Our Passion: Checkered Past, A Rebuilt 1940 Ford Coupe

CAL Automotive Creations drives home triumphant

As a young boy, Ron Cizek never imagined that rebuilding the 1940 Ford Coupe sitting in his father’s garage would one day become a passion of his – and never did he imagine his newfound passion would result in winning the prestigious 50th Annual Ridler Award. The 1940 Ford, now rightfully named Checkered Past in honor of its history, was the start of a rewarding partnership for Cizek and CAL Automotive Creations.

A successful custom homebuilder, Cizek is very familiar with the building process. “I started out as a carpenter, trimming houses, and graduated from that by building a few houses,” he said. “I built homes exclusively for 10 years and expanded into commercial building in the ’80s.” Today, between spending time with his wife of 22 years, Deb, their four children and 11 grandchildren, Cizek still has a hand in home construction, land development, as well as building and property management. Even with all of his professional success, Cizek continued to feel the urge to fulfill his father’s dream of rebuilding their 1940 Ford. “I have always enjoyed being around hot rods and I’ve always wanted to build one,” he reminisces.

The story of Checkered Past starts with its original owner, Mike Dizona, a Midwest dirt track racer. In order to get his 1932 Ford Roadster to the track, Dizona would tow it with his trusty 1940 Ford Coupe. He had visions of transforming the car into a racer but when a family came along, the coupe was replaced with a more family friendly station wagon. Cizek’s father, Gordon, bought the car in 1957. A then 10-year-old Ron jumped at the chance to get his hands dirty and help his father rebuild the car. “I helped him rebuild the engine and did a lot of sanding…I got to do all the dirty work,” Cizek chuckled. “We worked on it for a couple of years together and then he decided to build a new home and the car went into the garage, where it remained for about fifty years.”

The 1940 Ford was then stored in a barn on a piece of property owned by Cizek before heading to the location that would define its future. “I thought it was time to finish it,” Cizek said. “So I rented this shop, now home to CAL Automotive Creations, about seven years ago and started working on it part time and on the weekends. During that time, I finished the chassis. I was looking for someone to do sheet metal and body work; through word of mouth, I was introduced to Andy Leach.”

Andy Leach, an Omaha native, earned his graphic and web design degree from Concordia University before taking his passion for cars and design talent to Chicago in 2003.  While in Chicago, he worked for a premier hot rod shop – Rad Rides by Troy. Missing his hometown, Leach moved back to Omaha in 2008 taking a job as a welder and operated his side business of building cars out of his garage called CAL Creations. Leach met Cizek through a friend of a friend, and between welding and being a full-time dad to his daughter, Madysen, he worked sparingly on the 1940 Ford. “I had an e-mail to Ron drafted and I was always too scared to send it,” said Leach. “It basically stated that I wanted to work full-time on his car. I worked up the courage to finally send it and he called me immediately…he told me it was the best idea he had ever heard. We met the next morning and I quit my job right after that.” With Cizek’s help, Leach formed CAL Automotive Creations – his first task: rebuilding Checkered Past from scratch. “It was never intended to be a Ridler car, it just snowballed into that,” Leach said.

Cizek always imagined Checkered Past being maroon, a color he admired. When it was time for body and paintwork, the car went to Charley Hutton, a man well known and respected in the custom car world. “All the colors needed to work together in the end,” said Leach. “Charley’s wife was putting up the Christmas tree and he liked the color of the berries, so he started mixing up the color and that was it.” The custom color was naturally named Checkered Past Red.

The brown/tan leather and suede custom interior keeps with the retro/modern theme of the car, as well as compliments the paint color and gold accents. The one-off billet aluminum wheels were styled to resemble vintage racing designs. Even the tiniest of details were thought out during the rebuild.  The car features custom gauges and many modern amenities, including GPS. The coupe is also adorned with several custom checkered flag emblems throughout. It’s all topped off with a flathead V-8 engine with electronic fuel injection and a GMC 4-71 supercharger, a shortened and re-contoured hood, and custom grille. “I wanted to put a flathead engine in it,” said Cizek. “We kind of souped it up and added power steering. It’s a classic design that we wanted to improve on and give a more modern look. The wheels are a take off of the old Halibrand wheels.”

Leach started working on Checkered Past in January 2010 and finished it March 6, 2013. “I knew we had a pretty strong car,” said Leach. “Our biggest obstacle was getting the car done and to Detroit Autorama on time. We didn’t sleep for three weeks; we finished the coupe, put it on the trailer and drove to Detroit.”

Detroit is the home of the annual Detroit Autorama, America’s Premier Custom Show Car Series. Entries for The Ridler Award, named for creative event planner Don Ridler, are judged on creativity, workmanship and engineering – the vehicle must also be making its first public showing. “Part of our plan was to secure future business; we thought it would be a good idea to build a show car, and since we only had the one car, that was it,” said Cizek. “We thought we would go to Detroit Autorama. They have two tiers of awards; they pick the Great 8 and from that list of finalists they choose The Ridler Award winner, which is kind of like the Super Bowl of hot rod awards. Our goal was to get a Great 8 Award; we thought that would be a good way to get our budding business going. We were fortunate to win the Great 8 and a couple days later they awarded us The Ridler Award.”

Ron and his wife happily accepted the award, along with the whole Checkered Past team. Along with a list of prizes, Cizek received a check for $10,000. “I was blown away,” he said. “I thought I had died and went to heaven when we got the Great 8!”

CAL Automotive Creations has since won two other awards: Good Guys Street Rod of the Year in May 2013 and Street Rod d’Elegance in July 2013. The recent success of CAL Automotive Creations is also thanks to team members Erik Hanson, Sam Kita and Nick Zoucha. “We now have at least a years worth of work ahead, but we are trying to grow sensibly,” said Cizek. “This all has been a hoot. Andy is a young kid, so to help him with his career…I get a kick out of that. I am in this for the fun of it and to build a nice little business.”

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