When you attend an event like the Detroit Autorama your senses can get a bit overwhelmed by all the sights, sounds, and smells. As a car owner that means that if you want to get anyone’s attention, you have to do something to make your car stand out. While Tom and Diana Bauld have no real interest in grabbing headlines or a bunch of attention for their car they do enjoy a good conversation and a chance to share their knowledge and experience. That knowledge and experience encompass over sixty years of history that culminates in the beautiful project you see here.
Tom and Diane’s 1940 Ford Deluxe Opera Coup has several things that make it stand out. One of the most defining features is the color. Tom shared that, “the best part of me is Irish. My favorite grandmother, Mary Conway, was from Ireland and that makes me three-quarter Irish.” Mary Conway was a first-generation Irish immigrant to the United States. The amount of adversity she and her family experienced during assimilation is a testament to this family’s resilience and perseverance.
Both Tom and Diana are proud of that heritage. In fact, not only is Tom proud of the color of the car but he and Diana also sport their Celtic green clothing when participating in shows around their hometown of Milan Michigan. Whether they are rocking a Celtic Green hat or a t-shirt you would be hard-pressed to catch them without something that represents their heritage.
Tom originally purchased the car in 1958 when he was only fifteen years old. He paid one hundred and twenty-five dollars for the car at that time. Since then he has held onto it and it has provided a lifetime of adventures including the time when he and his wife Diana were caught making out in the car by local police. “He was just doing his job and we got shushed away,” both Tom and Diana said with huge smiles.
Tom purchased the car about six months prior to meeting his wife. In the months that followed they started a relationship that would span decades. “She was very shy and very much a lady. That’s one of the things that made we want to be with her. She is very smart, level headed, and so artistic,” Tom explained with a twinkle in his eye. After the couple courted and eventually married Tom’s work as a biomedical engineer meant it was time for the couple to move out of state.
They moved from Pennsylvania to the great state of Michigan. Unfortunately, that meant the car had to go into storage, as they did not have a garage in their new home. After about a year the couple purchased their first home and they made sure it had a garage. The car was moved in and completely disassembled for a future restoration. Eventually, their son had become involved in the Boy Scouts and that led to the car being less of a priority as the family-focused on participating in the Boy Scouts and moved a couple of additional times. Over the years Tom wrestled with the question of whether the car should be an original restoration or be a hot rod.
Fast forward to 2010 and the decision that it should be a street rod was made. The old Ford’s original body was acid dipped to remove all of the old paint, rust, and any remaining rubber or other debris from the shell. Then Dick Noonan of Noonan Racing completed the actual build of the car. Features of the build include one-inch square tubing supporting the various body panels; aircraft grade tubing and fittings for the air conditioning, and full foam insulation being used to keep road noise at a minimum.
Of course, all of that insulation does little to quiet the Chevy small block under the hood, which is just the way that Tom prefers it. ”I like it loud that’s how people know we’re coming,” he said with a smile. The frame was modified to allow for the inclusion of a Heidt’s front end with a rack and pinion steering setup. Disk brakes at all four corners were also added. In the rear, the single cross body spring was swapped in favor of a two parallel spring setup.
An additional feature of note includes the use of rear folding jump seats from a 1995 Ford Ranger to transform the business coupe into an opera coupe. Quite a bit of fabrication was needed to make this modification and it is something that Tom is quite proud of. Additionally, Tom made the decision to remove the rear window vents, rain channels, and the separator for the windshield in favor of a more streamlined appearance.
The previously mentioned exterior paint scheme utilizes Synergy Green from a 2010 Chevy Camaro. Tom admits that he saw a car with that paint color on an expressway back in 2011. He then stopped by three Chevy dealerships in order to get the correct paint code for his project. What can we say? Persistence pays in this game.
Diana reupholstered the interior in the 1970’s with black and white Naugahyde. However, today the interior got the full treatment from Creative Classics in Michigan. We would agree with Tom that it is quite impressive. From the digital blue gauges to the percent based fuel level indicator this ride has got a lot of class and personalization. That personalization includes the Celtic Cruiser nameplate on the passenger side dash. It’s all about the details right?
“I hope people walk away from it with the idea that this car is unique. The body of the car has been modified in ways that I haven’t seen other cars done before. I wanted to do everything to just smooth it out. As an example, I love the skirts.
Not many cars have that and I really think that it just sets it off. For years I couldn’t decide if I wanted it to be original or if I wanted it to make it a street rod. I just love it and I hope other people love it too.”
The total project took approximately two thousand hours to complete and was finally finished in October of 2015. Since then the couple has participated in many shows. They have accumulated awards including a second place finish in the Semi-Modified Hot Rod Coupe class at the 2016 Detroit Autorama. Tom is especially proud of that win as there were over one thousand other cars at that show. To have his project singled out was a real treat. In fact, the couple almost left the show early that year because they didn’t think they would win anything. We sure are glad they stuck around because this is one car worth taking a look at.
Most of us have that one car we wish we had held onto. Sometimes it got away because of finances or altered priorities. Maybe it needed more work than we thought we could realistically do or have done. In any case Tom and Diana made the hard choice to keep this ride because they love it. “I don’t have a collection. This is it. Some people have thirty or forty cars. I just have one eye catcher.
When I park it somewhere I always have people who stop and want to talk about how it makes them feel. One guy even told me once that when he saw it the car gave him goosebumps!” Tom said. It’s the kind of reaction that all of us hope to get at one time or another. “Sometimes when we’re doing things like the Woodward Dream Cruise there will be people that come up to us and just say that they want to touch it. It’s almost like they don’t think that it’s real. While I love that they get that kind of feeling from it I always discourage touching,” Tom said with another smile.
One of the most amazing things about the Detroit Autorama is the ability for anyone to get close to some amazing vehicles we may otherwise never get access to.
Possibly even more amazing is the chance to talk with the people that create these amazing machines. Whether you are talking to a designer, builder, or owner everyone has a story to tell. The Celtic Cruiser tells a story of one couple’s persistence to create a dream car.