COVER STORY: BEST BIRTH­DAY PRESENT EVER

Model A road­ster marks a mile­stone.

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Contents - • WORDS: DREW HARDIN • PICS: WES ALLISON • CAR: VIC & DEBBI HAGER

DRIVEN.

Most cou­ples cel­e­brate mile­stones like birth­days and wedding an­niver­saries with some sort of splurge: a trip, a fancy night on the town, maybe a new piece of keep­sake jew­elry. Vic and Deb­bie Hager have their own way to mark those spe­cial oc­ca­sions: They build hot rods.

When the high-school sweet­hearts were dat­ing, Vic drove them around in a ’57 Chevy pickup. It went away, as a lot of high school cars do. But as the years went by, Vic started look­ing for an­other like it.

Debbi beat him to the punch, buy­ing him a sim­i­lar truck for his birth­day in 2001. They drove it to their 30th high school re­union, and it re­mains Vic’s daily driver to­day.

For their 35th wedding an­niver­sary, Vic and Debbi de­cided to build an­other truck, this time a hot rod ’40 Ford pickup that had been tak­ing shape in Vic’s mind for a while. Draw­ings on nap­kins at the din­ner ta­ble mor­phed into a tat­too of the chopped, slammed, and fend­er­less Ford on Vic’s right fore­arm—be­fore the truck was even built.

“But there’s only one way I’d do it,” Vic says, “and that was if Debbi helped me. And I don’t mean just bring­ing me iced tea in the garage while I work. I mean re­ally helped me. Side-by-side, ev­ery step of the way.”

That’s ex­actly how it hap­pened. The two of them es­sen­tially built the car from scratch, with Vic teach­ing Debbi how to weld “so we could fab­ri­cate what we needed,” he says. The re­sult is some­thing far more mean­ing­ful to the cou­ple than an­other bauble on a bracelet. Not to men­tion a whole lot more fun.

So when Vic’s 60th birth­day rolled around, Debbi kept the cou­ple’s mile­stone tra­di­tion go­ing by buy­ing Vic a Model A road­ster.

“He was ready to re­tire,” she re­calls, “and had built a shop in back of our house. I asked him, ‘Why don’t you fin­ish the shop and do a car?’”

Do­ing a car turned into a five-year project for Vic and Debbi, with help from friends, fam­ily, and fel­low mem­bers of the Bak­ers­field-area 99s car club.

As he had done with the ’40 pickup, Vic formed a very clear vi­sion of what the road­ster should be. “I wanted to build the car as a lakes-style hot rod, like a kid would have done af­ter the war. The kind of car you’d drive to the lakes, take ev­ery­thing off of it, race it, then put ev­ery­thing back on and drive home. I wanted to use as many orig­i­nal Ford parts as pos­si­ble, and use the same meth­ods and pro­cesses avail­able at the time.”

That vi­sion meant tak­ing a whole dif­fer­ent ap­proach than what he and Debbi had done with the Ford truck. In­stead of fab­ri­cat­ing what he needed, Vic would have to hunt down those pe­riod-cor­rect parts he saw in his mind’s eye. As it turned out, much of the five years it took to build the car was spent search­ing for parts.

Vic ad­mits he made some con­ces­sions to the all-vin­tage-parts plan, but they were made in the name of dura­bil­ity. “Debbi and I wanted to drive the car ev­ery­where, and we live in 100-de­greesplus in Bak­ers­field.” A cool-run­ning flat­head was high on his list of pri­or­i­ties, as was a sparkier 12-volt ig­ni­tion sys­tem, al­beit one fired by a re­built Joe Hunt mag­neto. (See side­bar for Vic’s cool­ing tricks.)

Debbi’s present was a great place to start. The ’28 Model A was “pretty straight and had no rust,” says Vic, but also had no front fend­ers, run­ning boards, or hood. “It looked like they were go­ing to hot-rod it, but it was still pretty stock.” There were some is­sues with the rear deck­lid, and the fen­der be­hind the driver’s seat had a dent where a ladder had fallen on it. “That’s why the guy sold it. Af­ter the ladder fell on it, he re­al­ized he’d never do any­thing with it.”

The car was a roller, sit­ting on its stock frame and still fit­ted with its Model A axles, me­chan­i­cal brakes, and spoke wheels. Vic cleaned up and painted the frame, but didn’t box the rails or fill in any of the orig­i­nal holes “to keep it as orig­i­nal as pos­si­ble.” He did add a dropped front cross­mem­ber to ac­com­mo­date a big ra­di­a­tor, a ’32 K-mem­ber to hold the flat­head, and a new cen­ter X-mem­ber.

The front axle, springs, and wish­bones are from a ’36 Ford, while the rearend, rear springs, and ’bones are orig­i­nals.

The hand­some gray wheels, from a ’40 Ford, came from Vic’s buddy Steve Long, who was also the source of “those beau­ti­ful ’36 head­lights,” says Vic. The lights had been in Steve’s parts stash, and Vic had had his eyes on them for a while. “I al­ways wanted lights like that on a car,” Vic would say to Steve, “but he’d just hem and haw.” One day Steve dropped by Vic’s shop to check out the hot rod’s progress, and he was im­pressed. “Come get them,” Steve told Vic af­ter the visit. “I want them to be on your car.”

The gen­eros­ity of friends and fam­ily is a run­ning theme in this car’s build his­tory. For in­stance, when it came time to paint the car, Vic wanted to do it the old-fash­ioned way: “out­side, with sin­glestage paint.” But he had never painted a car be­fore. So he asked a friend, Bob Gleim, for help.

“Bob had been around long enough, had been around hot rods in the Glen­dale area when he was a kid, so he knew what they did and didn’t do,” says Vic. “I asked him to teach me. Not do all the work, but teach me the process and paint with me. That started a two-month process, work­ing ev­ery day of the week. He’d spray some of it to show me, then I’d spray. First the sealer, then the primer, then the black. He was a real good teacher. He knew what he was do­ing. I didn’t, but I was will­ing to learn.”

Gutsy move, es­pe­cially given his choice of color. “Yeah, I picked the hardest color on an out­door paint job on an old car. But it turned out pretty all right.”

An­other friend who pitched in was Bob Van Me­ter, who “taught me how to build a per­for­mance flat­head,” says Vic. Its foun­da­tion is a French block, “a 59AB/8BA combo,” as Vic de­scribes it, dis­plac­ing 286 ci. Within the block is a Scat crank and bal­anced H-beam con­nect­ing rods mount­ing Ross Rac­ing pis­tons. Vic re­lieved the block at the bores and pock­eted the EAC Mercury cylin­der heads (which were also milled 0.020) to clear the 1.6-inch stain­less valves. Vic port-matched the Offy Su­per Dual in­take man­i­fold and fab­ri­cated the stain­less-steel ex­haust sys­tem.

Back­ing the flat­tie is a ’38 Ford pas­sen­ger car trans­mis­sion that Vic and Bob Gleim filled with truck in­ter­nals with “bet­ter

syn­chros,” says Vic. A torque tube sends power back to the car’s orig­i­nal rearend, filled with 3.54 gears.

The Model A’s cock­pit blends some orig­i­nal Henry parts with hand­i­work done by Vic, Vic’s brother Paul, and an up­hol­sterer whose name is so long and con­vo­luted that Vic says he goes by just the ini­tial J. Vic fabbed the ped­als and the nickel-plated dash bar (where a ton­neau at­taches), and mod­i­fied the shift knob into a re­mark­ably ac­cu­rate self-por­trait. Paul is re­spon­si­ble for the wood­work on the car’s floor, toe board, and around the cock­pit’s trail­ing edge.

J’s job was the car’s up­hol­stery, turn­ing what had been a Dodge Car­a­van rear seat into a tuck-and-rolled, leather-clad beauty. He also made a match­ing cush­ion to bol­ster Debbi when she’s be­hind the wheel.

When Vic asked J to make a ton­neau for the car, J had no idea what he was talk­ing about. He’d never heard the term. Vic de­scribed what he wanted, and a light bulb went on in J’s head, as he had done sim­i­lar cov­ers for boat own­ers.

As a su­per-sub­tle fin­ish­ing touch, Debbi’s brother, Ja­son “3 Sheets” Janes, pin­striped parts of the body and the head­light hous­ings—in black. The name “Betty” ap­pears in that black-on-black treat­ment on the lower right cor­ner of the tail panel. The Model A is named for Vic’s mother, and Ja­son ap­plied the script in a copy of her handwritin­g, as if she’d signed the car her­self.

“She and my dad, Ce­cil, would have loved to ride in the car,” Debbi tells us. While it was be­ing built, “they both loved talk­ing about it and sit­ting in it.” Betty and Ce­cil passed away be­fore the car was fin­ished, but Betty, at least in name, goes with Vic and Debbi when­ever they take the car out.

And take it out they do. When the Model A had barely 50 miles on it, Vic and Debbi drove it to a car show in Te­hachapi, some 40 miles away, “in 110-de­gree heat,” says Vic. “That was a real test of that flat­head mo­tor.” They have since driven it to the Ven­tura Na­tion­als, the “Burg­ers-n-burnouts” HOT ROD 70th an­niver­sary

show in Pomona, and to their home­town track, Famoso, to the Cal­i­for­nia Hot Rod Re­union and the March Meet. As we write this, they plan to go to the SCTA’S sea­son opener at El Mi­rage, tak­ing the same back­roads that the pi­o­neer lakes rac­ers did.

We first spot­ted the car at CHRR and fea­tured it in our “Scene at …” show cov­er­age in the Mar. 2019 is­sue. Vic also gra­ciously agreed to carry our own Dave Wal­lace, an hon­oree at the Re­union, dur­ing the event’s pre-cackle pa­rade.

Those are the kinds of things Vic and Debbi re­ally en­joy about the Model A, the things that go be­yond the car’s nuts and bolts. “It’s not just the car,” Debbi says. “It’s the peo­ple we meet and the ad­ven­tures we go on. The car makes that hap­pen.”

> Hot rods and air­ports have a re­la­tion­ship that goes back al­most as far as gow jobs and dry lakes. Thanks to one of Vic Hager’s many friends, we pho­tographed his Model A road­ster at his­toric Min­ter Army Air Field in Shafter, Cal­i­for­nia.

> Not only did Vic want a car with early parts, but he also wanted to build it us­ing the same kinds of pro­cesses avail­able to a young rod­der in the late 1940s or early 1950s. So the Model A’s sin­gle-stage paint job was sprayed by Vic and Bob Gleim in Bob’s drive­way. > Close ex­am­i­na­tion of the tail panel re­veals some of Ja­son “3 Sheets” Janes’s black-on-black pin­strip­ing, in­clud­ing Vic’s mother’s name, Betty, at the lower right cor­ner. The script mim­ics her sig­na­ture, so it looks like she signed the car her­self. > Vic says one of the hardest parts of the road­ster’s build was get­ting the deck­lid right, as the skin oil-canned when it was pulled away from its inner struc­ture to punch the lou­vers. Vic Heliarc-welded the skin back to the frame, then heated the metal with a shrink­ing wheel and cooled it with a rag “about a mil­lion times” to get the metal right again.

> With help from buddy Bob Van Me­ter, Vic built a flat­head for per­for­mance and re­li­a­bil­ity. The 286ci French block is fit­ted with Mercury heads and spins a Scat re­cip­ro­cat­ing assem­bly with Ross Rac­ing pis­tons. Smith Auto of Din­uba, Cal­i­for­nia, did Vic’s ma­chin­ing work, while Reynolds Ma­chine bal­anced the flywheel and clutch assem­bly. Spark comes from a re­built Joe Hunt mag­neto out of a 1980s sprint car. Vic fab­ri­cated the stain­less-steel ex­haust sys­tem, with 1 ⁄ 8- inch header pipes flow­ing back to 2 ⁄ 8- inch tailpipes. 5 1 > The EAC Mercury heads were milled 0.20 inch and pock­eted to make room for 1.6-inch stain­less-steel valves. A Howard cam of­fers 0.405/0.395 inches of lift at 0.050 and a 111-de­gree lobe sep­a­ra­tion an­gle. > The mo­tor has been stone re­li­able, ex­cept early on Vic felt it “seemed a lit­tle lean on the bot­tom end. I messed with it, but it never seemed per­fect.” One day on the way to break­fast, “it just quit. I thought I had fouled a plug and couldn’t get it go­ing.” Vic sus­pected trou­ble with the mag, so he drove it up to the Joe Hunt shop near Sacra­mento, where the is­sue was traced to a hair­line crack by the No. 8 cylin­der wire. “So I was re­ally run­ning on seven cylin­ders the whole time.” With a new cap “ev­ery­thing’s been per­fect since.”

> The pol­ished Offy Su­per Dual in­take (which Vic port matched with the block) mounts Stromberg 97s with OTB smooth-dome air clean­ers.

> Leather tuck-and-roll, by an up­hol­ster known only as J, cov­ers what used to be the rear seat out of a Dodge mini­van. The dashboard and in­stru­ment panel are orig­i­nal to the car; Vic filled the clus­ter with a mix of orig­i­nal and Mooneyes gauges. The Bell-style steer­ing wheel is also from Mooneyes. > Like the brakes be­hind them, the 16-inch wheels are from a ’40 Ford. They are fin­ished off with Mercury hub­caps and wrapped by Coker re­pro­duc­tion Fire­stones, 6.00x16 in front and 7.50x16 in back. > Front axle and springs are from a ’36 Ford, while the Model A’s orig­i­nal Houdaille shocks damp the ride. A ’40 Ford pro­vided the hy­draulic brakes. > The orig­i­nal Model A rearend gets power via a torque tube. Given the un­der­car­riage’s clean­li­ness, you’d never know that this was a driver un­til hear­ing the sto­ries from Vic and Debbi about the miles it has trav­eled. > Vic mod­i­fied an off-the-shelf shift knob to cre­ate a pretty ac­cu­rate self-por­trait.

> The Hager’s road­ster is de­ceiv­ing. At first glance it looks like sim­plic­ity it­self: a nicely pro­por­tioned high­boy wear­ing its sin­gle-stage paint like a plain black dress. But this is a car that re­wards closer at­ten­tion. That’s when you spot things like the hand­made blis­ter in the hood to clear the mag, the nickel-plated (not chrome) dash bar, the hand-fab­ri­cated spreader, and just enough bright­work to ac­cent the plain black wrap­per. > Vic’s prized ’36 head­lights wear more of his brother-in-law’s pin­strip­ing. Get­ting the lights po­si­tioned took a lot of trial-and-er­ror, with Debbi and the cou­ple’s daugh­ter, Rae, hold­ing them and mov­ing them around while Vic checked their height and po­si­tion rel­a­tive to the car. Once Vic was sat­is­fied with their lo­ca­tion, he made their stan­chions.

> Nearly all of the sheet­metal on Vic’s road­ster is the Model A’s orig­i­nal steel. Two ex­cep­tions are the Brookville grille shell and the Rootlieb hood, the lat­ter used to help mate the Deuce shell to the gen­nie Model A cowl. > Vic fash­ioned the car’s ped­als, while the wood­work on the floor, toe board, and around the cab was fin­ished by his brother, Paul. > It’s not easy to build a hot post-war rod us­ing pri­mar­ily pre- and parts. To fin­ish such a car and also have it be a re­li­able driver in the sum­mer heat of Cal­i­for­nia’s Cen­tral Val­ley is harder still. But Vic and Debbi pulled it off, with the help of fam­ily and friends.

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