Rat Fink’s Re­venge

Geezer John Zick Got His Geezer Car—in a Bas­ket

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Grow­ing up in the late-’60s,” said John Zick, “I al­ways read the lat­est CAR­toons, and I loved ‘Big Daddy’ Ed Roth and the

BIG blow­ers.”

He was in the right place then.

His step­dad had bought the Model A in the 1990s, and after he passed on, John’s mom asked if he wanted it. His said he ab­so­lutely did, no less en­tranced by Ed Roth’s aura now than back in the day when he was a whip­per­snap­per. He re­al­ized he was in the right place again.

His wife, Holly, was be­hind him all the way on his new de­par­ture. “She en­cour­aged me to build the car; it was in pieces and var­i­ous states of dis­ar­ray. That’s when I met Matt Back­haus at Street­works Hot Rods [Wauke­sha, Wis­con­sin].” Since the car be­gan in bits, John made the de­ci­sion to honor the phi­los­o­phy of hand­built and swore that noth­ing would ever be in there that was some kind of a bolt-on. Mostly, he was able to honor that com­mit­ment.

So even though John had seen his di­rec­tion clearly, like it was tat­tooed to his brain, he and Matt had to stick skulls to­gether. John wanted the Rat Fink look he re­mem­bered from child­hood and the Rat Fink smell that had to go with it. He wanted to paint it green, be­cause it’s his mother’s fa­vorite color. A lot of cus­tom

met­al­work was punc­tu­ated by long lines of lou­vers in and around fields of un­painted alu­minum.

It seems John’s nos­tal­gic bent goes fur­ther. That No. 77 on the back of the car refers to the truck he used to drive in an­other long life, and you can see more of that sen­ti­ment in the House of Kolor Or­ganic Kandy Green and 1960s pe­riod-cor­rect art­work on that deep, dark fin­ish. Matt mas­saged the body, sliced 2 inches from its top, and at­tached it to a 1932 Ford chas­sis that he built for it.

Though he laid off ev­ery­thing else to the hounds at Street­works, he wanted to build the en­gine him­self (re­mem­ber that BIG blow­ers part?), us­ing traits, quirks, and equip­ment from long ago. Most peo­ple cadged the hot small-block Chevy then. John was no dif­fer­ent now, ap­ply­ing a 0.030 clean-up pass to the 4-inch bore, mak­ing it into a 355. He fixed it with boost-friendly forged pis­tons that, when com­bined with the 180cc com­bus­tion cham­bers of the Iron Ea­gle heads, yield a 9.0:1 com­pres­sion ra­tio. After blend­ing the bowls of the Dart cast­ings, he filled them with 2.02/1.60 stain­less-steel valves. He en­abled the pump with a Lu­nati Voodoo hy­draulic roller, its events sym­pa­thetic to a life of forced-air in­duc­tion. Hey, when’s the last time you saw Of­fen­hauser valve­cover humps? Rocco and Cheater would be proud.

One of the main tenets of hot rod­ding has been the pre­sen­ta­tion of a hot mo­tor, the well from which all else comes. With­out a bon­net or an um­brella, the Model A gives the en­gine an un­de­ni­able pres­ence— like it’s dif­fi­cult to keep your eyes off it, like you have to look. Sure, a tun­nel-ram man­i­fold might grab you for a few min­utes, but in this world, noth­ing comes off bet­ter than a Roots huf­fer and a pair of Hol­ley

660 pots piled on top. Though cool­ing is the mat­ter for an elec­tric wa­ter pump, the ra­di­a­tor core and Flex-A-Lite fan are mounted un­der the floor at the back of the A.

John picked a le­gend. Gary Dyer’s been build­ing these mono­liths since the 1960s and knows a thing or two about what makes them spin. The 6-71 is 9 per­cent un­der­driven and man­u­fac­tures 8 psi of pos­i­tive man­i­fold pres­sure.

Since this is strictly for fun, John con­tin­ued the mo­tor-flaunt­ing with 13/4-inch old-timey head­ers made from very mod­ern 304 stain­less and joined them with a crossover pipe. Won­der does he some­times pull the gags out and nail it, mak­ing the ethe­real mu­sic his nonex­is­tent stereo can­not? It roars plenty, though. On the dyno, the lit­tle-block pumped

out a zingy 620 hp at 5,500 rpm. Pretty sick, ac­tu­ally, for a cap­sule that weighs just 2,200 pounds at the curb. Yes, there’s that glint in John’s eye.

For that glid­ing-along ef­fect, torque is passed by a tweaked TCI 700-R4 with a man­ual valve­body through a 10-inch con­verter fixed with a 2,400-rpm stall speed. John pokes it with a Lokar shifter. From there, the fat­back winds around a DTS 9-inch with a lim­ited-slip diff, 3.50:1 gears, and Moser En­gi­neer­ing 31-spline shafts.

When we got to talk­ing with Matt Back­haus, John Zick’s pile be­gan to make a lot more sense. The whole thing be­came an ad­ven­ture, and this thing comes out of a time be­fore ours. Back­haus built a straight front axle in­cor­po­rat­ing a 4-inch drop lo­cated by split wish­bones just like back in the day. Matt said he made a cus­tom four-link to put the back axle in and hefted it with QA1 ad­justable shocks and an an­ti­sway bar.

If the en­gine wasn’t enough of a po­lar­izer, then the pol­ished Radir spin­dle mounts cer­tainly could be. Back­haus put 3-inch-wide ones up there with 18x4.00 Fire­stone Deluxe Cham­pion skin­nies. He did the brakes: im­pro­vised cus­tom spin­dle-mount Wil­wood ro­tors clamped by two-pis­ton calipers off a mo­tor­cy­cle. The rear setup is con­ven­tional, 12.19-inch

Wil­wood plates tended by four-pis­ton grab­bers and a Wil­wood mas­ter cylin­der. The drive tires are 9-inch Radir pie-crust slicks slung by 9-inch-wide Hal­i­brand mag­ne­sium.

Street­works’ Earl Robin­son de­signed and built the min­i­mal­ist gut. He didn’t buy any­thing; he made ev­ery­thing that’s in there with his hands. Some alu­minum pan­el­ing on the doors and a sweep­ing car-width alu­minum dash­board (with Ste­wart-Warner me­ters) co­in­cides with the un­painted ex­te­rior treat­ment. Earl built the seats from scratch and en­veloped them in vinyl. John points the A with a vin­tage 1940 Ford wheel that’s con­nected to a Vega man­ual-steer­ing box.

When asked about the in­vest­ment John has in the ’31, he didn’t write out an amount; his re­sponse was a sim­ple “$” sign. And that sign has some mean­ing now: at the 2016 Detroit Au­torama, John and his A were awarded the Most Ex­treme Nos­tal­gic Coupe. One thing’s for sure, though. This is now John Zick’s new life in the mod­ern world.

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