Remember the old Stroker McGurk cartoons that Tom Medley used to draw back in the '50s? Stroker's numerous adventures were familiar to a lot of early rodders and his cool little roadster reflected the simple style of their own rods. The hobby has moved in some more elaborate and expensive directions since then, but there are still guys out there building and driving the type of hot rod that Stroker would recognize.
Vance Alexander told us that Medley's drawings were an influence when he was putting together his own T roadster. Take a look at this low-buck, homebuilt hot rod and tell me you can't see the inspiration. Not only does Vance's Olds-powered T look like an old-time, real hot rod, it was built that way-over time, with traditional parts, and very cheap. He's had the body since 1965, when it was nothing more than the remains of a neglected '25, missing the doors and turtle deck.
Fourteen years ago, he picked up a quick-change rearend, which triggered the buildup. Equipped with that rearend, the body, ideas borrowed from old rods and circle-track racers, and a notebook full of sketches of practically every part in the car (15 sketches of hairpin radius rod designs alone), Vance was ready to get busy. He designed and built most of the roadster himself, the way the early hot rodders did.
For as low-buck and basic as it is, the car is packed with a ton of hot rod modifications, with parts fabricated from some unusual raw material. A few examples: homemade friction shocks built with driveshaft tube and conveyor belting; front turn signals using dash lights from a John Deere combine; a spoon throttle pedal made from a dump rake tooth; brake and clutch pedal assembly built using a bicycle front fork; rearview mirror bracket out of a pitchfork tine; shock springs built from a John Deere disc blade; stanchions for the '32 taillights (a pair of original left-side lights) that were once the leg of an antique typewriter table. That kind of do-it-yourself engineering harks back to the old days, and it kept Vance's build budget low. Cash spent on the roadster is right around $5,500.
We can picture Stroker McGurk jumping in this freshly finished roadster and driving it to the big car show. As soon as we spotted Vance and his T, we encouraged him to pull into the Rod of the Year judging area and compete in the driving events. He jumped at the chance to show us what his low-buck, homebuilt hot rod could do. Stroker would be proud.
Vance AlexanderNew Sharon, Iowa,'25 Ford Model T
The frame was built by the owner using boxed, folded U-channel, which he formed to fit the body, adding front downturns and a rear kickup. Thirty-two through-frame fittings were used to fasten the 'rails. Frontend components include a stock Deuce axle, '39 spindles, Deuce springs, early F-1 brakes with handbuilt air scoops, and homemade hairpins. The steering system, built from a modified Volkswagen bus box extended to fit to the Pitman arm, draws a lot of interest. In the rear, the early Culver City Halibrand quick-change presently runs 4.68:1 gears, with mid-'60s pickup axles and brakes modified to fit, and suspended by Model A springs, with lower rear trailing arms and triangulated upper arms. Vance built his own friction shocks. He also built the custom bellypan using '70s Chevy pickup fenders and 16-gauge sheetmetal. A pair of agricultural-use 8-gallon polyethylene fuel tanks is mounted within the pan.
Vance calls it "the little engine that thought it could." A PerTronix ignition lights the '63 215ci aluminum Oldsmobile bored to 219 ci (machine work by the Drurian brothers at Haines Auto Parts), and running a mild Isky cam. Ford Y-block valve covers were reshaped to fit the Olds. The original Rochester 4GC carb main shafts were rebushed in hard plastic, and feed an original manifold. The air cleaner was handformed using homemade tools. The exhaust manifold is from a Buick, with slide-in baffles in the pipes. The T50 five-speed from a small-block-powered Monza was a $30 swap meet find, and the modified Vega driveshaft was a dollar.
The perfect rims for this '40s-style rod are original 16-inch Fords (4-inch '40s in front and 4 1/2-inch '46-48s in the rear) dressed up with Deluxe caps from Bob Drake. The 450/475-16 and 700-16 Firestones are from Coker Tire.
Building the roadster body meant repairing some ancient collision damage and replacing a mission door with one from a touring car. Vance widened the body 2 inches to increase foot room and raised the firewall and cowl an inch to improve the hood line. The turtle deck and rear panel were handformed, maintaining the original width, and the decklid was framed with square tubing. The frameless windshield is sandwiched between two pieces of rectangular tubing. King Bee headlights and taillights sit on forged stands. Vance shot single-stage Dupont Centari Black with no hardener; the medium compound leaves a finish that looks worn and rubbed on.
In the tradition of most early hot rods ("unfinished and in transition"), Vance is sitting on a school bus bench until he finds a more suitable seat. An upholstery tack strip of native maple was steam-bent using a homemade steamer and bending forms. The dash, modified from a '32 closed car, was created from 26 pieces of sheetmetal and features widened oval housing instruments out of a '35 Buick. A '39 banjo wheel is mounted on a column built from an exhaust tube. Surplus Boeing 737 honeycomb flooring strengthens the footwell, which extends farther forward than the firewall.