Jake’s ’34 Coupe – Breaking the Mold
Jim “Jake” Jacobs has never been one to follow the crowd. Perhaps it was his time working with Ed Roth, arguably hot rodding’s greatest iconoclast, that instilled in Jake the fixation to zig when others zag.
One of our hobby’s most influential players – he’s the Jake in Pete & Jakes Hot Rod Parts – Jake’s penchant to build his cars a bit differently is perhaps best manifested by his chopped, yellow ’34 Ford three-window coupe.
Jake fashioned the coupe in the early-’70s, at the same time his buddy and future business mate Pete Chapouris was putting together his iconic “California Kid” ’34 coupe. During this period, resto-rods were all the rage. Cowl lamps, anyone? With four incomplete ’34 three-windows stashed in his shop, Jake decided to zag.
Typically, ’34 three-windows are seldom chopped, their classic profile considered sacrosanct. Not to Mr. Jacobs. He’d seen just such an example on the pages of a 1950 Hot Rod magazine and decided to follow that blueprint while adding Jacobsonian touches.
Touch number one was the chop. Jake ran the idea of a chopped ’34 by his friend and ace bodyman Don Thelan – who later built the famous chopped ZZ Top Eliminator coupe. Don delivered a simple response – no way. Jake said he’s gonna do it anyway. Don hung up.
To maintain the coupe’s revered profile, Jake carefully erased three inches out of the top but kept the original angle of the windshield posts, giving it a “what just happened here?” look.
The next touch is considered the car’s signature, albeit a controversial one. We’re talking about the grille. Glommed onto one of his quartet of ragtag coupes was a truck grille, with horizontal ribs rather than vertical. Calling the grille odd would be a compliment. But Jake thought it looked funky, which is Jake-speak for cool. Moreover, it was already trimmed to fit the ’34 frame. “I didn’t have a decent ’34 grille and grille shell,” Jake later confessed to writer Dain Gingerelli, “so I used what I had.”
Jake was also immune to the uplifted stance of a resto rod. He mounted an original Bell dropped-tube axle controlled by a four-bar setup that cleverly featured rubber bushings adapted from ’58 Chevy panhard rods.
While the car would be running low, Jake had high standards for its safety: the chassis had to be bombproof. He whipped up his own center section out of 1-inch square tubing. (A previous owner had removed the stock X-frame section.) He boxed the frame rails from the firewall forward and fabbed a front crossmember from channel iron.
The low stance was magnified by notching the front rails over the leaf spring for additional lowering. He boxed and notched the rear frame rails that cradle a Model A rear crossmember and another leaf spring. All these tricks were throwbacks to the 1950s, abandoned during rodding’s ’70s show. Initially, Jake opted for ’40 Ford hydraulic brakes, but they proved inadequate; he upgraded with a Super Bell Mustang disc brake conversion.
As for under the hood, Jake originally dropped in a ’57 Buick Nailhead V8 that he purloined from the famous Bill NieKamp roadster he was restoring. Talk about your hand-me downs! While potent – once topping the century mark at the drags – a nasty internal knocking meant it soon was replaced by a Chevy 350c.i. small block. Tweaks included a Weiand intake, Holley four-barrel carb, valve porting job, and a performance camshaft.
The car was a sensation as soon as it rolled out of Jake’s shop. It was an outlier for the time and a harbinger of hot rod style to come. It caught the attention of the press immediately, particularly Rod & Custom, whereby this time Jake was a staff writer.
The apogee of the car’s fame came in November 1973 when R&C published an issue on the art of top chopping. Jacobs’ ’34 was completed a couple months after Chapouis’ black ’34 California Kid coupe. The staff decided to pair the tandem on the cover. The image featured the Kid in front and the Jacobs ’34 in back. A weathered barn, roaming chickens and goats, and a fetching model completed the scene. Coupes are for chickens, right?
Issues flew of the newsstands and Pete and Jake would be forever known as, well, Pete & Jake. Eventually, Jake sold the coupe to Jerry Slover, who also owns the Pete & Jakes business and The California Kid – the dynamic duo remains united.
For all its ground-breaking stardom, some hot rod luminaries could never quite countenance that ugly-duckling grille. Goodguys Gazette Legend John Buttera, well-known uber-craftsman and friend of Jake, considered backing his car into it, ending the nightmare. Noted author LeRoi “Tex” Smith agreed.
The fact that we’re still writing about Jake’s ’34 coupe 50 years later speaks to the car’s enduring appeal. Which is another way of saying that it’s hot rod legend, its place in hot rod history assured, radiator grille notwithstanding.