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Baker’s tasty hot rod recipe

28.7.06. Keith Baker likes his hot rods hot, and there’s nothing much hotter than stuffing a 478 cu in Hemi between the frame rails of a ’32 roadster.  This is very much a work-in-progress report on what will likely be the fastest, baddest, Model B roadster to hit the UK rodding scene next year – if Keith keeps to his current schedule. 

Those of you familiar with Keith’s work will probably know him as a custom painter of some repute.  For example, he refinished all of the fabulous concept cars to emerge from the now defunct, but very influential, International Automotive Design (IAD) organisation in Worthing some years ago, and has since gone on to create eye-popping custom motorcycle paintwork for Harley Davidson dealerships throughout the UK.  When he’s not wielding a spray gun or building the odd custom Harley, however, you can usually find Keith beavering away on his current roadster project (as well as two more for his friends), which by his own admission, offers a possible solution to the current Middle East fuel crisis, as the car should be able to consume the whole of the world supply in one fell swoop.

Keith decided to build his latest ride after unsuccessfully trying to buy back his old roadster, which was built along similar lines.  For this project, however, he started out by going down the tried and tested route of purchasing American Stamping Rails and a SuperBell dropped tube front axle.  The latter is located with a pair of Keith’s own custom hairpins, while at the rear, a Currie axle is combined with equally original ladder bars.   Braking is looked after by Willwood discs and four-pot callipers at the front and traditional-style drums at the rear. 

When it came to motivation, Keith always likes to be a little different, and for this particular project, remembered seeing a bare Hemi block at a friend’s garage.  A telephone call later and he had ascertained the engine was still there, and more to the point, for sale.  A deal was soon done, and once the motor was his, it was despatched to Hauser Race Cars to be rebuilt.

As an aside, at around this time, Keith received a mysterious call from an American gentleman, who via a friend connected with the Hemi Register, had acquired the engine number of Keith’s motor and matched it to a Hemi Challenger that now resided in New York.  Understandably, the Challenger’s owner was very keen to get the original engine back in his car, not just for the sake of originality, but also, no doubt, because it would quite easily have put $100,000 on the price of his car.  Keith was amenable to helping the owner realise his ambition, but the deal didn’t work out and Keith duly got on with the engine rebuild. 

The 426 Hemi has now been stroked and slightly overbored, using an Eagle crank and pistons, to produce 478 cu in.  The top end features a tough, roller rocker valve train assembly and aluminium Indy Heads equipped with Keith Black valve covers.  Moving even further up, the engine is fitted with a high-rise inlet manifold equipped with twin 750cfm Holley four-barrel carbs and a Hilborn-style scoop.   The resulting (and conservatively estimated) 530hp is handled by a 727 Torqueflite automatic transmission and fed to the tarmac via original, ARE daisy mag wheels measuring 10x15 inch, equipped with Hoosier rubber.  Similar-style, 6x15inch wheels are used at the front, wrapped with Goodyear NCTs – a combination that, on the basis of past experience, Keith reports provides great grip.

As for the body, Keith says he would have happily gone the less costly fibreglass route if a good replica body had been available.  Being dissatisfied with the current crop of plastic bodies, however, he decided to talk to Rod Bods in the US about their recently introduced, all-steel roadster bodyshell.

“They were really great people to deal with,” says Keith.  “I phoned and asked if they could build a body to my specification and get it to my shipping agent within 10 days.  They called me back and said they could do it, and sure enough, they stuck by their word and delivered it some 750 miles to get it there on time.  I was impressed.”  All told, it took just six weeks to get the body into the country and sitting on the rails.  At Keith’s request, the boot lid outer skin was supplied flat so it could be louvered in the UK.  “The body is really great,” says Keith.  “The doors fit perfectly with a resounding ‘clunk’ and the quality of the metal work is very good.”

So that’s where we are at the moment.  The car is taking shape nicely, and there are some very original touches still to come.  For instance, the roadster will be completely finished in gloss black, with just the Keith Black aluminium rocker covers and daisy mag wheels adding some visual “relief” from an external point of view.  Keith also has some interesting ideas up his sleeve for the interior, such as a black granite insert for the instrument panel and alcantara upholstery for the custom bucket seats and door panels.

In short, Keith can never stand accused of being conformist or of building just another roadster – and that’s what hot rodding is all about.

Story: Andy Kirk

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