While the Detroit Autorama and the Ridler Award it encompasses are one of the premier events showcasing the very best of hot rodding, over the past several years, there’s another show-within-a-show that takes place at the Autorama down in the basement. If you’re a traditionalist, this is undoubtedly where you’ll gravitate toward, and if you were there last year, you’ll know this ’ere Model A coupe took top honors on the lower floor of Cobo Hall. Owner/builder Rob Paul says, “It made its debut and won Best of Show in the basement, and the SO-CAL Speed Shop Pick. I was honored when Pete Chapouris gave the award to me on stage, and then stopped by the car to shoot the breeze for a while.” But we’ve come into the story at the end, so let’s rewind five years and let Rob start from the beginning.
“An older friend of mine, Carl Lindbeck, picked up this coupe body about five years ago. He had no plans to build it, but it was a good deal so he snatched it up. I went to check it out at his shop. As soon as I laid eyes on it the wheels started turning, and before I got home I had the entire car built in my head … 6-inch chop, ’32 frame, Chrysler Hemi, quick-change, etc. … Now getting it out of his hands was another story. Figuring it was worth more than what he paid, he wanted to make some money on the deal. I ended up with the car and a few bucks, and he ended up with a chopped ’28 Tudor project I had been putting together.
“I had a really low Flathead-powered ’31 coupe that was chopped and channeled at the time I got this project. A good driver. I guess my plan from the start was to take my time and do all the fabrication and design the absolute best I could do myself. I built the ’32 frame with JW Rod Garage ’rails. I boxed the ’rails and used Model A crossmembers. I bent up a 1 3/4-inch tube center X-member. I moved the front crossmember forward 1 1/2 inches from the stock ’32 location to make room for a mechanical fan. The frame dimensions are modified from stock ’32 measurements and it was assembled in a jig that I built.
“The body was rusty. I butt-welded patch panels all the way around the bottom, fabricated a new floor, and used new subrails, then chopped the top 6 inches, and built new driprails. I now manufacture and sell these driprails online. I mocked it up with the 354 Hemi, 700-R4, and ’40 Ford banjo rear. The new Winters quick-change centersection was purchased later during final assembly.
“The car sat in this mocked-up stage for a year while I built the headers from a box of bends. I also made all the brackets and mounted everything else. I really tried to build a show car that might have been seen in the late ’50s; slam the best production engine of the day into a chopped coupe. I got the engine block and crank from a local old hot rodder named Red. This cool, 70-some-year-old guy also gave me several hundred ’50s hot rod and custom little books. He started getting them while in high school in 1952 and I think he saved every single one! There was a lot of inspiration packed in those old pages.
“I wasn’t in a hurry, because I had my other coupe to drive around, but I really wanted to see this project through. With all the metalwork done, I dropped the frame and body off at my friend Don Webster’s shop for the paintwork. I wanted him to do the best he could muster. He really came through for me because it’s straight, and it’s black. Only a polished-out, single-stage black would give the desired results. He nailed it. I soon decided that no color offsets black like chrome, so I sent a few crates of parts to Shine Metal Werks in Minnesota for chrome. The longer I waited for the body to get painted the more stuff I sent out for chrome—all the backing plates, headers, headlight bar, F-1 shock mounts, brackets, axle, split wishbones, ladder bars, and more. The Cragar intake was an eBay score from an old drag racer in Texas. I had it polished to within an inch of its life.
“It took Don 16 months to get the body back to me—a little longer than I had hoped, but well worth the wait. Within a few months I had it on the road with a full distressed brown leather interior. While at a furniture store, I spotted a recliner done in leather that looked like an old bomber jacket, and I knew that’s what I wanted in the coupe. I sourced similar leather at a Brooklyn furniture shop, and I bought five cowhides worth.
“I really love how this car turned out. I got it done in November 2010, and it made its debut at Detroit Autorama Extreme 2011. I started this car at age 25 and completed it at 28. I am a career fireman for the city of Green Bay, and my schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off gives me a lot of time to work in my shop. I eat and sleep building hot rods, and every spare minute I have is spent in the shop. My wife, Amber, is my biggest fan, and I couldn’t do what I do without her support.”
By the time you read this, Rob should have returned to Detroit with a ’28 A roadster he built and painted over the past year. If it’s anything like the coupe, we know it’ll be worth a closer look!
While The Build Was Enjoyable, Bill Miller Can’t Wait To Drive His Coupe!
There’s always been a healthy crossover between the hot rod and motorcycle lifestyles, with many rodders also owning a motorcycle. In my personal experience however, I’ve always received more enthusiasm from bikers when driving my custom than when behind the wheel of my old highboy roadster, which seems odd, given that a roadster is about as close as you can get to a four-wheeled bike. The owner of this Model A coupe, Bill Miller, started with building bikes, then picked up a copy of Rod & Custom one day and, as he says, “I got hooked. I did a lot of research, and bought and read countless books and magazines to get informed. Throughout the project I learned a lot along the way, took my time, and tried to make smart decisions. I really enjoyed the experience of doing the research and trying to be true to the era, aware that young guys put these together in their garages over 50 years ago! Then there was the thrill of hunting for just the right parts. I bought lots of wrong parts, and then sold them to buy the right parts, went to swap meets, and used as many old Ford parts as I could. I met some great people who have become great friends.” With the project taking longer than planned to come together, what with life, kids, college, and the economic downturn providing speed bumps along the way, it’s a good thing he has a great, understanding wife!
From the outset, Bill knew he wanted a Flathead engine. “I knew I had to have a Merc crank. I hate to buy on eBay, but when I spotted an auction for a Flathead and trans, the ad stating it maybe had a Merc crank, just an hour from my home, I took a chance. Sure enough, for $125, I got the crank I wanted, with a good block and a trans. For a novice, I was lucky, as the block was perfect, with not a single crack! I already knew Bill Jagenow at Brothers Custom Automotive, in Troy, Michigan, was going to build the engine, and the look on his face when he took the pan off and verified it was a 4-inch crank, and heard what I’d paid, was worth the money alone! Needless to say, the engine turned out great, and Bill used it for displays while we started building the coupe. I’m an electrician by trade, so the engine had to be painted copper!
“I knew I wanted an original steel car, which left a Model A coupe as my only affordable option. A Craigslist ad posted in upper Minnesota turned up a tired but running driving survivor. It had belonged to an old man who’d died. I shipped it home, and despite it being an awful flesh color, drove my kids around in it for a summer before tearing it apart.” Again, Bill had a lucky break, as the body required only two small patch panels to rectify a couple of rust-affected areas. Selling the stock chassis and drivetrain provided some funds toward the new ’32 frame and frontend assembly, sourced from Riley Automotive. He built up the rolling chassis, adding a quick-change centersection found at a garage sale to the ’39 Ford rearend, then delivered the body and frame to Brothers Custom Automotive. “They did a great job of putting the car together and giving it some real ‘spirit’.”
Obviously you’ll see from the pictures that the coupe is still lacking a roof insert and upholstery, as well as paint, but the end is in sight and Bill can’t wait to drive it. We just couldn’t resist showing it to you in bare metal before it gets blown apart for a final time!
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Green Bay, Wisconsin
1931 Model A coupe
Using JW Rod Garage ’rails, Rob Paul fabricated his own boxed frame, using Model A crossmembers front and rear, with the latter pushed forward 1 1/2 inches, and a 1 3/4-inch tubular center X-member. A 4-inch dropped Chassis Engineering axle is centered with a ’40 split wishbone and ’46 spindles and brakes, while F-1 shock mounts sourced from a local bone yard were bent to fit.
A 354ci Hemi mates to a 700-R4 trans. The engine was bored 0.030-over and rebuilt with an Isky cam, Cragar 4x2 intake, and Stromberg 97s with 41 jets and a straight linkage. Automotive Specialties in Neenah, WI, did the machinework, and Rob rebuilt the 97s and dialed everything in. Out back a ’40 Ford banjo axle received a Winters quick-change centersection, and was hung on Pete & Jakes ladder bars and a Model A spring.
Wheels & Tires
The ’40 Ford 16-inch steel wheels are used all around, 4 inches wide in front and 4 1/2 in back, and 7.50x16 Firestone bias-plies follow 5.50 Firestone ribbed fronts.
Body & Paint
Rob butt-welded patch panels around the entire bottom of the body, made a new floor, and placed it on new subrails. He sliced 6 inches from the roof pillars and added new driprails of his own manufacture. A sectioned Vintique ’32 grille and insert sits between BLC headlights on a modified Model A headlight bar. There’s no hood but there is a Tanks Inc. 16-gallon gas tank hidden inside the body. Don Webster ensured the body and frame were straight enough to receive single-stage black paint.
Using five hides of a distressed leather similar to that used on a chair Rob spotted in a furniture shop, Brook at Titletown Upholstery covered the stock Model A seat frame and interior panels made by Rob. The interior is all leather from the headliner to the carpet piping, as is the interior of the trunk. Where the stock gas tank should be, there’s now a ’32 dash filled with Stewart-Warner gauges. Rob peers over, or more likely owing to the heavy chop “through” a ’40 steering wheel.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1931 Ford Model A coupe
Using main ‘rails from American Stamping, the frame is boxed and pinched at the cowl to fit the Model A body, with a Model A rear crossmember, split wishbones, and an Eaton cross spring locates the dropped ’32 I-beam carrying Lincoln drum brakes and Pete & Jakes shocks. The pedal assembly is genuine ’32 Ford, with a ’48 Ford master cylinder supplying fluid through stainless lines to each corner. A Vega steering box helps negotiate corners.
Bill sourced and had the ’49 Mercury Flathead built before even locating a body. An Internet auction find, he scored a good block with a 4-inch crank, then turned it over to Brothers Custom Automotive, who put it together with Ross pistons and a Crower cam. With Edelbrock block letter aluminum heads, the combination gives 8.25:1 compression, with gas fed from a pair of 97 carbs through a high-rise Thickstun PM7 intake manifold. A Thickstun-style air cleaner brings the top of the engine almost to the top of the firewall. A Roto-Faze ignition with solid core cloth and lacquer wires light the fire. The ’39 truck Top Loader that came in the deal with the engine was rebuilt by Bill, who, in an about-face of usual practice converted the open-drive 27 tooth gearset to closed drive! A ’34 driveshaft and torque tube connect the trans to the quick-change–equipped ’39 banjo rearend, hung on a Model A spring.
Wheels & Tires
The only metal parts currently finished in the intended color are the wheels, 15-inch ’50s Ford truck hoops on the front, and 16-inch ’40 Ford rears, all wrapped in Firestone blackwall bias-plies. There are no trim rings, but Lincoln Zephyr caps provide a little brightwork at each corner.
Body & Paint
Starting with a very solid body from a running car, Brothers Custom Automotive only had to add a couple of patch panels to deal with some small rust issues before the fun could begin. Chopping the roof by 4 3/4 inches, punching the visor, which was then molded to the body, and adding Pontiac taillights, are the extent of the mods though. There’s a ’32 grille and insert shrouding a Walker radiator, while forward of that, ’32 headlights are mounted on a dropped bar.
There’s new wood in the roof, and a Mazda MPV middle seat covered with a Mexican blanket, but apart from a ’32 dash and a ’60s boat steering wheel on a homemade column, the interior’s pretty bare right now. Once the coupe’s painted, upholstery will come.