Exclusive Interview: Tom Payne's Grand Prix Stretch


Tom Payne shows us "Grand Prix Stretch" which initially started out as a 1984 Grand Prix... After about 2 years, a lot of sheet-metal and hard work, it is now... this! Check out the full interview.

Rick: Tom, why don't you tell me first of all what you started with, because this looks like nothing I've seen before.

Tom: I started with a 1984 Grand Prix, it was a very nice car, actually came outta California, then was purchased in Ontario and then I uh, started with an '84, chopped it all apart, then ended up with this.

R: Well you sure did chop it all apart, and in fact, I've said I've never seen anything like this before, but at the same time it looks like a lot of things I've seen before. Where did you get the inspiration for the lines, the length, the style that went into this thing... because I see some art-deco, I see some pre-art-deco influences here... there's a lot of classic lines in this car.

T: Well, I sorta started with a picture of a Buggati, you know, I seen the guild, they built that Buggati on T.V. and I thought, you know, I could build something similar to that. So I took a picture of that and a few other European cars, and just started… When I actually tore the car apart, took the complete body off, I put a 2x4 up along just to get that line, and so I set a 2x4 on the floorboard going up and propped it up. Finally got the line I wanted and thought, there’s my car. So I just went from that 2x4 and started building it.

R: Wow… And everything on this car is metal, front to back. Is that right?

T: That’s correct there, yes. Five sheets of 4x10 16 gage steel makes a car!

R: So all of this is like, its hand-crafted. So you’re starting with this idea in your head, and then you’re just cutting the sheet metal, taking it, bending it, and moulding the sheet metal to suit your taste.

T: Yes, I was lucky… My nephew works at a shop where they have a press and stuff so helped me form as far as the fenders… the one bend it it to get the curve, and I could just cut everything out from there and do the three-dimensional bend or curve to it.

R: Making this whole thing work had to be a big challenge, because it looks like you’ve moved that firewall back, you’ve really cut this thing up.

T: It was a lot of work. You know I wanted that long front-end, and to achieve that I had to move the firewall back 2 feet. Actually have everything where you’re sitting in the back seat, . I made a very long engine compartment, I wish I had a V12, cause it would go in there perfectly and maybe someday there will be a V12 in it!

R: What’s in it right now?

T: Its got a 355 crate GM engine in it, so about 320 horsepower, nothing huge but just ample for this car.

R: Well it moves along pretty good, we went for a little ride there and it rides smooth, it's a pretty luxurious and fancy-looking car.

T: It handles well, I’m happy with that. Being a big-car to begin with, as far as the framework and that, it makes it where it does have a nice ride. One thing, the wheelbase never changed.

R: But moving everything back… the steering wheel is in a different place so all that connecting hardware has to change as well. Was there a lot of customization that went into that?

T: There was. The biggest thing was the brake system. You know, to get the new brake lines and stuff. There is knuckles… two knuckles and a 2 foot extension in the steering column to get you to the backseat.

R: And the hood, the doors… They open on their own!

T: Yes! They’re all air-assist, they’re all remote controlled. There’s two-cylinders for every operation and one cylinder unlocks it, and then the other cylinder lifts it.

R: And I think that this is kinda becoming your signature on these cars… These lines that you put down the body, the lines that’re down the trunk. How do you achieve that? How do you do that?

T: So this one was just small strips of steel, 1 inch steel, that I just bent 90 degrees, then I weld ‘em all in place, and then work from there. But I like the lines, you know, I can just keep adding until everything… the body suits me. So I just keep adding lines until I say, that’s it. That’s it right there.

R: Makes it look very aerodynamic.

T: It does, I think it gives it that nice European styling look.

R: This is an ‘84 Grand Prix but when I look at it I don’t see too much, the mirrors, the instrument-cluster.

T: Half the instrument cluster is there. The shifter is original. The brake-booster is original. Probably everything else is fabricated.

R: Wow, so, the seats. Racing seats you put in there?

T: Yes, they’re racing seats that I just ordered from Summit there, I was in Florida one time and ordered ‘em and brought ‘em home. I had a difficult time trying to find seats very narrow and never thought of that when I built it that I wanted that really tight, airplane feel and never realized I had a hard time finding seats that would fit in it when I built it so…

R: And you must be thrilled because you’ve taken this to some car shows… Its debuted just this summer, and you’re getting some very positive feedback.

T: Yeah, it was at Fleetwood and the Bears team really loved it there. My wife and I were sitting there and people would read the board that we have with all the pictures of it… and we heard so many “Wow!”s. So, that’s one thing I was telling you earlier… That’s one thing I think when I walk into my shop every morning: “Wow! I really like that car!”.

R: Is there anything else that you’d like to add or think I might be missing?

T: You know I always tell people that if you dream it you can achieve it, and people don’t believe me but you know, they just have to get out and try the handy work I think eh?

R: Yeah, just do it! two years of your life went into this.

T: Two years in this one, people don’t believe that but when I say I do two years, I devote two years with pretty-well every moment of spare-time. It gave a lot of inspiration at Fleetwood. A lot of people were saying “Wow! I gotta get my project going again now. This just gave me the inspiration to get mine done after seeing this.” So that was a good, positive note.

R: Well there’s really just one word that comes to mind for me and that’s congratulations. Thank-you so much for sharing the car with us on the show.

T: I appreciate it. I always said I enjoyed building ‘em, and this will probably be my last for a bit, but then I said that with my Spirit and all of the sudden this one came around, so we never know!

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