This 1937 Ford Is a High School Hauler
Alec Harrell-Carlson is not your average 17 year old. When the average 17-year-old guy wants to look cool in the high school parking lot, he borrows Dad’s new 3-series. Alec, on the other hand, spent years meticulously restoring a 1937 Ford Sedan for the same purpose. In short, Alec gets it.
It really shouldn’t be a surprise, however, as his family’s been involved with Southern California hot rodding since its early days, and his grandfather owned the famous “Winged Express” modified dragster in the mid-‘60s. Alec himself keeps that automotive family legacy alive, and it extends far beyond just his Ford. He restores vintage radios in his spare time, works as a mechanic’s assistant at an aircraft museum, and gives tours of the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo, California. His technical passion certainly shows through in his ’37.
This Ford is one of the cleanest near-stock ‘37s in SoCal, one of a few not to fall into the clutches of hot rodders and customizers over the decades. Alec has kept the car almost entirely factory fresh, and the modifications he has made only help this car’s period cool. A hydraulic conversion for the old cable braking system was almost a requirement for a car of this age, and the two-inch front drop springs give it a perfect stance, neither too high nor too aggressive. Meanwhile, out back, the original Ford mufflers have been replaced with vintage Smithy glass packs, giving the throaty cackle of the flathead V8 a little extra bite. Meanwhile, the interior is nearly all original, with the upholstery in particular still standing after 76 years. All in all, it’s a terrific attention-getter.
There’s something incredible about driving a flathead Ford, and this particular car demonstrates it perfectly. It’s not a fast car—to be honest, it’s anything but. It’s not particularly luxurious, or refined, or comfortable. It doesn’t blow your mind through the corners, and driving it in fast traffic can be straight-up terrifying. With all that said, it’s still one of my all-time favorite drives, for the simple reason that driving an early V8 Ford reminds me (perhaps more than any other car) that I am piloting a living, breathing machine. Everything I see, everything I touch, and everything I hear has texture. It’s an supremely tactile experience that newer, more refined cars seem to hide from their drivers. There’s an absolute symphony of mechanical noise every time I pull away from a stoplight or round a corner. The engine itself crackles and growls as it climbs the stubby rev range. Not violently—just enough to remind me it’s there. The transmission whirrs softly as the worn synchro slides into second. The seat springs groan in protest as I take a corner a little too hard, and the giant Bakelite wheel shudders to let me know I’m taking things too seriously.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, really. There are ten thousand little sounds, smells, and tactile sensations that accompany this car on a drive. I would expect it to get annoying, but it never does. It just deepens the connection between the machine driven by oil and gears and pistons; and the one driven by blood, nerves, and the occasional ham sandwich.
If the idea of all these little noises and feelings doesn’t appeal to you, fine. There are plenty of cars out there for you, and almost all of them make better day-to-day commuters than the ’37 Ford from a purely pragmatic perspective. But for some of us, there’s no substitute.
Photography by Sean Lorentzen