Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Where Were You All These Years?

It’s hard for me to believe what has happen to me in the last few days. Saturday I bought one of those "dream cars", like the stories you hear about a fellows finding a Cobra in an old barn. Well, early hot rods from a by-gone era are just as rare. And finding a survivor practically compete and original to the days it was built is as rare. Its former owner had just passed away a week prior and the family is liquidating his car collection. I was the lucky guy that called first!
It’s all I have been thinking about for the last few days since I saw & bought the car. I still don’t have it home yet, it’s still buried in their garage. Of course he was a hoarder, hot rodders often have that problem. But thankfully, he was smart enough not to change the car too much from it original appearance.
I still don’t have the complete picture on the history, a conversation with the widow is in order. But what I do know from talking with the son is that it was owned by a neighbor who also dead only five years ago. And this guy bought it from that widow. He drove it into the garage and it has sat there since. Whether or not the neighbor built it still has to be discussed.
I loved it from the first sight in a Craigslist ad. I knew right away, that this wasn’t an ordinary roadster. Nobody today puts those wheels on their cars today. And, I haven’t seen a padded dash on a car built in the last 40 years.
The next day, I got to see it first, it was in a packed Long Beach garage. It didn’t take much more then a peek at the partly buried roadster to know it was ALL REAL and it was old. Within five minutes it was mine.
The body, an original 1929 Ford Model A Roadster had been modified in a way that only could have been done prior to the 70’s. The car looked 10x better in person then it the two measly Craigslist pictures I saw only hours earlier (above).
The frame is an original ’32 frame, pinched to fit the body was so clean, with holes filled, no boxing inside. The grill is also an original Deuce, smoothed on top.
The engine, and 59A flathead with Edelbrock’s first performance heads, the block letter version. There is a hard to find sprint-car oil filter on it and two 97 carbs on a home-made intake.
Then there is the interior, cracking ox-blood color Naugahyde stuffed with cotton filling. An original ’39 Deluxe wheels, a 60 year old 8000 RPM Stewart Warner tach strapped to the column. All vintage, all old, all really-really old –I had sensory overload!
Now the wheels, the Pièce De Résistance, a set of super-early Dayton wire wheels, almost too rare to believe. I have only seen one other rod with wheels like these in the past ten years, and that was in a magazine. Knock-offs, could be race wheels, I don’t know yet. But I do know, this car, with those wheels will command attention by themselves.
I bring it home in a few days. More to come...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Flatheads In The Park

I would like to focus your attention on the engine that started it all; the Ford V8, a.k.a. the flathead.

October 11, 2009 was the annual Throttlers Car Club car show at Johnny Carson Park in Burbank. It’s the best local show and that attracts the best in traditional hot rodding from surrounding neighborhoods. A smallish show… under two hundred cars. But what it lacks in size it makes up in nostalgia.

Above, two great looking V8s from members of the Burbank Choppers car club. A lot of effort has to be spent keeping polished aluminum engine parts bright.
This one is in Vern Hammond’s ’34 chopped coupe, also a member of the Choppers. His car has got to be one of the more famous of the traditional cars of today. The 4x2 Sharp brand intake means business. And those Evans heads were one of the better performing heads of the day.
Here’s a pre ’39 V8-60, 21-stud engine with a Thickstun intake. It was in front of a 26/27 Model T roadster body on a 1932 frame, with a chopped ‘28/29 Model A grill. A daring combination, and worth some attention. He’s got all the right parts for a correct vintage rod.
This looks like a ’49-53 8BA engine with 59A type cylinder heads. I like the Mallory distributor. This was in a channeled ’28 A-bone with a truck grill. It would look better with an old radiator cap and vintage looking ignition wires.
Here is a great looking 21-stud engine with polished stock heads, likely a 1937 or ’38. Evans triple intake manifold, Stromberg 97s, and a Spalding magneto. I don’t mean to be picky, but the radiator overflow is totally out of place.

The engine on the left has a Edmunds intake with stands that elevate the Holley 94 carbs, and Eddie Meyer heads. The engine on the right has Edmunds heads combined with the Edmunds intake with 97 carbs, as wells as a Fil-Cool-Ator oil filter unit on the firewall.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Opinions In Rodding: Vintage or Nostalgic?

A lot of people might think those two adjectives may mean the same thing when it comes to hot rodding. But in fact they couldn’t be more different.
A “vintage” hot rod may be a rod built a long time ago or a car built today with vintage parts. Any car that has raced on the dry lakes of southern California in the 30’s-60’s for example, and has survived through today, is certainly a vintage hot rod. The Doane Spencer ’32 roadster may be the most famous of those cars these days.
While a nostalgic hot rod on the other hand, is a car constructed more recently and looks like it was built in another place it time. A good example might be Jimmy Shine’s ’34 Ford pick-up with it’s Ford flathead V8, a red painted steel wheels.
I call my ’29 a ‘nostalgic hot rod’, and like to say it looks like an early 50’s street roadster.
There a lot of guys I’ve met recently who are building era-specific cars. The popularity among younger car builders is growing do in part to the focused coverage by popular rodding magazines like Rod & Custom, Street Rodder, and newer periodicals like Hot Rod Deluxe. The latter only covers cars & shows that are predominantly 1940-60’s nostalgic & vintage hot rods & customs.
The father of all rodding mags, Hot Rod Magazine, covers hot rodding maybe too broadly, and includes the entire spectrum of domestic car performance building. Which is exactly what they were doing when the magazine started in 1947, so I have to give them credit for staying focused. But what was new then, is nostalgic now. A lot has changed since 1947, souping cars today is mainstream America in every sense of the term. And so may be building an ol’scool hot rod soon.
Although the number is still very small, building pre-1940’s cars into vintage street machine seems to be on the rise. And fervent to avoid the rat rod stigma, guys are taking more effort to add old parts in a manner to make them look purposeful and with respect to way it was done in the past. There are some who like to take nostalgic to new heights with themes never on vintage cars like aviation focused cars, referring to WWII fighter planes. I won’t argue, they don’t hearken to times past, but they tend to be too showy and unrealistic.
“Rat Rods”, the scorn of in the hot rodding community, is the modern day term that defines a barely drivable, unfinished, rough & rusty car. Often built by individuals with little or no sense of rodding history, having only basic mechanical knowledge, and light on funds to do the job right. Typically using a junkyard 1970’s or newer engine, and often having 1920 to 30’s sheet metal hanging off a homemade frame, the car will have a minimal interior. More time is spent placing adornments such as skulls, flames, or lightening holes then replacing leaking gaskets or completing a weld bead. Air-bad suspensions, crudely chopped tops, and misuse of modern car parts is a tale-tell sign you are looking at a rat rod.
But “rats” are only one facet on the automotive cultural gem, and there are many. Tomorrow builders will do things differently… or maybe not. For what has been before, will be again. And as long as there are open plains with American iron in them waiting for the day they can be resurrected again --there will be someone with a pick-up truck and a run-away imagination willing to take the challenge.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A little bit about me...

I didn't start off liking cars. Growing up in LA, kids like me have to aspire to be different. City kids are raised with the intention of taking over the family farm and I was no different. So I thought I was going to be an Air Force pilot someday. I read books on planes, built model planes, I went to airshows, and even joined Junior ROTC in high school. But that dream was already fading when I found out military pilots had to have 20/20 vision to fly and I knew that was one test I couldn't pass.
1992, I from graduated high school with no direction and interests to speak of. While in college and without much money, my car needed work. My first car was a 1988 4 cyl Mustang, in poor condition, but I didn't know how bad at the time. So in 1993 I joined an adult school auto-shop class, nights at Fairfax High, my old high school. And I quickly found out what a piece of junk it really was.
I was reading a few off-road magazines at the time, so naturally I wanted a 4x4. I went to my parents for some money, and they reluctantly bought me a white 1987 Ford Bronco (this was pre-OJ murder spree).
Later, I would find that the truck was better suited to hauling car parts then I was at off-roading. In auto class I made some new friends who were heavily in to muscle cars. Besides, 60’s cars were 'the thing' in the early 90’s and still cheap.
Now off my 4x4 kick, I bought my second car a 1969 Torino GT sportroof with some savings. I enjoyed working on it more then I liked driving it. It was a fine first project car and I felt like I was participating in the 'culture' with my new friends.
Fast-forward to 2001, and as they say, the best things never last, so after 70 some years, the LAUSD and Fairfax High School closed auto-shop, and forced the teacher to retire. I’ll never forget Mr. Peihl, he may have not been the best teacher, but he was a great human. And there went one of the last bastions of teaching kids real world skills.
The school quickly transformed the open auto shop into basic classrooms to handle the overflow of kids bused in from all over the city.
As it so happens, only a few months before the shop closed, I purchased my third car --a 1968 Mercury Cyclone GT fastback. The lesser-known cousin of my Torino. The car was rough, but complete, with lots of factory options, and super rare!  I have yet to actually see another on the street after all this time.
With auto-shop closed, I did the entire two-year restoration in the backyard.
People adored the Cyclone --what a looker, it was one sharp!
Now living on my own, I kept it in the parking space at my apartment for the short time.  I continued to use my parents backyard & driveway to build cars. Yes, I can build a car outside.  It's LA it really never gets too cold here.
With the Cyclone at my bachelor pad and an open space in the driveway, my family could breath again. Not me! I had the itch. And it wasn’t long before my friend Ray almost literally stumbled over my next project. He found a 75-year-old gentleman that was selling a car he wanted, stored in his garage for 10 years.  It was a 1970 GTO convertible (too much $$$). BUT beside that was a 73-year-old pile of parts.
Ray called it a Model T, but I knew it was a stock Model A Ford. It was a partly disassembled 1929 roadster project in what could only be described as somebody's 'labor or love'.
Ray told to the seller, “I believe I have a buyer for the roadster”. So I bought it sight-unseen for $2500. Little did I know what I was getting into?
It took another two years to build that heap into a hot rod, and it would never look at cars the same way.  My mind was set on hot rodding.