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JIM EWING'S SUPERBELL COUPE

#1
The Super Bell Coupe
Written by Brian Brennan on June 24, 2005
"Tested Taxi Tough"
It’s not often that one gets to write about history in the first person. However, such is the case with this month’s Milestones. Continuing with the tradition to publish street rods that have a lasting imprint on street rodding, this month’s contribution is the Super Bell coupe. It became an icon for the Super Bell Axle Company.

Well, almost! The late Jim Ewing was a one-of-a-kind hot rodder who became the living icon for his company; yet the coupe was a mechanical extension, an expression of what it meant to him to be a hot rodder. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Victor Leon, who along with Jim started Super Bell Axle Company and was half-owner of the coupe, but more on that in a historical perspective on the I-beam axle coming next month.)



The coupe, as it was referred to, was built in the same timeframe as two other famous rodding coupes: The California Kid and Jake’s coupe, both ’34 Fords with rodding legacies second-to-none, at that time belonging to Pete Chapouris and Jake Jacobs, the founders of Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Parts. Jim was a friend of the triumphet duo from Temple City and would later have close business ties. Both coupes now belong to Jerry Slover, the current owner of Pete & Jake’s. But I digress.

The Super Bell coupe is now under the care and feeding of longtime friend, Frank Morawski, who has owned the car since ’83 and is also the owner of The Glass Shop in Bel Air, Maryland, a custom fiberglass shop. Frank has made very few changes to the coupe over the years. However, these changes were done to bring the car back to its original build: A pair of ’34 Ford commercial headlights in place of the Deitz lights (the car ran original, all-stainless ’33 passenger car lights), the Halibrand quick-change in place of the GM 12-bolt, and a duplicate of the original steering wheel. However, Frank did change the wheels to the current Halibrands (much as Jim wanted to do in 1977 but never did) as the car came with 16-inch early Ford steel wheels in front and steelies in back covered with Moon discs. He also added the padding to the forward portion of the seats to help hold riders in place. (Jim and I didn’t have that luxury; we just slipped and slid around while bouncing down the highway.) Aside from a mid-life steering column change and a handful of engine swaps, the coupe has retained its appearance surprisingly well over the years between its “birth” and today.

The construction of the car started in ’75 shortly before Jim and Victor Leon founded Super Bell Axle Company in Monrovia, California. The car is a ’34 Ford three-window coupe but Jim had the firewall altered to give the appearance of a ’33. He just couldn’t leave well enough alone!


George Wilson of Temple City, California, owned the coupe before Jim. It was an old race car painted a hideous green that already featured the distinctive chopped top. Jim purchased the car and had another friend Ed Belknap design a unique looking coupe that Jim could build. It was Jim’s intention to build a hot rod that would not only be streetable but would cross the Salt at 200-plus miles per hour!

We know Dale Caulfield of Weedetr Street Rod Components in Red Bluff, California, but it was his father, Jim Caulfield, working out of Caulfield Automotive in El Monte, California, that got the nod to do the work along with son Dale, back then just a young’un. Remember, the top chop was already done but Jim and Dale Caulfield did all the body and paintwork. They also refit the doors (the doors were gutted and had no window mechanisms), the decklid, the hood, and installed the ’50 Pontiac taillights (the body already had holes for them). They also fabricated the front frame horns, chopped the windshield frame, made the flooring and the distinctive rear rolled pan, and modified the firewall. Dale also made the unique lower front panels that the M&S four-bar passes through. The initial fiberglass bucket seats came by way of an off-road race car from Brian Bauer. The Caulfields also mounted the original stock-appearing radiator and the forward shock mounts. The radiator would become a major focal point of the coupe, but more on that later. The chassis was a compilation of odds and ends. But we do know that M&S Welding of Irwindale, California (also of early Funny Car fame and the same company that welded up all those Super Bell axles), hung the front suspension. The steering is today what it was in the beginning: a cricket rack-and-pinion that rests behind the 5-inch dropped Super Bell tube axle and is twisted into service by a Pinto flex-steering cable hooked to a Chrysler telescopic steering column.

Contrary to popular opinion, the coupe doesn’t have the first Super Bell tube axle, spindles, brake kit, steering arms, etc., but the car did serve as a rolling test lab for all of the Super Bell products. (Of the original 12 tube axles, Jim gave them out to friends, with yours truly getting one for my ’29 highboy roadster.) In 1977, Victor Leon became equal owner of the car.There are two number one I-beam axles–one belongs to Dave Enmark (Jim’s long-time friend). While Victor did the development work on brakes and other parts, the first Mustang brake kit and steering are under Dave’s ’40 Ford pickup, which was the old Super Bell shop truck that he bought from Super Bell and owns to this day. Back in those days, Jim not only stored his T-bucket at Dave’s Porsche shop but also rented a house from Dave. The other “number one” I-beam belongs to Brian Bauer, who was the first shipping clerk back in the early days of Super Bell Axle Co. Today Brian’s I-beam is under his ’30 Ford sedan and the original Super Bell coupe quick-change is under his Model A roadster. The coupe never had an original Bell Auto Parts axle as some thought–only a Super Bell. Jim got the idea for a Super Bell by selling Gene Scott’s copy of the original Bell. Both Jim and Victor worked for Gene right up until the day they started Super Bell with Gene’s best wishes. In the early days Jim made his living working for Gene and making the weekly rounds at the various swap meets. He was known for selling N.O.S. parts and always had a good supply. But what most people didn’t know was how Jim came up with these parts.

Jim had found a wrecking yard for houses–yes, houses! It was called House Wreckers in Monrovia that is no longer there. While cruising through the yard one day, he found a trailer and inside were all these N.O.S. parts. Well, Jim would go back every chance he got and buy up what he could and then resell the items at the swap meet. This went on for some time. While on one of these “restocking” missions he came across the brilliant orange paint that became the coupe’s trademark color. The lacquer paint, gallons and gallons of it, was military surplus manufactured by FP Fuller of Los Angeles, California, in March of 1958! He bought it for $1 a gallon. From here it was back to Caulfield Automotive.
The initial test drive in the coupe proved to be an experience befitting Jim. He took the car onto the local freeway and during the test run the driver’s side door popped open. Remember that it’s a suicide style of door and the havoc it wreaked on the bodywork meant the car went back to Caulfield, who still has a gallon of the original military surplus paint.

Dale re-did the body and paintwork on the coupe using the surplus lacquer. It should also be mentioned that Caulfields sprayed the black on the California Kid and the yellow on Jake’s coupe as well as the original bodywork and first black paint on Editor Bud Bryan’s Rod & Custom ’29 roadster.

The coupe, finished the night before, was driven to the ’76 NSRA Street Rod Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The car ran too hot with the hood and nosepiece, so they were removed for the drive. Once there, both items were reinstalled and the coupe was put on display in the Super Bell booth. It was during this same drive that Jim decided to swap the quick-change for something more mundane. He just couldn’t stand the noise from the Q-C, nor could he take the interior heat. Next up, the A/C and a GM 12-bolt rearend. The original Q-C was given to Brian by Jim: it came from a ’34 Willys that Brian had found and told Jim, who in turn told another friend, “Butch” Fish, who purchased the Willys and gave Jim the rearend. Since the Q-C was designed for a Willys, it never fit correctly (too narrow) under the coupe–another reason why Jim gave up on it in favor of something a bit more traditional. Jim Kirby of Challenger Equipment of Azusa, California, did the rearend swap as well as other projects on the coupe. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the unique nose treatment and the hood on the coupe were designed by Ed Belknap and put into aluminum by the great Kenny Ellis. It was this unique nosepiece that gave the coupe its never-to-be-mistaken identity. It was also this sheetmetal work that caused the coupe to never cool properly, no matter what the engine–from the 435hp, tri-power-equipped Chevy big-block, a stock 350 (it ran 280 degrees, too), then to the Victor Leon- built blown-small-block Chevy with a new radiator. All the engines were hooked up to a TH-400, including the Buick V-6.
 
#2
JIM EWING'S SUPER BELL COUPE.jpg

Part II
The Super Bell Coupe
Written by Brian Brennan on June 24, 2005
"Tested Taxi Tough"

It's an even-fire Buick V-6, but it's not the first engine! The car started with a big-block Chevy, then a stock 350, then a blown small-block with a guaranteed radiator to cool (which didn't), then the V-6. A longtime friend of Jim's, Dave Enmark, still has the turbocharged V-6 that was to be installed and never was. Oh, yes, the Holley valve covers and air cleaner belong to Editor Brennan and came off of his '29 roadster's V-6." class="wp-image-214120">

After continually trying to get the various engines to cool, Jim finally had a L-shaped radiator built that was “guaranteed” to cool the V-8s. Well, it didn’t. So, out came the V-8 and in went the V-6. The V-6 was the only engine to run within acceptable temperature parameters with the unique but restrictive nosepiece.

The original wheels and tires are another interesting story. The front wheels were 16-inch early Ford steel wheels, with motorcycle tires and Moon discs. The rear wheels were custom-made steelies with mismatched dirt track tires, since Jim couldn’t find a matched pair of rubber. Yep, the driver side ran a 9.50 x 16 while the passenger side ran a 9.60 x 16, which are still in Brian’s garage. Again, Moon discs were placed over the wheels. The coupe made it to a number of NSRA events back and forth across the country. Jim and I were even awarded the Long Distance Award at the NSRA Nats South one year in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. That same summer we drove to Memphis, Tennessee, and Spokane, Washington, as well as other events. The car also made it to Tulsa, Oklahoma; St. Paul, Minnesota; Columbus, Ohio; and Timonium, Maryland.

Both Jim and the coupe were well-received everywhere the pair showed up. People would always gather around the coupe because of its unique styling, but soon rodders realized that the latest in a long line of Super Bell parts would first appear on the coupe. It was a peek into the future; the next new part would always be unveiled on Jim’s coupe. Everyone wanted to know! Those were very good days!


(Editor’s Note: A special thank you goes out to Jerry Slover of Pete & Jake’s and Frank Morawski for making it possible to photograph the coupe while attending the NSRA Nats in Louisville. We would also like to thank Brian Bauer, the original shipping clerk for Super Bell and still the local postman and long-time friend of Jim’s, who supplied us with plenty of “forgotten” information from the early days. Also, Dave Enmark who was not only a longtime friend of Jim’s but possesses much of the knowledge on Jim, Super Bell the company, and the coupe.)
 
#3
A pioneer hot rod is a true ?Super Bell?
by Trey Palmisano
November 20, 2008 12:00 AM
When reminiscing on American automotive history, the detour into the hot rod subculture sometimes raises the question: was there one car that started it all?
Frank Morawski of Bel Air, said you can point to three cars that began the entire hot rod movement we enjoy today. Of those three cars, a ‘34 Ford named “California Kid,” a ‘34 Ford known as “Jake’s coupe,” and the ‘34 Ford “Super Bell” coupe, he is the proud owner of the later.

The Super Bell, as it came to be known, was purchased in 1983 from good friend Jim Ewing, then owner of Super Bell Axle Company in Monrovia, Ca., a man who is considered an icon in the hot rod world. At the time, the three-window couple was unremarkable.
Painted a green hue and with little done, Ewing was determined to turn it into a true race machine that could reach the 200-mile mark at the venerable Bonneville Salt Flats.

Once Ewing, along with friend Ed Belknap, found a design he could apply to the existing body, he turned to father and son duo, Jim and Dale Caulfield in California, who would begin the build. The two fabricated the frame horns, fixed the doors, reworked the hood, chopped a new windshield frame, and altered the firewall which ended up giving the three-door couple its distinct appearance. The suspension became the bellwether of Ewing’s company, a set up consisting of remanufactured tube axle, spindles, steering arms, and brakes. Ford experimented in the late ‘30s with an economy model using lightweight parts that became the basis for Ewing’s tubular design axle. Ewing picked this form to duplicate because it was the most popular design back in the era of early Fords, Morawski said.

The most striking appearance modification would become the original one-off front fascia, a sloping nose design built entirely in aluminum by famed race car builder Kenny Ellis. While this represented a unique approach in terms of material, the restrictive design created airflow problems while the sheet metal used was too conductive to afford proper cooling. The original engines, which included a tri-power-equipped Chevy big-block, a 350 Chevy small block, and another blown small block, all ran too hot. Ewing would eventually downgrade to a V6 Buick engine to correct this problem. Ewing continued using the Super Bell as a demonstration vehicle for all his company’s products until he sold it to Morawski after he and business partner Victor Leon parted ways.

You may think Morawski just landed in the right place at the right time. But the Bel Air fiberglass technician wasn’t merely a stakeholder. He decided to add some appointments that would point back to the car’s original look. Removing the Dietz racing headlights, a pair of ‘34 Ford commercial lights were fitted. Halibrand wheels replaced the 16” Ford steel wheels. Unique to Morawski’s contribution was the move from a GM 12-bolt rear axle assembly to the 6-bolt Halibrand quick-change axle, which allows him to tweak the rear differentials. He said he normally runs 3:70s, but has the option to gear lower or higher as the need arises.

While the paint is original and starting to show its age in various places, Morawski has no plans of making significant changes to his legendary acquisition.

What do you drive?
It’s a 1934 Ford 3-window coupe.

Why do you drive it?
It’s just a fun car to play with. It’s very simple, very basic, and very unique.

What makes this car so special?
Number one, the history of it…who built it. Also, its association with the company. This kind of car is fairly rare on the East Coast. It was more of a West Coast heavy modification deal.

What is your most memorable driving experience?
The farthest I ever drove it was out to Louisville, Kentucky to a show and it’s a fun car to drive down the highway cause obviously it catches everyone’s eye.

What was the first car you owned?
A ‘32 Ford I bought. Took my drivers test in it and everything. It's still sitting in my garage. I don't get rid of nothing.

What’s currently in your CD player?
You couldn't hear anything because it's so noisy. I got it on, but I don't pay much attention to the radio.

And your first ticket? What was it for?
I got a ticket for no front license plate. A policeman pulled me over and said, "Where's your front license plate?" It's under the front seat. And I said, "Tell me where am I supposed to put it?" There's not an area where you could put a license plate on the front on that car. Honestly, you'll never get them to admit to it, but I think he said, "I'm going to pull him over so I can take a look at the car."

Check Out My Stats:
Engine: V6 Buick
Performance: Halibrand quick change axle, 5-in dropped Super Bell tubular front axle, flex-steering cable, Chrysler telescopic steering column, cricket rack-and-pinion, TH400 transmission
Exterior: ‘34 Ford commercial lights, Halibrand wheels.
SUPER BELL COUPE (3).jpg
 
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