Glen Roth and Johnny Ronnow were members of the Pasadena, California-based Coupes Car Club and raced with the Russetta Timing Association. Around 1948, these two friends bought a '27 T roadster that had been built in 1941 by Bob Maven of Victorville, California. They'd been dreaming of running a roadster at Bonneville, but wanted a high-quality car that they could also take to shows and drive on the street; by any measure they got it right with this one. The overall construction of the Roth and Ronnow roadster was impressive. In fact, California Bill (Fisher) thought so much of the car that he featured it in his book, Ford Speed Manual, 1952 Edition (Floyd Clymer Publishing).
In August 1952, the duo made the journey to the great white salty expanse to race at the 4th Annual Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) Bonneville Speed Week. The roadster was painted maroon and competed in the C-Modified roadster class as car No. 543. Ronnow handled the driving duties and completed several runs during the week. The fastest speed on Wednesday, August 27, was 118.57 mph. Ronnow pushed the car to 119.04 mph the following day before the car recorded its best run of the meet on Friday with a speed of 121.95 mph.
Around 1957, the Roth and Ronnow '27 T roadster was painted yellow and driven on the street. It was later parked in Ronnow's garage until 1966, at which point Roth transported it to his Southern California home. For the next 40 years, the roadster remained in dry storage in Glen Roth's garage.
In early 2006, the car came to the attention of SoCal hot rodders Mike Griffith and Jeff Halsch. After much discussion Griffith and Halsch were able to make a deal with Mr. Roth to buy the car. Several months later the car was offered to Houston-based racer/collector Mark Brinker, who had been looking for a historic '27 T. Mark says, "The Model T was not only a seminal car for Henry Ford, it was also the roadster of choice for land speed racing due to its relatively small frontal area. Although many of these cars were raced at the dry lakes and Bonneville, a high percentage of them are gone or have been modified into extinction. So when I heard about this original example that was bought out of Glen Roth's garage, I got really excited."
Mark asked his friend Chris Wickersham of Pasadena to perform a pre-purchase inspection. Wickersham has been in the car restoration business for nearly 50 years and is an active member of the Pasadena Roadster Club. According to Wickersham, "This roadster was a rare find. When I got there and they took the cover off, I was literally looking into the past. Not only was this car undisturbed for nearly half a century, it still wore its '57 California license plates and the owners had the matching '57 California DMV registration card-still in Roth's name. There was also a large box with period stereo Easymount slides, photographs, and even the original towbar that you can see in the '52 photos of the car at Bonneville. Mark and I had a really short telephone conversation. I told him if he didn't want it, I'd buy it!"
Mark quickly got the deal done but Wickersham did get to keep the car for a while. With a little arm-twisting, Mark was able to convince his longtime friend to freshen the car up and get her running. "The trick on this car," Wickersham says, "was to get it sorted and running while preserving its originality. I went through the mechanicals, disassembled the engine, and, with the help of Blair's Speed Shop, the engine was once again made ready to run. I did a lot of cleanup work on the chassis and other components and got tendonitis in my elbow from bringing back much of the chrome! The builders really got the aesthetic details on this car right and many of the components were plated. Mark wanted to retain all of the original chrome, so that's what we did."
We caught up with Mark and Wickersham this January at the Grand National Roadster Show where this car was being shown for the first time since being put away in 1966. They walked us around the car and went over the Roth and Ronnow build.
A stock Model A frame served as the starting point for this car. The frame was lengthened to give a wheelbase of 107 inches, up from a stock measurement of 103 1/2 inches. The framerails were double Z'd to get the car down closer to the salt to reduce drag. The front and center crossmembers were custom fabricated and the rear crossmember was the original Model A item.
Front suspension consists of a '39 Ford (un-dropped) axle with a transverse leaf spring, split wishbone, and '39 Ford spindles and shocks. Rear suspension is by way of a '39 Ford live axle with a transverse leaf spring and Monroe tube shocks. Brakes are '39 Ford hydraulic 12-inch drums at all four corners. The steering box and master cylinder are sourced from a '39 Ford, as well. Wheels up front are 15x5 Mercury running Firestone tires; the rears are 16 x 4 1/2 Fords, which also spin Firestone Deluxe Champions. (All four were treated to '47 Ford hubcaps with trim rings.)
The interior is handsome and purposeful with a custom black Naugahyde pleated and rolled bench seat, military surplus belts, and tuck 'n' rolled door panels. The steering column is shortened and chromed (with a '41 deluxe wheel) and the pedals are a modified assembly from a '39 Ford. The dash is a custom wood job with a Stewart Warner script tach and speedo and four Stewart Warner crescent-sweep gauges-and is also home to the '52 SCTA timing tag from its inaugural Bonneville runs. Engine revs are divined by a front-mounted Stewart Warner mechanical tach drive and the wiring is custom cloth-covered throughout.
The steel body came from a '27 Model T and is channeled 4 inches over the modified frame. The paint is metallic maroon. The doors are leaded in and a Deuce grille was shortened and fitted. The hood and side panels are fabbed from aluminum. The windshield is a cut down '27 T affair, headlights are from Arrow, with taillights courtesy of a '41 Chevy.
Go power for the Roth and Ronnow '27 T comes from a heavily worked '46 Mercury V-8. The engine was overbored 3/16 inch and the Merc crankshaft was stroked 1/8 inch to give a displacement of 300 ci. With a cam from Winfield, the connecting rods are modified Mercury and the pistons are Sterling. The cylinder heads are finned aluminum (script style) from Edelbrock as is the intake manifold, which sports triple Stromberg 97s.
The headers measure 1 3/4 inches and are custom-made, leading to chromed straight pipes without mufflers. The copper radiator is a shortened '32 Ford.
Gear changes are accomplished via a '41 Ford side-shift box with Zephyr gears and a column-mounted shifter. The driveshaft is a shortened '39 Ford; the aluminum flywheel is from Schiefer; and the clutch is from Auburn. In keeping with the overall quality of construction, Roth and Ronnow equipped this roadster
with a Halibrand V-8 quick-change centersection.
Fuel is delivered from a shortened '29 Chevrolet tank and all fuel lines are fabricated from copper. Engine dress-up items included a chromed '41 Ford generator, individual chromed spark plug wire tubes, and chromed water pumps and radiator tubes. Other chromed items include the front axle, front spring, front shock absorbers, tie rod, drag link, radius rods, backing plates, headlight supports, and spindles.
Wickersham completed the work in 2008 and all agreed that the late-'57 "school bus" yellow paint had to go. Mark sent the car to Hatfield Restorations of Canton, Texas, to clean the original interior and repaint the car to its Roth and Ronnow Bonneville Maroon. Hatfield carefully removed the yellow paint and was able to get a perfect match on the underlying maroon paint. In addition they found several colors beneath the maroon; these colors may hold clues to the car's earlier history.
Mark has been in contact with Ronnow's widow and one of their sons but has been unable to get in touch with Glen Roth. Mark says, "I searched a long time for a historic hot rod like this one with land speed racing heritage, and I am honored to be this car's current custodian. As someone who's currently racing at Bonneville, I truly appreciate the energy that Mr. Ronnow and Mr. Roth put forth to build this wonderful piece of American racing history."