apron have been swaged around the new look bar and handmade (in solid steel rod - old school) and are set off by the chromed grille. More swaging features across the front apron and onto the hood, which has a handmade scoop, as the new engine wouldn’t fit under. The louvers on top of the scoop are actually an original early Buick hood side that was cut up to be fitted to assist in removing the hot air in the bay, the rest is hand beaten tin and another solid steel rod chrome grill. For the sides of the car, a set of dummy side pipes that Ken had first fitted years ago remain, and once again all the edges were swaged around the pipes and the length of the rocker panels.
The door handles are shaved and doors fitted with electric solenoids. The rear fenders were sliced off close to 2 feet in from the end from top to bottom and remade to fit a set of ‘56 Plymouth tail lights upside down with bullets and swaging to finish off. The car has the original Lincoln rear bumper still mounted in the original position but has been shortened to fit inside the lengthened rear fenders, and again another solid steel chrome grill sits under the bar, in keeping with the overall theme.
A motor trimmer by trade, Michael has excelled himself on the interior. Hand made from scratch, the steel dash and gear shift console complement the stock Lincoln column, and a Moon steering wheel, a ‘52 Hudson gauge bezel upside down fitted with moon gauges further emphasize the early ‘60s styling. The dash has been painted in pearl white to match the rest of the trim, a snappy pearl white and metalflake green vinyl combo.
With such a cool ride in the family, the inevitable question is: “Who gets to drive it and when?” The boys have done the decent thing and handed main driving rights to their mum. “Mum has known dad since she was 16 and has lived the lifestyle as hard as any women could,” says Michael. “Her passion for what we have always done is just as big as ours. She learnt to drive in a ‘56 cusso, owned her own ‘50 model shoebox Ford, drag raced frequently at Castlereigh dragstrip in Sydney back in the early days (even raced while pregnant with me a couple of times) and has many trophies to show for it. Mum has also owned a ‘59 tank Fairlane station wagon and a ‘62 Galaxie daily driver. She is really looking forward to driving the Lincoln.”
And so she should. The car is a perfect example of what can be accomplished using traditional methods, persistence and elbow grease. The family has carried on Ken’s legacy of true craftsmanship and commitment to quality and now have a beautiful reminder of their Dad.
Cheryl, Frank, Belinda, Joe Formosa, Ganga and Claude from Rocket, Mark from Classic Car Interiors and all our other friends that helped from time to time, you all know who you are.