When Rod & Custom publishes articles about how to build a '50s hot rod, we run the risk of sending the message that there was some set of rules that hot rodders back then used to build their cars, and that hot rodders today should conform to those rules. This results in a lot of rods having the look of the '50s, but none of the soul. The real message should be that rodders back then built rods in order to drive something different. That's exactly why rodders should build them today.
Matt Giarrantano knows that perfectly well. He was itching to put together an authentic late-'50s hot rod highboy, but he also wanted to make sure his was different from all the others out there. His project actually started our pretty typically, with Matt searching the swap meets for the right raw material, but only finding specimens that were either too far gone or too far out of his budget.
A friend spotted a complete, but non-running Model A five-window coupe in a trader paper. Matt bought the car, removed the steel body, and sold the rest for $1,000 less than what he'd paid for the whole car.
Matt wanted the coupe to sit on Deuce 'rails, and commissioned a boxed '32 frame from Squeak Bell at Kiwi Konnection in Bakersfield, set up with a dropped I-beam and hairpins.
For his engine, he wanted something nostalgic, but out of the ordinary, which eliminated the old standby GM small-block. In a stroke of luck, his friend Gary Timm offered him a 292ci Y-block with 312 heads-for free. Matt had the Ford mill rebuilt and topped it with a Tri-power manifold and a trio of 94s.
As you can see, the entire rest of the coupe, inside and out, was built with a similar blend of tradition, imagination, and inspiration. A lot of the latter came from some of the books and '50s-era automotive magazines Matt studied to learn how they built them then. In true '50 fashion, Matt accomplished a lot of the work on the coupe in his own garage. It was painted in a friend's garage, and upholstered in another friend's garage.
Matt says that if his coupe proves anything, it's that you don't have to go to a professional shop or spend a pile of money to build a cool car. Of course, '50s hot rodders didn't build their cars to prove anything. They built them to drive. Matt knows that perfectly well, too, and is keeping that tradition going by putting his '50s-style Model A on the road as much as he can.
Spring Valley, California
'30 Ford Model A Highboy
Matt wanted the engine to be as distinctive as the rest of the rod, and achieved his goal with a mildly-bored '57 Ford 292 Y-block, built by Bernie at Broadway Machine and dressed it up with a finned valley cover and Offy finned valve covers. Triple Holley 94s on an Edelbrock 3x2 manifold provide fuel, air, and style. Sanderson Limefire straight headers stuffed with glasspacks complete the full-on hot rod appearance. A Flat-O-Matic adapter was employed to match the engine to a C4 automatic. The 8-inch rearend out of a junkyard Mercury runs 3.50:1 gears.
In traditional style, Matt's A sits on Deuce 'rails-these from American Stamping, built by Squeak Bell at Kiwi Konnection in Bakersfield. The back half of the subrails was replaced to fit the '32 frame. The front suspension includes a Super Bell 4-inch dropped axle, hairpins, and POSIES Super Slide springs. A Panhard bar and 32-inch radius rods were added in back. Carrera shocks are mounted in the front and rear. Gary chose SO-CAL's Buick-style front brakes for the nostalgic appearance. Rear binders are '79 Mercury drums.
Wheels & Tires
Firestone 6.70-15 and 8.20-15 bias-ply wide whites from Coker Tire are mounted on stock 15-inch rims off of a '79 Ford. The fronts are 15x6 with 4 inches of backspace; the rears are 15x7 with a 5-inch backspace. Matt added caps and rings to finish the perfect look.