New life for a long-dor­mant pro­ject.

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Contents -

To take a drive in a tra­di­tional, fend­er­less hot rod is a life-chang­ing event for many, and it’s some­thing that Chris Ball be­lieves ev­ery­one into an­tique cars should ex­pe­ri­ence.

For Chris, of Mill­works Hot Rods & Sup­ply Co. in Tewks­bury, Mas­sachusetts, Model A hot rods in par­tic­u­lar pro­vide the best ex­pe­ri­ence on the open road. And they seem to be the largest source of in­spi­ra­tion for his builds. He tends to come back to this style as the foun­da­tion for his next “great hot rod idea.”

Chris was in­flu­enced by his fa­ther’s builds and raised in the hobby along with his brother Dave. He started the jour­ney into build­ing early hot rods with a ’29 Model A road­ster pickup that was pow­ered by a Buick nail­head. Not long af­ter fol­lowed a ’28 Model A tu­dor run­ning a flat­head, thus spread­ing the spec­trum into calmer and well-man­nered fend­er­less hot rods. Chris thought at one point this phase of build style was cov­ered, and he sought to move on with full-fend­ered later 1930s to 1940s hot rods and cus­toms. Af­ter more than 25 years of ex­pe­ri­ence and a ma­tured pas­sion for the cul­ture, Chris sold these cars, and he re­al­ized that his orig­i­nal in­spi­ra­tion still haunted his con­science.

One day Chris was chat­ting with friend Rich Wil­let, a lo­cal hot rod leg­end, about work in his shop, and un­fin­ished projects in par­tic­u­lar. That brought up the topic of pro­ject cars hang­ing around in the area, and a ’28 Model A phaeton that just hap­pened to be for sale.

The frame-off had been started more than 20 years be­fore. Over the course of the last 15 years, more had been done to the pro­ject as fund­ing be­came avail­able, to chip away at com­plet­ing it. This car in­stantly sparked an in­ter­est with Chris, as it was the type of pro­ject that would keep him up at night think­ing of in­ter­est­ing ap­proaches to build a Model A.

Chris asked more ques­tions about the car, its chas­sis, front axle, rearend, en­gine, and the con­di­tion of the sheet­metal to see what it would in­volve. The an­swers only got Chris more ex­cited about what seemed a long-sea­soned pro­ject that would take many years and own­ers to fi­nally see the light of day.

Chris discovered the car sat on an orig­i­nal 1932 chas­sis that re­tained its fac­tory holes and was par­tially boxed, with the rear horns bobbed. The rear cross­mem­ber had been re­moved and a Model A rear added. The cen­ter cross­mem­ber had also been re­moved, and a cus­tom fab­ri­cated one was used for fit­ment. The sus­pen­sion al­ready had early Ford spin­dles and brakes, Model A springs with re­versed eyes, and 1939 split wish­bones. A 331 Caddy mill came with the car, and other notable items that were in a box in­cluded the old chrome 1928-’29 dash rail, the aris­to­crat ac­ces­sory dash panel, an orig­i­nal 1928-’29 chrome grille shell, 1931 Chrysler im­pe­rial hood or­na­ment, and a 1928 cod­fish li­cense plate, which for Chris, be­ing a Mas­sachusetts res­i­dent, was the cherry on top!

Speak­ing of cherry, the Ar­gen­tinian phaeton body was al­most pris­tine, and what made the car truly unique was that it was

right-hand drive. Chris knew he had to have it, and man­aged to wig­gle his way into a suit­able deal.

Now the pro­ject had his wheels turn­ing, try­ing to de­cide in what di­rec­tion to take the build. While it had al­ready had a lot of work done on it, the pro­ject lacked clear di­rec­tion, which was per­fect for Chris. He would find the right road for this phaeton.

At first Chris thought about mak­ing it a mid- to late-1950s Au­torama show rod, but that quickly changed af­ter a few beers and a long dis­cus­sion with busi­ness part­ner and brother Dave. Dave was hell-bent on Chris mak­ing the car wor­thy of rac­ing. Who knows, maybe it would land on the beach at Wild­wood, New Jersey?

Want­ing that pe­riod-cor­rect rac­ing ap­peal would mean adding a front air dam, ton­neau cover, and alu­minum hood, and re­mov­ing the wind­shield and head­lights. Us­ing post-war salt flat and beach rac­ing his­tory, they would end up with their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a pur­pose-built hot rod.

For their pur­poses, the Cadil­lac en­gine had to go, and their pow­er­plant of choice came via a long­time friend and an­other New Eng­land leg­end, Tommy Caruso. It just so hap­pened he had a strong 1946 Mer­cury 59AB that had been bored 0.060 over and fresh­ened in re­cent years us­ing cast iron heads milled 0.080 for a com­pres­sion bump. Chris then gath­ered up a Stromberg 97 on a pol­ished 1934 Ford ported alu­minum man­i­fold, and a 1939 Top Loader 78 case with later 27-tooth gears from around the shop.

With the gear un­der his arm Chris be­gan the en­gine trans­plant. He used a F1 truck open-drive setup for the trans and a F1 3.54:1 banjo rear, which he had around the shop. The Top Loader and the shifter kinks were worked out, while an early Bell steer­ing arm was con­nected to a 1949 F1 steer­ing box. Af­ter many dis­cus­sions about speed tricks with Tommy and try­ing to stay on bud­get, the combo turned out to be a good one once put to the test. The en­gine and trans would be a strong run­ner, mak­ing a great combo for some high eighth-mile trap speeds.

Af­ter all the fit­ment checks came the plumb­ing and wiring be­fore mov­ing onto the body and sheet­metal fab­ri­ca­tion. This is when some of the ideas float­ing around in Chris and Dave’s heads were laid out, in­clud­ing the ton­neau, al­loy hood, and front air dam that had been in their ini­tial plans. Chris con­verted the phaeton to left-hand drive, added Brookville front doors, and moved the front seat pan 4 inches back to al­low for more legroom. He re­in­stalled the stock seats and put some Ste­wart-warner gauges in the chrome dash.

The phaeton did make it to The Race of Gen­tle­men in 2017, where it ran strong! Go­ing 8-1 brought it plenty of at­ten­tion.

With that un­der Chris’s belt, maybe it’s time to bring back the orig­i­nal plan of a late-1950’s Au­torama en­try? Or maybe not. It did serve well as a post-war race car, and maybe that’s what best suits it.

> The Ar­gen­tinian sheet­metal sat on a ’32 Ford frame, which Chris kept for his build. Up front he scored a neat orig­i­nal Dago axle from his friend Rich Wil­let that Rich had been hang­ing onto for a long time. (Dago is the nick­name for dropped axles made by Ed “Axle” Ste­wart of San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia.) > Chris Ball’s ’28 phaeton is now a long way from the un­fin­ished pro­ject car that he bought. It had been un­der con­struc­tion for some 20 years but had stalled in a pre­vi­ous owner’s hands.

> When Chris bought the phaeton it was right-hand drive; he elected to switch it over. Ste­wart-warner gauges are in the gauge clus­ter and flank the steer­ing col­umn.

> Be­low the floor­boards is a 1939 Top Loader trans­mis­sion with 27-tooth gears.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.