“There’s nothing cooler,” Aaron Charles said, “than 30s and 40s Fords that are basically how they were in the 40s, when guys came home from the war and started customizing stuff. I think that’s something that’s really special.”
So Aaron’s using old school hot rodding techniques on his 1946 Ford, keeping and improving the original technology and design.
Aaron works at Paul’s Rods and Restos in Deer Park, New York, so he sees vintage cars that have been hot rodded nearly every day. “A lot of guys get these things and chop them up. I’ve been in some of them and thought ‘Wow, it doesn’t really drive that much better than it did stock.’”
That’s why Aaron’s taking a more classic approach with his Ford, which he’s had for a little over 3 years. He found it on Craig’s List, and buying it was an easy decision for Aaron. “I took it for a test drive,” he told me, “gave it a quick once over and said ‘I’ll take it.’”
Aaron started driving the ‘46 right away. At that time, it was essentially stock. It still had the original Flathead V8, 6-volt electrical system, three-on-the-tree manual transmission, and banjo rear end.
The car had been repainted with a pretty standard black paint job. The interior had been re-done, but it also was very much like it would have been in 1946. “It was pretty much the most stock car I’ve ever owned,” Aaron said.
He drove it like that for almost 2 years. Some generator problems provided the incentive for Aaron to convert to a 12 volt system, along with some other updates like an alternator and a Stromberg distributor.
Last year Aaron moved into a new house – one with a big enough garage to really get serious about working on the Ford. His first project that winter was “a quick and easy transmission swap.” Well… that’s what it was supposed to be.
“It snowballed,” he said. “The wiring got worked on. I ended up taking the entire rear end out. The flywheel didn’t look too good, so I ended up taking the engine out so I could take the oil pan off to access the flywheel. That turned into a complete engine redo.”
I asked Aaron if rebuilding a vintage Flathead presented any challenges. “It’s like anything else,” he replied. “If you never worked on one, it can be a little confusing at first. A lot of things are different. But it’s just an engine. When you get down to it, it’s pretty simple. I’ve been working on my cars my whole life so it wasn’t a challenge for me.”
The Flathead already had 49-53 style valves. Aaron added a new intake manifold and dual Stromberg carbs. He freshened up, re-sealed, and repainted (it looks so good he hasn’t even put the hood back on yet) the entire engine, and it’s been running great ever since. The 74-year-old engine uses 93 octane gas, no additives needed. Aaron turns the key and it starts right up.
“She gets up and goes,” Aaron told me. “I’ve had her up to 90 mph. But you get it up to about 90 and you back off a little bit because you got that far without breaking anything and you don’t want to push it.”
He also completed that quick and easy transmission swap. Aaron traded with a friend, swapping an old Hemi for a rebuilt 1939 floor shift transmission.
Aaron’s Ford still has the factory suspension with single transverse leaf springs front and rear, a solid front axle, and the venerable Ford banjo rear end. And Aaron doesn’t plan on making any significant changes. The basic components will stay the same, but sometime in the future he does plan on lowering the Ford a bit with new shackles and springs on the rear, and a reverse-eye spring and drop axle in the front.
“It’s probably antiquated by today’s standards,” he said, “but it handles pretty well. I don’t have any problems with it. I’m probably going to keep it that way.”
There are manual drum brakes all around, activated by a single master cylinder. Aaron reports they work just fine. The Ford stops straight and never chatters.
As you can probably guess, the Ford has manual steering. And as you can also probably guess, Aaron’s OK with that. “It’s not too bad,” he said. “After a while you don’t even notice it.”
The stock Ford steel wheels have been media blasted and epoxied black. Aaron’s capped them off with brand new white walls. “There’s nothing like shiny new white walls that haven’t hit a curb,” he told me. “But it’s a labor of love keeping the white walls clean.”
He hasn’t changed the interior yet, except for the conversion to the floor shifter and installing some Dynamat insulation. I was surprised to find out that the dashboard on a 1946 Ford included an oil pressure gauge, temperature gauge, and clock in addition to the speedometer, which Aaron says are all working and are very accurate.
The Ford used to have a heater, which unfortunately was located right in the middle of the front seat area, so it had to come out for the floor shift transmission. But that doesn’t stop Aaron from driving his Ford in the New York winters.
And as far as air conditioning is concerned, Aaron said, “You open the vent windows. You open the cowl. You drive faster.”
In addition to lowering the suspension, his future plans for the Ford include freshening up the paint and body work, a dual master cylinder for the brakes, and, depending on the weather this winter, perhaps an aftermarket heater.
With his old school approach, Aaron doesn’t see the need to do a lot of updating on his Ford. “I’m very, very traditional when it comes to that,” he said. “It’s going to always stay a Flathead car. It’s always going to have a banjo rear. It’s always going to have the single spring in the front and rear. I actually enjoy learning about the old stuff. How it works. Why it was designed the way it was. Guys much smarter than me designed the car, and it’s worked well for a pretty long time.”
Aaron also feels it’s important to keep the old ways included in our sport.
“I think it’s kind of cool to keep that stuff alive – to try and preserve the history of hot rodding and traditional hot rods. My grandfather was into it. Now I want to pass it down to someone else.”
One of the people he’s already passing those traditions down to is his four-year-old daughter Morgan. Aaron says she “absolutely loves” the Ford. She and Aaron are already saving up for her first car.
But he’s not just passing down traditions. Aaron’s also leading by example. He founded the Generators car club in 2019. The club is based around pre ’58 traditional rods and customs. All members drive what they build – and Aaron has his ‘46 out on the road all the time.
“Everything mechanically has either been rebuilt, replaced or resealed, and I’ve been driving the hell out of it ever since. I drive it almost every day. They were daily drivers in 1946. That’s what they were meant for. I’ve been super happy with it.”
There’s nothing cooler than that.
Photos courtesy of Aaron Charles
Follow Aaron on Instagram via @flathead_deluxe
Click here to see more photos of Aaron’s ’46