One of the most popular competitors for the America's Most Beautiful Roadster Award at the 2009 Grand National Roadster Show was the Black Widow, a 24:1 scale replica of a 1960 model kit based on a hot rod that never existed-until now. Michael Feinstein had the imagination to dream up the concept. Hollywood Hot Rods had the talent to turn it into a reality.
Michael was into model cars as a kid, and built the Monogram Black Widow in 1960. Like a lot of model-building kids, his enthusiasm transferred to rods and customs as he grew up. As an adult, he's owned a bunch of award-winning vehicles. After finishing a couple of customs, Michael said he was ready to build a traditional hot rod-but not just any traditional hot rod. He wanted to bring his lifelong involvement full-circle by building a full-scale version of his childhood model.
He started to acquire unbuilt Black Widow kits on e-Bay, including a mint original-issue. At the same time, he was collecting car parts. "In August 2005, I found a complete '26 Ford roadster pickup at Model T Haven via their website. It was 90-percent complete, but all I really needed was a decent body and pickup bed, and a Ford title. That started the project. I continued accumulating original parts from e-Bay to recreate the exact technical specifications of the model. Once I had all the parts, I went to see Troy Ladd."
Troy's shop, Hollywood Hot Rods in Burbank, California, has created numerous high-end, but traditionally-influenced hot rods in recent years, including Troy's copper-colored '32, an AMBR contender in 2007. One thing they'd never done was reverse-engineer a car based on a fictional plastic hot rod the size of a potato.
"We really did use dial calipers on the actual plastic model," Troy explained. "We used an unassembled model and a finished model and scaled up. I've never done anything like that, and I don't know anybody who's ever done anything like it."
Making the job even trickier was the fact that the original designers weren't overly concerned about scale. Michael consulted the book Monogram Models by Thomas Graham and found out that the Black Widow was not designed to any particular scale. Since other Monogram kits were created in 1:24 scale, that ratio was reversed for this project, and it turned out to be accurate.
"We had to change a lot of things in order to make it scale out right," said Troy. "For example, the rear fenders are really wide, with skinny tires under them. And the long wheelbase leaves a lot of room in the engine compartment between the radiator and the firewall. We remade metal and parts and did all kinds of crazy fabrication to make sure it was just like the model. If you look, the frame is flush to the body, which sits on top like a highboy. We used 2x3 rectangular tubing because that's what the little model scaled out to be. But we couldn't make straight 'rails. We had to bend them to the contours of the body-and those Model T bodies aren't straight!
"All that made it challenging and difficult, but we like challenging and difficult. Luckily, the owner wanted to go the extra mile to make it absolutely accurate. Somebody else might have been happy with having it just sort of look like the model, but Michael pushed for the accuracy. The car wouldn't be as good as it is if he hadn't been willing to make it exact.
At the Grand National Roadster Show, the Black Widow-exhibited among blown-up replicas of the Monogram packaging and hobby shop displays-was the centerpiece of the event and the response was overwhelming. One man told Michael he'd driven 500 miles just to see the car.