Ron Cherry: A love of a ‘34 Ford born from racing
Auto racing has been the inspiration for many innovations in cars that we take for granted. Dual overhead cams, disc brakes, seat belts and even rearview mirrors came from racing. For Bob Duncan, auto racing was the inspiration for something quite different.
It inspired his love of the ‘34 Ford coupe. He and fellow members of Buzzards Racing, a group of gearheads who build cars and flock to Bonneville Salt Flats for the speed trials, had built a ‘34 Ford 5-window coupe to race there, running a built flathead V-8. Each member of the team had a skill to contribute.
“There were nine guys with an itch and one with the money,” Bob said.
They did such a great job that it set the record for the flathead vintage gas competition coupe class in 2010, averaging 140.173 MPH for the required two runs.
While doing work on the car, Bob developed a passion for ‘34 Ford coupes.
“I went nuts over it,” he recalled. ‘I loved the looks of that car.”
However, finding a ‘34 Ford coupe in decent shape, but not a show car, was not easy. He didn’t want a reproduction car and most of the original cars are either fully restored and quite costly or rust buckets. However, in 2015, he found one locally. The owner had purchased it in 2002 and completely disassembled it, planning on doing a complete restoration. There it sat for thirteen years. When the owner gave up on ever finishing the job and decided to sell it, the timing was perfect.
“I’d sold my two cars, a ‘57 Ranchero and a Willys pickup, so I was looking for something with a trunk, so I could lock up my $9.95 camping chair,” he said with a chuckle.
To say the car was a basket case would be no exaggeration.
“The engine and trans were out, the dash was out and there was no wiring, the interior was out, and the fenders and the front end were off. There was no fuel system, brakes or steering,” he said. “But the body was on the frame and the rearend was in.”
It was like a model kit with no instructions.
Fortunately, Bob is no novice with a wrench. He and friend Bill Brothen call themselves Billy Bob’s Auto Electric and over the 10 or so years have built four cars for themselves from the ground up and have wired 15 cars for friends. They set to work. They had a plan of attack and started by installing a new gas tank, then a doing a complete rewire of the Ford, using ‘60’s style Stewart-Warner gauges to keep the right look. The fuel line and brakes, with power front ones, came next. Then came the engine. Instead of the Chevy engine that came with the car, they rebuilt a 295 HP 341 CID Hemi from a ‘57 Desoto and put it in front of 700R overdrive auto trans that Bob had rebuilt. Instead of a floor shifter, Bob opted for a column-mount that reminded him of rods in the early ‘60’s.
Although Bob kept the 8” Ford rearend with 3.50:1 gearing and original suspension, he did drop the front axle 4 ½ inches for a nice rake. The original seat had already been reupholstered in tuck and roll decades before, but was still in good condition and Bob liked the look. For creature comfort, he added air conditioning and a heater.
“I even have a defroster for the windshield,” he noted. That might not seem like such a big deal, but Bob’s other fun car is a Model T rat rod that has no such luxuries, using plexiglass held in with Visegrips for the side windows. Once the car was running, Bob and Bill worked on the appearance.
All the headlights, taillights, bumpers and grill are original, even the cowl lights. Those have been wired to be parking lights and turn signals. They kept the painted wheels with chrome beauty rings and hub caps that had been with the car when Bob bought it, but he replaced the white-wall tires that were too old to be safe for new Michelins. For that classic hot rod look, they chopped the top 3 ½ inches. That required painting the top to hide the work, which Bob had done in black.
“I was going to paint the whole car black, but looked at it and thought, ‘Hmm, I like the way it looks.’ I liked the patina of the yellow paint and pinstripes, faded from age,” he said. “I don’t call it old school, because that means something different for each guy.”
Although there are still things he wants to do on the car, like perhaps adding a sound system, he has driven it a lot since he got it running. In four months, he’s put 4,500 miles on his rod.
“I loved sitting in there, looking out my small windshield.”
And that’s what love of a car is all about, the joy of driving it.
Ron Cherry’s four books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His next book, a mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills, will be out by Christmas. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.
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