Spectators at the '09 Grand National Roadster Show (GNRS) were the first to see Jim Benitez's Model A roadster pickup in finished form. Jim's newest and greatest creation, nicknamed Faster Pussycat, made its first formal appearance in Pomona, California, last winter-and not just in the show, but among the finalists for the prestigious America's Most Beautiful Roadster award. This was not, however, the RPU's first trip to the GNRS. The car was there the year before in unfinished bare metal, and the year before that as a finished frame-both times in the display booth for the Jalopy Shoppe.
Jim's car pretty much owes its existence to the GNRS. He told us that, as a builder, his personal challenge was to create something cooler than what he's seen in the past few years-and his motivation came from the confidence that he could. The aim to build an AMBR car didn't actually come along until about halfway through the six-year buildup. When this project began he says his goal was to build the best roadster pickup he could. That's a steep challenge considering that he'd already built an amazing roadster pickup seven or eight years ago.
Remember Jim's bare-metal '28 with a riveted body and bed, slammed and channeled over a custom tube frame, and powered by a Chevy small-block with four Rochesters? It was a great roadster pickup and earned attention from Del Mar to Louisville. This one, though, knocks it out of the ring.
The buildup began six years ago at the Jalopy Shoppe in Escondido, California, where Jim works. It started with the steel Brookville body, and continued with the chassis, completely custom-built from square tubing. He said he wanted the car to have "all the horsepower it could take," and stuffed it with a 0.060-over 392 Hemi making 11.0:1 compression and an estimated 400 hp. "Something you could take out on a Sunday and drive fast on windy roads through the mountains," is how he put it and, as the creator of the Ranch Run, the annual windy mountain road trip he hosted for several years, Jim knows what that means.
As Faster Pussycat evolved and AMBR competition worked its way into the agenda, progress slowed. As with all projects, there were money issues and time issues. And there was Jim's perfectionism. Not happy with good enough, if something turned out not exactly the way he intended, he walked away from it for a while and came back later to do it again. That's the second bed, the third cowl top, the third dash, the second set of doorskins, and the third grille. Every piece of the car was worked and reworked numerous times.
Now that Jim has met his personal challenge at the Grand National Roadster Show and his goal of building the best roadster pickup he could, he's still got miles and miles of windy mountain roads surrounding his home and 12 months of sunny Sundays to let Faster Pussycat stretch her legs.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Valley Center, California
1930 Ford Roadster Pickup
Owner contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
The roadster pickup rolls on a 2x4-inch, 11-gauge steel frame (with a 1x1-inch square-tubing X-member for rigidity), kicked up 18 inches in the rear and 4 in the front to drop the roadster as low as it can go. At the back, Jim installed a Speedway quick-change with Currie axles and '39 Zephyr brakes, suspended by 32-inch ladder bars and Aldan springs. The 6-inch dropped axle is from Speedway and mounts original '40 Ford spindles and another pair of Zephyr brakes. The leaf springs were re-arched by owner/builder Jim Benitez. Jim also made the pedal assembly, custom Panhard bars front and back, and added a '40 Ford steering box. All chassis welds were smoothed and virtually every part has been modified and chromed.
You could spend hours studying the Hemi in Jim's roadster-but wear sunglasses because whatever's not chromed is polished. Actually the '58 Chrysler 392 block and heads are painted. GG Auto Machine bored the cylinders 0.060-over to 406 ci, added 11.00:1 forged pistons, and balanced and blueprinted the engine, with assembly done at the Jalopy Shoppe by Mike Sholes and Jim. Jim says the Schneider cam was chosen for torque (which he puts in the neighborhood of 500 lb-ft). The O'Brien Truckers valve covers, cast valley cover, and timing cover, Offenhauser log manifold, and six original Stromberg 97s with Wilcap carb tops and stainless air cleaner screens were chosen for impact as much as anything. Retro cloth-covered copper core wires run from a Don Zig Vertex magneto. Paul "House" Gilbert built the custom headers. Walker supplied a custom radiator to keep the Hemi cool. The transmission is a Hurst-shifted Richmond five-speed with a McLeod clutch and Wilcap flywheel. Larry Phillips built the chrome driveshaft, turning 3.50:1 gears in a quick-change, limited-slip differential.
Wheels & Tires
The 16x4 and 16x7 Gennie wheels from Wheel Vintiques were painted black to match the body and trimmed with chrome rings and caps to keep up with the rest of the brightwork all over the car. Bob and Cris Folkestad at Creative Werks in Des Moines, Iowa, personalized the caps by stamping them with the Faster Pussycat nickname. The Firestone dirt track tires, sized at 16x5 and 16x8.90, were provided by Coker Tires.
Body & Paint
Jim says he loved the Brookville body stock and decided not to go overboard with a lot of distracting sheetmetal modifications. Instead, Jim and the rest of the crew at the Jalopy Shoppe (including Josh Johnson, Louis Garcia, Wade Delco, Rodrigo Mogollenes, and Chris Thompson) embellished the exterior with some really well-conceived touches. The grille shell is a reproduction Deuce with an original '32 insert; Jim and "House" shortened and widened it to the proportions of the Hemi-packed front end. Handles from a '34 were used on the doors. Headlights are original E&J, mildly modified, and the taillights are '37 Ford parts, modified by Chris Thompson.
Thompson also built the removable aluminum top and assembled the bed using his own fabricated mounts and brackets. The bed itself was built from heavy-duty 11-gauge steel, partly to add some weight to the back of the pickup, but "we couldn't bend it," Jim says, and the build was outsourced to Dick Lemke who finished it. Bob at Creative Werks built the linear actuators that operate the one-of-a-kind tonneau cover. Pat McGuire at Wilcap stamped the Faster Pussycat lettering into the tailgate.
Aztec Polishing stayed busy handling the plating on the car, except for the Duvall windshield chrome, which was done at Sherm's Custom Plating in Sacramento. Glass is from Andy's Glass.
Jim's favorite part is the dash; it's the first piece of aluminum he bucked, and it's finished with a leather insert and Classic Instruments gauges, plus dash spears cast at Mor-Cast Aluminum Foundry. A four-spoke Boyd Coddington steering wheel is mounted on a custom column. Jim built the seats into the cockpit and finished them with molded and dyed 8-ounce leather. The tooling was done by Indian Bobby from Escondido, California, who took the pinstriping designs created by Rob Miller and transferred them onto the heavyweight leather. The seat bottoms were contoured around a real human model's bottom. The custom '60s-style lap belts will pay off on those fast drives on windy mountain roads.