The story of “Bernadine”, a 1929 Ford Model A hot rod, started in 1957 with Rick’s father Chuck and his uncle Bud. They started a race team running a 1936 Pontiac at the local oval track in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It seemed racing was in the brothers’ blood, unfortunately reality set in and after a couple seasons of racing they realized the cost of maintaining and repairing a racecar was just too much. They threw in the towel after one last brush with the retaining wall. This would not be the end of their racecar.
Chuck and Bud came up with a plan to rebuild the Pontiac into a hot rod, which would eventually become “Bernadine”. They rolled the car into the garage and stripped it down to the chassis. With the body removed they set out to narrow and shorten the chassis. The stiffened chassis was now ready for a body. The brothers took a 1929 Ford Model A coupe and set about turning it into a roadster by removing the roof. The creativity didn’t stop there, with an auto graveyard behind the body shop they set out to make a car they could truly call their own. There were door handles from a 1947 Kaiser Fraiser, door push buttons from a 1947 Lincoln, and hubcaps from a 1956 Oldsmobile. They even used fenders from a Harley-Davidson for the front fenders on Bernadine. Bernadine was finished off with the flathead V6 that had Chuck had originally built from scratch for the Pontiac racecar.
The car was finished and the brothers decided to take Bernadine to the first ever hot rod show at the Fort Wayne Memorial Coliseum in May 1958. Chuck had a reputation for building race motors that were top notch. The brothers ended up selling the flathead motor out of Bernadine when they were made an offer they couldn’t refuse. Chuck was happy to sell the motor, as he had big plans to build a masterpiece V8 for the hot rod.
Back in the garage at home, progress was slow, but Rick remembers helping his dad build the Pontiac V8 for Bernadine. He would hand his dad wrenches and look on as the motor slowly came together. Chuck was putting all the knowledge he had acquired during his racing days to use with this motor. Chuck was a big fan of Offenhauser performance parts and they were used extensively for the build. After all this was his masterpiece.
“I can still see him applying the grit and grinding the valves by hand, twirling that wooden suction cup tool and smelling the lubricant. I remember how excited he became every time a new part for the engine arrived. He was very patient – and he would explain everything to me in detail, but unfortunately, I was much too young to be able to drink it all in.”
When Chuck passed away Rick inherited the project. He wanted to finish the project to memorialize his father. With the help of the build diary that his father had kept from the original build, Rick set about restoring Bernadine to her former glory with the help of Artisans Rods and Classics in Fort Wayne, who completed the restoration work and Marcus and Justin Marquart finished off the interior and the custom top. He even found a true old school craftsman, Jim Studinsky, to pinstripe Bernadine.
Rick and Bernadine have won a few awards already. With a “Best of Show – Hot Rod” at the inaugural Maryknoll auto show in Ossining, New York and the Don Hall’s Guest House Choice Award at the Muddy River Run in Fort Wayne, Indiana out of 436 cars. You can also catch Rick at his local cruise nights.