OLD CAR, NEW VI­SION

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Contents - • WORDS: DREW HARDIN • PICS: MICHAEL ALAN ROSS • CAR: RIC KELLEN

Model A goes from 1970s daily driver to tra­di­tional hot rod.

RE­LI­ABLE. They say if you hang onto some­thing long enough, it will even­tu­ally come back in style. It’s cer­tainly true in our end of the car hobby. The look of hot iron built in the 1940s has been through sev­eral re­vivals over the years, and has been nearly matched in pop­u­lar­ity by re­turn­ing styling cues from the 1950s and even the Swing­ing Six­ties.

That, though, is where the nos­tal­gia hot rod trend seems to end. As far as we can tell, there’s lit­tle de­sire to repli­cate the look of 1970s hot rods, at least not those with Clorox-bot­tle-like fiber­glass bod­ies, street-freak paint jobs (or worse, mu­rals), wire-bas­ket wheels, white-let­ter tires, and su­per­charg­ers with dis­place­ments that ri­valed the small-blocks they were bolted to.

This ’31 Model A coupe kind of had that look when Ric Kellen an­swered a San Francisco Chron­i­cle clas­si­fied ad for it in 1997. The pre­vi­ous owner had in­stalled a small-block Chevy and Pow­er­glide in the 1970s, along with “a Cor­vair front sus­pen­sion with a steer­ing rack, ap­par­ently the hot ticket at the time,” Ric tells us. “It was done in a resto-rod man­ner: full fend­ered, stock bumpers, spare tire with

hand-painted na­ture scene on it—i think it was a deer—cowl lights, and tires that were very wide and stuck out un­der the fend­ers.” The dash, he said, was “a large wood panel that looked like a high school wood­shop project. It had a small, wooden, sports-car-style steer­ing wheel like some­thing out of a MG Mitten cat­a­log, as well as a com­pletely up­hol­stered rum­ble-seat area that matched the in­te­rior.”

Awk­ward add-ons aside, the car had a cer­tain charm. The seller’s fa­ther had bought it in the 1960s, and he used it for years as his daily driver. “It was ob­vi­ous that the car had been parked in his garage for some time,” Ric says.

He bought the coupe and drove it around like that, but not for long. “I knew pretty quickly that my vi­sion for the car was as a fend­er­less high­boy.”

The trans­for­ma­tion be­gan with Ric re­mov­ing the fend­ers. “Once I pulled the fend­ers off, I re­al­ized the Cor­vair stuff had to go,” he re­calls. “So did that weird steer­ing rack. It was a real cob job.” He found a Mag­num 4-inch-drop axle and hung it with split wish­bones and a front spring he got from tra­di­tional rod­ding guru

Vern Tardel.

“His daugh­ter-in-law re­sponded to a want ad I placed on the early ver­sion of the H.A.M.B.,” Ric says. “I drove up to his place in Wind­sor, and he dug around his shop and found the parts I needed, then took me to his of­fice and showed me the brack­ets I needed in the Speed­way Mo­tors cat­a­log. He was very help­ful to this novice hot rod­der.”

Ric fin­ished the front end with a set of drum brakes from an F-150 pickup. Out back, the mid-’50s Chevy axle and brakes worked just fine, so he left them as-is. A set of 15-inch steel wheels came from Pete Paul­son, a main­stay in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia rod­ding and a long-time wheel dealer. They’re mounted with big-’n’-lit­tle Coker Clas­sic white­wall bias-plies, and 1950 Olds hub­caps dress up the steel­ies.

A cou­ple of key changes made a big difference in­side the coupe. The wooden plank of a dash­board was re­placed with a panel that com­bined a Model A top and ’32 Ford lower. An en­gine-turned in­stru­ment panel is home to the Ste­wart-warner Cus­tom Green Line gauges that were al­ready in the car. And that sporty-car wood-rimmed steer­ing wheel was tossed in fa­vor of a 1953 Ford wheel.

At some point in its life the coupe’s stock seat had been re­uphol­stered in green and white Nau­gahyde. Ric kept the cov­ers, though he mod­i­fied the seat rails and re­moved the rear par­cel tray so he could slide the seat back to make as much room as pos­si­ble for his 6-foot 4-inch frame. The rum­ble seat is gone, that space turned into a trunk.

Ric left the coupe’s driv­e­line pretty much un­touched. As best as he can tell, the small-block is a mid-1960s 283. “It’s an old, wornout SBC that burns and leaks oil, but oth­er­wise it runs great!” Like­wise, the ’glide and its af­ter­mar­ket shifter are of un­known ori­gin and age, but they work fine, too. And a fresh set of car­rier bear­ings was all the rearend needed. “Hon­estly, I didn’t check the gear ra­tio when I was in there,” he ad­mits. “I can tell you it does not have a posi.”

He de­cided to leave the car’s body alone, too. It al­ready had a smoothed Deuce grille shell and a 4-inch chop, and Ric learned the blue-flamed paint job was laid on in the Mon­terey area in the 1970s. That it’s a lit­tle worn, with chips and cracks in some places, seems to suit the whole vibe of the car per­fectly. This Model A was ob­vi­ously (and we as­sume hap­pily) used for years, and it will con­tinue to do so in Ric’s care.

“I went to some car shows early on when I had the car, but I re­al­ized that’s not my scene,” he says. “I’m not much of a stat­ic­show guy. I like to drive the thing. And it’s been a very re­li­able car. I’ve had to do very lit­tle to keep it run­ning well.” And should his vi­sion for the car change again? “I have the fend­ers hang­ing on the wall, ready to be re­in­stalled if I de­cide to go back to that fullfend­ered look.”

> Be­fore he bought it, Ric Kellen’s Model A coupe was its pre­vi­ous owner’s daily driver. It’s still a driver in Ric’s hands. “I’m not a static-show kind of guy,” he says. He’s taken it from his home in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Marin County to Bil­let­proof, on Nor­cal re­li­a­bil­ity runs, and even as far south as Santa Maria and the Hot Rod Re­union in Bak­ers­field.

> Re­mov­ing the fend­ers and chang­ing the rolling stock were key to trans­form­ing Ric’s 1970s-era Model A into a more tra­di­tional-look­ing hot rod. Wrapped around steel wheels are wide-white­wall Coker Clas­sic bias-plies, 56015s in front and L78-15s in back for the clas­sic big-’n’-lit­tle setup. The 1950 Olds wheel cov­ers add some flair.

> Ric says the mid-’60s-vin­tage small-block burns and leaks oil, but it’s proven to be su­per re­li­able. “Work­ing with a ba­sic Chevy mo­tor with a car­bu­re­tor and points is sort of sooth­ing,” he says, as it’s a far cry from the late-model, high­end Euro­pean cars he deals with at the re­pair shop he owns.

> The V8 is backed by a Pow­er­glide trans­mis­sion of un­cer­tain vin­tage, con­trolled by an af­ter­mar­ket shifter whose his­tory is also un­known. Next to it is an­other mys­tery lever used for the hand­brake. “It’s not Volk­swa­gen,” Ric says. “It may be Bri­tish.”

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