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February 1, 2014

Red hot rod ‘dream come true’

NORMAN — Norman resident Vincent Letta bought a perfectly good car and then changed everything in it except the fiberglass body.

In part this was because he has the skills to do most of the work himself. Letta is a journeyman toolmaker. He was one of the hands-on guys who made Oklahoma’s GM assembly plant run like a finely-tuned machine.

“I bought the car over four years ago,” Letta said. “Since then I’ve replaced just about everything in the car.”

The vehicle is a 1940 Ford Deluxe convertible coupe replica. He purchased it from an elderly Oklahoma City gentleman who broke his hip and could no longer operate the car’s standard transmission.

Letta yanked the six cylinder engine and replaced it with a fuel injected Ford 302 cubic inch motor. Along with buddy Tom Wenzel they shoe-horned the larger power plant into the engine compartment, making it fit and then modifying some parts around it.

“We bought the replacement engine and transmission from a guy with a totaled 1999 Ford Explorer,” Letta said. “We had to re-do the drive shaft and motor mounts.”

The chassis came from a 1992 Ford Ranger. Brakes, shocks, springs and exhaust system are new.

“It has brand new wiring and tail lights,” Letta said. “Other than the interior and paint, I’ve done all the work myself.”

The car is a hot rod and should be named something like Maybelline or Miss Clawdy. Letta’s four adult children, who grew up in Norman and now live all around the country, have encouraged him to christen the jalopy, but so far he hasn’t. Any car that won the 2013 Cleveland County Fair Car Show’s People’s Choice award like this one did deserves to have a moniker. Inside the toolmaker’s immaculate home is an artist-signed painting of the car that a friend gave him titled “Letta’s Hot Rod,” so possibly it should be known simply as L.H.R.

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