Arts & Craftsmanship
The Mariani Bros.’ Moal-Built ’33 Ford
The Mariani Bros.’ ’33 Ford
Depending on how you look at it, while Henry Ford may have revolutionized the manner in which automobiles are produced, he may also have spearheaded the demise of its soul in the process. If you look back to the days just prior to the series production he “mass”terfully streamlined, the majority of luxury vehicles were built to order, thus, there was more of an artisan factor to suit the consumer’s taste, not production quotas.
Those were the days of coachbuilt works of art—when high-end motor cars were a consumer-driven collaboration between the main chassis manufacturer (the marque) and the handbuilt body makers (coachbuilders). That’s when the automobile really had a soul, as not only did the individual customer play a role in the vehicle’s creation, the highly
skilled craftsman who bodied the massive chassis with their distinctive sheetmetal designs exuded a passion evident in each and every one, something the average assemblyline worker was never required to possess. Coachbuilding was an art—it was a business (one that many would go under post–World War II if unable to transition to other avenues of commerce), but an art nonetheless … something that can never really be said about the modern mass produced.
But despite how the word may get thrown around and used in this day and age, has coachbuilding become a lost art? In downtown Oakland, right around the corner from The New Earl Scheib (can’t imagine what was wrong with the old one), the answer is a resounding “no.” Behind the sliding metal door of the nondescript Art Deco building at 937 East 12th Street is one of the few remaining craftsman to carry on the Art of the Carrosserie: Steve Moal of Moal Coachbuilders. Now, while Steve considers his manner of crafting bodies along the lines of the Italian Superleggera (lightweight, tubular-framed, alloy-skinned), his learned craft initially emigrated from France in the early 1900s with his grandfather, carriage maker and wheelwright William Moal
(who would later go on to building race car bodies), and through his father, George, whose body and fender repair business operated behind that very same sliding metal door in downtown Oakland. Still, whether it’s one of Moal Coachbuilders’ Roadchamp limitedproduction roadsters or a completely hand-fabbed one-off, call him a carrozzeria or a carrosserie—Steve Moal continues to do what he loves by building some of the most unique motor cars on the road today … even ones with small-block Chevys under their hand-hammered hoods, like the Mariani Bros.’ three-window coupe.
By definition, the Mariani ’33
Ford is not a coachbuilt car, so let’s get that out of the way and avoid any confusion. That said, the coupe does embody the one element that clearly identified early 20th century coachbuilt motor cars: the radiator cover, or its grille and insert as we refer to it. Ironically,
since the radiator was part of the vehicle’s chassis construction, the grille shells and screens were instituted on the manufacturer’s end (initially for protection), and as such, the bodies were built around them. With the coupe, the process was the exact opposition, yet the resulting track-style nose has Moal written all over it (well, not literally …). So too are the hand-formed aluminum hood with polished aluminum longitudinal vents and the chassis’ belly pan with visibly fastened rocker covers contouring the original Ford framerails that still perimeter the coupe’s foundation. And unlike many of Mark and Dennis Mariani’s cars (both race and street-driven) that bear a distinctive maroon color, Moal’s in-house painter, Darrell Schneider, did the coupe in PPG British Racing Green, while Rory Pentecost added the hand-painted beltline/accessory detailing (including the knockoffcapped and Excelsior-rubbered Stockton Wheel steelies).
As stated, there’s a Chevy smallblock beneath that handmade four-piece hood—but not just any ordinary SBC, rather, one based on a Dart aluminum block from their race car engine builder over in Stockton, Panella Racing. Hilborn injected and all dressed-up in Moal-built accessories, the 10.5:1 500-horse street motor is backed up by a Legend five-speed gearbox and a Halibrand V-8 quick-change (outfitted with Lincoln brakes to match the fronts). All of that has been nestled between the Ford’s stock
’rails that are now interconnected via tubular crossmembers, with torsionbar suspension front and rear.
Beneath the 3-1/2-inch chopped top, beige and oxblood-flavored
leather surface coverings courtesy Sid Chavers line the cockpit as well as a pair of Moal-finessed bucket seats, with German squareweave flooring to each side of the raised and leather-wrapped tunnel. Notice the underside of the roof insert, if you will, with its polished aluminum trim piece—if it hasn’t already forced you to do a double-take on the exterior portion (and you hadn’t already figured it out), look again: the insert’s flush-fit, gapped so tight and clean it’s nearly invisible from most viewing perspectives. And speaking of viewpoints, the coupe’s navigational amenities as seen from the driver seat consist of a custom three-spoked, wood-rimmed steering wheel, Roadchamp hanging pedal assembly, and a set of gauges built just for the occasion by Classic Instruments.