As with so many hot rodders, the seed was planted very early for Lynn Bird. While his earliest memories would be of his uncle's fixed up cars when he was very young, Lynn would forever be a builder after he was introduced to scale model car kits in the Fifties (one of his favorites was the Ala Kart kit). In the early Sixties, Lynn was a teenager in Southern California, where, in addition to cars, he was drawn to the beautiful nearby coastline. Many years and almost as many cars later, Lynn was starting yet another project with a few forlorn pieces and a picture in his head as to what he could turn those bits into. A well-used 1927 Ford Model T roadster cowl and pair of doors found their way into Lynn's busy garage, and were all he needed to get the wheels turning toward building his own version of a Fifties "show rod" inspired by the Ala Kart.
Lynn is a "recycler" of the highest degree and only uses new parts when absolutely necessary, not only to keep his builds on a tight budget, but also for the pure joy of turning pieces discarded by another into something of true mechanical beauty. To begin with a solid platform for the project, Lynn found an original Model A frame and proceeded to make it work by kicking up the rear crossmember and extending the chassis to put the spring behind the axle. The front and rear suspensions were then assembled using the best traditional Ford parts gathered from his many swap meet treks.
For any real hot rodder, one of the most important elements of a project is the one that powers it and, with a serious nod to the Ala Kart, Lynn decided to use a '53 Dodge 241ci Red Ram "baby Hemi" he also happened to have sitting in the shop. Backing up the little Hemi is a '48 Ford truck transmission with a gear selector from a '39 transmission.
The next challenge was the bodywork. Lynn met it head-on by reworking every original panel, in addition to making quite a few from scratch. Starting with that Model T cowl and doors, a custom back half of the body was hand-formed to complete the cab. A scoop was added to the top of the cowl and also works as a functional cowl vent. A shortened '32 grille shell with a custom owner-built insert rides up front. The grille treatment was mimicked in the tail panel insert, below the rear of the custom-built bed, where square and round tubing was shaped to form the custom-finned cargo carrier.
Custom-shaped fenders are among the most recognizable elements of the Ala Kart, and Lynn worked up his own set starting with four '29 Model A fenders and then carefully reshaping the ends. As any sheetmetal sculptor will tell you, it's not the first piece that's the most difficult, but instead making the opposite sides match. Lynn spent many hours perfecting the shape of each fender tip to match the opposite side perfectly. During the shaping of the fenders, I stopped by to admire the progress and noted that the rear fender tips resembled the shape of early surfboards, a comment which turned on a light bulb in Lynn's head, and the Surf Kart was soon born.
After Lynn reshaped all the metal to his satisfaction it was time to lay on some paint. Lynn toils over color choice on all of his projects and, after passing on a couple previous color plans, finally focused on one of his early favorite colors: turquoise. As Lynn tells it, "I'm a big fan of turquoise because when I was growing up all the manufacturers were using it." Lynn accented the base color with pearl white and a lighter shade of turquoise to really give the whole car the correct late-Fifties feel. The final touch on the outside is a set of 'stripes laid out by local friend "Bruce the Brush."
Inside his ride, Lynn kept things simple and functional with a pair of vintage sports car seats, a '57 Ford steering wheel topping a homemade column, and a Stewart Warner gauge panel filled with five rare Stewart-Warner Twin Blue gauges. Always choosing to do the work himself where he can, Lynn even stitched up his own Pearl White and black marine vinyl interior with some help from his wife Virginia.
With the '27 finally out on the road, Lynn has been thoroughly enjoying the fruits of his labor, but that'll only last for a short time until he's back in the shop turning another pile of cast-off bits into a vision of hot rod history. A few of the Ford projects in various stages in the Bird garage include a '27 roadster, a '29 roadster pickup, a '29 Tudor, a '35 pickup, a '36 roadster, and a '36 phaeton (custom Tudor conversion), along with a few finished ones that include a '29 roadster, a '32 Victoria, a '32 pickup, and a '34 sedan delivery. All of them have been owner-built with the same enthusiasm as those first model kits that got him started.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
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Lynn Bird Torrance, California
1927 Ford Roadster Pickup
Nothing is ever store bought or prepackaged when Lynn Bird is putting together one of his hot rods. Starting with an original Ford Model A frame, Lynn sliced and diced the vintage chassis by boxing the 'rails, kicking up the rear crossmember, and moving it back to let the spring ride behind the axle. Up front, a genuine '32 Ford "heavy" dropped axle from Mor-Drop is located by a pair of split Model A wishbones that all mount to an original Model A crossmember. The front axle is flanked on by a pair of early Ford spindles and original '41 Lincoln brakes. Under the rear is a '59 Ford 9-inch rearend suspended by a pair of '36 Ford wishbones with a Model A spring for controlling the bounce. Steering chores are handled by a Ford F-1 'box.
Since the Ala Kart was the main inspiration for this project, an early Hemi mill was the only choice for Lynn. He had come across a 241ci Dodge Red Ram and finally decided he'd found the "right" hot rod for it. He prepped the little engine with a full rebuild and made it roar with a set of 0.030-over pistons, a Clay Smith cam, an Offy intake with Stromberg 97 "leakers," and a Mallory distributor. Stock exhaust manifolds direct the exhaust gases into an owner-built 2-inch stainless steel exhaust system. Directly behind the Hemi is a '48 Ford truck transmission with the shifter from a '39 Ford.
Wheels & Tires
Lynn even builds his own wheels, and the set for his Surf Kart uses four 15-inch Ford centers with original 5-inch outers on the front and reversed 5 1/2-inch outers on the rear. All the pieces were polished and chromed separately and then Lynn welded them all together. The tires are a pair of 5.60x15 Firestone whitewalls at the front and matching 8.20x15 on the rear.
Body & Paint
Lynn started with just a few leftover Model T and Model A pieces, reworking them thoroughly until they had become the Surf Kart. The starting point for the whole project was the cowl and doors from a '27 Model T roadster which Lynn expanded into a complete body, with a rear portion and bed he completely hand-formed. At one time he had considered running the car as a highboy, but the Model A fenders were such an important element that he forged through and reshaped them, going to great lengths to maintain the original edge beading.
While the Ala Kart is most recognizable from the unique grille treatment, Lynn wanted to stay a little closer to tradition and used an original '32 Ford grille shell, massaging it into shape and fitting it with a custom mesh insert with handmade grille bars. Guide headlights on a custom dropped light bar were added, and '52 Buick taillights were fitted in the custom rear panel, with the same mesh used in the grille. Lynn sprayed the Valspar Turquoise paint and added just the right amount of fogging and Pearl White accents to nail the late-Fifties era he wanted to represent. "Bruce the Brush" finished off the exterior with some fine line work.
The no-nonsense passenger compartment utilizes a pair of early sports car seats of unknown origin that fit well in the confines of the early body. Since a '57 Ford steering wheel was a mandatory item in hot rods of the late-Fifties, Lynn picked one up, restored it, and sprayed it Pearl White. The dash is fitted with a Stewart-Warner panel filled with SW Twin Blue gauges that were produced for a brief time in the late-Fifties. Lynn found a set of the rare gauges still in the box from an old boat shop. The home-built project was completed with an owner-stitched upholstery job trimmed in Pearl White and black marine vinyl.