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Automotive Art Personified

6.7.06 Yes, DRCReview.com is featuring another shiny hot rod, and no, we are not going to fall in line with the current trend in political correctness, and apologise.  That’s because, in our opinion, Kev Smith’s ‘32 coupe is one of the coolest Models Bs in the UK.

By his own admission, Kev has learned rather a lot about hot rodding over the years.  He knows that skimping on the quality of components, and taking shortcuts with detail and finish, is not the way to build a knock-out rod.  He also has enough experience of building cars to know what components work well together, and having been a regular visitor to Jon Golding’s Home Grown Hot Rods, has clearly developed a taste for quality.  It should therefore come as no surprise that Kev’s ‘32 deals a killer blow in all departments – from the highly detailed chassis to the classic hot rod stance.

How the bright red coupe came together in the first place is an interesting tale, the story going back some 10 years.  Rodder Richard Hartley wanted a stock height, three-window coupe body as the basis for his fully fendered Model B, and Chris Boyle at Rodline was called upon to create it.  Using a chopped body – the only one the company produced at the time – Chris “un-chopped” it, by cutting off the roof, extending the ‘A’ pillars and rear roof section to add extra height, and then grafting the roof back on. Once the body had been sorted, the build of Richard’s car was entrusted to well-known car constructor, Keith Atkinson, the completed, fully fendered car appearing on the UK rodding scene in the late 1990s.

Fast forward a few years, and Richard decided he’d prefer the sun on his head and the smell of fresh air in his nostrils, and decided to go the roadster route.  He removed the coupe body from the chassis, ordered up a new Westcott body from the US, and set about creating a whole new, fully fendered roadster look.

It was at this point that Kev heard the coupe body was for sale, and having wanted to build an enclosed car in favour of the roadster he had just sold (it might have been easier if Kev and Richard had just exchanged ‘phone numbers!), he set off for Cornwall to inspect and retrieve the body.  Kev was impressed with what he found.  The paintwork was still good and the fully trimmed body had been well fettled over the years.  The glass was there, the windows worked, and it provided a much simpler solution than buying a new Rodline body and having to trim it out from scratch.  Predictably, a deal was done, and five strong blokes were soon lifting the fibreglass body onto the trailer for the journey home.

While Kev was busying himself changing over the bodyshell from right- to left-hand drive, Jon Golding was tasked with the construction and preparation of a complete rolling chassis for the project.  This took eight months to complete.  

American Stamping rails (Jon’s preferred supplier) were used as the basis for the rolling chassis.  These were placed on a jig, checked for straightness and modified accordingly.  New crossmembers were welded in, and then the task of trial fitting and bolting in the various components could begin.  A Currie 9-inch rear axle, with its super smooth casing and internal components, was located with a custom, four ladder bar set-up combined with coil-over shocks and matching, Ford, 11-inch rear drum brakes.  At the front, four-pot callipers clamp a pair of Willwood ventilated discs.  The braking system also incorporates a manual brake balance control to help dial-in the right amount of front/rear bias.  Kev purchased a bare SuperBell I-beam axle, which he then had chromed in the UK, apparently saving himself quite a tidy sum in the process.  Once back from the platers, the axle was fitted with Pete & Jake’s spindles and hung from a single leaf spring.  A Vega steering box turns the wheels.

Having knocked the chassis into shape, Home Grown dropped in a 350cu in Chevy crate motor (about 290hp), equipped with a Mallory dual-point dizzy and topped with an Edelbrock manifold and matching four-barrel carburettor.  As an aside, it seems the ubiquitous Holley carb is now no longer king of the aftermarket, Edelbrock having taken over as the simple, bolt-on carburettor of choice.  Kev considered going the Ford engine route, but eventually dropped the notion due to the higher costs involved. A pair of block-hugging headers fit neatly inside the frame rails, and the exhaust gasses exit through a custom-made, stainless steel system.

As for the transmission, Kev chose an off-the-peg, Home Grown B&M unit, combined with a standard torque converter and topped with a Lokar shifter.  The result is a super-smooth engine and transmission, which returns a surprisingly frugal 25-mpg under normal driving.  With a fuel tank capacity of 11 gallons, it means the Model B can cover around 275 miles before needing to visit a filling station. 

Since Kev likes traditional fenderless hot rods with rake, he went for 33-inch truck radials on the rear, wrapped around 10x15 inch Real Wheels, with skinny, 135-section tyres on 4-inch wide Halibrands up front.  Both sets of wheels are extremely rare, although Kev particularly prizes the Real Wheels as a great find. Purchased from rodder, Barry George, they were from an early production run, and apparently based on a Halibrand design with square-cut windows.  They differ, however, by having smooth centres rather than centre caps.

Kev says one of the highlights of the build came when the three-window body was fitted to the chassis for the first time.  “Both the body and chassis were kept in separate garages, so we never really got a true picture of what the car would look like,” he says.  The answer finally came about nine months into the 12-month build, when a team of helpers slowly lowered the body into place, and Kev could admire the car for the first time as a complete entity.  It’s fair to say he was suitably chuffed, as the Model B was turning out exactly as he’d envisaged.

Next on the job list was the wiring, and here the task was entrusted to rodder, Adrian Smith, who seems to be making something of a name for himself at the moment.  Adrian used a Painless wiring loom, and Kev was very pleased with the results.

The body had been purchased minus the seating, and being a trimmer by trade, Kev was the perfect man to sort out that particular area of the car.  Despite his experience, however, it wasn’t a simple task.  “You get to see great new materials all the time, and it was quite a daunting task to decide on the choice of cloth and the colour,” he says.  “There are some very neat Zebra and Leopard skin effects impregnated into pony hide, and at one stage, I considered leather in a subtle blue and purple shade, which I think would have looked good.  In the end, though, having built a traditional hot rod, there was only one choice – it had to be black, which contrasts so well with the red paintwork.”  Kev then chose Alcantara, a suede-effect material, for the headlining and door panels, and the result is truly beautiful.   

When it came to the choice of seat, Kev had previously purchased a Glide bench for his roadster, but was disappointed with it.  “It was incredibly high, and you looked silly driving the car, so I lowered it by taking it off its runners, but that defeated the object of having a movable seat in the first place.  For the coupe, I started by looking through Street Rodder magazine, and found Tea’s Design Inc in Minnesota (www.teasdesign.com), which makes an amazing range of seats for street rods and customs.  I particularly wanted a bench seat, and sure enough, they had one that fitted low to the floor, but also retained fore and aft movement, plus it had the added bonus of back rake adjustment.”

It sounded perfect, so Kev ordered a seat, covered in a basic material, which he then stripped and  retrimming in German Nappa leather once it had arrived in the UK.  Not only was Kev pleased with the look of the seat, which features a contoured base and backrest, but he also reports it is very comfortable, which enhances the pleasure of driving the car.  The only down-side is that the Tea’s Design seat cost virtually twice as much as the Glide, but as Kev says, “It was money well spent.”

The rest of the interior is subtle, yet simple, and follows traditional hot rod practice, with a So-Cal engine-turned dash panel featuring inset Stewart Warner gauges, So-Cal switchgear, a Pete & Jake’s steering wheel on a Limeworks column, and custom brake and throttle pedals.  Black leather cloth has been used to trim the trunk, with a   beautiful diamond-stitch pattern applied to the sides of the load area and the underside of the trunk lid. 

So is Kev happy with the finished car, which made its debut at the 2005 Hot Rod Supernationals?  “It’s everything I thought it would be, and more,” he says.  “Jon Golding had suggested repainting the car, as there is a little bit of chipping and cracking on the body, and I seriously considered that option.  On the car’s first outing, however, Jon came up to me and said the car looked great and he was so pleased I’d had it repainted – but I hadn’t!  With such a great compliment coming from Jon, I decided to leave the paintwork alone.  The body is 10 years old and has hidden door hinges.  The doors themselves are quite heavy, with 6mm glass fitted, and have tended to drop a little, but overall, the body is in great condition.  When you match it to what Jon has achieved with the chassis, it really makes a terrific statement.”

Attention to detail doesn’t stop there, though, Kev having spent four days hand painting each Edelbrock rocker cover with body-matching red paint.  “They had to be etch-primed first, and then there were four coats of two-pack paint to apply, but as ever, the result was well worth the effort,” he says.   Weeks were spent refining the ride height, to get the rake right, and numerous wheel and tyre combinations have been tried in a further quest for perfection.  “Personally, I think it’s that sort of attention to detail that makes this car,” says Kev.  “I’ve lived and breathed it 24/7 for over a year now, and it has become a consuming passion.” 

As our visit with Kev and his beautiful Model B was drawing to a close, he made an interesting observation that confirms our view of hot rodding – that it is at least as much about creating an individual piece of automotive art as it is about building a unique driving machine.  “In truth, I get more out of building a neat-looking rod than I do driving it,” he says thoughtfully.  “Don’t get me wrong, I do love driving it, but I get as much out of the way it looks.  In addition, you always have to remember to be careful with 290hp on tap in what is basically a very old-fashioned car with antique suspension.  I would love to be able to drive it more, but work commitments mean I often just don’t seem to have the time.”

Understandably, who wouldn’t feel frustrated at being denied the opportunity to drive such an archetypal deuce coupe as often as possible?

Story & photos: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones

 
 
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