Inspiration. Everyone that builds a modified car has found it somewhere, whether it was in the pages of a magazine or from older siblings or mates that had hot cars, at some point there an ignition source, a spark that sets you on a path to build your version of the dream machine.
Alan Smart found his in the pages of old hot rod magazines, Ed Roth’s wild show rods of the 60s and in more recent times, the wild custom rods of Aaron ‘Plowboy’ Grote. While he may not have been the first person to combine the parts of cars from the 20s and 30s with parts from the 50s and 60s, Aaron most definitely brought this type of build theme to the public eye, thanks in part to the Internet and forums like the HAMB. He’s done three to date; Spacetruck, Lunar Lander and Atomic Punk and they all have the signature feature of much later model rear sheet metal.
Alan had known of Aaron’s work for quite a while, and one day while tripping over stuff in the workshop he noticed that he had a few bits, that together, might form the basis of a Roth-esque — as opposed to Grote-esque — custom rod. You had to blur your eyes a little, but with enough imagination and a few stubbies of beer, the vision was clear as day.
“We had the cowl, and the chassis, the front-end and the motor were there, I even had the wheels. The motor and the wheels came off a ’58 Chev ute I used to have. The chassis started off as a ’27 Dodge chassis, but by the time we mocked it all up and figured out what we were going to do, there was only about a metre and a half of them left, so we figured we’d be better off just building it out of 100x50mm RHS tube,” Alan says.
“The fins are off an AP3 Chrysler Royal that had been gas axed off a car,” Alan says, and not surprisingly, they weren’t exactly a bolt-on fit. “We tidied up the cuts then fabricated the panel between the two fins at the back and the top neatened them up at the front and then worked out where to join them on to the cowl. We cut off the bottom section and had to fabricate all of that, basically, the bottom six inches of the car from the cowl back is fabricated, then we made a boot lid to suit what was there.”
Figuring out where everything would go was a case of trial and error and a fair bit of eyeball engineering. “At one stage we had it mocked up longer, but it didn’t quite look right. We had the fins further back, but it looked a bit funny with more of the fin hanging behind the wheel,” Alan says.
The car was first set up with a 100-inch wheelbase — the same as a Model T — but a couple of inches were added so that the axle could be pushed forward and allow the fitment of a larger radiator.
With that big long six in it, Alan reckons there would even be room for a V8 with a front-mounted blower, but this car was always destined to have a six in it — partly to be different, but mostly because it’s what they had laying around. “The fact it’s out of a ’58 Chev and because you can get the nice looking finned rocker cover, it makes it a little bit different. I was going to order Offy stuff for it, but when we were over in the US a couple of years ago, we were hanging out at Mooneyes and said we were looking for an Offy manifold. Chico said he thought he had a rocker cover laying around for a Blue Flame six, so he went off looking for it. It was a brand new Wayne rocker and side plates,” Alan says.
The rest of the drivetrain is GM too, with a Turbo 350 swapping the gears for you while a diff out of a one tonner get the back wheels turning. There’s no rocket science here, just more stuff that Alan had laying around or managed to get for the right price. The wheels might look like a big ticket item, being Halibrands, but they came attached to the aforementioned ’58 Chev ute — yes, we know they didn’t make El Caminos in ’58, but this particular one was custom built — and effectively didn’t cost a cent.
Paint and trim were the biggest investment with, and Alan did have plans to go with a pretty wild metalflake paint job, but in the end decided a straight metallic blue had enough pop and suited the car perfectly: “I really have to say a huge thank you to Glenn Baker for the killer paint job. If you saw what he had to fix!”
The simple white tuck and roll job was handled by First Class Trimming, who didn’t have a huge amount of area to cover but had to make sure the seats were as thin as practical due to the tight confines of the cabin. It looked pretty cozy in there, but it was time to see whether I could fold all six and a bit feet of myself into it, because it was time for a rod test!
THE ROD TEST!
GETTING in and out of the car is easy, there’s no roof, but there also aren’t any doors, so it’s a case of; swing your leg over, steady yourself before swinging the other leg in and then slide on down. It’s a pretty safe bet to say that ergonomics were not real high on the list when this car was getting put together. Being an automatic, you’ve only got two pedals to worry about, but the decision is whether to right or left-foot brake. There is quite a difference in the height between the throttle and brake pedal, so my plan was to see how I went with the right foot while keeping my left foot at the ready — just in case.
There are a couple of other issues, like bumping the shifter out of gear with my left knee and not being able to swing the steering wheel all the way around because my hand would get jammed between the door, but it didn’t take long for me to get used to these minor idiosyncrasies and go cruising.
The first thing I noticed was how far ahead of you the front wheels appear, the car’s not that long, but you sit just in front of the rear wheels so relatively speaking, they’re a lot further away than what I’m used to. This leads to a very different experience when you’re taking corners as you follow the car around the corner, not the other way around.
How the roadster takes the corners was another surprise, it turns in nicely, changes direction quickly and had next to no body roll when cornering. With the engine set way back behind the front axle, there’s next to no weight over the front tyres, which no doubt helps greatly in the cornering performance. The brakes are also excellent, which isn’t too surprising considering they’re hauling up about half the weight they would normally have to.
When it comes to the go department, Alan thankfully reined in the might power of the Blue Flame six by only connecting one of the three single-barrel Strommies, so while it’s no neck snapper, it still gets along pretty well thanks to its light weight covering the sprint to 60mph (96km/h) in just under 12 seconds.
The vision is excellent, which is usually the case in a topless car, but even the windscreen doesn’t get in the way of the view in this case. With very little to protect your head — and your hairdo — from the elements, it’s a wise choice to wear some kind of head covering, either a beanie or one of those old leather flying caps would be my choice. Of course, they also mess up your hair, so my preferred method of protection is Murray’s Beeswax for the hair. Dead set, there wasn’t a hair out of place when I got back.
Craig Clements, who helped greatly in the build of the car and who has probably driven it more than anyone did offer up this explanation about what it feels like after an extended period of driving the car: “After you’ve got out of the car, it feels like a couple of blokes have spent an hour bashing you over the head with pillows.”
All up, it’s a fun little car to drive and gets plenty of looks and smiles as you cruise it around, and if you dig it, it could be yours for just $45,000, which is about what it cost to build the whole car. These days, that’s a cheap hot rod when you can easily rack up $60,000 just to get the parts together for a ’32 roadster.
Words // Boris Viskovic