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'The jig is up!' - Ferrini patrols Fallbrook as 'Chief Tommy Gunn'


Last updated 5/1/2008 at Noon

Ernie Ferrini stands between the 1936 Ford

Ernie Ferrini has been working on cars since he was a teenager. At the age of 16, he bought his first car for only $100. He proudly showed his father the 1932 Ford Coupe. The fact that it didn’t run was a minor detail. Needless to say, his father was not impressed, but Ferrini persevered, and before long he had the “coolest car on the block.”

Over the years, Ferrini has worked on several antiques, including a 1926-27 Model T Ford that took seven years to restore. Ferrini doesn’t believe in hiring someone to do all the work. While restoring the Model T, he attended night school and took body and fender, upholstery and welding classes. His wife and two girls used to take a weekly inventory of his injuries after each welding class, including the “half a Mohawk” he gave himself by raising his welding mask with the lit torch in hand.

The Model T was a “bucket of rusty bolts” when it was towed into the driveway, but by the time it was done, it was ready to compete at the “Concourse d’ Elegance” against Packards and Rolls Royces.

Ferrini painted the “T” himself and hand-rubbed 12 coats of black lacquer. Both of his daughters rode in the back of the Model T from their wedding ceremonies to their wedding receptions. Ferrini sold the Model T because he said he didn’t have any more daughters to marry off.

Ferrini worked as a communications analyst for TRW in Redondo Beach for 30 years and retired to Fallbrook in 1986. For a while after moving to Fallbrook, he worked on small tractors and go-carts. All four of his grandchildren enjoyed the go-carts that their “Papa” made for them.

As his oldest grandson, Ryan, neared driving age, Ferrini returned to working on cars. Ferrini had always loved 1965 Mustangs and found one to restore for Ryan to drive. Then he restored a 1971 VW Bug for his granddaughter Jennifer.

He restored a second 1965 Mustang coupe, then a 1965 Mustang convertible. The latest of his restorations is a 1936 Ford four-door ‘hump back’ sedan. Ferrini decided to keep this sedan in stock condition rather than turning it into a hot rod. To keep it unique, he decided to turn it into a police car.

Because 1936 was during Prohibition, he decided to make the town for which this car works a “tongue-in-cheek” name. After seeking input from several friends the name of the town became ‘Moonshine Mississippi’ and he became ‘Chief Tommy Gunn.’

The 1936 was probably the most difficult restoration yet, because it had come from Michigan and had lots of rust damage. And because it is more than 70 years old, parts are harder to come by.

One of Ferrini’s favorite things about the ’36, he says, is the siren that a friend gave him. He loves to turn the siren on and tell people, “The jig is up!”

1936 Fords were known for being fast, powerful cars in comparison to other cars of the era. In fact, Clyde Barrow, of ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ fame, sent a letter to Henry Ford complimenting him on the speed of the 1936 Ford. Bonnie and Clyde made many getaways in a 1936 Ford.

At 80 years young, Ferrini refers to himself as an ‘old car nut.’ He lost his wife of 52 years, Dee, four years ago, so he says he is thankful to have the hobby of restoring old cars. He says it “keeps him out of trouble.”

So, if you see ‘Chief Tommy Gunn’ driving around town, be sure to wave and say “hi!”


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