Hot rods all have to start somewhere. Some of us start our new project when we pick up a long-forgotten relic, others find someone else's unfinished project and breathe new life into it, and another group of rodders starts with almost nothing. Tim Van Pelt's T modified started right at the front.
"When I was 12 years old, I was at a swap meet with my dad and bought the T radiator shell that's on the car now," Tim said. "The seller was asking $15, but I only had three or four dollars, so the seller came down to $10 and my dad chipped in the rest. I hung the shell on my bedroom wall. I never thought I'd build a car around a grille shell."
Tim and his dad built a couple of hot rods while Tim was in high school. At 14, Tim bought a '49 Chevy and swapped in a 235 straight-six with a Fenton cast header and aluminum intake. It didn't prove to be as reliable as he wanted, so he started on a '47 Ford coupe. This time he went with a 327 small-block and Turbo 350, but he stayed with a straight-axle up front. Tim still has the '47 and is planning to treat it to a body-off rebuild someday.
When it came time to build the next project, Tim decided to do something with the old shell that had been hanging on the wall. He found a '26 T touring body on a ranch in South Dakota for $100. It was fairly straight, had all four doors and the dash, and the rot was confined to the sills. He gathered some of the other parts he'd been hoarding, along with some recycled parts from his '47 build, and started laying out the modified. "I started out cutting the touring body in half and then tracing the bottom of the body onto a sheet of plywood. I then cut my 2x3 steel to this shape to begin the frame. I tack-welded pieces together, wired parts on, and propped parts on 2x4 blocks of wood until I got the look I wanted," Tim explained.
As fun as the T is, Tim told us that one of the best parts of the build was working with his young sons out in the garage. As I said at the beginning, hot rods all start somewhere, and the Van Pelt boys now have their start.
Rod & Custom Feature CarTim Van PeltBlack HawkSouth Dakota1923 Ford modified
Tim started from the bottom up and designed and built the frame for his modified out of 2x3 steel. He pie-cut it at the firewall and shortened a '26 T rear crossmember to get it low, kicking it up in the rear with V-8-shaped fish plates for strength. The front crossmember has been C-notched to clear the lower radiator hose. The front suspension consists of a '30s-era Dodge double-dip tube axle with bungs welded on for the split '35 Ford wishbones and custom brackets for the Dodge leaf springs, which have been cut in half. An F-1 'box and owner-built Pitman arm handle the steering, and '47 Ford spindles with '40 brakes do their part to stop it. A '39 Ford axle with a Wilson Welding Speed Demon quick-change hangs out in the open in back, with a '26 T spring and '39 Ford 'bones. Mr. Roadster friction shocks handle the bumps at both ends.
This modified wouldn't have looked right with anything but a Flathead sitting behind the Walker brass radiator, so Tim had Denny Price assemble the '52 8BA with a basically stock short-block and added an Isky Max 1 cam and Offenhauser aluminum heads and intake topped with two 94s. Speedway Motors provided the Tru-Helmet air cleaners, electronic ignition with cloth-covered wires, and header kit (owner-built). A Ford C4 auto trans is shifted with a Gennie Shifter swan-neck handle.
Wheels & Tires
It's hard to beat '35 Ford 16-inch wires on a modified. The fronts are stock, but the rears were widened 2 1/2 inches. Firestone rubber (4.50s and 7.00s) was really the only choice.
Body & Paint
The body started out as the front half of a '26 touring and has now been treated to a filled cowl, smoothed firewall, steel floors and trans tunnel, and a custom lower pan on the back of the body. The Ford script on the back is from a '47 Ford pickup. Gene Jobgen at A&A Restoration in Rapid City, South Dakota, was put in charge of getting the body in shape before Bruce Rall shot it with PPG Red Oxide primer. The headlights are early '28 Ford Model ARs mounted on stands made from a cut-down Model A headlight bar.
The interior is about as bare-bones as you're going to find. The owner-built seat sits on a lowered seat riser. The '40 Ford dash was narrowed 7 inches (basically right through the speaker grille) and pie-cut on the ends to fit the T body. The LimeWorks four-spoke wheel sits atop an owner-built column.