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24 Carat ‘34

Kids have a habit of changing your life.  One day you might be driving around in a two-seater hot rod, minding your own business, and the next minute, the car is reluctantly up for sale to make way for one with more seats.  Of course, faced with this dilemma, ace hot rod trimmer, Neil Tadman, could have chosen the safe family option, and gone for a modern saloon – something sensible, with a boot and four doors – but hell no.  Neil’s been into rodding for more years than he’d care to remember, and the term “safe family option” never entered his mind.  Mind you, Neil’s ’34 Tudor Sedan is far from impractical, having space for the whole family, and being pro-built, it’s as reliable as you are likely to find.


So how did this lovely gold sedan come about in the first place?   “It’s a long and complicated story,” says Neil.  “The truth is, I wanted a ’32 sedan.  I looked at two or three in the UK, but they were just too far gone.  I wanted an early American sedan, and decided to spread the net wider to include 33/34 Fords, too.  Then, out of the blue, I got a call from John Reid, who was on business in the States and said he’d located one for me.  It was a bit rough, but did I want it?  On the spur of the moment, I said yes, and then wondered what I’d done – and more to the point, what I’d bought.”


Some months later, Neil found out.  “There was a knock on my door at about midnight, and there was John with the . . . er, car, of sorts, on a trailer.  He said, ‘Look, I know it’s probably a little rougher than we discussed, but hey, it’s okay.  You don’t have to take it if you don’t want to.’  Having waited so long to get the project moving, I just said, ‘Go on, then.  I’ll have it.’  This was in 1998.


This is the body as it arrived in the UK - scary stuff!


“The following morning was when it really hit me.  The body was all there, but the parts were not necessarily in the right place.”  By all accounts, it had been used as a shed in someone’s back garden for many years, but past history aside, the car was a good starting point.  Neil had already started accumulating components for the build, including a back axle and steering wheel, but now he needed to give the whole lot to someone who could piece it back together in the way he wanted.


So, who would get the nod for the build?   “It was a very difficult decision,” says Neil.  “I was already doing some interior work for Tim Hammond, Dave Haskell and Jon Golding.  I knew all three would have done a great job, but as I’d already been out for a drive in Dave’s ‘34 Coupe, and thought it was beautiful – I loved the way it drove – it made a lot of sense to ask him to build my sedan the same way he’d put together his coupe.  I knew I’d be happy with that.  So I gave him the car, all of my bits and a TCI frame, and left him to it.   I was in no rush to get it back, Dave was happy to fit it in around his other work and the project just moved on at a steady pace.” 



As is commonly known, Dave is an aficionado of chopped cars, so it came as no surprise to learn he had a 2 ¼-inch chop in mind for the body of Neil’s ’34, once he’d refettled it. With the slice through came raked A posts, to line up with the roof, the latter being filled with a custom panel, the origin of which remains a secret to this day.  Dave rebuilt the cowl, recessed the firewall, fitted new door skins, added a new driver’s-side quarter panel and made a custom apron for the rear.  He also mounted the fuel tank under the chassis rails rather than above, so there would be no visible fixings.  The attention to detail, however, didn’t stop there.


Grille shell is dropped 11/2 inches and the front bonnet line lowered to suit. The result is a subtly modified side profile enhanced by the 21/4 inch roof chop.  Although perhaps not evident at first sight, it's the detail attention like this throughout the car that makes it a real standout


Using a trick seen on American rods, he lowered the grille shell (which Neil had earlier purchased from rodder, Russ Pepper) an inch and a half, to add more rake to the bonnet line side profile.  Of course, this now meant Neil’s stock side panels didn’t fit, and the front cross-member had to be dropped to accommodate the lower position of the Walker radiator.  The side panels were duly sold to help finance new ones, fabricated from steel and sculpted along the lines of those fitted to Rick Dore’s custom ’36 Ford.  Originally, Dave had proposed fitting Buick portholes into the hood sides, but Neil was more impressed by the final, elegant solution, incorporating lovely, hand-formed spears.  The hood top is a Rootlieb item, and the wings are reproductions, as the originals were well past their best.


Hand-formed steel side panels are detailed with 30s-style teardrop relief and sculpted aluminium spear 


The TCI frame was fitted with Neil’s Mustang 8-inch rear axle and drum brakes, suspended by a four-bar location and coil-over shocks.  An anti-roll bar has also been incorporated for good measure.  At the front, Dave went for a 48-inch, I-beam axle and single leaf spring with four-bar set-up and P&J shocks.  The braking department is looked after by TCI vented discs and GM callipers, and following an earlier, high-speed motorway incident, attributable to a lack of stopping power, which seriously scared Neil, a servo has also been incorporated.  Steering is handled by a Vega box and a Pontiac Trans-Am column topped by Neil’s trusty Grant wheel.


As for motivation, Dave dropped in a 350 crate motor, with matching 350 transmission, and topped it off with shiny Moon valve covers and air cleaner, while engine breathing was improved with an Edelbrock carb and manifold.  The ’34 hauls very nicely, too, with a lovely burble emanating from the 2 ½-inch custom exhaust system, but also offers all the docility required for urban driving.


350/350 combination has been dressed up for the occasion


Neil got the car back home in the winter of 2002, after Dave had laid down the lovely shade of Vauxhall Astra metallic on the sedan body, the chosen colour being perfectly complemented by Coker whitewalls and 5 x 15 and 7 x 15 inch chrome reversed steel wheels fitted with ’50s Mercury hub caps.  The combination not only looked good, but also contributed greatly to the rake and presence of this rod.  “The car then sat in the workshop untouched for five months, as I just didn’t have the time to finish it,” says Neil.  “In the end, I put aside the month of June to get the car completed – and it really was a month’s work.”



The car had its first public outing at the 2003 NSRA Supernationals, and made a stunning debut, not just because it was a rarely seen (over here) ’34 Ford Tudor, and not just because it had been so beautifully put together by Dave Haskell, although both of those were undoubtedly significant factors.  The final part of the equation was the interior, and here Neil had really nailed it – if you’ll pardon the expression.


There may be two or three people in this country to whom you can take your box of bits, and emerge with a beautiful, hand-built hot rod, but there is only one name in the UK, it seems, with a reputation for producing consistently outstanding hot rod interiors – and that’s Neil’s Auto Interiors.  Perhaps it’s not altogether surprising, given that Neil comes from a family of trimmers – his father handled retrims of prestige marques, like Bentleys and Aston Martins, and his grandfather was a furniture upholsterer.  It’s obviously in the genes, and having completed a five year apprenticeship in 1981, Neil now has more than 200 pre-49 rod retrims under his belt.  “I don’t like to blow my own trumpet, but when you consider how many hot rods we’ve trimmed, that’s probably more than anyone else outside of America,” he says with a certain pride. 


Neil continued his chosen ’60s theme for the ‘34 on the inside with hand-made bucket front seats, styled along the lines of those fitted to the Mk1 Jaguar E-Type, and added a rear bench.  These were stitched up in a new material Neil had discovered in the US, which looks as good as it sounds – Oyster Pearl.  Of course, one or two other Tadman-trimmed cars have now emerged with this lovely shade of white Naugahyde, but back in 2003, this upholstery treatment was unique in the UK. 


The photos tell their own story - what more can you say!


There’s a strong tuck-and-roll theme throughout the car, and here Neil decided to be a little different by incorporating horizontal rather than vertical pleats. “I have a thing about headlining,” admits Neil.  “In fact, so much so, there will probably be some mention about this on my tombstone!”  There’s no denying he’s made a lovely job of it, too, with twin tuck-and-roll “surfboards” laid into the headlining, plus shaped door panels that emphasise the curves of the car.  There’s also contrasting black wool carpet covering a thick soundproofed base to produce a sense of carpet-slipper comfiness.  A modern touch is the inclusion of inertia seat belts.



To date, Neil reckons he’s racked up over 10,000 miles in the sedan, and uses it as much as possible.  When we visited him to take the photos, we loaded up and headed for Southend’s seafront.  What became clear during our brief encounter is that the car rides extremely well considering the I-beam front end, although those bias-belted tyres with tall sidewalls may be helping, too.  That said, Neil reckons he may change them for radials.  In fact, he’s apparently getting to the point where he’s also considering new paint and a new interior - gulp.  For many rodders, having a Tadman interior would be a dream.  Of course, if you are Neil Tadman, then you can change that dream as often as you like.   

Here's the man himself behind the wheel - a sneaky mug shot of camera shy Neil

Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk

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