Tim's Model A Roadster Hot Rod
One of my early tasks at Speedway Motors was to bring copies of Founder Speedy Bill Smith’s book to his office so he could sign them for customers requesting an autograph. Bill would always write phrases after the customer’s name like “Follow your passion”, “Keep the passion”, or “Live your passion”. I loved reading each one before it was sealed in a box and mailed to a customer because passion for cars has been a driving force in my life from as far back as I can remember. People often ask me how I found what must be the perfect job working as a curator for an automotive museum. I think of it a little differently I suppose. I like to believe the job found me instead of it being the other way around. I have always been a believer, like Bill, that if you focus on your passion you never work another day. It doesn’t mean you don’t work hard, it is just that the work feels, well, less like work!
That tells you a little about me. I am car crazy. As for my car, if you have been looking at the pictures of my Model A roadster you may wonder why Speedway Motors would use up valuable space in their catalog to show a vehicle that doesn’t have a paint job? I was humbled and excited when they asked to use my old car which like many hot rods is still a work in progress. What is not to love about an American hot rod. I hoped to put to words the exact reason I am drawn to old hot rods over shiner, fancier and more expensive cars. I suppose the answer is rather simple and I’ll explain by starting with a question. Have you ever visited a car museum where gorgeous Duesenbergs, and Delahayes are lined up in a gallery setting? I have and always found myself walking right by giving them a cursory glance before moving on. Perhaps I don’t connect with these cars because I can’t own one, or I have no memory or personal history with such a car? I have always loved hot rods and when you take that love to a certain point you just have to build them. In 2003 artist Robert Williams explained what a hot rod is during the filming of a TLC Rides episode about traditional hot rods and it struck a chord with me.
“A car that is made out of many old parts has a soul, it has a karma, see, it’s like a Frankenstein. Everything has been ferreted out of something else, it’s been cannibalized off of something else. The guy that built it knows what it is. There’s a lot of people get into this thing that do it very superficially and they want all the new reproduction parts and what not you know? And to me, I don’t see those ghosts rising off of it” I don’t see it at those Hot Rod meets of the 40’s ad 50’s you know? I don’t see that girlfriend having to drive around in it, hating every moment of being in it you know? I don’t see the policeman with his foot on the bumper writing tickets on that thing. You see there’s a very romantic aspect to it."
These words guided me throughout the build of my 1929 roadster. I built it in my two car garage and did all of it myself imagining how hot rods of the fifties would have been built. The car as it exists today is a collection of old parts and stories of people. It has fingerprints of previous owners on the parts. Those previous owners are friends, racers, hot rodders, common folks, and in some cases my direct ancestors.
I remember the day I was handed the first part which started my collecting for this car. It was the intake manifold. The old gentleman placed it in my hands and explained “This is an old Edmunds intake….241 Red Ram. Do you know Edmunds?” Of course I didn’t, but it was polished, had places for two carbs, and was for a HEMI! I brought it home and studied Edmunds history. I thought the intake was so cool the logical thing to do was to find an engine to go with it. About 3 months later I found a 1954 Dodge Coronet in a field outside of Lincoln. It was complete aside from the stolen radiator and the lower sheet metal which had returned to the earth. I paid the farmer $200 and dragged it home. I pulled the engine which had all of the soft plugs blown out. I didn’t care. I was 20 years old and now had an engine to go with my intake!
Over the years I would collect parts for the car I had in my mind. With each swap meet, and with every spare buck I picked up something additional to put in the pile which would one day become a hot rod. The ‘29 body was pieced together from mixed and matched orphan panels. I acquired the cowl first, an eBay find delivered on a Greyhound bus. I wanted an A roadster on deuce rails and the only way I could afford a body back then was to do it piece by piece! Next was the frame, a pinched perimeter chassis someone gave up on but it was perfect for me. I welded in a Model A rear cross member and added suspension.
Every part has an individual story. The wheels came off of the F1 truck my wife’s grandpa purchased new in Red Oak, IA. The horn ring came off of my grandpa’s ’49 Ford he had when he was married in Madison, SD. The grille insert came from a longtime family friend. The first time I laid eyes on it I was 8 years old. The dash is from a hot rodder from back home in Sioux Falls, SD. It was supposed to be in his ’34 ford sedan before he went another route and traded it to me for some 56 Chevy parts I had. The wood floor is my family’s old walnut dinner table which was repurposed for automotive duty. The louvers in the trunk were punched by childhood idol Dennis Sleighmaker. He was a guy who really made me fall in love with hot rods when he drove his yellow ’34 3 window to Thunder Valley Dragway, raced it, and then drove it home. I was 16 and thought he was the coolest guy I had ever seen. The car had Halibrand bear paw wheels and a supercharger. Having the same guy louver my deck lid was surreal!
As you may have suspected I always searched for parts that had meaning to me. Parts that came from a friend or someone I admire made an acquisition extra sweet. As I met and became friends with more people in the traditional hot rod scene, my pile grew bigger and my ambition to build and fabricate also picked up steam.
The tail lights are 50 Pontiac with old Desoto reverse lenses installed for something different. The dash holds 1932 Pontiac instruments. I was gifted the dash clock which I am told is out of a WW2 Corsair fighter. 1936 Ford headlights were retrofitted with Guide 832c blinkers and mounted to a modified ’32 headlight bar. Buick finned brake drums, 48 Ford F1 Steering box, 1941 Ford Banjo rear end from a buddies sedan he thought needed a 9”. I built headers from a ’36 ford drive shaft, the fuel tank is a ’27 T oval tank and the wiring was done with cloth covered wire to keep an old school look.
Any time I could use an old part I would, but there are new parts too! Those firestone tires are right out of the Speedway catalog! So are the Speedy 97 carbs. I know Speedy Bill was proud of them so it feels cool having a piece of Bill along for the ride! Many of the parts that keep it reliable and safe came out of the catalog you are holding including frame rails, front suspension, early Ford juice brake components, clutch, throw out bearing, radiator, ignition conversion and many more.
I just got the car out on the road for the first time after many years of toil in the garage. It is such a great feeling to drive something you have built yourself. It’s loud, smells like gas and oil, and goes dangerously fast. I ferreted every part from something else and remember where each piece came from. When I drive it I think about hot rod meets of the forties and fifties. My wife hates every minute of riding in it, and soon I am sure I will have a policeman writing a ticket with his foot on the bumper. When I look at it and remember friends and family who have history with the parts and I do in fact see ghosts rising off of it.
It is the car I have always wanted, a hot rod.