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Hot Rodding Multiculturalism

Hanspeter Wurmli’s 2006 Supernats Winner
Creating an original hot rod concept these days is not exactly an easy task.  It tends to be the case that UK rodding trends are heavily influenced by whatever is currently hot in the US of A, and there’s no denying we’re going through a ‘60s revival at the moment.

It therefore comes as a refreshing change to see Hanspeter Wurmli’s Model B.  This is a case of classic British sports car meets American hot rod, or to be more precise, elements of circuit racing D- and E-Type Jaguars and the Doane Spencer Roadster – all of which have shaped this project.

The Doane Spencer roadster - photo by Tony Thacker

The tale started out in 1983, when Hanspeter purchased a 1932 Ford hot rod, comprising a Tony Theron-built chassis topped with a Wescott body, which was later fitted with a 351 Ford Cleveland motor.  Hanspeter lost interest in the car, however, and put it up for sale.  It was at this juncture he began to realise that his decision to sell had more to do with wanting a more distinctive car than it did with wanting to be rid of the Ford.  Fortunately for Hanspeter, and for the world of British hot rodding, he reconsidered his decision to sell the Model B, and called on good friend and bespoke metalworker, Al Stevens, to discuss how they could move the car forward in a totally fresh manner.

“Al had some great ideas, based on early European circuit cars, and we decided to incorporate those features into the whole build of the car, from the chassis right through to the body and interior,” says Hanspeter.  “We looked at every part of the concept in detail and eventually drew up a plan.”

Frontal appearance borrows from Doane Spence roadster. Check out that neat nerf bar which follows the lower line of the grille 

One of the most striking aspects of the car in its current guise is the front axle location and suspension set-up, which echo the clean, uncluttered look of the Doane Spencer car.  Al had the idea of running the axle in front of the chassis, and started out with a Super Bell item hung on the front of the pinched rails to help get the car nice and low.  This also meant the frontal appearance was cleaned up, as there were no frame rails or spreader bar. 

MGA lever-arm shocks and four bar location reflected in mirror smooth paintwork

“We wanted the extended four-bar set-up to be parallel with the chassis, and Al made these up with some new batwings,” explains Hanspeter.  “This enabled us to locate the four-bar arrangement higher, which in turn gave us a lower front end.”  Suspension components include novel MGA lever-arm shock absorbers and a Posies leaf spring – a real trans-Atlantic marriage, plus there’s a Panhard rod for added control.  At the back, a triangulated four bar axle location utilises a Jaguar Mk2 axle with coil springs and Spax adjustable dampers plus an anti-roll bar.  Clearly a lot of thought has gone into making this rod handle.  Adding a touch of cold war nostalgia, though, is the steering box, robbed from a Russian Lada.

Disc brakes are hidden by covers fashioned after 30s-style drums

When it came to stopping power, the desire was for big and powerful brakes, especially as Hanspeter was thinking of sticking to American V8 power at this stage.  In the end, he sourced some beefy 11¾-inch discs from a Mk 9 Jaguar, complete with rare Dunlop callipers.  In a very neat touch, these were grafted on and hidden behind a pair of custom drum brake-style covers, resembling those found on European racing cars of the ‘30s.  The rear disc/calliper set-up was sourced from a Rover, and the whole braking system operates via a Jaguar servo.

The obvious choice for motivation was an American V8 engine, but Hanspeter and Al decided to think outside of the box, as they had with the rest of the car.  They figured that when hot rodding first took hold in the US, the underlying aim was to fit a more powerful engine in order to go faster, and virtually any suitable power unit could be used to achieve this.  Rather than go for a big iron lump matched to an equally large and heavy transmission, then, they decided on the Colin Chapman-inspired solution of choosing a lightweight engine to help provide a good power-to-weight ratio.

Simple straight-six operates on twin SU carbs

Their choice was a highly original one – a relatively light weight straight-six from a Datsun 260Z complete with aluminium cylinder head and a five-speed gearbox..  The motor was not only capable of propelling the standard, steel-bodied road car from rest to 60 mph in 8 seconds, but also good for 125mph.  An added bonus was that this Japanese six ran a simple, twin SU carburettor induction system, so there were no complex electronics to plumb in to get the car running.  As for power output, with a semi-race profile cam fitted, plus ported and gas-flowed cylinder head, flat- top, high-compression pistons (10.5:1 compression), balanced crank and headers, Hanspeter reckons there’s 210hp to play with, which is not too shabby for this relatively lightweight roadster cum coupe.

Check out that door/dash curve - so subtle

Wescott may have provided the basic body for this project, but its involvement ended there, as a whole host of unique features give the car its own, highly original signature.  For starters, there are those beautifully crafted aluminium doors, which are curved to flow in one smooth line into the unique, hand-formed dashboard.  Then there are the shaped and cast bronze windscreen posts, which echo that curve.

The hand-formed aluminium roof section is another work of art, and mimics elements of the classic lightweight E-Type Jaguar with its inset, drilled-out section above the rear window.  There’s also a frenched-in, tapered chrome spear running down the centre of the hood.  This was very difficult to fashion by all accounts, and necessitated the creation of custom hood sides to account for the taper.  The result is stunning though and accentuated by the mile-deep gloss black paintwork, beautifully executed by Wayne Saunders with 10 coats of clear lacquer. 

Amazing detail includes this inset plated bonnet spear and tip, while hand-beaten ally roof borrows from lightweight E-Type with drilled out recess 

Cowl vent is fashioned from aluminium - another work of art

Here's the inspiration for that novel rear window treatment - a lightweight E-Type

The unique chrome spear on the boot section flows into the Ford script and is another one-off piece.  Besides being beautifully designed and finished, it is also practical, as the glass section under the script incorporates the number plate light.  Further evidence of original thinking is in the rolled aluminium pan with its single cut-out for an exhaust pipe, modelled after the Audi TT.  Take a look at the side profile of the car and draw an imaginary line from the rear pan, through the wheel to the body, and you’ll notice that it lines up perfectly.

Number plate light is incorporated into the Ford script moulding

Rolled rear pan includes Audi TT-inspired single exhaust outlet

None of this detail is accidental, and it makes you realise the huge amount of time, thought and effort that has been invested in the car – it’s the same from every angle.  Finally, though, just when you think you’ve seen it all, you look beneath the body, only to be presented with the amazing sight of a three-piece, fully louvred belly pan running from front to rear – just as you might find on Coddington’s Alumatub – and crafted with the same amount of care and attention as the more visible parts of the car.

Just when you think you've seen it all - there's a full length, louvred undertray, and yes the louvres were meant to be punched out that way so you can see their shape rather than lots of little rectangular holes

Further influence of the Doane Spencer car can be found at the front, in the shape and design of the nerf bar.  While the US rod has a curved section at the top, Hanspeter’s car has a curved section at the bottom, which follows the line of the grille – a far neater solution, in our opinion.

One of Hanspeter’s favourite parts of the car is the hand-made brass and nickel-plated fuel filler cap, which is curved to follow the body line, but in addition, has a beautiful operating mechanism that took three months to perfect.  “It’s a work of art,” he says.  “It’s lovely to use, to open and to close, and it makes you feel good when you’re filling up.” 

Early race car inspired, hand-formed brass and nickel-coated filler cap - with more than a hint of art deco influence

 The classic English sportscar theme is further echoed in the choice of wheels.  In this case, classically-styled, 4½ x 16-inch Jaguar D-Type centre-lock aluminium split rims with painted centres and highly polished rims are used up front, with 6-inch wide versions at the rear.  All are shod with era-perfect, 1950s-style, crossply tyres.

Flawless paintwork was executed by Wayne Saunders

Difficult as it is to take in all the external modifications, a whole new chapter begins when you peek inside, and once again, much of the result is down to the exceptional metal-working skills of Al Stevens.  There instrumention is set in an oval, engine-turned panel, for example, just as you might find on any number of rodded ‘32s, but as with almost everything on this car, there’s a twist – instead of being centrally located, the hand-formed panel is located on the right, within easier line of sight of the driver.  As for the gauges themselves, Hanspeter elected to retain the original Datsun items, but had a local clock repairer fit them with domed glass faces.  A particularly neat and practical finishing touch is a parcel shelf, which runs beneath the dash.  

Engine-turned oval dash is located in front of the driver and retains Datsun gauges

Detail touches include those brushed aluminium strips around the seat bases and matching shaped floor panels with inset carpet

The interior trim again follows through the “race car minimalism” theme, with semi-aged, tan leather trim contrasting with brushed aluminium throughout.  There are curved metal mouldings fitted around the Jaguar D-Type seat bases and a shaped floorpan, into which are inset matching wool carpet, while also unique are the control pedals which are all cut from billet aluminium!

Bottom edge of the dash is plated to add relief.  Pedals are machined from billet aluminium

The genius of Hanspeter’s car is that it succeeds in combining its unique features and original thinking with exceptional subtlety.  It’s the sort of car you look at and then find yourself going back to re-examine 10 minutes later, and when you go back for a third time, there’s still so much more to see.  In short, it’s refreshingly different from the vast majority of street rods, and although Hanspeter admits it’s been a painful journey at times during the seven-year, on-and-off build, it’s clear his philosophy of “less is more” has paid off handsomely.  He and Al Stevens have good reason to be very proud of their efforts.

Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk

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