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“Tea-bag” is the nickname adopted by Gary Chester for his in-progress, steel ’32 five-window coupe, imported from New York State back in 2006 - you’ll see why it came by that moniker if you read on.
The car as it appeared in an advertisement on ebay.com
Like many other rodders, Gary saw the car for sale on ebay, a finished and trimmed Hiboy apparently requiring very little work to complete. He struck up a conversation with the owner, had the car checked independently and, after mulling it over, decided to do the deed and wire over the money. Six weeks later, the car had been successfully imported to the UK, thanks to the efforts of Russ Pepper at R&R Imports – “It all went very smoothly,” says Gary.
It was a relief to find that the Hiboy had made the crossing in one piece and, on first sight, was pretty much as Gary had imagined. “I was over the moon,” he recalls. “I didn’t like the interior, though, and envisaged replacing it and respraying the exterior in pearlescent white.”
“I completed all of the paperwork to get the car registered, which was straightforward enough, and then I thought I’d go and get it weighed at my local weigh station, just down the road. I set off and decided to give the new ZZ4 Chevy motor a bit of throttle on the open road. I wasn’t that impressed by the performance, but the worst thing was that the car leapt from one side of the road to the other when I backed off the throttle – it was really scary stuff.
“It was clear something wasn’t quite right, and so I started to look a bit deeper under the skin. About this time, good friend, Colin Jeffries, popped round to see me and just happened to have a magnetic credit card, which he stuck on the body. Well, it just fell off onto the floor – and my eyes nearly popped out. Now I really was concerned as to what I’d purchased. After three solid days, I managed to get the interior out, which had been glued, bolted and bodged into place. We started to see issues with the floorpan, where a skimming of filler had been used to hide cracks, and the wiring wasn’t good either – it wasn’t looking promising.
“The only answer, as far as I was concerned, was to have the body media blasted, to see once and for all exactly what we were working with. There’s a local company in Guildford and they seemed to have a good reputation, so after stripping out the body and parting it from the chassis, off it went to them. A few days later, I could have cried when I went back to pick it up. The body was so full of holes, it resembled a tea-bag. The rear three-quarter panels were completely shot, along with the doors, which had been repaired at some stage, and the cowl vent wasn’t operational either. It was not what I’d been expecting.
Gary had the Coupe stripped back to bare metal to find out exactly what was underneath the paintwork. Here you can see the bare shell awaiting new doorskins but with a considerable amount of body work already completed, including the fitment of matching steel fenders and running board to one side
“I’d seen the kind of sheet metal work Wayne Streams was capable of, and was impressed with what he’d achieved with Keith Atkinson’s ’32 Sedan, so I arranged from the outset for Wayne to take on the project. However, I had only envisaged him fitting a new floorpan, steel fenders and running boards, but this was rapidly developing into a full-on, ground-up build, which I hadn’t exactly bargained or budgeted for.”
New floorpan/trans tunnel, plus split/tilting Glide seat (below) in place
So far, Wayne has fitted a new floorpan, to replace the existing patchwork quilt of metal, replaced the rear panels with new Brookville Roadster items, grafted in a new steel cowl vent and will shortly start work on fitting the new door skins sourced from Bobby Walden at Walden’s Speed Shop. Gary admits they weren’t cheap, at £700 a pair with tax and shipping, but they are the perfect solution.
Wayne has skillfully grafted in a new cowl vent and (below) new lower rear body skins which end at the swage line - no mean metal working feat!
These are the original rust-riddled lower rear panels
The car was described as having a TCI chassis, but Gary’s not too sure that is the case. More to the point, whatever its provenance, it was bent, which probably accounted for the alarming handling characteristics. That’s now been sorted by Wayne, and he’s also fitted a Currie 9-inch rear axle with aluminium centre section to replace the old Chevy unit, the reason being that Gary wants to run the car fendered and the Chevy axle is difficult to narrow.
Up front, there’s a drilled aluminium ‘I’ beam with Pete & Jake’s callipers and discs, a drilled Model A crossmember, to help get the nose in the weeds, a novel Cross Steer rack and pinion set-up, and equally unusually, a Swedish Hot Rods anti-roll bar.
As mentioned, the motor is a potent ZZ4 unit topped with one of Barry Grant’s exotic Demon Six-Shooter triple carb set-ups, although as yet, it doesn’t appear to have been properly set up. Backing this up is a Turbo 350 transmission.
The original description on ebay mentioned that the car had an air conditioning compressor - and it does. The problem is, it’s the only component in an otherwise non-existent air conditioning system. Wayne will be fitting the rest of the system in due course, as Gary likes to keep his cool.
In fact, Gary readily admits he’s all for modern creature comforts in a hot rod, which is why the car will have electric windows (even the rear window will be powered) and a premium ICE package with hidden speakers and plenty of power.
Mechanism for electrically operated rear window in place, as well as temporary body bracing to prevent unwanted movement as panels are fitted
At the moment, the car rolls on Salt Flat Special wheels, but these will change as the car moves closer to completion – “probably late next year,” says Gary. The highly talented Mr Streams is clearly doing a great job of massaging the car back into the sort of shape Henry intended, and once completed, the intention is to have it painted black with a traditional lick of flames. Gary is obviously very patient and wants the car done properly, and on current evidence, this is likely to be one fine five-window coupe when it finally hits the road.
Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk & Gary Chester