Aaron Grote's homebuilt roadster is the kind of hot rod that always makes a huge commotion as a "Dream Car" poster, but one that hardly ever evolves from the printed page to the pavement. Wildly imaginative and original designs like the Lunar Lander are a lot easier to build with pencils and brushes than with welders and wrenches.
Of course, we knew Aaron had it in him. His Spacetruck '34 Chevy pickup that has been making the rounds for the last few years combines a Spartan old-time farm truck with swoopy Futurama-style lines.
His newest custom rod (what else would you call it?) went through as many phases as the moon itself before it was finished. Aaron started out with a bunch of Model A parts with plans to build the Lunar Lander as a roadster pickup, but plans changed pretty quickly. When he bought a "clapped out" '59 Oldsmobile for $250, the challenge became how to blend in spacey late-'50s sheetmetal and still keep the flavor of a traditional hot rod. The solution-use the back of the Olds as the bed.
With the cowl bolted to the A chassis, Aaron started working on the Oldsmobile steel. He eliminated the '59's original side character lines and welded in round stock to seamlessly match the line of the cowl. The rusted wheelwells were repaired using sheetmetal from the roof, and damaged rear stainless steel pieces were replaced. The rear roll pan was once the hood of a '60s-era Dodge pickup, cut and flipped. The '59 Olds' front bumperettes were added to the rear. The doors were welded shut and the pickup bed idea was abandoned in favor of a trunk.
Aaron bought the '34 Olds grille in mangled condition, straightened it out, "filled the bullet holes," and modified it to work with the lines of the body. The perforated sheetmetal insert was dressed up with drawer knobs.
Plans changed again, and Aaron built a custom rectangular tube chassis to replace the Model A 'rails that had been the starting point of the car. The frame was swept in the front and Z'd in the rear to bring the Lunar Lander closer to Earth. The front 'rails support a mild 283 Chevy small-block with a 3x2 induction setup. The Rocket valve covers came from a '54 Olds that Aaron bought for cheap to get the dash (he sold the Olds engine to finance this car). He cut the dash to fit, and built a complementary console. Specialized Auto Interiors and Hot Rods built and upholstered the rest of the interior. Painter Jerry Didio did a great job shooting the two-tone paint.
Aaron figures he spent about $10,000 building the Lunar Lander if he calculates his own labor at 50 cents an hour. That's impressive for any car, and amazing for a real-life dream car like this.
Aaron GroteCerro Gordo, IllinoisLunar Lander
ChassisThe one-of-a-kind Lunar Lander ended up requiring a one-of-a-kind chassis, so Aaron replaced Model A 'rails with a custom frame built from 2x4-inch tubing. The rear 'rails were Z'd to lower the back, leveling the profile of the body. The 'rails are suspended by a pair of coilover springs. Stock drum brakes were mounted right and left of the GM 10-bolt rearend. Joe Kern at Custom Fab in Seymour, Illinois, built the '39 Ford suicide perch frontend, with a '39 axle, early Ford spindles, and split wishbones, steered by a '65 Mustang box. The disc brake conversion is from Speedway. The frame and suspension parts were painted to blend in with the body.
DrivetrainTriple Rochester 2Gs on an Offenhauser intake top the Lunar Lander's 283 Chevy small-block, which was bored 0.030-over, and disguised with Olds Rocket valve covers. The wild pipes are Hooker Fenderwell headers from a '62 Chevy II application, which look cool even with no fenderwell to fight against. The B&M shifter operates a Turbo 350 automatic equipped with a finned transmission cooler.
Wheels & TiresThere's probably a good joke we could make about the Lunar Lander running Astro wheels; we'll let you guys work on that and just tell you that Aaron chose some period-correct Astro Supreme five-spokes for the roadster. The front 15x7s are mounted on 6.70x15 Firestone whitewalls from Coker. The Radir cheaters in the rear measure 8.20x15 and roll on 15x8 rims.
Body & PaintIt took more than some hammering and sanding to build this unique channeled body. The rear '59 Olds deck was cut in half to make room for the cockpit, built over a fabricated framework, and completely reworked to flow into the cowl lines. How Aaron gave '50s sheetmetal the look of an old-time roadster still has us scratching our heads. To keep the rear body from getting all the attention, he added REO headlights, and filled the '34 Olds grille with drawer knobs (87 of 'em). Aaron did all of the fabrication on the car and Russ Weber lent a hand with the final pre-paint prep ("while I watched and drank beer," Aaron says). Jerry Didio at Marty & Sons body shop shot the silver pearl paint over a white base, followed by a contrasting blast of Cobalt Blue Kandy House of Kolor coarse flake, and 2 1/2 gallons of clear.
InteriorThe white and blue theme is carried over into the interior. The '54 Oldsmobile dash had to be narrowed 13 inches to fit perfectly-which it does. Chuck Bauer at Specialized Auto Interiors and Hot Rods (who just relocated from Illinois to Florida) constructed the custom buckets for the Lunar Lander, and covered them in vinyl pleats. A custom console separates the seats. The steering wheel came from the '59 Olds donor car, and is mounted on an ididit steering column that Aaron won at the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville.