Old Dirt Racer Gets a New Lease on Life

An Old Dirt Racer Gets a New Lease on Life—on the Street!

Hot Rod - - Contents - Ja­cob Davis Bran­dan Gil­lo­gly

hMany of us have gazed thought­fully at pur­pose-built race cars and pon­dered what it would be like to drive one on the street, but Michael Hunt took it one step fur­ther and fol­lowed through on that crazy idea. Hunt and the guys down at TredWear Tire Let­ters have al­ways loved race cars, and the idea that you could pos­si­bly ter­ror­ize the streets in one seemed like the ul­ti­mate driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to them. So when he came across a ne­glected 1939 Chevy Coupe that had been bobbed and turned into an open­wheel, mod­i­fied dirt-track car at some point in its past, he knew he had to have it.

That was Novem­ber 2016, and upon get­ting the car back home, Michael re­al­ized the thing was a bit of a bas­ket case—like so many old race cars. Not only was it set up strictly for left-han­ders but it had also been cut apart and welded back to­gether count­less times. Off the car went to Ozan Chas­sis Shop— owned by John Alexan­der—to get it sorted out and ready for street driv­ing. The car al­ready had some pretty good parts on­board, in­clud­ing tri-five Chevy boxed fram­erails (a go-to choice for rac­ers at the time the car was first built), Wil­wood wide-five hubs on all four cor­ners, a Win­ters quick-change rearend with a wildly off­set cen­ter­sec­tion, an M22 “rock crusher” Mun­cie four-speed man­ual,

a Wood­ward power rack-and-pin­ion, and a warmed-over 283ci small-block Chevy that at least ran half de­cent. Nev­er­the­less, the car needed a lot of work to make it safe to drive on the street.

To con­vert the car from a cir­cle-tracker to a well-man­nered street ma­chine, the cus­tom mul­ti­link sus­pen­sion in the rear was ditched for a sim­pler trail­ing-arm setup, a roomier ’cage was built on the ex­ist­ing frame to al­low for a co-driver, the longer axle­tube was ex­changed for a Franklin unit that matched the other side, the spool in the dif­fer­en­tial was ex­changed for a lim­it­ed­slip, and the front shock mounts were com­pletely re­designed with a beefy trel­lis for ex­tra strength. An­other ma­jor hur­dle in get­ting this car onto the road came from the wide-five hubs and the odd wheel sizes avail­able that made find­ing the right street tire in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult, so Michael got cre­ative and de­signed his own vin­tage-in­spired wheel cen­ter­sec­tions, had the pieces cut out of 3/16-inch plate on a wa­ter jet, then welded them into 20x11 agri­cul­tural steel bar­rels.

Once the car was on the ground with the top of the tires clear­ing the en­gine and front trel­lis, their fab­ri­ca­tor looked at it and jok­ingly said, “It looks like a big spi­der.” And thus the “Taran­tula” was born. At that point, it was all about the aes­thet­ics, and to keep from ru­in­ing the look of the front end, they mounted an alu­minum ra­di­a­tor in the rear, added holes in the deck­lid with dual elec­tric fans, and ran coolant lines down the length of the frame to the en­gine. Hella

put to­gether a light­ing pack­age that fit nicely in the speed holes of the front trel­lis, which was then wired up with a har­ness pro­vided by Ron Fran­cis. The in­te­rior was left as ba­sic as pos­si­ble with ab­so­lutely no up­hol­stery other than what lit­tle was on the rac­ing buck­ets, some me­chan­i­cal gauges mounted to the rollcage’s front cross­bar, and zero ad­di­tional lux­u­ries.

Over the years, the steel body had ac­quired a good bit of tex­ture as it rusted, but rather than smooth­ing the sheet­metal to per­fec­tion, it was sim­ply painted a two-tone red and white over its rough state. Michael, a graphic de­signer by trade, then got his brushes out and started paint­ing it by hand. Draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from one of his fa­vorite Hot Wheels as a kid, he slapped some ar­rows on the side, painted the num­ber 3 on the doors, put a gi­ant taran­tula on the roof ac­com­pa­nied by the names of the main char­ac­ters from the movie Can­non­ball Run, and metic­u­lously painted his spon­sor’s lo­gos as well as the name of the car on the rear. It looked cool with the fresh paint, but the feel­ing wasn’t quite right, so they bravely spray-painted over the whole car with dif­fer­ent col­ors. Tak­ing into ac­count where the wa­ter would have run down the hood, where the driver’s arm might have rested, and where the years of sun could have faded the paint, they hand-rubbed the whole car with Scotch-Brite, leav­ing paint from the spray cans in all the dim­ples of the body and re­sult­ing in an in­cred­i­bly con­vinc­ing ap­pear­ance of age.

Michael Hunt and his busi­ness part­ner, Lee Clay­ton, built this oneof-a-kind car in a six-month win­dow and de­buted it on the 2017 HOT ROD Power Tour, ac­tu­ally driv­ing it most of the trip with only mi­nor is­sues. Hunt told us he was ab­so­lutely blown away by how well-man­nered it was on the street, es­pe­cially when driv­ing on the in­ter­state for the first time with no is­sues. The old small-block gave them no trou­ble on the trip, and even with just 250 hp in a 2,200-pound car like this, it turned out to be an ab­so­lute riot. We’ve al­ways thought that one of the best parts about old cars is be­ing able to see his­tory and past ex­pe­ri­ence in the im­per­fec­tions, and while they may not know much about the past of this par­tic­u­lar old race car, they’ve given it a bright fu­ture on the streets beyond the fences it used to race be­hind.

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