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Back to the Future - Part 3

17.5.06. To the uninitiated, one of the more apparently contradictory aspects of building a hot rod – or indeed, any car – from scratch is that it has to be built “twice”.  In the case of the Drag, Rod & Classic Review Model A Ford project car, the initial build was completed last week at Home Grown Hot Rod’s Southend-on-Sea workshop, and as this instalment of the story is written, the Tudor Sedan is now merely a pile of bits, some of which are at the chrome platers, some at the media blasters and some at the paint shop.

The Home Grown assembly process involves an “initial” build, whereby all the major components, such as the body, chassis, engine, transmission, radiator, front and rear axles, suspension, bumpers and exhaust system come together for the first time. 

By its very nature, this involves a considerable amount of welding, fabrication, machining, tin bashing (in the case of an all-steel car) and trial-fitting of parts.  Clearly, none of these are jobs to be undertaken when pristine paintwork or freshly chromed body parts are present.  Once all the preparatory work is complete, though, then everything can be disassembled for painting, plating and powder coating before the final, painstaking build takes place. 

 This is the first time we'd seen the car almost complete externally and you can see that it will have a cool body rake.  A longer look reveals where all the hard graft has gone.

 Since our previous visit to Home Grown Hot Rods, owner, Jon Golding, and body man, Andy Barry, had clearly been more than busy.  The sight that greeted our eyes on arrival in Southend was nothing short of impressive.  Fitted with a new bonnet (the one supplied with the car simply didn’t fit), full-width bumpers front and rear, and the correct-sized Halibrand Sprint wheels, the Model A looked amazingly complete.

It also looked decidedly menacing – at least, to our eyes.  Sitting on low axle stands in the workshop, the extent of the car’s forward rake was obvious for the first time, and combined with a lack of external clutter on the body, made for a very “purposeful” appearance – in fact, exactly the look we had in mind from the outset.

original rain gutters now neatly fitted to the body using original internal wooden batons

interior view of original wooden baton to which rain gutter is secured.  Texas climate has definitely been kind to this Model A

Studying the exterior more carefully, it became obvious how much work had been done.  The issues concerning the rain gutters and rear body seams, mentioned in Back to the Future – Part 2, had both been expertly resolved. Andy had fitted the gutters to the original wooden batons and then sealed them neatly to the bodywork, while the vertical seams had been extended slightly into the roof and finished with an elegant taper.

new bonnet is complemented by Model B centre hinge.  Newly fitted splash apron can be seen just below radiator surround

350cu in Chevy is a snug fit. Block hugging manifolds avoided cutting/modifying bonnet side panels. Model B bonnet latches were used in preference to Model A items for both cleaner look and ease of operation 

The new bonnet fits exactly as it should, and after discussion with Jon, now features a 1932 Model B centre hinge (much tidier than the standard Model A piano hinge) and side latches.  Completing the ultra-tidy front end, the splash apron below the radiator surround had been fettled into place between the frame rails and several extraneous brackets on the front fenders removed. 

excellent state of the Model A is apparent in this shot, as is smooth, uncluttered appearance of the front end 

Unfortunately, the front end now looks so “clean” that the imperfections in the chrome radiator surround supplied with the car seem to stand out.  The two obvious solutions are therefore either to repair and re-chrome the original item or to replace it.  On price alone, we will probably take the latter route.

to get the desired size/profile rear tyre to fit necessitated extra work to the inner wheel arches

Moving to the back of the Model A, it was clear that the decision to fit a one-piece front bumper at the rear, rather than the standard-issue quarter bumpers, was the right one.  To accomplish this, however, caused considerable head-scratching and a lot of hard work, as Jon had to fabricate a pair of special brackets that curve down from the rear of the TCI frame and around the lower lip of the body to pick up on the bumper irons.  The result is superb, especially when combined with the flared-tip, 2 ˝-inch diameter stainless steel exhaust pipes routed either side of the differential casing.

view from the rear showing purposeful, 2 1/2-in. diameter exhaust pipes routed either side of differential casing 

The only slight debate at the moment concerns the positioning of the rear number plate, Jon suggesting a central location, using a bracket attached to a spreader bar between the bumper supports, rather than the standard Model A location, below the left-hand tail light.

Jon Golding checks out possible number plate position above one-piece rear bumper 

One item that generated a rather more involved discussion, however, was the fuel tank.  Even though it might have been an easier solution, from a safety standpoint, we were not comfortable having the tank either in its standard location (under the cowl ahead of the windscreen) or behind the rear seat.  In both cases, the petrol supply is inside the passenger compartment.  We didn’t particularly want to fit an external, Model B tank either.  In the end, we decided on a pair of linked “saddle” tanks, from Tanks Inc, which are fitted between the splash aprons and the frame rails.

only external sign of the Tanks Inc fuel tank located behind the splash apron is this small filler cap

Aside from being a safer location, this solution also positions weight low down in the chassis and distributes it evenly across the car, which should benefit handling.  The only slight drawback – if you can call it that – is the requirement to have a small filler cap located at the rear of each splash apron.  That said, you have to have a fuel filler somewhere, and this seems as good a location as any.

Lokar gear selector now protrudes neatly through expertly reworked transmission cover

Having taken in all the external changes to the Model A, we then had a look inside, and again, it was clear that work had been continuing apace.  Considerable effort had gone into reshaping the sheet metal for the transmission tunnel, and a gear selector lever (Lokar) and brake pedal now came up through the floor.  The 1932 Model B roadster dashboard, which had looked resplendent at the time of our last visit, fitted with a set of Moon gauges, now looked even better with SO-CAL art-deco switches in place.

Glide split-back seat frame with temporary foam in place to carry out preliminary check on driving position

The most obvious interior addition, however, was the newly arrived Glide split-back seat frame, which Jon had trial-fitted to the car.  With the steering column, steering wheel and brake pedal already in place, the addition of some temporary foam meant we could have a preliminary look at the seating position and ergonomics.  There are a few issues that will require further attention, including seat height, driving position, throttle pedal location and rear seat access, but first impressions from inside the Model A were positive, with good visibility all round and a reasonable driving position.

There was one final matter that needed attention before we left Southend, though, and that was the choice of rear tyres.  As we observed previously, stance is one of the major contributory factors when it comes to making a hot rod look “right”.  The rear tyres obviously play an important part in providing the necessary rake, but also need to fill the wheel arches completely.

One of the difficulties when it comes to trying to build a rod in 2006, in such a way that it looks like it came out of the 1960s, is the fact that suitable tyre choice is limited.  Most performance radial tyres now are of 16-inch diameter, and upwards, with very shallow sidewalls.  The Model A has 15-inch wheels and requires tyres with a much deeper sidewall, particularly at the rear, to achieve the right look.  One option would have been to go with crossply tyres, as there is a greater choice in 15-inch diameter and they have the necessary “tall” sidewalls.  From a handling and braking standpoint, however, we didn’t want to go that route – it had to be radials.

On that basis, the ideal tyre for the rear of our car would be a 235/75R15.  Unfortunately, though, that size wouldn’t work with the wheel offset on which we had decided, as the inner sidewall of the tyre was too close to the bodywork (we wanted the tyre to fill the rear wheel arch, but not extend beyond the outer lip of the fender).  A slightly narrower, 225-section tyre was considered, but wasn’t available with the required rolling diameter.

it's beginning to look like a complete car

In the end, there was only one solution, and that was to cut the rear wheel arches and move them slightly inwards to achieve the necessary clearance.  It was a tricky and time-consuming job, because it also impacted on the space available for the rear seat, but Jon and Andy did the necessary, and as a result, we can now fit the chosen 235-section tyres.

As we have come to realise, it’s getting the details like this right that makes for a stunning hot rod.

To be continued . . . .             

Story: Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk

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