THE HINMAN ROADSTER
After building it as a teen, he helped with its revival 60 years later.
PRODIGY. Most 11-year-old boys back in the late 1940s would have been happy enough to spend their time riding bicycles, piloting toy trains, or even playing with one of the multitudes of toy guns that hit the market in patriotic, post-world-war-ii America. Most kids were, but young Buddy Hinman wasn’t one of them.
“I was always around cars and trucks,” Buddy recalls. “My dad owned a coal yard in Rome, New York, and he was quite fond of Model Ts. He had the car bug. Sometimes he even traded coal for cars.” Growing up surrounded by delivery trucks and Dad’s small armada of Henry Ford steel, the youngster became quite inquisitive about the inner workings of motorized vehicles at a very early age.
But it was a trip to California in 1947 that really turned the power switch on in Buddy’s brain. That’s when he saw his first true hot rod. “I had never seen one before, and wow, it just hit me. I remember it was a ’32 roadster.” With an asking price of $500, it was a little too much for the family to purchase. But from
that moment on, all he could think about was building a real hot rod for himself.
When he got back to New York, the first thing Buddy did was to “commission” a ’27 Chevy roadster they had on the coal yard property. “I wanted to lower it like that hot rod, so I took all the springs out of it and just U-bolted it to the axle. I’d drive it around the yard and the doors would fly open from the body twisting so bad,” he says with a laugh. But that creative spurt was just a stepping-stone to his father’s next purchase.
Seeing Buddy’s eagerness to learn about cars and their function, his father stoked the flames and purchased a Model A sedan at a Utica car lot for $50. Over the next couple of years Buddy added ’40 juice brakes, suicided the front end with a Shell Auto Parts drop front axle, and beefed up the banger motor with a Cyclone head, twin carbs, and full oil pressure.
His uncle even gave to the project, donating a mint ’31 roadster body to the youngster. Buddy would go on to channel the body over the frame a full 6 inches to get it as low as he could on the chassis. From there, the roadster would be his “daily driver,” venturing around his family’s large private property and a full square
“Lower was a hot rod. Lower was better!” —Buddy Hinman
block coal yard. Buddy was still not old enough to drive on open public roads.
A few years later, his family moved to Deansboro, New York, where his father bought a farm. One day a man from the nearby town of Clinton saw the roadster and traded Buddy straight up for a ’36 Ford Cabriolet. However, just a few months later the roadster showed up at a salvage yard right there in Deansboro, now relieved of its potent Cyclone-topped banger.
The ravaged roadster would soon become a mad-motorized laboratory for Buddy and his friend Ronnie Pierce, the son of a local garage owner. They would pull the roadster’s body from its chassis and Z its frame a full 12 inches, using an extra donor Model A frame they had found at a scrapyard. To get even lower in the driver seat, they creatively turned the framerails inside out, swapping them side for side. This modification would drop the seats even lower in the cockpit and give the occupants a little more breathing room to boot. A Deuce grille was sectioned to fit up front, and the team also built a barrel-shaped bellypan and torque tube tunnel to finish the floor and interior.
The motor-vation in this hot rod jigsaw puzzle was a potent flathead pulled from one of Ronnie’s father’s stock cars. They set it so far back in the frame that one carburetor on their Edmunds 2x2 intake was in front of the firewall, the other behind. A ’39 transmission was added to do the shifting. One last touch: Buddy’s mom offered a leopard-print blanket that was stitched into a pair of seat cushions for the low riding roadster.
Though the car was never legally registered, it racked up plenty of miles on the backcountry roads of central New York State. Buddy lost track of his little Model A roadster after 1955 but continued with his love of cars and racing. He went on to build and race stock cars quite successfully and even won a few track championships.
No one knew the whereabouts of the roadster until it popped up on an online auction site in 2008. It seemed to have led a hard life, wearing a heavy patina of rust and mocked up poorly by a previous caretaker. Its dilapidated state attracted no buyers. As a result, it was then traded to a used car lot in New Jersey, where it became lawn art for an unknown amount of time. That’s where Tom Peach saw it.
Tom was passing through on his way back to Massachusetts and spotted the car, now serving as someone’s front yard planter. He decided to buy it and bring it back to his boat yard in Marblehead. Not having any immediate plans for it, he stuck it in a storage container with the notion that someday he would get to it.
In 2015, Eli English, owner of Traditional Speed and Custom in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, answered an ad for some Cyclone flathead Cadillac heads he was looking to purchase for a customer. The seller of those parts was Tom Peach. Eli headed to Massachusetts to check out the needed Caddy parts. Once he bought the heads, Tom asked, “Are you looking for a roadster project?”
Eli is always on the lookout for original hot rods and equipment, so he was interested in what Tom had. “It was buried behind rolls of boat rope,” he remembers. “I couldn’t make out much of it, so I passed on it that day.” That decision would haunt him for weeks. “What did the rest of it look like? Did it have history and was it still available?” he thought to himself constantly.
Unable to shake the urge, he contacted Tom and asked if it was still there. A deal was brokered, and Eli rode out to Marblehead and loaded up his prize.
Back at his shop, Eli scrutinized his new old hot rod. “The thing I noticed right away was the inside-out frame. I knew if someone was to recognize and I.D. the car, the frame would give it away.” He sent some pictures of the roadster to good friend Peter Flavin, who posted them on the H.A.M.B. Within an hour, a friend of Buddy’s spotted the photos and messaged Eli. “By the end of the day, I was speaking to Buddy himself on the telephone,” says Eli. The first thing Buddy asked was if the original seat skins were still there! Eli confirmed that they were.
Eli decided he was going to keep the roadster the way it was found, which was the way Buddy had last seen it back in the mid 1950s. A few things had to be changed due to damage, but miraculously, the car was amazingly close to the way it was when Buddy last drove it 60 years ago.
Anything that was replaced was done with factory parts (no repops here). For safety, the tie rod ends were replaced, and the stuck steering box was swapped for a rebuilt duplicate. The flathead was also stuck and needed serious attention, so Eli sourced a replacement as well. The Edmunds Custom 2x2 was reused, as was the starter. For a little more firepower, an old six-volt generator was converted to 12.
To top the intake, a pair of original Stromberg 97s was sourced and rebuilt. An old Ford crab dizzy that Eli had around the shop was used for spark. Out back, the gas tank was missing, but the straps were there. Eli deducted that the missing tank was an oval Model T type, so he traded some parts for one a friend had lying around. “I also installed the battery in the original rear-mounted battery hanger, and hooked it up to Buddy’s original battery cable, which is made from a welding cord, to make it all work,” says Eli. In the interest of safety, Eli added a Model T tail/stop light and a ’47 New Hampshire license plate, in honor of the year Buddy started the build.
Meet and Greet
Eli has been a staunch supporter of The Race of Gentlemen since its inception, and both he and his wife Lisa have raced pretty much every year. So it was only natural that Eli would take the fully functional roadster to Wildwood and put it through its paces on the sand. And he wanted Buddy there to witness the event.
In June 2016, Buddy’s son Mike and his wife brought Buddy to the beach for the annual event. There, the 81-year-old laid eyes on his roadster for the first time in 60 years. Not only that, he even got to make a pass down the beach in his hot rod, spinning the wheels just like he did on those dusty gravel roads in the backwoods of New York State.
And Eli, well, he made some waves too. He piloted the car for a First place win in the Heritage class. The sleek, low-slung, patinaflanked roadster showed that this 11-year-old’s vision of hot rod design still applies today.
> The car that started it all. Though Buddy was surrounded by cars and trucks at his father’s New York coal yard, seeing this hot rod on a trip to California inspired him to want to build one of his own. > Buddy’s first attempt at building a hot rod...
> Once 11-year-old Buddy Hinman saw his first hot rod on a trip to California in 1947, he knew he had to have one of his own. This roadster was his first foray into the world of building hot rods and race cars.
> “I don’t have headlights, gauges, dashboard, or firewall because Buddy said that it never had them,” Eli says. “I don’t really need gauges anyway. I can see, hear, and feel everything that is going on with the motor while I’m driving it.” > There was...