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Back to the Future – Part 4


15.6.06. When we last saw the DRC Review Project Model A at Home Grown Hot Rods’ Southend-on-Sea workshop, it looked amazingly complete, apparently lacking only a full set of wheels and tyres, plus a bench seat with a Mexican blanket thrown over it, before being able to hit the road as a bona fide rat rod.

Much as we admire the back-to-basics ingenuity displayed by many rat rods, however, it isn’t the look we’re aiming for with this particular Tudor Sedan, as those who have read the previous instalments of “Back to the Future” will know.  This is to be a full-fendered car with a purposeful, early-sixties feel about it.

As for the state of our car, appearances can be deceiving, and such was the case with the Model A when we saw it.  Home Grown owner, Jon Golding, and body man extraordinaire, Andy Barry, had amassed nearly 350 hours of labour toiling on the Ford to get it to that point, but much remained to be done.

That work began the day after our visit, the amazingly well-preserved Model A body being unbolted and carefully removed from the TCI frame for the first time since the car had arrived in the UK, from Texas, nearly a year ago.  Once the task had been accomplished, Jon and Andy carefully checked the edges of the body, as well as underneath – in fact, any areas that couldn’t be reached while the body was fitted to the frame – and carried out final repair work before the Tudor Sedan shell, bonnet, splash aprons, running boards and fenders were removed to the nearby paint shop to commence the next stage of preparation.

Jon then turned his efforts to completing all the remaining welding jobs on the frame – a number of components had only been tacked in place initially – including the K-member, which greatly improves the torsional strength of the chassis and provides a secure mounting point for the transmission tailshaft, the exhaust hangers and assorted bracketry.  After a final check-over, the frame was completely disassembled, with the front and rear suspension, steering rack, coil-over dampers, Ford 9-inch rear end, and exhaust system all being removed and sent for sand blasting, chrome plating or polishing, as appropriate.

As for paint, the plan was for the chassis to be finished in a deep, gloss black, to match the fenders, running boards and splash aprons, while the ZZ4 engine block, brake backing plates and drums, plus a number of smaller components, would receive a satin black finish.   At this point, Jon had done all he could on the car, and a brief lull followed while he waited for parts to be returned to the workshop.

An indication of the preparation work involved in getting the Model A Sedan ready for paint.  By any standards, the 77-year-old body is in remarkable condition

In the meantime, down the road a short distance, Andy and Jay Adams had started preparing the body for paint, although not before the windscreen surround and glass (complete with original Texas vehicle licence sticker), plus distinctive Model A sun visor, had been painstakingly removed and the windcreen frame sent to the platers.  In order to achieve the sort of external finish that is a hallmark of Home Grown cars, a mind-numbing amount of preparation work has to take place before primer, and ultimately, the finishing coats of paint, can be laid down.  This involves filling and block-sanding every square inch of the body, then checking for imperfections, including any high or low spots, followed by further filling, blocking and re-checking.  The process is repeated until Jon and Andy are satisfied with the result.

Although not immediately obvious, the inner wheel arches have been moved slightly inwards to provide clearance for the 235-section BFGoodrich tyres that will be fitted

It is pleasing to report – not least, for Andy and Jay – that the work has now been completed and all body parts covered in a coat of primer, including the sand-blasted fenders, running boards and splash aprons.  These will sit for a week or two, to allow the filler and primer to “settle”, and then any final remedial work carried out before the first coat of paint is applied. 

A lot of filling, sanding and sweat went into getting the roof finish up to Home Grown Hot Rod standards.  The body is now in primer, awaiting paint 

Interestingly, Jon commented that the roof of the Model A required the most work, for although the it had been professionally filled at some point before leaving the US, the metalwork wasn’t quite as straight and ripple-free as had appeared to be the case on initial inspection.

Front end components, now painted and polished, await assembly.  Steering is via manual rack and pinion rather than the more obvious choice of a Vega box

Just one week after being stripped completely, the painted chassis was back at Home Grown Hot Rods and the reassembly process under way.  Once all the major components had been secured in place using stainless steel and high-tensile steel fixings, Jon fitted the brakes, including aircraft-quality flexible pipes (the standard, blue anodised finish on the end pieces was cleaned off and the fittings buffed to a satin finish) and a bias adjuster, before lowering the engine and TH400 transmission into position.  He then installed the fuel tanks and lines, plus the exhaust system.

Rear shot of TCI chassis with Ford 9-inch, plus drum brakes and backing plates, laid out prior to assembly.  Curved brackets extending down from the frame provide mounting points for the rear bumper

Inevitably with the build of a one-off car, there are going to be a few glitches, and the only hope is that they remain relatively minor in nature.  So far (fingers crossed), we’ve encountered just two in the case of the Model A.  Firstly, Jon noticed that one of the adjustable coil-over dampers had been bent and its travel adversely affected, the relatively straightforward solution being to replace the damaged unit.  The second – front tyres – proved to be a somewhat thornier issue.

Put simply, we require 145x15 rubber in order to achieve the look for which we are aiming.  We were able to source suitable 235/75R15 rears from BFGoodrich, but after numerous enquiries, it became apparent that 145-section radials in 15-inch diameter are not in production at the moment.  The good news is that at least one tyre manufacturer plans to re-introduce the size later in the year.  Fortunately, Jon had a pair of 145s in his possession, and kindly offered them to us, with the proviso that they have to be replaced with new tyres once they become available again – an eminently fair solution to the problem.

Close-up of the assembled independent front end, showing Heidt's crossmember, unequal length upper and lower wishbones, anti-roll bar, Aldan Eagle coilovers and 11-inch discs, fitted with Wilwood four-piston calipers

Such was the pace of the build that, by the end of last week, the chassis was on the ground and rolling on a set of loaned wheels while we await the imminent arrival of a parts shipment from the US, containing some shiny new Halibrand Sprints.  A few items remain to be sorted out, including installation of the fuel tank sender unit and fitment of the chromed outer brackets for the four-bar set-up, but the chassis is now very close to completion.  The next step will be to fit the fenders, running boards and splash aprons, which will be the first items to receive paint, before the finished body is eventually lowered into place.

Components were assembled onto the TCI chassis very quickly once they arrived back from the paint shop.  GM Performance Parts ZZ4 engine is still to receive dress-up parts in this shot 

Finally, while all the mechanical components were exposed and easy to work on, it seemed an ideal opportunity to decide on dress-up items for the GM Performance Parts FB385 crate engine.  After due deliberation, we went with Moon finned rocker covers and breathers, plus a matching air cleaner to sit atop the Edelbrock Performer four-barrel carburettor, the combination undoubtedly adding a bit of extra sparkle to the engine compartment.

Completion of the car is getting close now, and the anticipation is definitely building.

To be continued . . . .

Story: Graham Jones
Photos: Jon Golding

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