Many of us had local hot rod heroes when we were growing up, and Tennessee's Jeff Davis is no exception. He told us, "One of my idols growing up was a guy named Charles Elam, who had a green '55 Chevy gasser with the logo 'Little Stinker' painted on the fenders. I always said that I was going to build a green car with 'Little Stinker' on it. Elam is no longer with us but I know he would be proud."
While Jeff has owned a number of street rods, including a '38 Ford and a Chevy sedan of the same vintage, he'd always wanted what he terms a "true hot rod-a fenderless nostalgia car." A friend, Bennett Kirk, had a cherry rust-free Model A sedan body in a barn, still wearing its original paint, which Jeff figured would fit the bill, though it took two years to talk him into the sale. Three years later, with the help of his son Ryan, Jeff was cruising in his own "Lil' Stinker" when we met him at the Goodguys show in Bowling Green, Kentucky-actually on his birthday-and awarded him an R&C Top Tin trophy. It wasn't until the following year, when we bumped into Jeff again at the NSRA Street Rod Nationals, that we managed to shoot the sedan.
Unlike his previous rods, Jeff was amazed at the number of individual parts and panels from which a Model A is made up. "That was some of the fun of building the car," Jeff mentioned saying, "it was like putting a model car together with a welder!" Thankfully he started with a mint body, which even still had the chicken wire in the roof. Of course it's not there now, as once he'd replaced all the wood framing with steel tubing and chopped the roof by 2 1/2 inches, he then filled the gaping hole in the top with a section from a '79 Malibu roof. This involved trawling junkyards for a roof that would match the Ford panel's curvature, and then spending three hours removing it with nothing more elaborate than a hacksaw! Of course, owning a body shop (Davis Auto Body) was probably a great help during the build!
Seeing as he'd started with just a body-and didn't have a Model A chassis anyway-Jeff opted to use a '32 frame because he liked the look of the exposed gas tank, not to mention the fact that he wasn't keen on putting a tank inside the car. He also feels that a highboy looks "right" on a '32 chassis. Using that frame did mean extra work though, as he had to raise the bottom edge of the body at the rear, including the swage line, in order to clear the '32 tank, plus build a whole new floor in steel to clear the crossmembers. The end result though is a car that does indeed look "right".
That trip to Bowling Green wasn't the sedan's debut though. For the car's maiden voyage, Jeff chose to drive it to the NSRA's Tampa, Florida, event, a round trip of 2,500 miles. In his words, "People along the way are always amazed when you drive a car. I always drive it. If it's on a trailer, it'll be broken!" Even then Jeff will still drive the sedan, as when we first met him one of the front shock mounts had broken away from the framerail, but he continued to drive the car until he found a garage that could weld it back in place and then continued to the event. In this author's mind that's what hot rodding should be about; getting out there and driving them and fixin' 'em if they break!
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Union City, Tennessee
1931 Ford Model A Sedan
After deciding to place the A sedan body on '32 rails, Jeff had Street Rods by Michael, in Shelbyville, TN, construct a frame using American Stamping 'rails, pinched 2 inches at the cowl to fit the narrower A body, with a Model A rear crossmember and stainless brake lines and aluminum fuel lines. A Pete & Jakes dropped I-beam was drilled, chromed, and mounted on a spring, Panhard rod, and hairpins from the same supplier, who also supplied the early Ford-style spindles and 11-inch disc brakes. An original, not aftermarket, Vega steering box keeps everything pointed down the road. Street Rods by Michael fabricated a center crossmember, which mounts a pair of Pete & Jakes ladder bars that locate the 8-inch Ford rearend from a '70 Maverick. Again, Pete & Jakes supplied the Model A-style spring, antiroll bar, and the shocks at each corner.
Jeff had Kelly's Engines in Union City machine a '78 350 block before Thomas Taylor built it into a 383 stroker motor using TRW pistons, a Lunati Voodoo cam, and steel crank, and the rotating assembly balanced by Kelly's Engines. An Edelbrock inlet is home to a trio of Rochester 2G carbs wearing O'Brien Truckers air cleaners, matched by valve covers from the same source. Patriot lakester headers feed into a Jet Hot-coated 2 1/2-inch system incorporating stainless mufflers, while a Walker radiator keeps everything at operating temperature. Between the motor and the Wells Driveshaft-modified GM driveshaft is a B&M Shift Kit-equipped Turbo 350 trans. While the 383 provides more than enough power for the sedan, if he were to start over, Jeff's only deviation from the plan would be to use a Flathead V-8 in place of the Chevy.
Wheels & Tires
Painted steel 15-inch hoops from Stockton Wheel are wrapped in Coker Classic whitewall bias-plies, 5.60-15 on 6-inch-wide wheels at the front and L78-15s on 8-inchers following behind. V-8 logo caps and trim rings complete the nostalgic rim 'n' rubber combo.
Body & Paint
Owning a body shop, Jeff could put his professional skills to work when it came time to attend to the body mods. These consist of the Malibu wagon roof transplant, welding the visor in place, chopping the top 2 1/2 inches, replacing and recessing the firewall, raising the lower rear body edge and swage line to clear the gas tank, replacing all the wood substructure with steel tubing, and installing a new steel floor. The steel hood is a Hagan item, longer than stock owing to the use of a'32 frame, and mating perfectly to a Brookville '32 grille shell. Jeff and son, Ryan, tackled the bodywork prior to Jeff squirting the custom-mixed PPG green paint. Bruce Ottway then got the job of applying the pinstriping and "Lil' Stinker" graphics.
Probably the most noticeable change inside the sedan is the 1 1/2-inch shortened '40 Ford dash, which now houses Classic Instruments in a Yogi's insert. A '54 Olds steering wheel is mounted on a 1 1/2-inch shortened '40 Ford column, while Jeff pilots the sedan from '86 Grand Am seats. They're now covered in red and white rolled and pleated vinyl by Gaines Upholstery, along with the door and side panels and rear seat, which folds forward to reveal the battery and fuse panel. There's a Vintage Air evaporator hidden behind the glovebox door, and an owner-installed Sony stereo system hidden throughout the interior, all wired courtesy of a Painless Wiring harness.