Putting a Hi­ber­nat­ing Hot Rod Back on the Road

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Contents -

Bring­ing a barn find back to life.

The pop­u­lar­ity of barn finds and sur­vivor hot rods has cre­ated a whole new seg­ment of the hot rod hobby. Cars with his­tory are much more in­ter­est­ing than some­thing built in the mod­ern era, but we had to con­vince Charles Berry that his ’34 Ply­mouth, his high school hot rod, was a re­ally spe­cial piece.

For those of you who didn’t see our ear­lier story about the coupe (“One Piece at a Time,” Jan. 2017), here’s a brief run­down: The ’34 Ply­mouth body is mounted to a short­ened ’40 Ford frame with a ’56 Lin­coln rearend, sus­pended with coil springs and cus­tom lad­der bars. The en­gine is a 301ci small-block Chevy, a bored-out 283 from a ’61 Corvette, backed by a Mun­cie four-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion from a later-model Vette. A ’34 Pon­tiac grille leads off the mixed bag of hot rod trea­sures, and you’ll find cool stuff like a Hurst front en­gine mount, a set of road­ster-style head­ers painted in white, and a Weiand tun­nel ram fol­low­ing closely be­hind.

Charles warned us some parts of the build were a bit crude: “Don’t laugh, this was built on a pa­per-route bud­get.” He built it on the pa­tio of his fa­ther’s house in De­catur, Ge­or­gia, in the mid-1960s, and just couldn’t part ways with such a cool piece of his car-guy life­style. So it was parked in­doors for most of its life. When Charles moved to his cur­rent res­i­dence, he built the house to in­clude a base­ment large enough to house his wood­shop as well as space for his old hot rod. Even­tu­ally, space got tight, and Charles passed the legacy of his home­built hot rod to his son-in-law (yours truly). The plan was to make some re­pairs and get it back on the road.

I han­dled a great deal of the work in my home garage but called on help from my dad, Troy Byrd, and friends, in­clud­ing Wally Smith, Denny Ge­orge, and Kyle Shad­den, to make the car road­wor­thy again. The process was a bit more ex­ten­sive than I had imag­ined, but there were a few de­tails, like floor­pans, win­dows, and other odds and ends, that needed at­ten­tion be­fore I felt com­fort­able blasting down the road. We could’ve made it op­er­a­ble with very lit­tle ef­fort, but the goal was to make it safe and re­li­able, so trips to lo­cal cruise nights could be worry-free.

Most of the ex­ist­ing parts were suit­able for use for the car’s re­vival, but we fresh­ened up some of the vi­tal in­gre­di­ents to come up with a good blend of Charles’ orig­i­nal in­tent and our de­sire to drive the car more than 1,320 feet at a time. A PerTronix Ig­n­i­tor elec­tronic ig­ni­tion mod­ule is tucked away in­side the Delco-remy dual-point dis­trib­u­tor, and we re-used the

Hol­ley 450-cfm car­bu­re­tors. The en­gine got some fresh paint and a new Flowkooler wa­ter pump, while a cus­tom hy­draulic clutch sys­tem, us­ing a ’61 Chevrolet truck combo mas­ter cylinder and slave cylinder, got us an­other step closer to be­ing on the road. Fi­nally, we set the car back on the ground with a set of big-and-lit­tle bias-ply Fire­stones from Coker Tire and ap­pro­pri­ately sized as-cast Strike wheels from Rocket Rac­ing Wheels. Var­i­ous parts from Sum­mit Rac­ing and Hon­est Charley Speed Shop wrapped up the re­build.

Charles’ dis­claimers and doubt about the qual­ity of his build turned to fond mem­o­ries of yes­ter­year when the old small-block spoke to him through open head­ers. His sto­ries of squir­relly han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics and dis­grun­tled neigh­bors sud­denly struck a chord with me, as I took the car on a sur­real maiden voy­age trip down the road. “I sure hope I can get this

thing gath­ered up,” I thought af­ter open­ing the sec­on­daries in First and Sec­ond gear, fol­lowed shortly by, “Our neigh­bors must hate us.”

Charles rode shot­gun with me on a trip down the road and was ea­ger to get be­hind the wheel. As he got si­t­u­ated in the driver seat, I started to give him a heads-up about the var­i­ous pe­cu­liar­i­ties I had dis­cov­ered be­fore re­al­iz­ing he al­ready knows all of this car’s tricks. It was like a re­union with an old friend, in which you pick up right where you left off, ex­cept this car is more like a mem­ber of the fam­ily.

This car tells sto­ries that only Charles can hear, rang­ing from his fa­ther’s snide re­marks to his time spent in Viet­nam, dream­ing up ideas and wish­ing for the chance to go home and make a pass in it. Now that the car is back on the road, those sto­ries re­sult in a flood of mem­o­ries and emotions, and those tears in his eyes aren’t from a rich fuel mix­ture. This road re­union is one for the ages, so take a look at how we turned a dor­mant hot rod into a trip down mem­ory lane.

3 3. Cu­rios­ity got the best of us, so we poured gas in the car­bu­re­tor’s vent tubes to see if this thing would fire off. For the first time in many years, gassy fumes flowed through the white head­ers.

2 2. When the car came out of stor­age, we wanted to see if the small-block Chevy would turn over with a hot bat­tery hooked up to it. The small-block quickly spun to life, us­ing the same generic parts store switch that Charles in­stalled decades ago.

1 1. As we told you in the Jan. 2017 is­sue, the Ply­mouth had been sit­ting in Charles Berry’s base­ment for more than 30 years, but most of the parts were still in­tact. Our plan is to get it run­ning and driv­ing again with­out los­ing the spirit of his high...

4 4. Af­ter we heard the rum­ble of open head­ers for a brief mo­ment, we started the dis­as­sem­bly process to make this old hot rod road­wor­thy. We re­moved the spark plugs and ig­ni­tion com­po­nents, fol­lowed by the head­ers. Ul­ti­mately, the en­gine would come...

5 5. When the car was built in the 1960s, it fea­tured a ply­wood fire­wall and floor­boards. This go-around, we wanted to strengthen the body and of­fer a sturdy mount­ing sur­face for a pedal assem­bly and mas­ter cylinder with a steel floor­pan and fire­wall.


9 9. An im­por­tant note is that the clutch and brake ports are not ori­ented in the stan­dard fash­ion. The truck’s big cross­over pedal assem­bly po­si­tioned the clutch pushrod on the side near­est the en­gine. So we switched the guts from one side of the...

12. When we dragged the car out of the base­ment, it had a set of Mickey Thomp­son Radirstyle wheels on the front and alu­minum slots on the back. The tires were not dry-rot­ted, but it needed some fresh rub­ber and some match­ing wheels. We went with...

6 6. The Mun­cie four-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion and alu­minum bell­hous­ing have been in the car since the late 1960s. The clutch fork and throwout bear­ing had some dam­age, so we re­placed them with stock-style parts and built a small bracket to mount the...

7 7. We picked up a Trans-dapt brake and clutch pedal assem­bly from Sum­mit Rac­ing. It fea­tures a sim­ple mount­ing bracket and has the vin­tage look, so it worked very well for the old Ply­mouth. Here, we mock it up and mark the holes to be drilled in the...

10. With the mas­ter cylinder mounted, we started re­build­ing the brakes on each cor­ner of the ’40 Ford frame. We re­placed the rub­ber brake hoses and wheel cylin­ders, but ev­ery­thing else was sal­vage­able. 10

8 8. The pedal assem­bly needed some tweak­ing to work with our ’61 Chevrolet truck combo mas­ter cylinder. We used a die grinder with a head-port­ing-style burr bit to open up the holes in the pedal assem­bly bracket.

11. There aren’t a lot of mov­ing parts on an early Ford drum brake, so the brake main­te­nance and re­pair were min­i­mal. All of the hard­ware looked great, and the pad ma­te­rial and drum sur­face were suf­fi­cient to get this hot rod back on the road. 11

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