This is for those of you who said mere mortals don’t stand a chance against the big-buck builders on the show-car circuit.
By now you’ve probably heard that the promoters of the Grand National Roadster Show revised the judging this year. In a nutshell it emphasizes the way a car looks: on the road or at the very least on all fours and from eye level.
These refreshed rules de-emphasize the arbitrary and tedious details that add to a car’s cost yet not necessarily to its appeal. Also discouraged are the changes for the sake of change that turned show-car construction into a seven-figure exercise in paint by numbers.
In a sense the promoters brought back rules from half a century ago. Interestingly enough, it looked like one of the competing cars followed.
Cast in the image of a pro T-bucket, Russ Freund’s ’25 Ford looks as if it were transported from 1961, not built in 2011. And while it’s not an exact nut-and-bolt recreation of a show car from the period, Russ’ bucket has something almost unique to the era: personal investment. Upholstery and plating withstanding, he built the entire thing at home in a standard garage largely with help from not just friends but fellow members of his car club, The Inland Emperors.
Actually the project began inauspiciously. Russ’ friend Danny Anderson was selling most of a ’23-25 runabout body. I sent someone else to look at it but they passed, he says. So I bought it. As if it happened generations ago, the seed for an AMBR competitor cost $150.
But a show car it wasn’t meant to be, at least not at that point; another project came through prematurely. At the time I didn’t have a place for storage, he explains. Fellow Emperor Devin Corbit offered to store it for a while. Two weeks later he bought it from me, Russ says. Only it wasn’t meant to be with Corbit, either. The chance to buy a ’36 five-window inspired him to sell the stillborn project. Russ bought it back with the intention to turn it around to make the bucks necessary to finish another project.
Well the thing just snowballed, he continues. What set out to be a cash cow to finish another car took top billing. Russ entered a vicious cycle of investing himself in the project that drove him to deliver a 59A block to Dave Swenson for machining.
It emerged with the Thickstun PM-7 manifold and a pair of polished Cyclone heads. Mike Robison, fellow Emperor and Ford whisperer at Spokane’s Antique Auto Ranch, rebuilt a ’39 transmission for the cause. Russ kept the budget in check by reusing the Radir wheels from his green tub. He sent them to Mag Masters in Santa Ana, California. Rich at Radir helped me out with new slicks.
Russ reassembled the body not with the wood planks as Ford did, but with an entirely metal floor made from square tubing and sheet.
He incorporated a number of elements unique to the Model T, among them the firewall-mounted coil box that he adapted as a battery box. The coil switch is a one-year only piece, he indicated. Usually those switches are Bakelite, but the one from 1917 is the only one that’s all metal.
Probably nobody building a car for AMBR consideration has consulted a NAPA catalog for parts in decades, but Russ did; he works for the company, after all. I found these bitchin’ itty-bitty fuse blocks and built my own panel, he reveals. He used cloth-covered wire that he bought in bulk from Tom’s Engine Barn.