Out of Reach
In 1993, I spotted the remnants of what was once my father's hot rod, sitting on a flat trailer at a swap meet. I couldn't believe it could be the same car after so many years. The frame, body, windshield, top, and lady vampire rumble seat were all that had survived. The seller was asking $4500 for it, but I didn't have the money with me, and wasn't positive that everything was from the original car. My dad went the next day and confirmed that the collection of parts on the trailer really was the Lazy 8. I hurried back with cash, but too late. The car had been traded and was on its way out of Ohio.
More years passed. In the winter of 1996, I went with a friend to look at a Model A coupe for sale. The old guy selling the coupe had a lot of knowledge about hot rods from the Cleveland area. I told him the story of the Lazy 8. He said that he knew the car, and that it had recently been for sale. He dug up the phone number, and I called the next day. "Sorry, it's been sold." I got the number for the new owner who agreed to let me come look at the car. I went over loaded with my old photos, and ready to overpay for it if he was willing to sell. He wasn't. I suggested a trade. A couple days later he came to my place. I took him to my pole barn where I had almost 20 cars. I pointed out my keepers and offered him any three of my other projects in exchange for the roadster. Again he declined. After that, I called him every two months for the next couple of years.
One day he called me. He was starting to work on the old roadster and wanted to trade some parts that he intended to change. I came home with the rumble lid, the cowl cover, the homemade taillight panel, and-most importantly-the dash with the Stewart Warner gauges.
I had given up hope that I would ever own my dad's old roadster, and had collected a Brookville body and perimeter frame to build the new Lazy 8. By 2004, I was pretty far along with my replica. Then one day, the owner of the original called again, inquiring about a frame that I had advertised for sale.
I told him about my project. He was intrigued and later came over for a look. Before he left, I told him that my biggest fear was that when I finished my clone he would agree to sell me the original. That must have got him thinking, because the very next day he called to talk about a trade.
He got the Brookville body, a set of new ASC Deuce rails, a windshield, and four diner stools. I got the car that started it all.
I spent the next three days just staring at the Lazy 8. Much of it was missing and what was left was far from perfect, although it was in amazing condition for a early 50's project that had been mistreated for so long. So I started with what I had: the original rails, the body, top, windshield, side curtains, most of the interior, dash, and gauges. I had spent years collecting parts at swap meets preparing for this day, so I knew the build would go pretty fast. The goal was to build a traditional car that looked original. I wanted to know what an old hot rod drove like, what it felt like, and what it smelled like.
Building the Lazy 8
I started with the frame. All the original crossmembers were removed when I got the car. Since I wanted this car to be as traditional as possible, I decided not to box the frame. I bolted in stock '32 front and rear crossmembers. Next, I took a Ford F-1 center crossmember and pie-cut it and widened it to fit the frame rails. Amazingly, the holes in the frame lined up with the F-1 crossmember. I used three sets of wishbones and welded them together to attach with the original ball and socket; those holes lined up also. I couldn't find a '32 axle, so I used a drilled undropped Model A axle, and made a sleeve with a shoulder to go though the wishbone to lower the front another inch. The original front end looked like it had welded spindles for the steering linkage. I choose to use new aftermarket arms to be safe. The tie rod would still hit on hard bumps so I lowered that by using stock '37 Willys tie rod ends.
I built the square roll bar using DOM tubing, and boxed the frame at the roll bar mounts for additional strength in case of catastrophe. I figured out how high to make it by the marks on the headliner. From there, I mounted the body and started fixing all the problem areas. I installed new body mounts and sheetmetal floors. I made a new rear roll pan. The dash was still painted green, but some of the paint had chipped off over the years. My dad never primed it-just shot the green paint over the red. The previous owner had scraped off a little of the green to see some of the pinstriping under it. I liked the look so I took a surgical scalpel and spent some time scraping off the green paint.
I kept the overall look of the early OHV engine by building a 327 with three 94s, chrome Corvette valve covers, and ram's horn exhaust manifolds.
With most of the original interior in place, the car is like a time capsule when you sit in it. The gauges are original to the car, as is the red paint and pinstriping on the dash. I found a set of NOS headrests for it. I added a Fox Craft shifter boot and Irving Air Chute lap belts.
Parts for this car came from many places. The bulk of the parts came from swap meets. The few new parts I used came from Snyders Antique Auto Parts, Mac's Antique Auto Parts, Summit Racing, and Kenny's Rod Shop. These include front spindles and dropped steering arms for safety reasons, new rubber lines and rebuilding kits for the hydraulic systems, engine pulleys, and miscellaneous stock hardware. Some hard-to-locate original parts came from e-Bay Motors, such as the front chrome backing plates and fender mounts, sending unit for the Stewart Warner tachometer, voltage converter for the fuel gauge, and a NOS Mallory Dual Life Ignition. The man who sold me the distributor said that he got a T-shirt with the purchase back in the day, and never wore it; he gave it to me also. I did not wear that shirt until the car was finished.
Up and Running
The finished Lazy 8 made its debut at the Choppers Hot Rod Association show in the spring of 2005. It won the Cruisin' Times editor's pick there and has picked up several awards since, including Best of Show at the HAMB's Hot Rod Cinematic in 2007. At the Autorama Extreme, part of the Detroit Autorama, it got the attention of Chip Foose, who spent a lot of time looking at the car, sitting inside of it, and listening to the story you just read.
My father was not too happy about me finding the Lazy 8 and restoring it. He has now changed his tune and comments to me, "I think it's 1968 again when I'm by that car!" I only wished the Sullivan brothers could see it.
The January 2007 issue of Street Rodder magazine had a photo of the Lazy 8 in its coverage of the Back to the 50's show in St. Paul. After the issue came out I got a phone call from a representative of the host club, the Minnesota Street Rod Association. He informed me that a Jim Sullivan was trying to contact me.
Jim and Marie Sullivan live in Las Vegas now. Last April, when I took the roadster to the Viva Las Vegas event, my wife Michelle and I got to meet them. It was an awsome experience. Jim had many stories to tell about the car, going back to his high school days when he volunteered as a hall monitor just so he could be close to the door when the final bell rang, to run home and drive back in the Lazy 8 for everyone to see as they left the school.
It turns out that Jim had returned to Ohio in 1968 to get the roadster and take it back to California. He didn't know that his brother had sold the car to my father the year before. This is the first time he'd seen the Lazy 8 since 1964!
Jim can rest assured that, thanks to Don, not only is the Lazy 8 back on the street, but that more people are seeing it now than ever before.