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