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Chopped Magna-roofed 1954 Ford Customline

By Graham Smith | Photos: Cristian Brunelli, 07 Apr 2018 Features

ford customline 1896 nw

1954 Ford Customline meets Mitsubishi Magna

At just 18, Jake Langdon floored the custom fraternity with this amazing Magna-roofed Customline

This article on Jake's '54 Customline was originally published in the July 2003 issue of Street Machine

FOR 20 years Mitsubishi has tried and failed miserably to make the Magna cool, but it took Jake Langdon and his father Don just two to turn the boringly conservative family car into one of the coolest rides in the country. Mind you, to do it they had to throw away most of the Mitsubishi and then graft the good bits that were left onto a Ford.

Don Langdon’s been a hot rodder for years and has a shed full of neat rods at home in Hobart, and he and Jake had plans to build a tidy daily driver when they headed out of town with trailer in tow to have a look at an Aussie-built ’54 four-door Cusso.

Ford Customline rearThis ultra-smooth boot lid is a blend of Magna and original Customline. Pretty damned cool!

What they found was a rusty wreck that had been pulled apart in preparation for a resto, but the price was right and it was soon hauled up on the trailer and on its way back to Don’s panel shop back in Hobart. Then Jake said he’d like something different …

“Jake first wanted to build something like a ’32 roadster, but I suggested he should get a four-door sedan of some sort so he could cart his mates around,” Don recalls. “We bought the Cusso, but then it was Jake’s idea to come up with something different.”

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Ford Customline sideJake first floated the idea of updating the Cusso with a different roof and that kick-started the project. By coincidence there was a Magna in the panel shop, and when they ran the tape over the roof it looked as if it was made to measure. Some photos of the Cusso and a Magna were then cut and pasted and almost immediately they knew it would.

The graft turned out to be a relatively straightforward affair: the standard Magna roof and pillars fitted with only minimal modification, although they now sit some 50mm lower than they once did on the Magna, giving a lower and laid-back look. The windscreen is a cut-down Magna piece, which astonishingly fitted the Customline lower screen flange almost perfectly, while the rear window and rear parcel shelf are as stock as rocks.

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Ford CustomlineLower than a snake’s belly; flash as a rat with a good tooth; sleek as a cat

To create the hardtop Don and Jake had to convert the old four-door Cusso into a two-door, but a key to the move was to find glass that would match the Magna roof profile. That came in the form of door glass from a Hyundai coupe which was almost perfect.

With the door glass in hand they knew they had to extend the Cusso doors by 200mm to match the glass, and that was done by splicing two stock Cusso doors to make one long door. New centre pillars were fabricated and reinforced, and the rear door openings were filled and smoothed.

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“We made a cardboard template of the Magna roof line and then went around until we found a long curved glass that fitted the gap,” Don explained. “The Hyundai glass fitted really well, and we were able to use the Hyundai window regulators as well.”

Ford Customline rearOut back Don retained the forward section of the Magna boot lid with its hinges, so it blended with the Magna rear window and parcel shelf, and grafted the rear section of the Cusso’s boot lid to it to create a seamless blend of new and old. Not content with that fine touch, he finished off the rear by pulling the rear bumper in tight to the body and fitting late-model Corvette tail-lights.

Up front the stock Cusso bonnet didn’t work with its pronounced bulge so he pancaked it, taking out some 60mm from the centre bulge, to get the lower line that flowed with the line of the new roof. He then Frenched the headlights and smoothed the Cusso grille by dumping the centre spinner and replacing it with a single full-width chromed bar. The front bar was smoothed and pulled in tight to the body.

“It looked horrible until we pancaked the bonnet,” said Don. “That was probably the biggest job on the car because we had to do some major surgery to mate it to the firewall.”

Ford Customline engine bayDon did the panel work himself, but when he needed to complete the Cusso’s cool look he handed it over to his painters who sprayed it with two-pack Spies Hecker Pistachio green gold.

Inside they grafted on a Magna dash, complete with its instruments, centre console, steering column, air-con and seats. It’s been retrimmed in Macadamia Nut leather and grey carpets, and Jake has added a sharp Autotechnica steering wheel. The shifter is also Magna, but it’s been adapted to operate on the C10.

An HX Holden front chassis was grafted underneath, with drop spindles and Air Ride airbags and Pedders gas shocks fitted to the front-end. Under the rear is a triangulated four-bar set-up on a nine-inch also with Air Ride airbags and Pedders gas shocks.

Power comes from a stock late 5.0-litre Windsor running straight gas and driving through a C10 auto running a shift kit and standard converter and the whole lot rides on cool 17-inch Auscar alloys.

Ford Customline interior“Later on we plan to play with the heads and cam but at this stage that’s the way we’re going to leave it,” Don says.

The whole project took about four years, but became serious over the last couple. It was finished the day before they left to drive up to the Geelong Nats over Easter.

A measure of the success of the Langdons’ work was the tinware they took home to Tassie. Best Custom kicked off the run of trophies Jake was called on to collect, followed by a Top 10 award, but the best was the trophy handed out by Boyd Coddington as one of his six favourite cars at the Nats.

It had fooled everyone at the Nats, too. Only an unidentified man from Mitsubishi guessed what they’d pulled off, and he wandered off muttering to himself about why the hot shots from headquarters couldn’t do something similar.

Learn the lingo:

  • Roof Chop – lowering the roof by removing a section from the front and rear pillars
  • Sectioning – reducing the height of the body by cutting a section out of the body sides
  • Pancaking the hood – reshaping the bonnet by cutting a section and lowering the top surface to give it a smoother line
  • Rolling the pans – rolling the front and rear lower panels back under the body to smooth them off rather than leave them sharply cut off
  • Frenching the headlights – setting the headlights back into the guards so they are flush mounted with the body work
  • Smoothing – generally removing badges or other bits of body trim and filling the mounting holes so the final body finish is smooth
  • Channelling – channelling the body is where channels are cut into the floorpan so the body can be lowered over the chassis on a car that has a separate chassis
  • Suicide doors – remounting the doors so they hinge from the rear instead of the front

JAKE LANGDON
1954 FORD CUSTOMLINE

Featured: July 2003

Paint Spies Hecker Pistachio

TIN
Body Two-door hardtop custom, Magna roof and glass, extended Cusso doors, pancaked bonnet, Frenched headlights, smoothed grille and bumpers

ENGINE
Type Stock 5.0-litre Windsor
Fuel Straight LPG
Ignition Stock
Exhaust Dual

DRIVE
Gearbox C10 three-speed auto
Diff Nine-inch, 2.75:1
Brakes Disc (f), drum (r)
Suspension Air Ride airbags and Pedders gas shocks; HX Holden front with dropped spindles; triangulated four-bar rear

PLUSH
Seats Magna
Dials Magna
Steering wheel Autotechnica
Trim Macadamia Nut leather, light grey carpets
Audio Pioneer head unit and stacker
Air-con Magna

ROLL
Rims Auscar alloy, 17x6 (f), 17x8 (r)
Rubber Dunlop