I COULD never quite put my finger on how or why I turned into a car guy. No one in my family had ever been able to do much more than change a flat tyre and I’d never grown up around mechanics, tinkerers or many motorsport fanatics. But nonetheless I found myself slowly buying tools and books and the cars I had kept getting older and older. I started with some bomby Volkswagens and eventually got bitten by the blue-oval bug with an XP Falcon which I had for the better part of three years, however I always looked up to those around me with hot rods and customs and resolved to bide my time until I could offload the Falcon and get stuck into something that would drain every minute of my spare time.
This article was first published in Street Machine's Hot Rod magazine #13, 2014
I could probably blame John Milner and his Deuce coupe for wanting a rod but as I dug deeper and deeper into the history and how-tos, I saw there was so much more than smooth bodies and chromed-out engines. The stories of the SCTA guys, the 40s gow jobs and the early pioneers working in their backyards ensured I spent countless nights glued to the screen or old magazines soaking it all in. I wanted to get as close to that as I could — to relive the birth of the hot rod.
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The car has been named Dynamite Bettie in honour of the banger engine, which, if in good condition, will get a cam, pipes and a pair of 97s topping a Riley manifold
Purists might say a true traditional rod has to be a roadster, but there was always something about the look of a later Model A coupe that did it for me. I couldn’t even believe that this ’31 came up two weeks after selling the XP and that it was as complete and original as it was — yes, the radiator shell has been changed at some point. Bought off Ron Ogilvie (his son is Clint of BACK/FRONT Torana fame), he told me it had been pulled out of a barn in Indiana, the plates showing that the last year of registration was 1968. He’d sold it to me to fund his more complete projects but at least I knew that he had got it to run about a year ago. It was exactly what budding post-war rodders would have been buying from used car dealerships at the time, although with about 70 years less aging on it, so it was the perfect blank slate — a total time capsule.
The battery will be placed in the boot to make room for the juice brake set up, and floorboards will be put in. A quick repair of the seat and a new windscreen (there appears to be a bullethole) will get the inside ready for now
So it starts here, with an original car, and although there is a mountain of knowledge available I’m still going in somewhat blind as I learn how the car works and how I can modify it to achieve my goal of a period hot rod that can also handle a corner or two. The satisfaction may not be found in the final product but in the trial and error, the development and the mastery of the humble Model A. This way I build my own history.
Progress is slow living in a city apartment block but she’ll be at Chopped this year, and I hope by that time I can get the engine running again, put in some hydraulic drums and take the fenders off. Long term will find me stockpiling some upgraded rolling stock, a dropped axle and some hot four-banger parts to accompany the twin-port Riley manifold that I received with the car, then see what happens after that. She might even get a haircut in a couple years.