Text and Images by John Gunnell, Additional Specs and Information by Joe Babiasz.
Highland Park, Illinois is the site of the Ben Rose Home, from which Matthew Broderick “borrows” a 1961 Ferrari 250GT to joy ride in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Car buffs who’ve seen Bueller know that the exotic car gets home unscratched. However, it then accidentally rolls out of the garage in the ultra-modern steel-and-glass home that is cantilevered over a ravine. Good-bye Ferrari (actually, a modified MGB takes the plunge), and hello box office hit.
Highland Park is also a hit with classic car aficionados. On July 31, 2010, the Highland Park Historical Museum played host to the small but prestigious car show Auto Exotica: The Auto as Art X. Highland Park is in one of America’s wealthiest zip codes, filled with many custom homes, as well as many Ferraris. Many car collectors live in or near Highland Park. And that’s part of the reason that Auto Exotica: The Auto as Art X was a very special event.
Although the show is limited by the number of cars that fit into the tiny museum grounds, there was no limit on the quality of automobiles at Auto Exotica. The 2010 show featured such automotive delicacies as an unrestored 1929 Duesenberg with 33,000 original miles, a swoopy one-of-a-kind 1937 Peugeot 402 roadster, a one-off 1940 Cadillac 60S Executive Custom made for Larry Fisher of Fisher Body Company, and Larry Grobe’s customized 1946 “Voodoo Idol” Ford.
And Grobe’s car wasn’t just the “token kustom” at a ritzy classic car concours. As automotive historian Bill Siegfriedt wrote of the car in his show catalog, “Chopping and sectioning the body and creating hand-made panels combined to yield a strikingly original design that is beautifully executed.” Siegfriedt added, “Grobe’s craftsmanship rivals that of European coachbuilders.”
Completed around 2007 and upgraded slightly since then, the Voodoo Idol is a true “swoopy coupe” that qualifies as an old-school radical kustom. Grobe, who is well known by the name “Voodoo Larry,” started with a 1946 Ford that he got from a friend. He then transformed the rather mundane but solid old car into a tribute to legendary lead slinging Left Coast kustomizer Gene Winfield. The car’s wild “Slime Green” color was inspired by that used on Winfield's Jade Idol. So the Voodoo Idol became Larry’s personal rendition of Windfield’s art form. The paint was squirted on with the classic “Winfield fade.” You will notice that the green gets darker as it traces down the curvaceous body work.
The Voodoo Idol looks wild, until you see Larry’s other cars. Then, you realize that it’s really his version of sedate, clean-lined coachwork and fairly free of graphics or any unnecessary adornments like those adorning his Voodoo Psychosis 1932 Ford coupe and Voodoo Kreeper 1953 Chevy. The look of the Voodoo Idol brings back memories of the early days of lead sleds when pioneering kustomizers Sam and George Barris were selling Barris Kustom Grilles and building tinsel-free cars like the Four Foot Ford and Snooky.
Yes, Grobe wanted his car to be a nod to Winfield, but he also wanted to tip his hat to the Barris brothers, the Ayala brothers, Dean Jefferies and other early kustomizers. The 1946 Ford came to him from a friend named Ron Ek, who swapped it for some metal fabrication work. As soon as the car was his, Larry started in on the kustomizing project. He chopped the top 5-1/2 inches up front and 7-1/2 inches in the back. Eight inches was hacked out between the bumpers to shorten the body length and make it into a streamlined stretch-deck coupe in the Lincoln Zephyr/Delahaye vein. However, the rear window is the one the car left Dearborn with. The B-pillars were canted to help create a teardrop shape.
The Ford running boards, which worked against the smooth look Larry wanted to achieve, were surgically removed. After that operation, Larry sectioned the lower perimeter of the body 3-1/2 inches all around. He attempted to section the factory hood, but the result was a less than beautiful shape that Larry couldn’t tolerate. His answer to that dilemma was to scrounge up five pieces of metal and use them to sculpt his own creation, employing his own leg and knee as his sandbag to hammer metal over. The resulting custom-made hood is attached rather uniquely to the fenders and cowl with a hand-made hinge mechanism that lifts the panel slightly and shoves it forward for a peek into the engine bay.
In the front and rear, Larry added four inches to the width of the Ford so that it would accept the 1949 Cadillac bumpers that a friend donated to the project. Both of the bumpers were in rather sad shape until Larry got through welding them. When he had them looking right, he attached a set of overriders (bumper guards) from a “Darrin Dip” Kaiser and had the whole works chromed. The bumpers add to the Cadillac-style front appearance of the Idol. Larry mounted the shiny chrome-plated wheel covers directly to the wheel spindles, an old school 1950s trick that keeps them stationary while the tires and wheels turn. This makes the car seem like its standing still while the tires slide it along.
Hired Gun Paintwork did the lead work on the Voodoo Idol and squirted the car’s original (and recently redone) Jade Green finish. Though the grille could pass for a 1946-48 Cadillac or Lincoln Continental adornment, it actually came from a lowly 1947 Studebaker. Believe it or not, Larry bought the entire ensemble through an online auction for the princely sum of 25 bucks. After custom-fitting the brightwork to the Idol, he pounded out the rear fenders and streamlined them with a pair of 1941 Buick fender skirts that came complete with art deco-type factory ornamentation. A pair of 1949 Plymouth taillights were added for stoplight and blinking chores and to let other cars know that there’s an Idol ahead of them.
The Voodoo Idol was kept fairly “traditional” by using nothing newer than 1953 parts, with the exception of the underhood technicalities. A 1981 Camaro sub frame carries the rebuilt Chevy 305 small-block V-8, which has a Turbo 350 automatic bolted up behind it. The motor carries a Tri-Power carb arrangement and lots of finned and chromed accessories. Another not-strictly-traditional concession is the ART suspension that lowers the car for shows (and picture taking) and raises it up for road use. It is so close to the ground that Larry scraped one fender skirt on the driveway during the photo session. Ouch!
An aptly named trimmer known as Mr. Stitch built the entire interior from old-time fabric sample books combined with a dose of fabulous needle work. The seats were sectioned six inches to give them the right look in the much-altered Ford body. Forest Green and Pearl White Naugahyde vinyl were teamed for a tasty two-tone trim job. The tilt steering column is fitted with a vintage steering wheel and both share Pearl White finish, along with the gauge cluster, the passenger side telephone and the handles for the dual Appleton spotlights. The upper door panels, headliner, seat inserts and carpet foot pads are all done in Pearl White (pleated in some places), as is the piping on the seats and carpets.
Green pinstriping is used on the steering column and the old-fashioned style phone. The gear shift ball has a white and green pearl striped design. “Voodoo Idol” is lettered on the green finished dashboard in a darker green. A modern radio is mounted in the windshield header in front of the driver, and the rear seats carry custom chrome-plated radio speaker grilles.
The trunk is trimmed out with Forest Green inner fender, behind the seat and under deck panels that have Pearl White pleated inserts, and the trunk floor is covered with green carpeting. A bright metal telescoping support holds the trunk lid up, and the gas filler pipe inside the trunk is finished black with a bright metal cap. Eveything throughout the car is detailed to the nines. Even the license plate on the car is a 1954 Illinois tag, with white charaters on a dark green background. Dark green pinstriping (matching that on the nose of the Idol) decorates the center of the trunk lid.
One of the secrets to the Voodoo Idol’s awesome impact is that Larry Grobe, although he looks youthful, has been plying the kustomizing trade for a quarter of a century. He started building cars in his driveway when he was 18 years old. He became a staple at local cruise nights and car shows, and his first shop in Schaumburg, Illinois rode the old school wave to success. His new shop in Elk Grove Village, Illinois is more state of the art, but that doesn’t change the fact that Voodoo Larry puts his heart and soul into every build and modification he does. He’s certainly the Winfield, Barris or Dean Jefferies of today, and that means that he has achieved his dream.
Stock 1946 Ford
Number built – 467,536 units
Construction – Body-on-frame
Engine – 223 cubic-inch six cylinder, 239 cubic-inch V-8
Power/Torque – 90/180 (six-cylinder), 100/190 (V8)
Transmission – Three-speed manual
Suspension front and rear – Transverse spring
Steering – Worm & roller
Brakes – 12-inch drums, front and rear
Length/width/height – 197.8/73.4/66.15 inches
Wheelbase – 114 inches
Weight – 3,190 lbs.
0-60mph/quarter mile – 21.5 seconds/23 seconds at 63 mph (0-60 time from Mechanics IIlustrated, February 1946, quarter mile time est.)
Top speed – 84 mph (Mechanics Illustrated, February 1946)
MPG – 16-20 mpg est.
Price – MSRP $1,198 (Deluxe Two-Door Sedan); Today – $6,350-$13,800
Fuel for Thought
Production began in July 1945
Future Ford president Robert McNamara joined Ford Motor Company in 1946
239ci V-8 replaced the 221ci V-8
New interior colors
What to Pay
1946 Ford Deluxe Two-Door Sedan
MSRP – $1,198
Low – $6,350
Average – $7,200
High – $13,800
*Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Kustoms and Hot Rods magazines are sold.
Insurance cost is $154/year for a stock 1946 Ford valued at $7,200. For a modified vehicle, insurance cost is $250/year. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance, www.heacockclassic.com
The Nifty Fifties Fords; 1946-1959 Year by Year History by Ray Miller and Glen Embree
Hot Rod by Barry Gifford and David Perry
Ford Postwar Flathead V-8s 1946-1953 Photo Archive by James h. Moloney
Flathead Fever by M. Davidson
Refurbishing Manual for Early Ford V-8 Cars by MotorBooks
Door bottom patch panel - $195.00
Front door glass - $75.00
Water pump - $88.95
Steering wheel - $155.00
Tail lamp assembly - $34.75
Oil pump - $135.00
*Based on information from Mac’s Antique Auto Parts, www.macsautoparts.com.
1946 Plymouth Special Deluxe Two-Door Sedan
Number built – 245,581 calendar year production
0-60/quarter mile – 22.0 seconds/23.5 seconds at 62 mph (est.)
Top speed – 81 mph (est.)
Price – MSRP – $1,282; Today – $4,250-$8,450
1946 Chevrolet Fleetline Sedan
Number built – 65,433 units
0-60/quarter mile – 21.8 seconds/22.7 seconds at 63 mph (est.)
Top speed – 84 mph (est.)
Price – MSRP – $1,249; Today – $4,825-$11,050