Rat Fink’s Revenge
Geezer John Zick Got His Geezer Car—in a Basket
Growing up in the late-’60s,” said John Zick, “I always read the latest CARtoons, and I loved ‘Big Daddy’ Ed Roth and the
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.