So many hot rods, and especially customs, start with a piece a paper-be it a scribbling on a napkin or a formal artist's rendering, before any of the actual construction begins, ideas need to be interpreted from one person to another. Working from a blueprint or a set of plans, as it were, makes achieving the end result that much easier-especially on one's wallet.
A good automotive illustrator not only must truly understand the mediums he works with-paint, markers, etc.-he has to fully understand the inner and outer workings of each and every automobile he's designing on paper ... that is, if it's ever to be successfully transformed from art to reality. While Ed Roth was indeed an artist in his own right, it's safe to say that few of his creations were ever really turned into fully functional vehicles. Jeff Norwell, on the other hand, has the talent to do both-sketch a bubbletopped showcar or ink out a practical hot rod. Exhibit A: The "Diamond Deuce". And taking the stand to testify in his own words, here's Mr. Norwell's account of the build:
"In the early spring of 1989, fresh out of school and grounded in my own studio, I returned to my desire of hot rods. I really had never left them-but I realized very early on that an education would help bring my personal wants in life later on.
"I found this little pickup at a swap meet sitting upon a hill, waiting for a new owner. A price was agreed upon and it was brought back to the fold. The lil' red pickup was full of speed parts-but upon closer inspection, some sad truths were revealed. The Flatty was wasted with a bad cracked block and the Top Loader had no Second gear or Reverse. This was not going to cut it, so the hunt began for a new drivetrain. Quickly, I located a 289 and a decent C4. The swap was made and we shared many trouble-free road miles.
"Early on, a friend of mine noted that this truck was featured in Hot Rod magazine in December 1961. Astonished at this fact, it was called the "Diamond Deuce" from the local graybeards who remembered her. I set upon an adventure of sorts to return it somewhat to its former glory. I never wanted to rebuild it to exactly what it was; I needed to leave my mark on it somewhere. In other words, return it a wee bit to its early history in tribute to its past-but with the addition of my personal touches!
"Work began in early 2000 and the hunt for parts was on. Drawings, sketches, and napkin notes filled the studio. Every spare moment I had I dreamed of this truck-mixing new with old-and making phone calls to those who knew the truck back in the day. One call in particular was to an older gentleman telling me back in 1959 or 1960, he remembered the original owner/builder, Gerry Watson, doing a burnout on King St. in Hamilton, Ontario, digging the rear tires into the pavement about 5-6 inches! Whether true or not, it fueled my imagination with more overkill for horsepower. I could see it clearly ... those visions drove me harder.
"I set forth with Ken Stewart, a famed chassis builder and fabricator extraordinaire. We talked and discussed at length a mock-up, and then a chassis was born. I was stoked. My vision was under way.
"Next in line was the drivetrain. I knew it needed to be an early Hemi, just like the old girl started with (the first engine was a 354). I found a nice complete '57 392 and went directly to Tim Banning of FHO (For Hemis Only). Banning is a master Mopar engine nut and Hemis are his specialty. I had seen his work previously, and I was stoked he was going to build the Diamond's heart. Banning and I would talk weekly, and each time we would speak, the end-horsepower rate would climb. Initially, I wanted a sweet 400-plus horsepower early Hemi, which is not hard to do, but that escalated to a nearly 600hp monster-iron heads and all. I wanted to give the visual effect of a dressed-down 392: twin carbs, chrome valve covers, etc., but to be a wolf in sheep's clothing.
"During this time, I met my wife, bought a home, and we had a daughter. This slowed the process down for a few years, but after the shock of being a new father, husband, and homeowner wore off, I was back on full time.
"I then met a now very good friend, Neil Candy of Candy's Hot Rod Supply. What started out as a business call from Candy turned into a lifelong relationship. He completely understood the direction and soul the Diamond needed. His fabrication and skill are outstanding and after my first visit, I knew my dreams would soon turn to reality.
"We toiled away in his shop, weekend after weekend, and when business took me away from the fun, he took charge and moved forward. The Diamond took shape and grew very quickly. At this point, I enlisted my very good pal Cameron Watters to lay out a dance floor in the bed of the truck-one that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers would have approved of! He applied his magic and brought a killer tiger maple truck bed to the party. One of the happiest days was when Candy, myself, and painter Kevin Howe laid down the '52 Ford Coral Flame paint-just like it was done 40 years prior. The fellas also added flake to the interior and we coined it the "Star Flake Ballroom". The ever-talented Rollie Guertain applied the sweet stripes and John Reid of JR Custom stitched the fine interior and tonneau cover. The truck quickly came together, and finally, the big day arrived-my first drive after a 10-year wait.
"Mmm ... burnt rubber smells good! Vroom, vroom baby!"