1937 NASH LAFAYETTE 400 5W COUPE

BACK IN TIME Edition 37

By Marthinus Goosen

Pics Lindsay Thompson

My name is Marthinus Goosen, born in South Africa but left SA in 1996 for the United States and then onto Canada in 2000. We settled in Okotoks, a small town in Southern Alberta on a 5 acre “plot”.

I was introduced to Hot Rodding in 1983 by two of my brothers, Frik and Louis. I eventually ended up building a 1935 Ford 5 W coupé. Like all Hot Rodders, I am always on the lookout for possible new rod material in my travels, especially after I was unsuccessful in bringing my 1935 Ford over from South Africa to Canada.  I found my next project near a farm road when we went to look at a horse in a town called Bentley. Bentley is approximately 300 km from Okotoks or 15 785 km from Johannesburg. The car was outside but covered with a tarp and although I could not see what car it was, the shape was definitely a coupé and it was old. I went to the house and knocked on the door with much anticipation. A old grey-haired gentleman with a walker opened the door and inquired as to the reason for the urgent knocking.

I introduced myself and informed him that I was interested to know if the old car under the tarp was for sale. He replied, “I am so sick and tired of all you people enquiring about this car”! Hard ass as I am, I encouraged him to sell it to me and then nobody else would hassle him for the car! We went outside and pulled the tarp…. Well it was a coupé alright; with a huge dent on the roof where a tree apparently fell on it! The car was in a rough shape with the body complete but no engine, gearbox or front axle. We negotiated a price minus the ‘dent repair’ of $2500 (around R23 000) and a bottle of Red Heart rum form SA. The old man inquired about the Red Heart rum once he learned that I was from SA.  Coincidentally, I had such a bottle handy and we made final pick up arrangements. 

According to the VIN (vehicle identification number), this Nash was born on Tuesday 02 February 1937, Groundhog Day or the same day I was born 23 years later. I got to work on it as soon as I had it in the garage.  I decided to install a Ford engine instead of a more common Chevy engine. I found a 1978 Mercury Grand Marquis in running order for free, which donated the 460 ci engine, C6 3 speed transmission and Ford 9’’ rear. I was working about 850km away from home in the Fort McMurray oil sands with 10 days on and 4 days off, not good for progress on the Nash; needless to say, progress was at a snail’s pace. 

Although the body of the car was complete except for the grill, I only noticed later that the two front fenders where not exactly the same. Where would you find the correct one I asked myself? I had to saddle a few horses and go on long trips but finally located one just about in my backyard. I heard about an old junk yard, phoned the guy up and bought all the front body parts but the grill was another story. 

I first stripped the body and then removed it completely from the chassis to mount the drive train, differential and a 1994 Jaguar front end. I installed a 4 link rear air suspension and later, installed air bags on the Jag front end. The car now rides on air with the compressor tucked away under the floor in the back of the car and I control the ride height from within the car. Should you consider the standard main components, it is pretty easy to order everything you want and receive this in record time. Rodding in Canada in not as massive as in the United States but should you have to order something from the USA, you would normally receive this within a week or two. This is very dangerous as you search for what you want and just order it and then you have to explain it to ‘the boss lady’ later. Trust me, the best advice I can provide on the ‘boss lady’ issue, which is a common factor in Hot Rodding, is to pre-arrange a budget and stick to it! Remember, a happy wife is a happy life!!

I built my custom headers and 4 link rear with mail order components but all other parts were found in local performance shops. I could not route the exhaust between the big Ford engine and the frame rails, so I routed this underneath the newly fabricated running boards and exit just before the rear wheels through the side of the running board. The engine was stripped down and re-build with a few “go fast” components to make this 460 ci (7500cc) with twin 650 Holley’s, mild cam push an estimated 400hp. The engine accessories are complemented with a March serpentine system and a MSD ignition system for the fire power. The C6 was also re-built with a higher stall speed (2500rpm) and the differential was re-build twice; there are also ‘sharks’ here! The rear ratio is 3.73:1 and I plan to install an O/D that bolts to the rear of the transmission. I plan to drive this car all over North America. We have a small problem here in Canada in the winter, November ‘till April. It gets very cold; -35 degrees Celsius and with a wind chill on top of that, it could feel like -50 degrees Celsius. In the winter, I work in the garage and I have started working on a 520ci stroker Ford engine, 600 hp. ‘Boss lady’ please??

The sound system produces 1100 watts of pure sound that could probably move the vehicle if the subs where facing the right direction. The head unit is a 7’’ flip out DVD player with two 10’’ subs and two amps; there are a total of 8 speakers in the car. The ‘boss lady’ wants me to explain to her why I spend all the time and money on the sound system if I never listen to it while I am driving. I explained to her that the deep rumble from the exhaust was music to my ears and I could listen to that all day long.

One of the reasons the car took forever was all the gadgets I installed and commissioned. I have remote doors, remote windows, remote tilt front end; I used electric rams and remote trunk lift.  I have more remotes for this car than what we have for the home and I have a hard time finding the remotes, must be a man thing? However, I am working on fixing this with a programmable logic controller. I installed an underfloor brake pedal and master cylinder with front disc brakes and rear drums, the plan is to change the rear drums to discs, I will do this next winter.

I decided to keep a smooth clean look and threw away the big old headlight buckets that were mounted on the side of the grill and installed 2004 Mini Cooper LED headlights into the front fenders. I installed flush mounted LED’s in the back to continue the smooth look and for dessert; I shaved the door handles and hinges. I also removed the quarter windows on the doors and then had a “bit of fun” to miss the hidden hinges with the door window channels.

The dash took me three months to do after two failures. I knew what I wanted but had no clue on how to do this, unfortunately I did not have access to the Corbett brothers or my brothers in South Africa to advise and assist. I installed a Vintage Air heat/AC under the dash with great difficulty but trust me, you need this here as the temperature can change from plus 20 to minus 20 in hours and you then need one or the other. The AC is not complete yet but I shall leave that for the winter. The heart, blood pressure and speed of the Nash is monitored with electronic TPI TECH gauges and nestles nicely in the re-built dash.

I started driving it after it passed inspection in less than an hour and man I could spin the tyres all day long. The car requires fine tuning and there is a vibration at 200mph just before it changes to third…..EH, EH, EH but all in due time. Irma ‘boss lady’, wanted to know if I had to spin the tyres every time I drove it, the simple answer is “YES”. Now think of what the 520ci is going to do to those 15’’ centreline back wheels and tyres!

I was not able to find a replacement grill anywhere but between the two sets of front fenders, I could make out more or less what the original perimeter of the grill looked like and thought that I could build my own. This was easier said than done and I finally decided to custom fit a 1937 Ford grill. I ordered a blank fibreglass grill from the USA and then fitted this into the front which meant major surgery on all the steel that I so painstakingly finished previously. I then decided on a pattern for the grill openings, cut this and finished it with Stainless Steel mesh on the inside. Except for the fibreglass grill, everything else on the car is made from the real stuff… Steel!

Prior to the final painting the car remained in various shades of grey and black epoxy primer applied over many, many years with many other smaller body modifications and in 2010, I started driving the car. This car, like all other Hot Rods, turns heads but it was still not finished. On 14th August 2011, I decided to enter it into a local show and shine with just over 600 other Hot Rods and won “Best Customs” award, without final paint.

The car was painted in two tone paint with a black bottom and silver (Mercedes silver) on top. I decided to paint the car myself as I was quoted $15000 (approx. R135 000) to paint the car. I cannot remember how many coats of primer went on the car but by the time I got to the final paint, I knew what to do. I invited my brother Louis to come “visit” me and he assisted with the sanding and advised on the painting. I decided on a satin finish clear coat which received many positive comments.

The seats were donated by a 1995 BMW and recovered with leather from Germany. It was the only place where I was able to locate the correct colour, or so I was told. The seats, dash and all other upholstery, I completed in my garage. 

The fuel cell is stainless steel and holds 147L which gets me from one gas station to the next as long as they are not further than 350km apart; but who cares about fuel consumption? Canada is in the next boom and we are all going to make lots of the purest gasoline that should quench the thirst of my big block Ford engine, after all, is it not the smile that counts?

The next project’s a Chopper motorcycle and a 1950 Ford 2dr coupé.