The pros and cons of finishing a hot rod.

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Contents - —DREW HARDIN EMAIL ME: DREWHARDIN­[email protected]

While walk­ing through the car show area at Steve Gibbs’ Nitro Re­vival 3 (which we will cover next is­sue), I had an in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion with Sean Mcdougall, who built the bare-metal, Hemi-pow­ered Model A coupe we featured in Nov. 2016, both on our cover and in the story “Malarkey.” I didn’t see the car at the show. Sean said it was back at his shop, apart, the vic­tim of a spun rod brought on by some “spir­ited driv­ing.” Some­thing about oil star­va­tion dur­ing high-speed cor­ner­ing. That’s not usu­ally an is­sue for a buggy-sprung hot rod, but since the sus­pen­sion un­der Sean’s coupe mixes tra­di­tional and race-car parts, he can pull higher g loads around a corner than most Model As.

With the car apart, Sean was con­sid­er­ing mak­ing some changes. “I’ve got a ’32 frame, and I’m think­ing about tak­ing the coilovers out of it, putting in some real seats [in­side the car now are alu­minum pan­els with bead-rolled “pleats”], and maybe even paint­ing it.”

Then he dropped some­thing of a bomb when he asked me, “Should I?”

He had his rea­sons. “I’d like to make it more com­fort­able to drive. I’d like to drive to Bon­neville some­day. I can do two-hour trips, like I could have brought it here [to Ir­win­dale from his home near Bak­ers­field]. But I couldn’t do the 11 or 12 hours to Bon­neville.”

The Model A “was my vision when I was 28,” Sean told me. “I’m 46 now, and driv­ing it is just beat­ing me up.”

The simple an­swer, of course, is do what you want. Change the car. If it’s not en­joy­able to drive, chances are good you’ll drive it less and less, and it may wind up wast­ing away in the corner of a garage or shop.

“But it’s a mag­a­zine cover car,” Sean coun­tered. “That’s no small thing. So should I leave it that way, or change it?” Hmm.

Any hot rod or cus­tom car—that is, a car mod­i­fied in ap­pear­ance and/or per­for­mance, as op­posed to a re­stored car—ex­ists at the in­ter­sec­tion of fashion, tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ment, and per­sonal taste. Fashion comes and goes; we can dis­cern the stylis­tic dif­fer­ences be­tween a hot rod from the 1940s versus the 1960s or the 1980s. Tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ment rides along with fashion: A hot rod built in the 1940s (or to em­u­late one) is sub­ject to the tech­nol­ogy avail­able at the time. It wouldn’t have a small-block Chevy or a Mus­tang II front sus­pen­sion, for ex­am­ple.

Un­less it evolved into those more ad­vanced com­po­nents be­cause of the per­sonal taste of the owner. That’s the beauty of a hot rod or cus­tom versus a restora­tion: The owner is free to fol­low very per­sonal choices to create the car of his or her dreams. That car may not be to your taste, or to mine, but who’s to rain on any­one else’s pa­rade?

Mag­a­zine cars, how­ever, in­tro­duce a fourth el­e­ment, pos­ter­ity. Do the math: In its 70 year his­tory, HOT ROD has had more than 800 cover cars, give or take those is­sues with mul­ti­ple cars on the cover or those with re­peat sub­jects. That many cool cars would make a great show, but the to­tal pales in com­par­i­son to the num­ber of hot rods and cus­toms that were built in those 70 years. For our lit­tle late-comer mag­a­zine, with just six is­sues a year since 2008, cover cars num­ber in the dozens, not the hun­dreds. So maybe pos­ter­ity tips the ar­gu­ment in fa­vor of preser­va­tion, not evo­lu­tion.

Ex­cept pos­ter­ity is not cre­ated equal. That’s an awk­ward way of say­ing that, rare though they may be, not all mag­a­zine cars are out­stand­ing, or mem­o­rable, or de­serv­ing of be­ing es­sen­tially placed in am­ber for eter­nity.

Just a few feet away from where Sean and I were talk­ing sat Gray Baskervill­e’s ’32 road­ster, looking (to my eye, any­way) ex­actly like it did when Gray took me for my first ride in it in the mid 1990s. That’s a great ex­am­ple of a car with prove­nance that (to my eye, any­way) should be left as-is in mem­ory of our ol’ Dad.

Then again, had Norm Grabowski left his Light­ning Bug just as it ap­peared on HRM’S Oct. 1955 cover, would Norm have been the Norm he be­came with­out a Kookie ver­sion for Life mag­a­zine or 77 Sun­set Strip?

I don’t mean to say Sean’s coupe rises to the same level as those cars. It can take a long time for a car to make enough of an im­print on rod­ding cul­ture to qual­ify for preser­va­tion. What is an owner sup­posed to do in the mean­time, sit around and wait for an honor that may never come?

We all know of cars that have been “ru­ined” by what, in hind­sight, were mis­guided changes to its form or function. But

hot rod­ding is about free­dom, the free­dom to ac­com­plish what you can see in your mind’s eye and build with your two hands. Sean’s eye for style, his sense of pro­por­tion, and his crafts­man­ship are first-rate. If any­one could do jus­tice to his tidy lit­tle coupe by trans­form­ing it into some­thing more driv­able, he could.

Ul­ti­mately my ad­vice to him, for what it’s worth, was change it if you want. It’s your car. If time proves the first ver­sion was a land­mark, some­one will build a trib­ute. And be­tween now and then you’ll have a hot rod you can en­joy on those trips to the salt.


> Darel Dieringer gets the check­ered flag at the 1963 Golden State 400, NASCAR’S sea­son-end­ing race at River­side Race­way. A sim­mer­ing feud be­tween NASCAR and USAC boiled over just prior to the event, forc­ing sev­eral USAC stars to drop out, fear­ing they would be banned from fu­ture USAC races, in­clud­ing the plum Indy 500. River­side su­per­star Dan Gur­ney was one of the dropouts, as were Par­nelli Jones, Rodger Ward, A.J. Foyt, and Roger Penske. Still, HOT ROD’S Ray Brock said the 400 was “one of the most ex­cit­ing races ever staged in stock car rac­ing.” A close-fought duel in the fi­nal laps be­tween Dieringer and “South­ern Cal­i­for­nia sports car sen­sa­tion” Dave Macdon­ald ended when the trans­mis­sion in Macdon­ald’s car be­came “locked in Third gear all the way around the track,” Brock wrote. Dieringer’s Strop pe-prepped Mer­cury fin­ished more than a full lap ahead of Macdon­ald’s ail­ing Ford.

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