Controversial Coupe – Coby Gewertz’s ’34 Ford Claims the Goodguys 2023 Tanks, Inc. Hot Rod of the Year Title
Fortune favors the bold. That old proverb is not an absolute. Being bold does not guarantee success – we all can cite examples of bold moves resulting in spectacular failures. The phrase is a good reminder, though, that substantial achievements often require taking big chances. It’s like that other truism suggests – go big or go home.
Coby Gewertz wanted to go big and bold with this ’34 Ford coupe. As an artist and lifelong hot rodder who spent his formative years at drag strips in the ’70s and ’80s (his father was a flag starter, Top Fuel racer, and NHRA employee), Coby’s hot rod visions have always gravitated toward extremes – vibrant colors, big engines, aggressive stances, strong graphics. He’s very visual, as anyone who follows his Church Equipped Instagram page can attest. And that visceral and visual approach on this wicked ’34 coupe paid off this past weekend, as Coby captured the 2023 Tanks, Inc. Hot Rod of the Year award at the 17th BASF Nashville Nationals.
“I set out to build a car that goes back to when drag racing was still cool,” Coby says of the coupe, adding that he wanted to test the limits of hot rodding and “push the hobby forward from the baby steps it has been moving in for the past several years.” Builder Bill Ganahl of South City Rod & Custom sums it up more succinctly: “We built a cartoon on wheels.”
That cartoon generated a matinee-level buzz when Coby, Bill, and the South City team first unveiled the coupe, dubbed “Saint Christopher” after the patron saint of travelers, at the Grand National Roadster Show earlier this year. The combination of vertical stripes, gold leaf accents, zoomie pipes, and injector stacks was too much for some people. Mostly it was the unconventional stripes, inspired by drag racers of the ’60s and ’70s. Coby and Bill knew it would be a polarizing car – they even handed out barf bags at the show. But it did just what a hot rod should do – it made an impact.
That impact has been years in the making – five at South City, which followed a couple of initial years at another shop. The efforts at South City began with a custom frame, which was set it up with a dropped tube axle and transverse leaf spring up front, with modified ’46 Ford wishbones and a Vega steering box. A chrome 9-inch rearend was suspended on coil-overs and a located by a ladder bar arrangement out back. Coated Halibrand magnesium wheels help deliver a vintage drag race look. The spindle-mount 15-inch fronts are backed with disc brakes, while the 16-inch rears are shod with 16×10-inch cheater slicks from Towel City.
A true drag-style coupe needs a Hemi, and this one is a vintage 331c.i. Chrysler built by Rob McKray using a lumpy cam, adjustable rocker arms, M/T valve covers, and a magneto. Enderle injector stacks burst through the hood top and have been converted to EFI by Autotrend, making the system very tunable and street friendly. The engine is set far back in the chassis, just like a Funny Car, with zoomie pipes aiming the fumes out past the running boards. And yes, there is a radiator – the custom aluminum unit from Ron Davis is just hidden in the back, under the tail pan. The T5 five-speed transmission came from Modern Driveline and is connected using a Wilcap adapter and controlled by a Hurst shifter.
The body began as a Henry steel original purchased off Mike Wolfe from American Pickers. It got a serious top chop and a steel roof insert by Bobby Walden punched full of louvers. The South City crew also extended the front fenders, notched them for the exhaust pipes, and built a custom firewall, cowl, and hood. Around back, the deck lid was louvered and had its corners rounded, while Corvette taillights were recessed into the bobbed rear fenders. And for those who are curious, there are provisions for headlights, which can be mounted and connected in minutes behind the grill.
Now, about that paint. Inspired by vintage drag machines like the “L.A. Dart” wheelstander, plus many Funny Cars and dragsters of the ’60s and ’70s, Coby was convinced he wanted the coupe to wear vertical strips. The big difference is that most of those old quarter-mile machines had newer slab-sided bodies – not the curves and contours of a ’30s Ford. The idea was bold – or “novel and completely crazy,” as Bill puts it – but Coby, Bill, and Joe Compani of Compani Color brainstormed ideas until the right design emerged. It consists of angled vertical stripes in autumnal House of Kolor hues – orange, bronze, gold, root beer brown – all separated by gold leaf striping by Eric Reyes.
The inside is as race-inspired as you’d expect, with lots of Tony Nancy-style square-pleated black vinyl stitched by Chris Plante Interiors. The seat bases are from old high school desk chairs, while the filled dash was equipped with Stewart Warner gauges. A custom steering column, Superior wheel, and EMPI pedals help complete the race car feel.
For some, that race car feel was a bit of a sticking point in the Hot Rod of the Year competition. Is it a hot rod, or is it a race car? The coupe proved it could go down the dragstrip in fine form during passes on the reliability run at the Nashville Nationals. It also proved it could cruise around town and down the highway just as easily. And Coby is adamant it will see street use in the future. “Considering I live in a townhome, I don’t have a truck and trailer,” Coby says. “All the shows it can go to in my area, it can only get there by driving it. Vroom! Vroom!”
Bold, brash, and badass, the Saint Christopher coupe has done everything Coby and Bill wanted it to – cause a commotion, stir the pot, and get rodders talking and thinking. They’re good with the notion that some people might not like it. And they’re happy for the attention and accolades it has received – especially winning the 2023 Tanks, Inc. Hot Rod of the Year title. After all, hot rodding needs a good kick in the pants from time to time, and many would argue that time was long overdue. Coby’s coupe came along at just the right juncture to shake things up.
Photos by John Jackson, Marc Gewertz & Damon Lee