If you think it's impossible to build a hot rod on a next-to-nothing budget, this modified is ready to prove you wrong. The twist to the story is that owner and builder Jim Crews wasn't intending to build a modified before fate connected him with this sweet '27 track T.
It all started with a steel '27 T touring body with the back half hacked off. One of Jim's co-workers had dragged the abandoned body out of a dump owned by his departed uncle and deposited it in his mother's garage. After 25 years, the mother wanted her garage back. The co-worker didn't want the body, so he passed it on to Jim, free of charge.
The Model T frame was a gift from one of Jim's neighbors who also had a garage to clean out.
It took actual cash-but not much-to lure the '84 Ford four-cylinder engine and transmission out of the local salvage yard, but Jim turned around and swapped the four-speed for the T5 he really wanted.
You get the idea. We won't continue with the dollar-by-dollar tally. Suffice it to say, with only a buck and a half out of pocket, Jim was well into a hot rod project he never really intended to start.
About this time, Jim left his job as a welder in order to open his own full-service hot rod shop, Tin Man Fabrication in Oak Grove, Minnesota. Working on other people's projects brought the progress on his own rod to a crawl, but he continued to collect the parts and pieces that would eventually find their way onto the modified. Most of these parts were discarded components from other cars, or used parts that customers wanted upgraded. When he got a little extra cash, he ordered aftermarket parts, such as the Speedway front suspension, the MAS aluminum fuel tank, and other goodies.
Jim says that when it was time to paint the car, his wife Amy insisted on green. "I'm not a green kind of guy, but I tried by keep my mind open," he tells us. He picked the final color based on a photo he found of an old olive green Willys pickup with orange wheels. It was unique and not too bold. "But when I put it on the car, it was shockingly bright. My original idea was to paint the whole car green with some orange accents, but the color was too loud, so I decided to break it up by adding the orange scallops."
The ability to fabricate and paint, the knack for inheriting free or low-cost parts, and building a relatively simple car all contributed to the low cost of Jim's hot rod, but as a professional builder, he's learned a few other tricks about saving money during a buildup-any buildup. The most important, he tells us, is to go in with a plan and not to deviate from it. At the beginning of this project, he made some sketches to create an idea of what the final product should look like, and spent time thinking about how all the pieces were going to work together. Throw some talent and luck into the equation, and you definitely can build a hot rod on a working man's budget.
What kind of hot rod are we talking about? How about the kind that can draw a big crowd and create a big buzz when it pulls in alongside the big-budget boys at the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville. How about the kind that can make seen-it-all magazine photographers choose it out of a crowd of 10,000 cars for a spread in Rod & Custom. All for $5,000. How about that?
Jim & Amy Crews
Oak Grove, Minnesota
'27 Ford Track T
Jim took his hand-me-down Model T frame, boxed the 'rails, and Z'd the rear to give the roadster the right stance. A Speedway Motors dropped tubular front axle lowers the car further. Other Speedway suspension parts include the hairpins, front and rear friction shocks, and rear airbags. Jim also added '35 Ford spindles, a suicide spring perch, and Vega steering box to the front, with Tin Man Fabrication (TNF) hairpins in the rear and '40 Ford juice brakes all around.
He knew the old T 'rails were originally built to carry a four-banger and, even boxed, would groan under the weight of an eight-cylinder, so he followed suit with an updated version of the original mill: a 2.3-liter OHC Ford taken from an '84 Mustang. Kalbo Racing Engines in Oak Grove, Minnesota, machined the block and modified the stock manifold, topped with a Holley two-barrel and K&N air cleaner. The modified cast-iron headers were ceramic coated, and tied to 30-inch glasspacks. Jim hooked the engine to his T5 transmission and custom built an open driveshaft to the '40 rear with 3.78:1 gears, which came from a friend's '35 Ford rod.
Wheels & Tires
Nothing looks better on a track T than a set of wires. These are 18x4 '32 Ford front rims and rear 16x6s from a '35, painted to match the scallops. The tires came from Coker. The front skinnies are Indian motorcycle blackwalls, pushed along by Firestone dirt-track grooved rears.
Body & Paint
There's not a lot of body to a track T. The sheetmetal had taken a few gunshot wounds, but was in pretty good shape otherwise. Jim repaired most (but not all) of the bullet holes, widened and stretched the body slightly, and channeled it over the frame 2 1/2 inches. The rear corner panels and steel floors were added at TNF. The original windshield was shortened and the stanchions leaned back. In between the Dietz-style headlights, a '28-29 Model A grille was shortened 4 inches and dressed up with a custom aluminum insert. Jim honored wife Amy's request for green paint by shooting this olive green DuPont color, complemented and tempered by orange scallops. When the painting was done, Mike Hovland broke out his brushes to add some pinstriping and finished the job with airbrushed graphics around the remaining bullet holes.
A lot of work went into this bare bones interior. Jim filled the steel '27 dash with an Auto Meter carbon graphite speedo, installed a LimeWorks steering column and four-spoke wheel, and formed aluminum inside door panels. Limited floor space didn't leave much room for the clutch and brake pedal assembly, so Jim came up with a stacked pedal assembly using a remote Mopar master cylinder and cable-operated clutch. When it came to seating, Jim let himself deviate from his original planned bomber seats, which wasn't the look he was going after. Instead, he built his own seats from foam and plywood. The idea was to simulate the look of vintage leather, so Jordan at Old Skool Kustoms in Monticello, Minnesota, upholstered Jim's seats in English Toffee-colored Symphony Vintage vinyl, with a hand-tied baseball stitch at the seams. A matching shifter boot and door straps are on Jim's list of future improvements.