The Grand National Roadster Show, 2018

David G. Fox

AMBR Competition

At the Grand National Roadster Show, I asked a few knowledgeable friends for their prediction about which car would win the big trophy this year. The consensus seemed to be "the blue '31 Model A." The sentiment was occasionally preceded by "I really like car X (typically a period piece), but..." The requisite flawless execution is certainly there with the Martin Special. So is a huge amount of curb appeal. Presentation, stance, modifications, components, colors, etc., all the choices made are very fitting for a roadster at this level of competition.

The body of the Martin Special is described as "Original-ish Ford." The -ish translates to a fair amount of custom coachwork. Particularly notice the resized, reshaped, and flush-mounted suicide doors. Drivetrain details are: fuel injected aluminum Brodix engine by Ed Pink, Richmond five-speed transmission, Winters quick-change differential, and custom-made wheels. The chassis is described as modified original '32 Ford, with a Moal-designed torsion-bar front suspension. Credit is given to Hot Rods and Hobbies for body, paint, and final assembly, and to Elegance Auto Interiors. The overall effect is streetable hot rod, with just enough race-car inspiration.

On YouTube, there is a four-minute video on "The Martin Racing Special - AMBR Contender 2018." It has voice-over description by the owner, Dave Martin, and a few moments with the builder. Dave has owned this car for a number of years, in various states of build. The video has beautiful imagery of the car competing, in bare metal, in the Silver State Classic Challenge. Dave was not so much interested in winning the Challenge, as in proving the ability of the car to competently cover a one hundred mile open road course; it did, with an average speed of 101.505 mph. Dave Martin is an L.A. architect; artistry and craftsmanship, obviously, are not new to him.

Although gravitating toward '32s, I find there can be something equally appealing about a well-sorted highboy Model A roadster. The body is lithe where a '32 is voluptuous - more dancer than muse. And, perhaps it is a bit more streamlined, cutting a narrower path, say, at Bonneville. The A is different, but, with work, can make its own magic.

The deep red '32, owned and built by John Leonti of San Jose, is called "il Dolce" Deuce. John assembled the exterior body panels, along with fabricating the inner structure and floor. The completed body is mounted to a TCI frame with independent front suspension and a 460hp, 355-inch Chevy engine mated to a 700R4 transmission. At back is a Speedway Engineering quick change. The car uses a Dick Rodwell windshield and top; the custom hood and rear rolled pan are by Jack Hagemann, Jr. Stitching is the work of Ron Mangus; body finishing and paint are by Gary's Rods and Restorations. Mike Taylor developed the "Devine Wine" custom color. Pretty sweet.

Transporting us back to March, 1952, are Thomas Bobowski and his restored Eddie Dye roadster. That is the date on the cover of the Hop Up Magazine that features the car. The Ayala brothers originally built the roadster in 1950 at Gil's Auto Body in East L.A. The custom nose and hood were shaped by Whitey Clayton, and the car ran at the 1951 Bonneville Nationals. Circle City Hot Rods, in Orange California, is given overall credit for the redo. Specific credits go to East Bay Speed & Custom for body and paint, Plante Interiors, Sherm's Custom Plating, and Logan Davis for the engine. The effective display of the Eddie Dye roadster, by Jeffrey James at Sugar City Design, included a very nice cutaway illustration by Jim Richards. Oh. What is it? It's a track-nosed Model A with a flathead motor, no doors, and it sits too low to the ground. In other words, it's perfect.

Stinger is the '32 Ford roadster owned and built by Sean Black of Hartselle, Alabama. It uses a Brookville body with metal work by Steadfast Manufacturing, body finishing and paint by Adams Hot Rod Shop, and upholstery by M&M Hot Rod Interiors. All that sits on a So-Cal Speed Shop chassis. The paint color on Sean's roadster is 1963 Sting Ray Daytona Blue. The 327/365hp motor looks great sitting under the hood, but Corvette purists would quibble with calling an engine of that spec a 1963.

Bill Nash, of Santa Monica, owns the conservative, black with red 1930 Model A built by Precision Street Rods and Machines, in Northridge, California. The display photo of the car sans body shows a dual quad small block Chevy with an automatic, coupled to a quick-change differential. There is a triangulated four-bar suspension based around coil-overs in the back, and a traditional axle with hairpins and a transverse spring up front.

Okay, I could gush over this particular '32 Ford roadster forever. I'll try to contain myself. Designed and built for Bob Morris by Don Thelen at Buffalo Motorcars in the early 1990s, the so-called Nickel Roadster has had other owners, but now is in the capable hands of Bruce Meyer. Here is a quote from the placard displayed with the car. "...the Nickel Roadster invokes the timeless qualities of the Doane Spencer 1932 Ford roadster with a modern flair. Exhibiting classic nickel-finished, hand crafted components and striking design combined around the seminal Deuce high boy roadster, it is presented here to celebrate the world-class craftsmen who ignored trends and invested their craft in this enduring, timeless hot rod."

The craftsmen? Here is a sampling. Buffalo Motorcars: bodywork, including the extended cowl and filled shell. Ron Covell: aluminum rolled pan and fuel tanks. Steve Davis: aluminum lift-off top and three-piece hood. Pete Eastwood: complete chassis. Dan Gurney (yes) and Allen Jennings: Ford small-block 302 with Gurney-Weslake heads. John Carambia: DuPont black acrylic lacquer (for some, there is really nothing like it). Ron Mangus: green leather and wool, plus the eleven-gauge dash. Ford Motorsports supplied the four-speed transmission, and Model Plating, in Bell Gardens did the nickel plating.

This car exhibits extraordinary attention to detail on the part of all those craftsmen who worked toward its completion. It also exhibits an extraordinary amount of creativity, especially considering the car is basically a buggy sprung highboy, starting with an original '32 Ford body and frame rails. For all that detail, there is nothing that seems gratuitous, just for show.

Inspiration for the car obviously came from the Doane Spencer car. In the book Deuce: Seventy-five of the finest 1932 Ford hot rods of all time, published by The Rodder's Journal, the authors indicate that Bob Morris was a friend of Doane, and that the magnesium wheels on this car were originally fitted to Doane's Thunderbird. Nice thread through time.

Rick Dore's Shangri-La was listed on its GNRS ID card as a 1936 Cadillac Custom. That said, the aluminum body was created by Luc DeLay of Marcel's Custom Metal Shaping. Owner/builder/stylist Dore's notes suggest that Shangri-La's stretched design "resonates with inspiration" from French master coachbuilders Figoni and Falaschi. Ron Mangus provided the interior. Props also go to Cambra Speed Shop for paint and to Jon Wright's Custom Chrome Plating.

Daniel Hostetter, of San Diego, has brought to life a design first seen in the May, 1955, Rod & Custom magazine. Based around a 1927 Ford roadster body, Joe Henning's illustration presaged some of the more abstract AMBR design elements seen several years later. Turning the design-on-paper into a real, functional automobile was no mean feat, but the result authentically captures the look of the drawing. A great deal of creativity was required to fill in not only the details but also major components not covered by the R&C illustrations and editorial. A complete, workable chassis had to be designed and fabricated, and the fiberglass roadster body was built from scratch. Daniel is a land speed racer; under the hood is one of his signature early Dodge Hemis. Constructing the car was a labor of love accomplished pretty much solely by the owner. Carlos assisted with upholstery. The primary sponsor was listed as Social Security.

Chris and Robyn Parmelee brought their burgundy 1936 Ford over from Norco. Chris built the roadster with an aluminum LS-1 small block Chevy engine, GM 4L60E transmission, and a Strange nine-inch Ford differential. He also applied the paint. Ron Mangus trimmed the interior.

John and Pat Miller, of Blacklick, Ohio, own this very black Ford. Built by Adams Hot Rod Shop, the Brookville-bodied '32 runs a potent (420hp) SBC. That's another Dick Rodwell windshield set on the cowl.

Who knew the (relatively) small Porsche 928 V8 had similar bore spacing to some big American iron? Pete Aardema, of San Diego, that's who. Pete is an expert of engine mash-ups, as well as building motors from scratch. As it happens, the 928 V8, which measures in small block territory (4.5-5.4 liters or about 273-327 cubic inches), has cylinder bore centers nearly identical to a 426 Hemi and about one millimeter shy of a big block Chevy. The engine in Pete's 1934 Ford roadster is engraved with "7.2L Porsch-Chalet," and is based around later DOHC four-valve 928 heads and a modified Chevy big block. Steve's Auto Restorations supplied the revised 1934 body.

Blackstar was designed and built by Alan Johnson of Cadillac Hot Rod Fabricators. Power for the '32 Ford comes from Alan's specialty, a 4.6 liter double overhead cam Cadillac Northstar motor. Body and paint work is credited to Dave Watts and Jim Allen; upholstery was completed by Elegancy Auto Interiors.

This 1936 Ford, owned by Dana and Marge Elrod, of Sunrise Beach, Missouri, is a product of Nebraska. All design, fabrication, and finish work was completed at Boesch Auto Body, in Humphrey. The interior and top were trimmed by The Recovery Room, in Plattsmouth. The Elrod Roadster has the black, slammed, huge back tires and engine look down pat. The 1958 Chrysler 392 Hemi runs Hilborn fuel injection and is bolted to a GM 200-4R overdrive automatic linked to a nine-inch Ford differential.

Little Red is the very traditional '32 Ford roadster of Scott Helliesen, Franklin Lakes, NJ. The only drivetrain concession to the pure vintage vibe is the T5 transmission set between the 1946 Ford flathead and the 1941 closed drive rear end. Scott, together with Jason Anagnostis, built the car, save for paint by Classy Chassis Auto Restoration, upholstery by Harry Parker Custom Interiors, and wiring by The Wire Works. Some would say this is exactly how a hot rod Deuce should look.

The show ID card listed the owner of this light blue '32 Ford as Brian Cruz, New Braunfels, Texas. However, the placard by the car identified the owner as Gordon Custer Leland, Jr. Whatever. Also listed on the placard is Cruzer's Customs as the builder, including body and paint. Suppliers include Brookville for the body, Kiwi for the chassis, Edelbrock for the 450hp engine, So-Cal Speed Shop for brakes, and Gabriel & Son for upholstery. The trans is a GM 4L60E, sending the power back to an eight-inch Ford.

So, that is it, fifteen entries this year for the America's Most Beautiful Roadster trophy and prize. It was nice to catch up with a couple of previous AMBR winners, including the very first, the NieKamp roadster from 1950, and the Chip Foose creation from the 2014 show. The light outside was just right for capturing the 1935 Chevy phaeton. Chip's Madam X (shown later) was close by, too, making for a much better photo than was possible with the crush at SEMA, 2016.


Rods & Customs in the Show

The Ridler Award winner from the 2017 Detroit Autorama.

John Mumford's Moonshine Runner, a 1956 Ford Victoria, was built by Rods and Restos in Alabama. The Vic body is channeled over an Art Morrison Enterprises chassis supporting a supercharged 312 Y-block and Tremec five-speed. Upholstery is the work of Paul Atkins Interiors.

From Phoenix, Arizona, comes Larry Ott's 1939 Ford radical custom rod coupe.

South City Rod & Custom built this '32 three-window for the Pistone family. Loud Pedal features a Ford body on a Brizio/Jack Stratton frame. The 392-inch small block Ford is the work of Lenny Ernani. Body and paint by Compani Color (with help from Vintage Color Studio); interior by Chris Plante.

Front and center in the Moal Coachbuilders booth is the Mariani Brothers 1933 Ford coupe. Featured are a nose, hood, rocker panels, rear roll pan, and headliner, all hand formed in aluminum, plus other bits and paint by the Moal group. Power comes from an aluminum SBC with Hilborn electronic fuel injection. Another Moal feature is the front and rear torsion bar suspension supporting the custom chassis based on modified Ford frame rails.

John D'Agostino and Woodroe Parker currently own this "tribute to Barris" "recreation" of the Hirohata 1951 Mercury custom.

Bryan Thompson's 1958 Triumph Tiger.

Early Tommy Ivo Buick-powered rail.

The Lifestyle display is an amazing sea of detail and color.

The Osborn and Ferguson '32 Ford is a Land Speed racer owned by Monte Osborn of Coloma, California. The roadster uses a 302-inch GMC six and air-shifted Liberty five-speed on the courses of Bonneville and El Mirage.

Craig Curtis' 1956 Ford Thunderbird has been in the family since his father purchased it in 1968. For a time, it was a Curtis family driver. In 1996, the car moved into Craig's Phoenix garage, where it sat for eighteen years. Craig initially took the 'Bird to Squeeg's Kustoms for restoration, but then decided the resto-mod route was a better choice. Under the refurbished body and stock-appearing interior is an Art Morrison frame with Kugel suspension components.

Following is a pair of customs from Kindig-It Design in SLC. The 1957 Corvette belongs to Richard and Bonnie Cox of Draper, Utah. Maybellene, the 1958 Lincoln Continental, belongs to Sue and Tad Leach. The Continental convert was pretty wild to start with, and Kindig took it well beyond, to the inclusion of a twin Magnuson supercharged Ryan Falconer V12.

The Rolling Bones group wrangled a bunch of cars for a special display. Their coupes and roadsters do manage to have a signature, Bonneville-inspired, flat and patina'd paint look. The major exception is Larry Hursh's new slick black '32 Bonespencer Roadster.

Details abound on this Hollywood Hot Rods project coupe.


The Suede Palace


Muscle Car Display

How about a pair of genuine Ford lightweights? The 1964 is one of the 50 lightweight 427 Galaxies constructed that year (one of the 25 with a four-speed, rather than an automatic). The 1963 is one of the 200 (perhaps a few more) purpose-built drag cars from the year before. Without getting into too much detail, weight loss on the 1963 cars was via deleting as much content as possible, using some fiberglass body parts, building on a lighter than normal frame, aluminum bumpers, etc. Estimates range from 425 to 700 for the number of pounds saved, compared to a regular 1963 fastback. Lightweight 1964s had the component deletions, but fewer exterior mods; Ford had the Thunderbolts to campaign in the higher class by then. Note that the 1963 427 is a low-riser engine, so no hood bulge like the 1964 with a high-riser 427.


Outdoor Cruise In

Madam X.


But Wait, There's More

Here we have a couple of engines from the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed in Lincoln Nebraska. First up is a Davies (sp?) DOHC Hemi engine, one of ten originally made by pattern maker Joe Davis in about 1948. This motor powered an unsuccessful Indy car in 1952. Note the housings for shafts off the front of the crank going up to rotate the cams.

Next is an Adams-Moller overhead valve conversion on a Mercury flathead V8 block. The engine was built in 1951 by Don Clark and Clem Tebow (C. T. Automotive) using an OHV conversion originally designed and manufactured by Ken Adams and Rudy Moller. C. T. Automotive improved the assembly by developing a manifold injection system, losing the restriction originally imposed by carburetors. On 50/50 nitro/alcohol, the motor was said to have registered 320hp on a dynamometer.

This last bit is one of Chet Herbert's streamliners, photographed in the NHRA museum next door to the show.


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AMBR Competition

Rods & Customs in the Show

The Suede Palace

Muscle Car Display

Outdoor Cruise In

But Wait, There's More

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