PONTIAC — As a youngster growing up in Peru, Jeff Bertrand would relish the hot rod magazines his older brothers Jim Jr. and Joe would bring home for him until, when he was old enough to have a paper route, he saved the money to his own.
In those pages, he spied and fell in love with a car, a 1946 Ford sedan coupe, being made famous by auto-rebuilder and racer “Fat Jack” Robinson out in California. He dreamed of owning such a car, and that dream came true in 1992.
Oddly enough, that year he found that make and model — so named by the company because it’s a sporty two-door coupe generally made for businessmen but with a rear seat added to make it more family-friendly — for sale in the “Thrifty Nickel” publication posted by a man in East Peoria. At the time, it was driveable but needed a lot of work: the interior and motor that Bertrand — a retired Caterpillar tool maker taught by his father, Jim, and brothers to fix his own vehicles — was able to do himself. The body work was helped along by Craig Lotshaw, of Streator.
The project overall took several years, but it wasn’t long before Bertrand was able to take it from city to city for cruise nights and shows. When it was finally finished with its paint job in 1996, it almost immediately started winning honors around the Midwest, including a national award at a Goodguys Rod and Custom Association event at the Chicagoland Speedway. It also was featured on the cover of nationally renowned Cruisin’ Style magazine published in Florida
Although Bertrand has taken good care of the show-stopper, he, his wife, Becky, and their kids are not afraid to take it out on sunny days to run errands and, as expected, it shows a touch of wear. Still, it is still every bit the dream machine he fell for as a boy.
“A lot of people treat this sport differently and trailer their car everywhere,” said Bertrand, who is now focused full-time on his own custom hot rod parts business. “We drive our car everywhere, and that’s one of the things I take pride in. I’m not afraid to drive it to the store or to the gas station, wherever it has to go. We’re very proud of it.”