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Les Howlett’s Sweet (F)A

Les opted for a painted grille surround in place of chrome

It is often said, “All good things come to those who wait.”  In the case of Les Howlett and his recently completed Model A roadster, the wait has been some 25 years, as that’s the length of time since he first made his mark on the UK custom scene.  Specifically, it was back in 1982, when fireman Les put together a radically modified F-type Vauxhall Victor Estate, called “Sweet FA”, which graced the cover of that year’s October issue of Custom Car magazine.  Subsequently, the former Smoke City Wheelers’ member had a brief affair with a 1958 Chevy, which saw occasional street/strip action, before he realised he had more important things to do with his money, like raising a family, buying a house and paying the mortgage. 


An accident at work put paid to Les’s career in the fire service, and as a result, he turned to contract brickwork, which he’s been doing ever since.  This may seem an unusual career move, but Les tells us he already had some experience of bricklaying, having started out in the trade at the tender age of 16.  

The Model A body sits elegantly on much-modified '32 rails


In 2003, Les found himself in a position where he could seriously consider getting back into the hobby he loved so much.  The only difference was this time, having been inspired by the products of Home Grown Hot Rods, he decided to go down the street rod route.  He purchased an all-steel Model A sedan, equipped with a Rover V8 and Jaguar rear end.  It wasn’t really what he wanted, but it gave him the starting point for a longer-term project.  The aim was to chop the roof and generally update the car. 


“I had seen some of Jon Golding’s cars lined up next to his trade stand at various shows and I was very impressed by the standard of workmanship,” says Les.  “I decided to talk to Jon about what we could do with the Sedan.  Jon thought the body was in lovely condition and that it would be a real shame to chop it.  We got talking about what I really wanted, and in the end, I decided my ideal hot rod would be a Model A Roadster on 1932 rails, done in a similar style to a 1970s’ show car – so that’s what we decided to build.”

ARE rear wheels and E/T multi-spokes up front


“I sold the Model A Sedan and then started accumulating parts for the project.  Jon imported the steel body, chassis rails and associated hardware, while I sourced other components via local parts company, WASP.  They sourced a small-block Chevy motor and 700R4 transmission, both of which were ground smooth to remove all of the rough casting marks before they were painted.“


Meanwhile, Jon set about the challenging task of converting a pair of ’32 rails to follow the contours of a Model A body, something which required a great deal of skilful cutting and reshaping.  As you can see in the shots of the finished car, this work has been beautifully executed and is so subtle that it isn’t immediately obvious what has been done.  Of course, creating a one-off chassis also meant that cross-members had to be custom fabricated and all the components that would normally slot straight onto stock ’32 rails had to be re-evaluated and tested before fitting.

Original Guide headlights have been refettled


The project really started to come together mid-way through 2005.  Jon fitted a Pete & Jakes front end, complete with drilled I-beam and four-bar arrangement, Buick-style drums from Deuce Manufacturing, chromed transverse leaf spring and matching shock absorbers, and a vee’d spreader bar.  There’s the usual Vega steering box, in this case, mated to a Limeworks column topped with a Budnik Lakester drilled steering wheel.


At the back is a Home Grown ladder bar set-up with Aldon coil-overs locating a Ford 9-inch axle equipped with 4.11 gears. These are hidden behind a cast aluminium E/T diff cover.  The rear brakes are dressed drums, though they’re hard to spot through those custom-made, 17-inch diameter Salt Flat Special wheels from ARE.  Les fitted his chosen rolling stock with Cheater radial construction, early slick-style tyres.  As can be seen in the photos, both the rear ARE wheels and multi-spoke E/T fronts have been polished to perfection.

A bit of polished aluminium dresses up the diff


As previously mentioned, the drivetrain includes a GM 350 crate motor, which Les has fitted with a competition cam and Edelbrock Dual Quad carburation system and manifold.  The 700R4 transmission was purchased because Les intends to do some serious driving in the car and wanted good economy.  Having sampled it, however, he soon had Andy Frost modify the transmission by changing the stock vacuum activation to an electronic overdrive switch.  Les reports that the overdrive used to cut in at about 35mph, but now he can select top gear at a speed to suit his driving style. 

Twin carburation for the gleaming 350 Chevy


Currently, one significant limiting factor in Les’s desire to “drive the hell” out of his Model A roadster is the relatively small Moon fuel tank fitted in the trunk.  This may have to go in favour of a larger capacity item if he wants to avoid filling up every 50 miles or so.


HGHR’s Andy Barry fettled the fresh bodywork to remove any minor irregularities and prepared it for colour.  Painter Jay Adams then laid down the chosen Valentino Benzo metallic, a vintage Alfa Romeo shade mixed up especially for the car, which we reckon looks particularly good.

High quality throughout with a Neil Tadman interior to match 


Neil Tadman expertly stitched the tan leather upholstery in what Les describes as “pod-style” tuck ‘n’ roll, with two individually upholstered sections on the seat base.  It’s fair to say the whole job turned out exactly as he’d hoped.  The dash is filled with Classic Instruments gauges, with the red-on-beige dials set into a dash surround by Knecht Equipment, clearly inspired by early Auburn styling.  There’s a matching, column-mounted tachometer in a chrome housing and a custom gear lever topped with a novel, polished aluminium skull.  The brake and throttle pedals are also worthy of note, as they are of a unique circular design.


As Les intends to drive the car, one thing always on his shopping list was a hood.  To his surprise, he found that no one makes a hood specifically for the Model A Roadster, but was advised that a Sid Chavers top for a ’32 would fit a treat.  He took the plunge, and after parting with $2700, the hood duly arrived at HGHR and was offered up to the body.  It’s fair to say there were a few disappointed faces among those present as they stood back to see how the new top looked – it was quite obviously far too wide for the Model A.  The only solution was to remove the covering material, narrow the metal framework to bring the sides in and then have Neil Tadman make a brand new hood, at further expense.

This is what Les hopes to do most - drive!


“It was a real nightmare, and the only part we were able to retain from the original hood was the back window,” says Les.  “Despite the problem, though, the whole car has turned out fantastic, and I can’t fault the quality.  It was built to have fun with and turn heads, and it’s definitely had the desired effect so far.”


So smitten has Les been by the hot rodding bug that he’s just purchased a genuine, steel ‘34 coupe body, which will form the basis of his next project.  We’re told it will share more than a passing resemblance to the Pierson Bros coupe – but with Hemi power!   


Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk

First time out at the NSRA Supernationals and Les picks up a Top 10 award

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