Endless Summers – The Rebirth of a Jimmy Summers-Built California Custom ’36 Ford
The feature on this ’36 Ford could just as well be titled “History of Auto Customizing — Exhibit A.”
This sleek chopped, channeled, and sectioned three-window coupe was originally built by Jimmy Summers. In case his name is not familiar, Summers was customizing cars in Hollywood, California, back when this ’36 coupe was a late-model used car. He finished this one in 1941. Custom cars were still relatively uncommon in those prewar days, and the term “hot rod” was years away from being popularized. While Summers’ name has long been attached to the ’36, it was actually owned by Bob Fairman, who worked in Summers’ shop and shared fabrication and bodywork chores with Jimmy.
The man responsible for the coupe’s current condition is Jim Bobowski, who was able to purchase the remains of the car six years ago and commissioned Jon Schuchart at Schuchart Customs in York, Pennsylvania, to restore it. Bobowski has owned and restored several historic custom cars and hot rods including the Pierson Bothers ’36 Ford and the Eddie Dye track-nose ’29 Model A roadster. His appreciation and reverence for hot rod history makes him an ideal caretaker for this classic custom.
After being completed in 1941, the ’36 remained in Southern California for more than a decade before it was sold and taken back to Ohio in the 1950s. Like so many cars from that time, it changed owners, fell into disrepair, and eventually spent years – likely decades – deteriorating in an Ohio field.
Bobowski first learned the coupe still existed in 2009, when a post on the Jalopy Journal’s HAMB message board showed photos of the rusty remains still languishing in that Ohio field. Bobowski missed the opportunity to buy it then but was eventually able to make a deal with the new owner in 2017. He took the car directly to Schuchart’s shop to assess what needed to happen to perform a thorough and accurate restoration.
The art of automobile customizing as we know it essentially began with Fords of the late 1930s, and more specifically the 1935 and ’36 models like this. The “fat fendered” design, as it would come to be known, integrated the engine enclosure, rear deck structure, and passenger compartment into one continuous unit, with larger and rounder fenders being a more integral part of the styling.
The design of the 1935-36 Fords, especially coupes and roadsters, invited modification to enhance their streamlined profile. The Summers coupe is a wonderful example of an early ’36 custom, both in design and execution. It incorporated a well-proportioned 2½-inch top chop, 3-inch channeling, and a corresponding 3-inch section job to position the fenders at their original height in relation to the frame.
Summers further streamlined the car by hand-forming front fenders and fabricating fade-away panels to blend the front fenders into the rears. Detroit would not adopt that design element until 1942 on some Buicks, but custom builders would copy the theme many times in the years that followed. Jimmy even had dies made and had a sheet metal shop stamp the parts for what he advertised and sold as “Summers fender extension kits” during the 1940s.
Schuchart had to replicate some fadeaway panels from one side of the car to restore those on the other side that were badly rusted. He also cut patch panels and scavenged numerous other items from ’36 Ford donor vehicles and remade the cut-down hood side panels Summers had built. Figuring out how to shorten the donor car grille by removing three inches from each side of the frame and trimming the tops of the vertical bars the same amount was another challenge.
Even with all the required rust repair and fabrication work, the goal was always to preserve as much of the original Jimmy Summers work as possible. Schuchart and Bobowski were both amazed at how clean the metalwork and seams were on the top chop – Summers’ legendary torch and hammer skills lived up to their reputation!
Other custom touches either restored or replicated included ’37 Ford headlights installed in the front fenders and ’38 Ford teardrop taillights mounted on the rear splash apron; restoring the recessed rear license housing behind a new glass cover; and stripping, repairing, and chrome plating the ’41 Ford bumpers.
No color photos of the original custom were found, but Schuchart discovered some of the light green paint inside the deck lid and PPG matched it for a “spot-on” exterior finish. The upholstery was replicated by David’s Custom Interiors in brown rolled and pleated vinyl, with a white ’40 Ford steering wheel, chrome column, and dark green dash with restored gauges completing the interior.
Bobowski rounded up a 239c.i. Flathead V8 engine which was rebuilt and installed in the original chassis with stock heads, a single Stromberg 97 carburetor, and dual exhaust running through authentic Smitty mufflers. The transmission is a ’39 floor shift and brakes are ’40 Ford hydraulics.
In addition to Jim Bobowski and Jon Schuchart, one other person is excited to know this historic custom has been preserved and returned to the street in its original customized form. Alex Xydias, founder of So-Cal Speed Shop, went to high school across the street from Jimmy Summers’ custom shop and hung out there in his spare time.
Learning through his research of Xydias’ connection with the coupe, Bobowski contacted the hot rodding pioneer, now 101 years old, to let him know the car still exists. “He told me that car is what inspired him to get into hot rods and customs,” Bobowski said.
Xydias told us that seeing photos of the restoration reminded him of the “superb work Jimmy Summers was doing in those days,” and he added that Jim Bobowski “appreciates what a great possession he has.”
With this piece of rod and custom history now out for public viewing at car shows, what’s next? Well, Bobowski already has the one-time Gil Ayala shop truck, a chopped ’49 GMC, at Schuchart Customs for “the treatment!”
Photos by John Jackson