A Lifetime of Hot Roddin’ | 1948 Ford Woody Wagon
Dennis Groundwater is an original hot rodder! Born in Saskatchewan, he bought a 1934 Three-Window Coupe at age 16 and has been working on cars ever since. As a self-taught car builder, Dennis is one of the most meticulous builders I have met and his attention to detail is uncanny. The remarkable thing is his technical knowledge and ability to build a car from the ground up using all his own resources. His 1948 Ford Woody Wagon is a legacy the was 16 years in the making and a labour of love, sweat and tears.
Dennis joined the Pacific International Street Rod Association (PISRA) in the 1970’s, he is a founder of the Specialty Vehicle Association of B.C. (SVABC), and he is the founder and charter member of the Early Ford V8 Club of America for the BC Region, and is an inductee of the Greater Vancouver Motorsports Pioneers Society.
It took me 16 years. Payday to payday, quit smoking to build it. I usually always tell people, it's my tobacco money. I started in 1986 and I finished it in 2001 so 15 years.
Well a friend of mine, I was only about 14, I guess and a good friend of mine, his older brother, he had a '55 or '56 Ford two-door hard top. I used to sit on the curb and just stare at that car for, it seemed like hours but to me it was the coolest car on the planet. When I got a little older I bought a '51 Ford four-door sedan and I drove it and kept blowing the transmission and I was only, I just turned 16. I was working at a gas station, finally I decided to put an overhead valve motor in it, with the help of one of the older guys in the gas station. And I got it running and then I bought a '34 Ford. My first hot rod when I was 17, I bought a '34 Ford channelled three-window coupe. I think I paid about $200 bucks for it. And I, you know, we took it out to my friend's farm and just typical block and tackle underneath a tree. Swapped the motor out and I got the car running and I drove it for a couple of years. It was basically a death trap but you know when you're 16 or 17 years old, you think you're the coolest guy on the planet. Driving a real hot rod down the main street. So my dad sort of suggested that maybe you should sell this car and get something safer. And I said, well I'd like to buy a 66 Chevelle off a friend of mine. It was only two weeks old...and he said, well you're working now, I'll co-sign a loan for you. So my dad co-signed a loan and he told me as long as it's not got a big motor in it. Well, hello 396 four-speed 66 Chevelle.
I like working on cars for myself. I didn't fancy working on cars as a profession which would have probably been a good, it's a great profession. Because I have friends and family they're mechanics and they're awesome mechanics but I just loved working on cars and building hot rods.
My family moved out here in 1968 to Nanaimo and I came a year later. But my brother-in-law in Nanaimo, he had a Model-A that's been in the family since 1963. So he kind of got me rekindled into hot rodding again. So I bought a Model-T coupe. Went back to Yorkton, found a Model-T coupe. Dragged it out to BC and proceeded to build a street rod out of it. In 1978 my wife and I, we drove it to the Street Rod Nationals in Columbus Ohio. When I got back, I decided I wanted something bigger so I looked around and I found this car. Back in those days, to go to any street rod event, you had to have a pre-1948 car. And I thought, well I can get into the street rod events with a '47 Ford. It's got a back seat, it's a family style car. So I started building this car. It's a 350 Chev, three-speed Chevy, standard transmission. It's got a 65 Ford pickup nine inch Ford rear end in it. It's got drum brakes, '56 Ford drum brakes on the front. It's, but you know, it's a dependable car. It's got 605 power Saginaw power box out of a '79 Grand Prix Pontiac in it. It's a really nice highway car. It's got lots of miles on it. This is my favourite car.
When the new Corvettes came out, I just happened to be down at Wolf Chevrolet one day and I saw a Corvette. A brand new C4 Corvette sitting up on the rack. So being a guy who likes making things, I got my tape measure out and I'm measuring it all up. And I thought, gee I could really make that look slick. I measured it all up and I was going to build a frame for this car. And my friend, Sandy who painted it, he says, you know. You tear this car all apart, it might be apart for a couple of years. He says, why don't you build a Woody. He says, cool car, lots of room, and he said and he said, I know you don't want to build it to sell it, but if you had to sell it, it's worth a lot of money.
And this car was advertised in Hemings back in the old days, long before Internet. It said '46 Ford Woody, excellent original wood, Bryan California. The car was in a shop right next to Roy Brazio's street rod shop in San Francisco. So a really good friend of mine is very good friends with Roy Brisio. So I got my friend to phone him and...his first reaction is, I don't want to be responsible for telling the guy it's a good car and he gets down here and it's a piece of junk. So I said, all I care about is what's the wood like? You know, Sandy's a great body man, he says; what's the wood like? And he says the wood is really nice you know, because I had to make a decision right away. So I basically bought it site unseen. But again the guy was pretty fair so I bought it and a week later, I went down and we got her home and the rest is history.
All original wood, just like it is on the car. One panel had some blistering in it but a friend of mine, Gary Lang who just passed away. Phenomenal woodworker, one of the most talented guys on the Lower Mainland. He said, why don't you just replace all the wood? I've got some, 45 or 50 year old Philippine Mahogany plywood. Why don't we just replace the outside panels? So he cut me all new wood and I spent a Winter, changing all the outside panels. But all the hardwood is all 100 original. Well mechanically I built a complete new chassis with all Corvette front and rear suspension. I bought a Corvette front end with a Corvette rear end. I built the chassis, I used the stock '47 448 Ford frame. Spent a lot of hours out here on my knees, on the bench, measuring, measuring, measuring, measuring. And what I did is, I put a brand new Corvette up on the frame table at Wolf Chevrolet and I took all the measurements off the Corvette, all the suspension measurements and I built a jig in my garage and I transferred all those measurements into the jig. And when I got it all finished, I thought that suspension doesn't know whether it's under a Corvette or a '47 Ford because I changed nothing. I figured if GM got it right then I'll get it right. So that's what I did, I copied GM. My friend who worked at Wolf Chevrolet, he said to me, what kind of motor you puttin' in? And I said, well I just want to probably just put a small block automatic in it. He says well, his friend worked at United Auto Wreckers. He says they got three brand new Camaros in there that were stolen and recovered by the police. He said, why don't you phone them and see what they're going to do with them? So I phoned the guy up and he says we're parting them out. They told me what the motor was. It was a Tuned Port 350 Chevy with a 700 R4 automatic. So I bought the motor and transmission. It only had 104 miles on it. They were they were brand new and they stole off the, when it was stolen off the car lot. So I bought the motor and transmission and when I went to pick it up, I got all the wiring from the car right from the headlights, right to the tail lights. I got the gas tank, the full exhaust system. I think they just dumped all the stuff on me that they didn't want to get rid of themselves which worked out good because I took all the wiring. My buddy Brian, who was a wiring specialist for Wolfs, an electronics guy. He cut all the the ends off and kept all the connectors and we got, we bought all brand new pack R flame proof wire and Brian wired the car right from scratch.
I don't care if they look underneath it or not. I know, I know that's just the way I like to build it. And like my friend Sandy Morita who painted the car for me said, one day I told him,
I said; you know, nobody's ever going to look underneath this car, I'm going to all this trouble. And he says, you know what 90 percent of the people they're not going to look under you don't care about them. It's usually the 5 or 6 percent who do look underneath.
You know, I mean, I was just a working person just like anybody else, there's only so much money to go around. And I just plugged away, and I did everything. I varnished it in this garage right here completely by myself. Sandy painted it at his body shop in in New Westminster. I completely built the chassis myself. I'm not a welder but I'm a, I tacked everything together and I have a friend who was a certified welder so he would, I bought a welder, he would come over and he would weld everything together. It's got everything a car is supposed to have: signal lights, four-way flashers, emergency brake works.
I like building cars. I like working on them but there's a lot of fabulous people involved in this hobby, there really is. Most of the guys I know, they don't have egos at all. They're just great guys and they just like working on their cars, and they built some, I mean, there's some phenomenal cars that come out of this area of British Columbia. You know, the thing is, a few years ago people were saying, yeah you know this hobby is dying and...but there's a lot of young people in this hobby that are very talented and very dedicated. You know you go to some of these runs and you see these guys cruising in the Model-A. They're only like 35 years old and I'm thinking, you know what this hobby's not dead yet, far from it.
Met a lot of great people. You know, that's the biggest part of it. I have been going for breakfast every Saturday for almost 45 years. Originally started with seven or eight guys, now we have 40 or 50 guys show up every Saturday. So you know, that's quite a thing you know, to have that many friends for so long.