jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

Road Rules! Jeff Karls’ Looney Tunes Delivery 1946 Ford Sedan

“I’ve always been more impressed with a street rod that has 100,000 miles on it than $100,000 in it.”

Jeff Karls has used that line many times and he backs it up with his well-traveled ’46 Ford sedan delivery. With nearly 200,000 miles on the clock, this Ford has earned its stripes as a street rod over 40-plus years. What makes it special for Jeff, though, is the family history and the memories made on the road.

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

Jeff, Jenny, and Jeff’s children Jonny and Kaitlyn during their family drip to California in the delivery in 2014.

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

A family road trip to California in 2014 gave Jeff the opportunity to share an on-the-road street rod experience with his oldest children that was similar to the one he had more than 30 years earlier.

“This is the street rod I spent most of my early childhood in,” Jeff says. “It was built by my dad from 1979 to 1982. I went to California in it in 1983 with my family on vacation. I was five years old and I saw a lot of the country through that back window.”

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

A young Jeff next to his dad’s delivery.

After winning an ISCA class championship in 1984, the delivery was sold in 1985 to further progress on a ’34 Chevy Town Sedan Jeff’s father, Ron, was working on at the time. Well-known hot rod builder Bob Bauder of Crestline, California, bought the delivery, shuttling it away from its Nebraska home.

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

“About a year after Looney Tunes was sold, in 1986, my dad passed away,” Jeff says. “I’d always wonder what happened to the vehicle that held so many fond childhood memories. Lo and behold, at Goodguys Indy in 1999, my stepfather Bob (mom eventually remarried, another car guy) walked out of his hotel and was met by a familiar face.”

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em
jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

There was the blue delivery, looking much like it had in the ’80s, sitting in the hotel parking lot. “Bob left a note for the owner urging them to contact my brother and I for history and info,” Jeff says. “The owner wrote a letter shortly after and we kept in contact with Sal and Carole Trujillo regularly after that.”

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em


The Trujillos were from West Virginia; through the years, the delivery had made its way back across the country from the West Coast. “Sal and Carole found the delivery in a barn in Ohio,” Jeff reports. “It was well worn but complete. They had intended to redo it. When they pulled the seats out Sal found the November 1984 issue of Street Rodder that featured the sedan delivery – a magazine that was placed in the map pocket of the driver’s seat by my father before he sent it to California. It was then that the Trujillos decided to preserve and restore what they could.”

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

Jeff and Jenny made a stop at the American Pickers headquarters in Iowa on the way back from West Virginia after purchasing the car back.

It was reassuring for Jeff and his brother Jim to know the car was in good hands. Just as importantly, it was being used. “Sal and Carole enjoyed the delivery for 16 years and 42,000 miles,” Jeff says. “They took it everywhere. From their West Virginia home, they traveled all over the East Coast and Canada. From Florida, to Ontario and Quebec, all the way over to Minneapolis and, most importantly, to Goodguys in Columbus, Ohio, in 2011.”

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

It was pure coincidence that Jeff was at that same PPG Nationals in Columbus, working for Speedway Motors. “That’s where I saw Looney Tunes again for the first time in 26 years,” Jeff says. “It was like seeing a ghost. Of course, the gentleman whom I’d never met in person quickly greeted me as I crawled all over and under his car. As I rolled out from beneath it, I said, ‘You must be Sal!’ He was a little surprised.

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

After 26 years, Jeff first saw the car in person again at the Goodguys PPG Nationals in 2011.

“I spent an afternoon with them discussing their plans to contact my brother Jim or I when they were ready to send ‘Elmer’ (the name they’d bestowed) home,” Jeff continues. That day came two years later, in 2013. “My wife Jenny and I flew out and drove it home the 1,200 miles to Nebraska – on our honeymoon,” Jeff says.

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

The delivery remains a time capsule to the heyday of ’80s street rodding. Beyond the airbrushed mural and pillowed velour upholstery, it has period mechanical elements like a ’65 Corvair independent front suspension and 10-bolt Nova rearend. Jeff has made select upgrades, adding disc brakes, 15×5.5- and 15×10-inch Real Rodders wheels, and Vintage Air under-dash A/C, but the 350c.i. small block and TH350 transmission are the same from 1980 – 198,000 miles and counting.

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

Best of all, the delivery has continued to make memories in the Karls family. “In 2014, after a full mechanical shakedown, I treated (or subjected, depending on who you ask) my own family to a similar vacation to California along old Route 66 and I40,” Jeff says. “To this day, that vacation is remembered fondly by my older, now grown, kids. Jenny and I now have two little ones. It’s almost time to share that experience with them, too.”

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

Beyond more road time, Jeff says future plans call for a new engine – a blower-topped small block – and probably an updated IFS setup. He’d also like to treat the body to fresh GM Ultramarine paint, all while leaving the Loony Tunes mural intact. It’s the only paint on the body that was covered with urethane clear back in the day.

“I’m merely the maintenance man,” Jeff says of the Ford. “I’ve upgraded systems for safety and comfort. The challenge is keeping it on the road while not replacing too much.”

jeff karls, 1946 ford, hot rod, street rod, road rules, ya gotta drive em

Lost, found, and still on the road, the tale of the Loony Tunes delivery is one of those full-circle stories that seems perfectly scripted. “I wouldn’t change a thing,” Jeff says. “Everything happens for a reason, and just the way it was intended.”

Photos by Jeff Karls & Damon Lee

Editor, Goodguys Gazette

Damon Lee began snapping photos at car shows when he was 10, tagging along with his father to events throughout the Midwest. He has combined his passion for cars and knack for writing and imagery into a 20-year career in the automotive aftermarket, writing for titles like Super Chevy and Rod & Custom and, more recently, working for respected industry leaders Speedway Motors and Goodguys Rod & Custom Association.

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