Copper 1940 Ford
What happens when talented craftsmen on two continents combine five tons of copper with the fastest production car in Ford Motor Company's history? The result is a custom-built street rod worth a pretty penny, and an invitation to display it during the April 6-9 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Brothers David and Thomas Kirkham began building aluminum-bodied Cobra roadsters in 1995 after discovering a dormant aircraft factory in Poland full of skilled craftsmen and idle machines. Since then, Kirkham Motorsports in Provo, Utah, has sold more than 500 replicas of Carroll Shelby's "289" and "427" lightweight sports cars to buyers around the world.
Their handcrafted Cobra bodies garner so much attention they have been displayed alongside Ford products at the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association mega-show in Las Vegas.
And that's where the idea for a copper car got started.
"We did two different replicas in a row for SEMA," David Kirkham said. "Ford invited us back for a third show, but wanted to see what else we were capable of.
"We talked about a number of street rod projects, but it had to be something really mind-blowing if we were going to devote time and money to building it."
The team decided to reproduce the classically beautiful 1940 Ford convertible in aluminum, then stuff it full of the 2006 GT supercar's 5.4-liter V-8 and six-speed manual transmission.
"Before Ford could send a rolling GT chassis, we borrowed a customer's personal car and took the measurements we needed to get started," D. Kirkham said. "We got the go-ahead from Ford in April, which left us about six months to create a car from scratch."
The first of many challenges presented itself right away: the size of the 550-horsepower GT powertrain meant the street rod had to be eight inches wider per side than a stock 1940 body. Using information supplied by Kirkham's Provo crew, the Polish craftsmen turned sculpting foam into their vision of an enhanced '40 body, then used that "buck" to form aluminum into fenders, doors and other major components. Those panels were shipped to Utah, where the Kirkhams had another brainstorm.
"We like the way polished aluminum looks on a show car," said D. Kirkham. "It looks like a chrome mirror and gets a lot of attention. The only problem was we didn't like the way polished aluminum photographs.
"My brother asked, 'How would it look in copper?' Believe me, it's easier said than done!"
The Kirkhams understood their new direction would bring tremendous risks because they would be inventing new procedures every step of the way. Copper oxidizes when heated, and there were no experts to consult about building a car body out of the material.
"We had to buy five tons of pure copper because you can't just pick up a few sheets at the hardware store," D. Kirkham said. "A lot of people told us it was impossible to weld copper for our purpose-that oxygen contamination would take place due to the high heat-but we didn't have any choice once the project was under way. We invented as we went along."
Fiberglass molds were taken of the finished aluminum panels from Poland, and copper sheets were cut, shaped and welded based on those bucks. David Kirkham estimates the car body represents more than 100 individual pieces of copper sheeting.
While the body was being assembled and polished to a high gloss finish, Kirkham Motorsports encountered a problem with where to place the powertrain, which sits in the middle of Ford's GT chassis.
"We wanted to be very traditional and put the engine up front, with the rear wheels getting the power," D. Kirkham said. "There wasn't enough time to engineer everything we needed for a front-engine installation, and we realized that putting the V-8 in the middle of the car gave it the kind of balance the GT itself is known for. We killed the rear seats and the engine fit beautifully."
The car's interior was liberally decked out in polished Bubinga-a medium-red hardwood that grows in the Ivory Coast-and black wool was used for the carpet.
"Only one person from Ford saw our 40GT before we took it to SEMA, so it was a complete surprise to everyone," said D. Kirkham. "The response from the crowd and automakers was incredible. A representative from Honda, which was the title sponsor of the event, came over and told me we had stolen the show! After SEMA, we got a phone call from someone offering us more than one million dollars for the car.
"AutoFair will be only the second, and final, time we show the 40GT before it goes to its new owner."
Other special attractions coming to the April 6-9 Food Lion AutoFair include the "Monster Garage" flying car, the Tornado Attack Vehicle, a Navy Osprey airplane capable of vertical takeoffs and landings, crazy motorcycle stunts in the Globe of Death, a race car that runs on renewable biodiesel fuel, unusual vehicles from the Lane Motor Museum and the amazing Amphicar.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.
For information, contact the speedway events department at 704-455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.