Big Al's Featured Car's
Denny's Sapphire
Owned by Dennis Flemming
Story by John Carollo & Pictures by Buddy Scoville

History Converges as ’54 Ford Tells Many Stories
The 1950s were a heady time for Detroit. 1949 started it with the release of the first overhead valve V8. Back then, an average new car would have less than 200 cubic inches under its shiny new hood. For most of the 50s, it was all about the engines and about the time the ‘50s ended, that figure would double for some cars. Most companies played a wait and see game before they would commit to the all-new design. When it became apparent the new, OHV motor was the real deal, most companies played a game of ‘we need to catch up but let’s make it better’ with their V8s. The big two of the day, Chevy and Ford wouldn’t bring out their V8s until 1955 and 1954 respectively. And that’s where

Dennis Fleming, of Monaca, PA and his tasty ’54 Ford Skyliner rolls into the picture.
When Ford wanted to make a big splash introducing their new V8 in 1954, they went back to the day when the previous motor was debuted. And looking up that date shows just how long it ruled the roost. In 1932, Henry Ford released his new V8, now known as a Ford Flathead. To make that big splash, a number of four-piece, clear plastic hood assemblies were made so those wandering Ford showrooms could see the new V8 without anyone having to disturb the also new, sleek lines of what would be the classic Deuce. It was a marketing gimmick that took the country by storm despite being in the middle of the Great Depression.
The folks at Ford remembered that campaign when they introduced the new Y Block Ford engine 22 years later and while a complete plastic hood would be a bit too much, they did make 300 hoods with a plexi ‘window’ that basically let the shopper see the air cleaner and its new Y Block V8 logo. The dealers were instructed to replace the hoods with the usual ones when they sold the car and crush the window hoods when the promotion ended. With self-destruct orders, not many of those hoods are still around. But Dennis Fleming has one. It’s on his ’54, which he calls Sapphire because of the Cadet Blue paint. And while it’s kinda cool to know the back story on this ’54, there is a lot more to see and enjoy on his ride than a porthole in the hood.  
Dennis has always been a gearhead, working in a transmission shop at age 14. He’s built close to a dozen cars, doing just about all the work himself. Uncles Mike and Fred were into the scene big time and he learned from them, too. About the time Dennis had to go off to Viet Nam, he already had a Skyliner his father bought him for $50. But that ride ended up having to go to the scrap yard. The Ford’s lines, advertised when new as “More style-leader beauty,” stayed with him and in 1986, Dennis found Sapphire in a magazine and went to Illinois to bring her home. “The car was decent except both rear quarters were bad,” says Dennis. It took five years and $14,000 in 1986 dollars for a ground up restoration. He must have done a great job because this car was retired undefeated in car shows. It even got a first place at its first show when the hood was still in primer.
These days, it’s hard to believe that resto is over 20 years old. The first thing anyone sees on a car is usually the paint and even after all these years, Dennis’s lacquer paint (yes, he did it himself) is still looking mighty fine. Dennis did the bodywork, too and replaced those bad quarter-panels as well as both rockers with NOS pieces he tracked down. The aforementioned Cadet Blue is from DuPont and looks great with the glass top and the period chrome trim Ford originally snapped on the car. For ’54 Ford fans, this rare model is known as ‘Triple Glass’ for the sun roof, hood and Ford’s neat trick of the day, the see thru speedometer.
Ford, as well as other builders, was pushing the ‘Glamorous’ type of cars loaded to the window rails with options. Sapphire has a remote mirror, power windows, seats, steering and brakes. A dealer installed ‘Coronado Kit’ is the faux continental kit befitting the era and shouts ‘loaded.’ In fact, the only accessories NOT on this car are air conditioning and the accessory hood bird and that was at the plating shop when we shot the car.
Underneath, the original frame was blasted and dipped in black epoxy paint and that turned out to be a good move with the car being driven two to three times a week. Ford touted this car as their first with a ball joint suspension and the 115.5 inch wheelbase rides like a pillow. Ford used leaf springs on the rear and coils up front for this generation as they would through the ‘50s. The first hint that this classic is a little bit better than when it was built comes in the rear end gears that now read 3:54. A set of Monroe shocks is another upgrade. For stopping power, the era had little more than the standard drum brakes used then; even if they were power. The chassis had all its parts stripped, rebuilt and refinished and now sports new, Diamond Back 215/75/15 radial tires. Ask Dennis and he will tell you, “The underside of this car looks as good as the top side!”
Back then, the motor was the star and today that Y block V8 is still shining, enjoying a renewed popularity with traditional hot rodders. Ford introduced the all-new engine with its 239 cubic inches and 130 horsepower. Ads of the era said, “More V8 power” and it delivered 20 more horses than the last Flathead it replaced. The motor got its name from shape of the block when viewed head on. It had longer block sides with skirts going down past the centerline of the crankshaft and when seen with the cylinders protruding outward at opposing angles, resembled the letter Y. Still using Flathead logic, it was fueled via a Holley two barrel carb. The engine was Ford and Mercury’s V8 through the 50’s, growing in size to 256, 272, 292 and ending up at 312 inches.
Dennis opted to go .030 over on the bore and .0.10 under on the crankshaft on his and added roller assemblies in the heads and mushroom lifters when he rebuilt the motor. The oil bath air cleaner is still there as are the stock valve covers and oil pan. Station Auto Parts did the machine work and Dennis the assembly. A stock, Fordomatic three speed automatic transmission, air cooled, was rebuilt by Dennis and popped back in.
Inside the ‘Triple Glass’ Ford, blue and white naugahyde was used to recover the original power seats; even matching the original stitching patterns. Dale Fuller did the work. Dennis did the wiring, using Rhode Island Wiring parts and even retained the eight tube, AM radio. It doesn’t get used much as Dennis prefers to listen to the factory style exhaust. The rest of the interior was restored to original.
When asked what his plans are for Sapphire, Dennis will say, “Drive it till I die.” By the looks of the job he did on this showroom authentic model, it’s clear to see he isn’t letting this one get away.