The Roadster Story — Fall 2012
I’m a traditionalist and not enamored with modern street rods. I came from a day when all my friends, as well as most red-blooded American boys, wouldn’t hesitate to at least try to do their own wrenching. It might not be perfect, or even right, but at least we tried. I guess there have always been people with large checkbooks to buy the work of others but I didn’t know any of them back then and it seems to have gotten out of hand in recent years. Back in the day we differentiated between mechanics and parts changers. I wasn’t much of a mechanic but I tried, as did most of my friends. Most of them were a hell of a lot better wrenches than I was and were always around to help if I was unable to get it done myself. Real satisfaction in hot rodding and/or restoration comes from doing it yourself, your way and producing something you are proud of. What disturbed me so much about the roadster is I bought it thinking it belonged to a man that cared for it through the years and had done all the work himself. I have come to find out there is nothing about his work that shows any sort of pride whatsoever. Some cars have souls and I like to think I am bringing this one back to glory. At least it never went to the crusher and for that I have to thank the previous owner.
In the late spring of 2012 I found a car on eBay that looked to be a fair price and the history sounded like just what I was looking for. The car was located in Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania and was listed as a 29, although I have since discovered it was certainly an early 28 with 29 doors. From the pictures I could tell it wasn’t completely original as it had the battery moved to the firewall and had a 39 steering wheel with a funky piece of metal below the tank that contained the light and wiper switches along with a cable to operate the spark advance. I called the owner and he said his Dad had purchased the car when he came back from the war, presumably in 46 or 47 and was the second owner. He claimed his Dad had driven the car for years as a daily driver and had done a ground up restoration in 99 but had a stroke a year or so later and the car had been in dry storage since that time, as his Dad was in a nursing home. The Dad had recently passed away and was the reason for selling the car. I was led to believe Dad was a “Master Mechanic,” whose skills were so valuable, he was often called to Cape Canaveral to work on the shuttle. The car was described as “not perfect, but nice”. Since I could see some of the “not perfect” I took in the story hook, line and sinker. I was also told there were several thousand dollars of parts that would go along with the car if I went for the “buy it now” price. I did it and gave my word I would come east and bring cash.
In early May my wife and I loaded the dog and cat and headed east from Utah to Phillipsburg to pickup the A and then onto home in Alaska. I was most worried about the body and had brought along a magnet to do the “Bondo check”. I was pleased to find that the body appeared sound but there were a few blisters in the paint here and there. I assumed this, along with the peeling chrome on the bumpers and the patina on the instrument panel were just part of the “nice but not perfect”. Somewhere during the trip to PA I found that the engine had not been started in over 10 years but was assured that all it needed was a battery, fresh gas and a carb rebuild, at the worst. My apprehension was growing. By that time I had discovered the H.A.M.B. and had seen another 29 roadster I liked but it had a small block Chevy and a late model rear end. Although I liked the car I considered the Chevy the same as if my daughter had brought home a Democrat. In fact it was worse as I might be able to bring a Democrat to his senses but there is no hope for a Chevy. I’m basically pretty gullible and had been away from hot rods long enough to have forgotten most of what I originally knew. I should have been more suspicious as I had asked for more pictures and never got any that showed the detail needed to see the horrendous workmanship and problems. Over the past 7 years I have had a lot of expensive refresher courses and have learned a tremendous amount from the above mentioned forums. When I got to Pennsylvania I looked under the car for the first time and was surprised at what I saw. There were hydraulic brakes and the wishbone was split to accommodate a later model crossover steering, probably 36 to 38 vintage judging from the steering wheel. Now I had an explanation for the funky battery location and the aluminum panel between the gas tank and the steering column. The steering column, due to its placement forward on the frame made the wheel sit in an uncomfortable position, making egress from the car hard for a fat old man. But there was the comforting fact that the speedometer read only 48 miles more than when PA had issued a safety inspection sticker. What could possibly be seriously wrong with a car that ten years ago the safety Nazis in PA had assured us this was a safe vehicle. (That’s a joke) Unfortunately, I felt committed to buying the car, as I had given my word. Had I realized what all was covered up I would have declined the purchase and gone on my way but I didn’t. I went ahead and pushed the car into the trailer and went to the barn for the “several thousand dollars worth” of parts. There was a transmission, but the “two engines” turned out to be two worthless blocks. There was a bent axle and stock wishbone, a stock model A steering and a couple of rusted fender aprons of no use. There were 17 odd wheels in the collection. I was expecting a set of Kelsey Hayes wheels in perfect condition that “look like they just came out of the powder coating shop”. They were there but were a far cry from perfect cosmetically. Oh well, the saying: In for a dime, in for a dollar applied. I loaded up and headed north to our friend Wayne, in Faraway, Alberta. We had a few days to kill getting to the ferry, so we put a battery in the car, changed the oil, put in fresh gas, did the normal build up of oil pressure, etc and hit the starter. There was a sign on the back of the car saying: can you believe this sucker runs? Knowing what I now know the answer would be a resounding NO. However, run it did. Leaked a little water and lots of oil but it ran. We warmed it up and changed the oil again. We also drained the trans and differential oil. That’s when I found the sawdust, or something similar, in the differential oil. That was an old trick I had long forgotten. When we rolled the car back out of the driveway the brakes failed. This was about the third time they had been applied and the first two times they were low but that might be expected after sitting for ten plus years. We pulled the mat and poured in the hydraulic fluid. I started at the front wheel to do the bleeding and that’s when we noticed the fluid went through the master cylinder, like poop through a goose, onto the clean driveway. We pulled the floorboards and that’s when I saw the next disaster. This one was really bad and it came at about the same time I had started looking hard at the split wishbones, the brake lines, and all the other bad stuff that had been done to the car. The master cylinder and its linkage were something that only Rube Goldberg, in a drunken stupor, could have designed. The cylinder itself was mounted backwards on the transmission using a rusty piece of angle iron cut out with a torch. He didn’t bother smoothing any of the rough cut as it was hidden and pride of workmanship was apparently not important in his part of the country. He had drilled a hole in the frame and put a piece of the original brake rod through the frame and secured it with cotter pins on each side. The rod runs from the frame to the back of the master cylinder. The original brake rod runs from the pedal back to the rod hanging in the frame. Just to make sure this would pass the PA safety inspection he took a piece of scrap brass and screwed it onto one of the bolts holding the MC to the trans bracket. The rod lay on the chunk of brass to prevent the whole shebang from dropping to the ground. The rod from the pedal and the pushrod into the MC are held in position by a cotter pin on one side and a tie rod end clamped around a bolt on the other side. Although the brakes were useless we were determined to find a way to “try her out and take her for a spin”. You have to make some compromises if you’re a hot rodder and need to get on the road. That may be why there are so few of us left????. After all attempts to fix the brakes failed we did what real rodders have done forever; we said “who the hell needs brakes when you have a manual trans and an emergency brake”. Actually this was not all that dangerous as we double checked the knot that actuated the frayed ebrake cable and found that we could skid one wheel by just pulling back on the ebrake handle. Hot damn, we were ready to go. We told the girls to get in and we’d go for a ride. There’s not a lot of traffic in Faraway and I was confident that Sgt. Preston and King had better things to do than bust the chops of the old folks out for a drive. Bonnie, no relation to the one hooked up with Clyde, wanted to know how fast it would go. She seemed to back off that request when the death wobble started at 30MPH. Seems like the Rube Goldberg steering set up wasn’t quite up to a high speed run yet. Thankfully Sgt. Preston and King never saw us. Meanwhile back at the ranch we noticed quite a bit of oil on the ground. When we looked under the car it was evident that we had a major oil leak. We had finally solved the puzzle as to what happened to the space shuttle.
Stage I: The summer and fall of 2012
The first step was to have a decent running roadster with an engine that didn’t pour oil out the back. I wanted to get the handling and look right so I could drive it while building a new chassis with a flathead. The goal was to be able to run it on the street and eventually make a run on the salt flats. Immediate plans called for lowering front and back with tires and springs, F1 steering, shocks, etc, etc. and solid wheels with beauty rims. Then I would work on a chassis with a flathead V8 and switch the body over when the chassis was finished. In early October I pulled the car into the old shop in Utah and started the project by pulling the engine, trans and rear end. The deeper I delved into the project the more I found wrong. I ordered several thousand dollars of parts from the various old car suppliers. I was about to find the Chinese have infiltrated the old car market with their cheap and poor fitting trash. Much of the reproduction stuff needed to be returned and the long process of restoring the original Henry Ford parts was begun. I started by grinding dozens of pieces of junk metal off the frame, removing the cobbled up steering and brakes and moved the battery from the firewall to the rumble seat floor. I figured a way to use the Model A column with the original control levers for spark and throttle on the reworked F1 steering. I installed new gaskets in everything forward of the rear end. The original plan was to roll out in mid November, then early January then February and so on. I was determined to get all the oil leaks under control, the steering and front suspension corrected and the differential repaired as well as anything else to make the car roadworthy. The entire brake system had to be rebuilt as well as replacing of all the wiring. In retrospect I should have inspected the engine more closely but hindsight is always 20/20. By the end of November I had been working on the car daily for two months and I still couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. As of December 1 I had accomplished the following:
- Engine gaskets replaced
- Motor mounts replaced
- Transmission rebuilt
- Front end rebuilt with 34 axle, Posie reverse eye spring and stock wishbone
- F1 steering box mated to Model A steering box
- Front brakes rebuilt
- New brake lines in front
- Frame cleared of welded on junk metal used for former steering modifications.
- Engine and transmission reinstalled in car
- Radiator boiled out and resoldered
- Master cylinder bracket fixed with new brake linkage and master cylinder
- Starter bendix replaced
- Distributer rebuilt
We were forced to leave the project until after the first of the year. When we returned we were able to get a little further on the project.
- Steering shaft was modified to accept the early Ford steering wheel.
- New drag link built
- During January and mid February we accomplished a lot and got the car back on the road.
- Cleaned up the rear end and determined it serviceable for the time being.
- Rear brake backing plates were modified and replaced the FUBAR ones on the car. The 40 backing plates were now in the proper up-right position. Did this by cutting off the stock shock mounts and carefully bending the steel brake lines. I’ve never understood why more people don’t do this when they don’t run the stock shocks.
- Installed a new reverse eye Posie spring in back
- Repaired the radiator that was repaired in Kanab but had not been soldered properly
- Installed the battery in the back along with 4/0 cable.
- Ran a 4/0 ground cable to the transmission
- Rewired the ignition circuit with original style wire loom
- Replaced amp gauge with Asian garbage
- Modified the control rods to operate spark and throttle
- Replaced the stock wheels with 15” solid wheels from my old parts collection
- Went with the big/little tires for a rubber rake
- Started the car and went for a first ride with brakes and steering.
- Hooked up some temporary wiring
- Installed rear tube shocks
I was quite pleased with the handling and braking but I still had an oil leak that bothered me. In addition, the cooling wasn’t what it should be for a daily driver. It worked fine on the flat but ran hotter than I liked going up hills. By late March I got more done.
- Front shocks
- Replaced the generator with an alternator.
- Replaced the distributer with a reproduction with late model condenser. I’m not sure I did the right thing there as the condenser went out within a week.
- Replaced the gas gauge
- Replaced the ignition switch
- Replaced the instrument panel with a shiny reproduction that doesn’t fit
I thought I was finally nearing the end of Stage I, however after driving around for a couple of days the motor wouldn’t keep running. I figured it must be the sediment bowl or carb and went through them to no avail. Just to check I put in the old distributer and cured the problem. Once again I found an 85 year old Henry Ford part out performed the Asian repro. The car was running really great and I was looking forward to a spring and summer on the road. We took off for a barbeque at a friends place about 30 miles away. The car ran great and the family had a good time but when we came out we found a large deposit of oil on their driveway. On the way back to the ranch I decided to replace the engine with something reliable andstarted looking for a different engine. After looking at several engine options I was directed to Stan Braden in Central California, a highly recommended Model A machinist and restorer. He had an engine with a B head, cam and carb ready to go so I decided to go see him and get some questions I had about the car answered. He was a great guy and very helpful. After touring his shop and museum we took a ride and he surprised me by saying the engine sounded really good and he could hear nothing wrong. He did say the original honeycomb radiator would never do what I wanted and recommended a modern replacement. We put the car on the rack and dropped the pan. All looked good as he found the lock washers to be cause enough for a leak. However to be sure he dropped the rear main and got the really bad news. The babbit fell out of the rear main onto the floor. Obviously the engine was now unusable. We pulled the engine that afternoon and replaced it the following morning with one that he had rebuilt. What a difference. We had it running by late afternoon and I was back on the road. I picked up a new radiator at Brassworks in Paso Robles. This time I decided to go with a pressurized system and an overflow tank. I had a few weeks and during that time I was able to get more done.
- Replaced the radiator
- Built a polished column drop for the tach, water temp and switches.
- Rewired the car completely with fuses, relays and circuit breakers. Used original looking wire and looms.
- Replaced the seal beam lights with original lenses and a halogen conversion
- Dropped the headlights with a stainless bar
- Installed a tach and temp gauge
- Installed a hidden turn signal kit with switch on the gearshift and indicator lights hidden behind the original lenses
- Replaced the broken reproduction gas gauge with an original that Stan gave me. I’m getting more and more frustrated with the repro stuff.
- Reworked the windshield wiper and got it going
I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel and its not a train. The car was now ready for a cosmetic clean up. I polished and waxed it and it was good enough. Before heading north for the summer I decided to replace the rattling door latches and rubbers. I figured that could be done if a few minutes if I just ordered the repro latches. That turned into a two day job that ended up using all the original Ford parts except the strikers which I pulled out of the junk Asian latches. By the time we headed north we had the car finished to the point I feel it is roadworthy to go anywhere on the continent.
- New floorboards
- New door latches
- Rebuilt door bumpers and rubbers
- New floor mat
- New transmission and emergency brake boots.
List of Problems discovered on the “nice but not perfect” roadster:
|Bad bearings Bad oil leak|
|No shims in bell housing to block|
|Leaking head gasket|
|Head not torqued down|
|Bellhousing bolts loose|
|Motor mounts loose|
|Rubber melted and hardened on motor mounts next to frame|
|Wrong bolts in rear motor mounts to block|
|Front motor mount missing and replaced by block of rubber|
|Front crank pulley grinding into the frame|
|Warped and leaking exhaust manifold|
|Rear pan gasket taken out and reused but turned around, leaking|
|Cam shaft leaking oil at rear|
|Distributer rod worn out, rusted and filed around the bottom too big|
|Funky jam nuts on rod 4|
|Evidence of something rattling around in pan (might be loose jam nuts?)|
|Bad threads on head studs|
|Radiator broken loose all the way around, held in place by hoses|
|Radiator clogged and dirty|
|Radiator motor meter leaking|
|Fubar and shorting out. Nothing salvageable but the tail light sockets|
|Shoes were new but drums were worn and grooved|
|Right front drum cracked with a chip out.|
|Bad master cylinder|
|Brake pedal ruined by extra holes|
|Rube Goldberg brake linkage|
|Bad wheel cylinders|
|Bad rubber hoses|
|Terrible and unsafe hook up to rear brakes using multiple bad hoses|
|Copper brake lines, leaking|
|Brake lines running under frame and exposed front and back|
|Rear brake backing plates had the holes hogged out to move wheel cyl higher, then the hogged out area filled with gum when he discovered the shoes would no longer fit.|
|eBrake tied together and attached by passing cable through hole and putting a knot in it.|
|eBrake linkage inside drums not secured by horseshoe clips|
|Rear backing plates held on by wrong bolts|
|Rear grease cup cut in half and doing no good.|
|Haven’t been in there yet but I see sawdust mixed with oil – cant be good|
|Shackles too tight, unable to move. Forced rear end to the side by several inches|
|Pitted main shaft|
|Pitted main shaft bearing|
|Leaking gaskets, loose bolts|
|Pitted cluster shaft and bearings|
|King pins wrong. Ground the pins down to make the keeper bolt fit, but did it wrong|
|Shackles bolted too tight front end unable to work|
|Wishbones split in an absurd way. Bolts loose, no cotter pins. Terrible death wobble|
|Improper (putting it mildly) steering mount|
|Bad tie rod ends|
|Bad wheel cylinders|
|Rotted brake hose|
|Brake lines hanging in cobbled up brackets|
|Panard bar poorly attached and loose|
|Body panel beneath rumble seat rotted through but patched with undercoating|
|Gas lines leaking|
|Over half the cotter pins required were missing|
|Many castle nuts were replaced with standard nuts|
|Frame had a mess of old rusty crap welded and bolted to it. Took 3 days to remove.|
|All grommets in firewall missing|
|Throttle and spark control rods gone|
|Mickey Mouse hook up for spark advance didn’t work.|
|Upholstery ripped first day we sat in the car.|
|Top had holes in it that weren’t revealed|
Other than the above it was really nice. ;<)
We loaded the roadster in the trailer and headed home to Alaska with the motorhome. First stop was again at Wayne’s place in Faraway. We looked at some cool cars to be sold at the Olds College Charity Auction. Saw a 40 that reminded me of how I should have never sold mine. The guy who donated the cars has over 103 of them, so I have a long ways to go before Annie says I’m the biggest nut job in the world. We drove around Wayne’s for a few days and then off to Alaska. The plan was to leave the car trailer and car at Wayne’s son in law near Smithers and head on home. During the drive I decided it would be a shame to not drive the Model A in the 4th of July parade in Klawock, so I put the top on, left the trailer and headed west in the roadster with Oddie Dog by my side and Annie in the motorhome behind me for security. The roadster ran great and actually pulls the hills better than the sick motorhome. I drove the roadster daily all summer, even in the rain. I was pretty leery about no side curtains but Henry got the top design right. Even in downpours the top hangs over the side enough that no rain gets inside. The flat windshield moves the air and rain far enough from the side that none comes in even at speed. The car ran so great that I left a few days early so I could drive it south to Utah. I figured that I would at least go till the weather got too hot for comfort. It finally got too hot in Idaho so we put it in the trailer, turned on the air conditioner and continued on to Utah.
I decided in early ’15 that an overdrive was in order. I had given a deposit to a dude in northern California for an F150 overdrive transmission but he never delivered and never returned the deposit, but that’s another story. I found a Laycock electric OD on the Ford Barn out of a Volvo and had it ready to drop into the roadster when I got the time. Since I like to keep at least a couple of my cars running I hate to break into that rear end till I have the time to devote to wrapping it up in a day or two. Since then I sold the Laycock without ever installing it.
For the entire year I toyed with the idea of driving the Model A along the Pony Express Trail as we were going to be accompanying the horses on a 2000 mile trail ride. I really wanted to get the overdrive in it but there just wasn’t time. I waffled back and forth but gave up the idea. Then a day before we were going to leave I said “what the hell” and loaded the car into the horse support trailer. After arriving in St Joseph I pulled the car out and never put it back in the trailer until we hit Nevada and I couldn’t find someone to drive the support trailer across the state. I ended up not being able to drive the whole way but it wasn’t the fault of the car. Like so many travelers in the past we just sailed across the country with no problem. It was an experience of a lifetime especially since 90% of the trip was on dirt roads, some nothing more than a two track cow trail, just like the roads when the car was new. It always amazes me that so many people with old Fords treat them like they are fragile antiques. These cars ran millions of miles over trails and roads.
First two pictures are from the eBay ad. Then a picture of the brake system as it was designed by the “Master Mechanic who worked on the space shuttle” Then next one is the corrected brake system. Then the pictures get shuffled but you can get the idea. Notice the double nuts on the rods. That’s got to be classic. Not sure if this was to “balance” the engine or to act as “safety nuts”????
Picture taken west of Las Vegas after its first short road trip
The above pictures taken in the Central Coast of California with the new engine and all the basics in order
On the road home to Alaska
The following pictures are on the 2015 trip on the Pony Trail
By the end of the summer of 2015 I had something like 6000 miles on the new motor and all seemed fine. Then in the middle of Nevada I started to hear a bit of a knock. I had to continue with the horse ride so I put the car in the trailer as soon as possible and took it to Inyokern. The oil was changed and I just didn’t have time (see the 40 story below) to deal with it. I really figured the problem was the timing gear. In the fall of 2017 I got around to dealing with the car again. It fired right up, stale gas and battery sitting for more than a year. I drove it around the block to warm up the engine and change the oil again. This time I saw flakes of babbitt in the oil change pan. Things looked grim. I talked to Braden about the Babbit but he wouldn’t take in any outside work. I really expected a little more out of him and this motor but so be it. At the very least I expected him to make the engine right, even if I had to pay for it. I guess people now days just don’t think like I do. Now I was faced with a recurring dilemma. Should I replace the banger with yet another engine, or was this the time to put a flathead V8 in, like the original plan. The family pressured me to rebuild the banger as it would get back on the road sooner. I went ahead, thinking I would be able to have it back running in mid December but no later than early January. Winter came and went and truthfully I didn’t press the issue with the machine shop as I didnt have a warm and fuzzy feeling about spending a lot more money on an engine I was less than enthusiastic about. Life went on during 2018 and we ended up becoming more involved in moving our winter home back to Utah. I spent the spring getting the 40 on the road but by fall I was ready to get the roadster running again. I finally got off the fence and told Joe to go with an overhead conversion and all the modifications required to make the banger a hard charger. While the car was apart I decided it was time to rebuild the rear end but the shop had been moved to Utah, so I took it to Tom Endy, the model a driveline expert who did a fine job restoring the differential. The end of the year rolled around and I decided to put a full court press on the project. I had a week to spend in December and a week in January. Should be a simple task to get the car back on the road in that time. LOL. I picked up the new engine in mid December and brought it back to Inyokern. I had ordered parts for the rear end but of course they didn’t fit. After waiting for parts its now the first of January and I have the rear end ready to install. Last spring Tom Endy put me on to a nice man in his club, the Santa Anita A’s, who had an F150 4 speed for a give away price. I have lots of new parts on order and hope to have it all together by the end of January. Time will tell. The new engine has a counter balanced crank with full pressure to the rods and mains. The pressure oil system includes a full flow oil filter. The OHV head is marketed as a Cragar but its actually a Dan Price design that seems to be a popular choice. The B cam has been reground to be compatible with the OHV. There are a pair of new Stromberg 97’s mounted on a downdraft carburetor. The stock distributor has been replaced with a 12V FSI unit. Exhaust is handled with a Red’s Header split into two collectors and will run to the rear through a pair of glasspacks.
New engine ready to drop in.
I got the engine back in Inyokern and spent a fair amount of time in January and February working on the roadster. The simple task of putting the rear end together stalled when I found the new drums don’t fit like the original 40’s. After two trips to the brake shop they are still a problem yet to be resolved. Joseph and I started the “simple” task of dropping the engine and trans into the car. I may not have mentioned that I replaced the stock transmission with a 4 speed out of a 80’s Ford pick up to get an overdrive. That required a shortened driveshaft, which I got with the trans and that part went together but it was reaaaaaaly tight. The additional height of the Price/Cragar OHV interferes with the lip on the 28 dash/firewall/gas tank. Try as I might, I couldn’t make it fit without hacking away at the lip. Even that didn’t completely do the trick, so I pulled out my 5# body massagers and gave the problem area a good solid whack. Bingo, now we have enough clearance. Another problem was the oil line feeding the rocker arms was installed on the back, which never works in this kind of installation. It would have been an easy fix here in the shop but not wanting to have a warranty issue, I sent it back to Turlock Machine for another month of waiting. During the wait I ordered some engine turned aluminum to clean up the many holes in the firewall. That turned out pretty well as the firewall was pretty trashy and showed the original blue paint. As of mid March the engine is in and bolted down. The rear end brake drums still need fixing and lots of little details to get it back on the road. Current pictures show the engine and firewall/dash. During the time I was working on what I have always called the “firewall” I found the proper terminology was “dash” as the early cars had wood dashes, which would never prevent any kind of fire. Pictures are current mid March.