The Martin Racing Special
How a Prewar Model A Lakester Became America’s Most Beautiful Roadster
Hot Rods & Hobbies (HR&H) has had a prominent display at the Grand National Roadster Show ever since the event relocated to the Pomona Fairplex 14 years ago. Scott Bonowksi and his team at the Signal Hill, California, shop have always displayed their best and freshest builds a few paces from the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster trophy. In the final hour of this year’s GNRS, that 9-foot-tall trophy was moved from the center of the building to stand next to this ’31 Ford roadster, America’s Most Beautiful Roadster for 2018.
The Martin Racing Special, owned by David Martin of Santa Monica, California, has a history that starts long before its recent rebuild by HR&H, and long before its two previous appearances in STREETRODDER. Old stories and photos reveal the roadster’s identity as a racer on the Southern California dry lakes during hot rodding’s earliest years. David was a teenager in the ’50s when his hot rod history began.
David has owned this Model A since 1982. After answering a newspaper ad, he found the car in the desert in San Diego County. At that time, it was channeled, Flathead-powered, and dressed in Candy Apple Red paint and white tuck ’n’ roll upholstery. The owner confirmed the roadster’s identity as a surviving prewar dry lakes racer.
When the car (along with David and his wife, Mary) appeared on the cover of the Feb. ’86 issue of STREETRODDER, it was black with yellow Dayton wire wheels and a Halibrand quick-change rear. The Flathead had been replaced by a rare Riley SOHC V-8 engine, which, for reasons never determined, didn’t live more than a few hours on the road. David installed the Flathead that had been in it. The recently rebuilt Flattie lasted two weeks before seizing. The third engine was a success; that blown Chevy 350 powered the ’31 on the first Hot Rod Power Tour in 1995.
By 2003, the roadster was ripe for a rebuild. David turned to Bonowski and HR&H for the task. When HR&H was finished, the factory steel was painted dark blue with amber scallops and the 350 was topped with a trio of Rochester carbs. A year later, the car made its debut at the Grand National Roadster Show, winning First Place in its class. It was back on the cover of STREETRODDER for the May ’06 issue. The feature story, including a full description of the roadster in that version, can be read at hotrod.com/ articles/0605sr-1931-ford-roadster.
Street rods are built to move forward. David applied that principle to his roadster one more time when he and Bonowski took the next step with the car—the step that took them to that famous 9-foot trophy.
The rebuild was extensive; there is little recognizable from the roadster we featured 12 years ago—and the changes go deep. Spectators at the GNRS started with its outward appearance, so we will too. The body reshaping includes handmade suicide doors, 6 inches longer than stock and shaped reminiscent of ’33-’34 doors. The Deuce grille and shell were shortened an inch, and the fabricated aluminum hood top and sides were lengthened 3 inches. The underside of the hood was lined with retro-style diamondstitched material. Guide headlights, Alfa Romeo taillights, and ’50s-style
Raydyot repro mirrors call out the roadster’s early sports car and racing influences. Three of the roadster’s most prominent
exterior attention-getters are the louvers (almost 300 of them), Bonowski’s custom blue paintjob (with mustard yellow and red beltline striping), and the incredible tube headers created by Gerome Rodela of Rodela Specialty Fabrication. The headers emerge from the lower hood blisters and disappear back into the framerails. Louvers continue underneath on the aluminum full belly pan. No fenders cover the 5.50R16 and 7.00R17 Excelsior Stahl Sport Radials from Coker Tire. The custom-built Evod Industries wheels are modeled after the Halibrand magnesium wheels on mid-’50s Indycars—right down to the three-spoke knockoffs.
The wheelbase of the modified ’32 ’rails was lengthened and the track widened for performance. Frank Kurtis’ torsion bar racing chassis from the ’50s provided the inspiration for the front suspension of the Martin Racing Special. David and Bonowski aren’t the only ones inspired; Steve Moal at Moal Coachbuilders has repeated Kurtis’ success with this Indy-type suspension alternative and built the frontend for this roadster. A four-bar setup and Bilstein SN2 Series monotube shocks mounted on the drilled and dropped I-beam axle provide further stability in front, and the Unisteer Performance rack-andpinion improves steering. In the rear, you’ll find a Winters V-8 quick-change with a Wedgelock limited-slip differential and straight-cut, six-spline gears. A custom four-link locates Strange Engineering axles—with a Speedway Engineering antiroll bar, PAC Racing coil springs, and JRi Pro Touring shocks for improved ride. Braking is handled by 11-inch SO-CAL front discs and Wilwood rears, fed by a Wilwood master cylinder, proportioning valve, and pedal assembly.
A Borla Eight Stack EFI system on an Edelbrock Victor aluminum manifold (with Edelbrock Pro-Flo 3 electronics) and Vintage Restoration Parts finned valve covers from Johnny Law
Motors give the engine a retro appearance—but looks are misleading. Tom Malloy at Ed Pink Racing Engines built the 401ci all-aluminum Brodix engine with Edelbrock split-port heads and plenty of high-performance internals. Fuel comes from a
Harmon racing cell in the trunk. The up-to-date engine is rated at 500 hp and 493 lb-ft of torque. A Richmond Super Street five-speed was built at HR&H, with a clutch, flywheel, and disc from McLeod.
The performance engineering that went into the roadster might seem like overkill for a car destined to win America’s Most Beautiful Roadster, but the Martin Racing Special wasn’t built for looks alone. Four months before the Grand National Roadster Show, David was racing it in bare metal in the Silver State Classic Challenge in Nevada, clocking an average speed of 101.5057 mph. Two day later, the car drove into the STREETRODDER photo studio, still with its race number on the doors, a single race seat, no upholstery, three-point rollcage, an aluminum tonneau, and dead insects crushed against the Mattson’s custom radiator. Visit streetrodder.com to see more photos from that session.
The GNRS was approaching fast when the car rolled into the HR&H spray booth for its Axalta paintjob, and then over to Mark Lopez at Elegance Auto Interiors. Elegance has created interiors for many AMBR contenders and winners. Lopez used red leather for the panels and the modified Kirkey racing seats. Crow Enterprizes supplied the five-point race belts. The floor is rubber covered, like a functioning race car. The race instruments are exclusive one-off hybrids, designed and built by Redline Gauge Works. The Steering Wheel Guy in Alberta built the custom four-spoke Sprint Car wheel mounted on a LimeWorks column. Wiring was completed using a Ron Francis Bare Bonz kit.
The Martin Racing Special represents the first AMBR win for HR&H, the first for David Martin, and the first for a ’31 Ford. It’s a proud accomplishment, but it’s not the first one for David’s long-lived roadster. We predict it won’t be the last. As long as there are more miles to drive, more competitions to face, and more fun to have, this hot rod will keep moving forward.
•For the digital experience: https://bit.ly/2GhcA88