I purchased my first car for seventy five dollars from a graduating high school senior when I was fifteen, a 1928 Model A. It looked terrible and needed a lot of work, and my dad wasn’t too happy about it – it didn’t look too nice in the driveway of our beautiful house. But here was the chance to put to work what I learned in my auto, and machine shop classes. I spent all summer going over the whole car and fixing all the mechanical problems, adding a new canvas top from Sears and recovering the seat. I even painted it – albeit with a brush since I didn’t yet know anything about spray painting – it didn’t turn out badly.
So, in August, when my sixteenth birthday rolled around, I was ready to take my driving test – yes, in the Model A. Three of my friends (I’m on the front fender) who were seniors and had drivers licenses piled into the A, and we headed off to the test site. The car started okay, and I adjusted the spark control lever, signaled by hand, and pulled out into traffic. All was going well, until my tester instructed me to drive up a very steep hill, stop and start up again, all part of the test for stick shift cars. As it turned out, the little four-cylinder Model A engine was not powerful enough to go from a dead stop on a steep hill and continue on.
It stalled a few times, and we had to turn around – it just couldn’t make the steep grade. Things definitely were not going well, and with all the strain on the engine trying to make the hill several times, I could see the temperature in the radiator rising. It was a hot summer day, which didn’t help matters. As we headed back to the starting point, I was thinking he would give me a “pass” for trying, and forgiving the hill failure because of the age of the car. The Model A’s radiator cap has a small hole in the center to vent pressure, unlike today’s closed systems, and, by this time, it was at the boiling point. Suddenly, it blew like a geyser, showering the whole car and pouring boiling hot water onto the tester’s right arm that was resting on the window edge. I also knew that when the engine was as hot as it was it had a habit of backfiring when it was turned off. This is caused when the engine makes a few extra revolutions, thus sucking raw gasoline down the gravity fed gas line and getting fumes into the muffler. Sure enough, today there was an extra very loud bang. The guy was so frightened by then he couldn’t get out of the car fast enough, and as he scrambled out the door, he fell to the ground, flat on his face. To make matters worse, all my friends were rolling around on the ground, laughing their heads off over this wild scene.
You guessed it, I failed the test. We all laughed for months after that, and even now, every time I think about that day I laugh again. I can still see the frightened expression on the testers face.
|After the Model A, came a 1939 Ford convertible. I dechromed it, removed the running boards, and made a filler panel, changed the grille and this time it had a professional paint job. I was able to buy a 1950 Merc engine with only 250 miles from a junk yard, and did the engine swap adding Offy heads and three carb manifold, and dual exhaust – pretty fast for 1950.|
|In 1952, I started my first roadster project – a 1931 Ford body on 1932 rails, chopped and channeled. It was completely finished in 1954 doing all the work myself. There were no hot rod shops or even someone you could ask a question. Looking at Hot Rod magazine photos was the only help. The engine came out of the 1939 Ford for the roadster, and was bored using Jahns pistons, I did the porting and relieving, added a H&C cam, and Mallory ignition. It retained the Offy heads and manifold. It was the fastest hot rod around my New York area and won all the car shows.|
|Then, in 1957 I took the roadster apart. Added lots of new up-dates, a great paint job by Jack Lentz (owner/builder of the Golden Rod), and a Chevy OHV V8, which I built-up with my signature three carb setup. In the six years that I showed and drag raced the roadster, I won over 250 trophies: First in Class, Best of Show, Best Paint, Best Engine, Best Engineered, People’s Choice, and never lost a drag race.|