The Making of Drake's Beautiful 1940 Grilles
This story begins in the mid 70’s when the decision was made to provide our customers with 1940 Ford grilles that would look and fit like originals. We were experienced with making smaller die-cast parts like Ford scripts, door handles, wiper towers etc., but had never attempted such a large project before. We knew it would be a huge undertaking even before we knew what challenges lay ahead.
A die-cast company in California initially worked on the engineering and tool making for the project, but the molds ended up so large and cumbersome, even the largest die-cast machine on the west coast couldn’t produce a decent casting. Not willing to give in to defeat, the project was moved to Detroit and a company with even bigger presses. Well, the casting worked, but they were unable to accomplish a chrome finish to a standard we could accept. Now it was on to Chicago and our third attempt for success. We found a company there that had a beautiful display of 50’s cast grilles and was also a Ford supplier, yet once again the results were disappointing. At this point we were really wondering, what next?
The molds were returned to us and we decided to put on our thinking caps and regroup. Mike, our senior in-house toolmaker, suggested we literally cut the mold in half to reduce its scale and make it workable with the smaller west coast die-cast machines. This required a lot of reworking of the old mold parts, as well as creating some new ones. A lot of work yes, but our efforts resulted in a perfect casting and our ultimate success. Some old-school west coast chrome shops were able to meet the challenge too, and give us the high quality chrome plating we expected as the finishing touch to this project.
Now, what’s a beautiful grille without a perfect center piece? Once again, our expert tool making team provided us with an exceptional quality, high pressure die-cast mold. You can appreciate the craftsmanship when you see the finished piece, which is offered in both original style with crank hole, and as a one-piece street rod version.
Our venture into reproducing the Standard and Pickup grille center started with Bob’s disappointment with those currently available on the market in the 1970’s. He wanted to give early Ford enthusiasts parts as good as what originally came on their Fords. This grille center was another big challenge and a very unique mold to create. To achieve an exact copy of the original, we had to make each bar and spacer as a separate piece and stack them in place in the mold pocket. There was no way to machine this tooling, so we did it just like Ford did, all by hand. The result was a beautiful part that any Ford owner could be proud of.
By this time we had paid our dues and learned quite a bit from our previous mistakes. Now, feeling like old pro’s at this grille game, we invested heavily in our own tool shop and brought in a top notch six man crew to run it. This was before computer assisted machinery, so the large duplication end mill pictured below was state-of-the-art for the time. Our toolmakers had to produce plastic patterns from new original Ford grilles to be traced by this machine. You can see the stylus tool on the right tracing the pattern, while the mill tool on the left actually cuts the metal to produce the grille mold. This process is very similar to cutting a new key blank, but with a larger, more complicated machine.
Many people think of the material used for metal casting as pot metal, but it is really a zinc alloy. Ford used zinc alloys too, back in the old days. Over the years this material has seen many improvements, so we can now actually produce parts with superior strength and finish to what Ford produced originally.
Deburring & Drilling
Once out of the mold all the grilles need a lot of tedious hand work. Grilles are hand deburred using tile knives, files, and a belt sander for the finishing touches. It’s a very labor intensive job because great care must be taken to avoid scratching the top faces of the grille bars. After all the casting-flash is removed, each grille is mounted to a drilling fixture and accurate mounting holes are drilled in all the correct locations.
Polishing & Chrome Plating
We all know when it comes to grilles it's what's up front that counts and that means the beautiful, flawless chrome plating. You can now see that what's beneath the surface has everything to do with that final finish. The material used, the hand deburring, and the careful polishing of each piece prior to chrome plating results in a perfect finish. A small mistake in any one of these steps can lead to a grille not worth selling.
All of our die-cast products including grilles are inspected by hand before and after the multi-step chrome-plating process. Samples of our chromed grilles still look gorgeous after being subjected to a 96 hour salt spray test. Our testing and inspection procedures ensure that early Ford enthusiasts get parts as good as what originally came on their Ford. There simply are no short cuts to perfection.
Don’t worry. We wouldn’t take the time to make you the perfect grille and then ship it in flimsy packaging. We take designing the packaging for our chrome products very seriously. All grille pieces are placed in plastic bags, then carefully pocketed in a Styrofoam clam shell pack prior to being boxed for storage and shipping. One final step to ensure you will get the beautiful grille you deserve!