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Back to the Future - Part 2
29.3.06. It’s difficult to know where the first three months of 2006 have gone, but there is no question the time has flown by since the initial instalment of the story concerning the build of our 1929 Model A Ford street rod appeared in Drag, Rod & Classic Review. A visit to the Xtreme Wheels Show at Alexandra Palace in late February focused the mind, though, as the sight of a large number of beautifully turned out rods grouped together within the surroundings of the main hall at Ally Pally was enough to get the blood pumping and turn a petrol-head’s thoughts to hitting the open road.
As Home Grown Hot Rods, where the Model A is being built, had a stand at the show, the opportunity was taken to query owner Jon Golding concerning a start date. There were a couple of jobs to tidy up, Jon explained, but he and ace body man, Andy Barry, would be getting to our car imminently.
Finally, on the evening of Thursday, March 16, the call came through that we had been waiting for – the Model A was out of storage and back in Home Grown’s Southend-on-Sea workshop. The project was under way.
Jon Golding hard at work on the linkage that joins the steering column shaft to the manual rack and pinion
The car arrived in the UK last year from its Texas home with the body, including doors, loosely fitted to the Chassis Engineering frame, and the steering rack, plus independent front suspension and Ford 9-inch rear axle, also in place. To save having to demount the body twice (Home Grown would normally disassemble the car completely once the initial build has been finished to facilitate the shot-blasting, painting and plating of all the individual components), Jon elected to leave the body in place while fitting the engine, transmission and exhaust system, and Andy was busy fettling the metalwork ready for primer and paint.
In the course of Jon’s call, though, the initial elation quickly turned to concern as he outlined what sounded like a major problem that had already been encountered. It seemed the existing engine mounts were wrongly positioned and, as a result, the GM Performance Parts ZZ4 crate motor was sitting both too low and too far rearwards. The engine block could be shifted forwards, although ultimately the amount it could be moved would be dictated by the location of the steering rack, which couldn’t be altered.
Steering arm clearance problems necessitated extra work on the exhaust header downpipe to liberate more space
Complicating the situation, any attempt to move the engine would mean the TH350 transmission would end up sitting too far forward to pick up on the chassis crossmember mounting points. The positioning of the engine and transmission also impacted on a number of other significant areas, including the firewall, clearance for the exhaust headers and the routing of the steering linkage.
By the time we were able to visit the Home Grown Hot Rods workshop a few days later, however, the problem had been resolved. Jon’s solution was to modify the engine mounts in such a way as to move the engine upwards and forwards, and switch to a TH400 transmission, which is both longer (and would therefore not require the crossmember to be moved) and more appropriate for the 400-plus horsepower the ZZ4 will ultimately produce. The only casualty in all of this was the distributor, which was going to make contact with the firewall even with the motor in its more forward position. It will be replaced with a smaller unit, combined with an electronic ignition system, and accessed through a panel in the firewall.
GM Performance Parts ZZ4 crate motor nestles snugly in the Model A engine compartment, but not before significant modification to the chassis engine mounts. Radiator cooling fan awaits fitment.
Once the critical decision on engine position had been taken, many of the other issues sorted themselves out. Jon was able to fit the Sanderson headers and Lime Works 1940 Ford stainless steel steering column, suspended from a 1932 Ford column drop, and then thread a double-jointed linkage through the newly liberated space to connect the end of the column with the rack. There is no doubt the decision to retain the non-power-assisted, rack and pinion arrangement rather than convert to a less bulky, Vega steering box had made life more difficult, but a combination of Jon’s engineering and fabrication skills eventually sorted out a particularly important aspect of the build.
Rear fenders are also original steel, as evidenced by the red lead primer uncovered when the black paint was stripped off
While all this had been going on, Andy had been hard at work on the beautifully preserved Tudor body, knocking out small dents and imperfections, welding up unnecessary holes, sorting out panel and fender gaps and fitting some of the key pieces of inner woodwork. It was not all smooth sailing for him either, however, as it was soon discovered that with the car’s front suspension on full compression, the upper A-arms made contact with the inner fenders. An obvious answer would have been to raise the front ride height in order to gain the necessary clearance, but as a nose-in-the-weeds stance is an important element of any self-respecting rod, that was not deemed a viable solution.
Hand-formed, teardrop-shaped blisters are an elegant solution to the problem of front suspension clearance. Dropped headlamp bar helps to keep the front fenders in position
Instead, Andy set about creating two beautifully shaped, teardrop bubbles in the Brookville reproduction front fenders to provide the necessary clearance for the suspension. Apart from being a very elegant way of dealing with the problem, it is, as Jon observed, a proper hot rod solution.
While at Home Grown, there was also an opportunity to discuss two other, bodywork-related issues. At some time in the Ford’s recent past, the standard car’s fabric roof had been removed, and the resultant opening expertly filled at the Bobby Walden Speed Shop in Borger, Texas. A by-product of this modification, however, is that the body seams that run up the back panel now simply end above the rear window. On the original car, these would have terminated at the fabric roof insert, and then come back down, over the curving C-posts, and joined up with the trailing edges of the rain gutters.
Expertly filled roof opening is evident in this overhead shot. The Model A is definitely beginning to take shape
The seams over the C-posts had already been removed and the surface smoothed out, but that wasn’t an option with the remaining vertical seams. After looking at a couple of rather more complicated options, the decision was taken to “keep it simple,” and just extend the seams up into the roof and then taper them off, like the ends of a chrome body strip. Time will tell if it was the right decision, but it seems like as neat a way as any of dealing with the problem.
There's nothing like an all-steel hotrod! Right rear corner of the Model A body required expert fettling to clean up dented bodywork. HGHR-fabricated stainless steel exhaust system, including ultra-compact Turbo Tune silencers, awaiting installation
The second query related to the manner in which the rain gutters above the windows should be secured. There were effectively two options, the first being to fix them, through the existing holes in the bodywork, to wooden batons on the inside of the car. Alternatively, the batons could be discarded and the gutters tack-welded in place.
HGHR bodywork specialist, Andy Barry, offers up right-hand rain gutter to check fit. This will be secured to a wooden baton inside the body
One of the wonderful things (at least, as far as cars are concerned) about the west Texas area where the Model A had lived for most of its 76-year life is that the warm, dry climate is generally very kind to older vehicles. In this case, Uncle Henry’s original wooden components were in such good condition that the question effectively answered itself – retain the batons and simply use some slightly longer screws to hold the gutters in place. The only other requirement will be a small skim of modern sealant, to ensure a watertight join between the roof and the gutter.
The next items on John’s job list were the exhaust system and the bumpers. The former was already well under way at the time of our visit, a pair of compact Turbo Tuned silencers having been modified at each end, with the addition of flanges, to allow them to bolt up between the tailpipes and the 2.5-in diameter stainless steel exhaust tubing, running rearwards from the headers.
Halibrand Sprint 4.5 x 15-inch front wheel was trial-fitted to check clearances. Triple-eared knock-off will eventually complete the look
This particular Model A is going to have front and rear bumpers fitted, although one slight wrinkle is that it will feature a full-width front bumper at the rear, rather than the stock “quarter-bumpers”, in order to keep the back end of the car as uncluttered as possible. The reproduction bumper irons, plus associated hardware, were delivered in record time from vintage Ford specialist, Mac’s Antique Auto Parts, of Lockport, New York, and with those parts in hand, Jon could get on with fitting the various brackets and clamps.
It’s safe to say the build of the Model A is now well under way, and there’s a sense that momentum is building. Certainly, there are any number of issues still to be resolved – the hood supplied with the car doesn’t fit and will have to be replaced, the back axle will have to be moved on the four-bar system to allow the wheels to line up as they should within the rear fenders, the radiator shell requires modification to fit correctly between the frame rails, and the original, 6-volt, Model A headlamps supplied will not pass muster and will probably have to be ditched in favour of more effective, after-market units. None of these problems, however, is insurmountable.
Four-bar rear axle location and coil-over shocks are clearly visible in this shot. The Ford 9-inch back end will have to be repositioned, however, to ensure the wheels sit correctly within the fenders
The other side of the coin is that Jon has already trial-fitted some lovely bits of hot rod “eye candy” to the car, including a replica 1940 Ford steering wheel, Moon gauges set into the 1932 roadster dash, and 4.5-in Halibrand Sprint front wheels (nice though they are, the decision was taken some time back to change the Weld Rodlite wheels the Model A came with, and replace them with Halibrands fitted with triple-eared knock-offs).
Interior already beginning to take shape with 1932 Roadster dashboard, Moon gauges, Lime Works reproduction 1940 Ford steering column suspended from a '32 Ford column drop, and '40 Ford steering wheel
In summary, there is no doubt the DRCReview project Model A is in the best of hands and progressing nicely at this point.
To be continued....
Story: Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk