It sounds a bit misleading to say that Amocat Speed Emporium’s Steve Glucoft and Josh Higgins pushed the boundaries. The term implies progress but the roadster they built—this ’29 Ford—is anything but modern. In fact it’s about as antiquated as a car can get and still be called a hot rod.
But it is a radical departure from convention. Most historically themed hot rods built today reflect post-war sensibilities. This one, on the other hand, faithfully adheres to principles established before World War II, using only parts available, and more importantly popular, from that period.
The four years between those eras don’t seem like they would make that big of a difference but they do. Prior to Tojo’s tour of Pearl Harbor, things like 24-stud engines and hydraulic brakes were new-car parts. The same goes for speed equipment; prior to the war brands were few and examples uncommon and expensive. So to build a car to reflect pre-war style means working with parts that are incredibly obsolete, rare, or both.
And that may well be the easy part. Probably the greatest obstacle to build a pre-war-style car is references. Surviving enthusiasts are rare and their intact memories more so. Not even the industry’s default reference, Hot Rod magazine, can help; it started three years after VJ Day. Throttle magazine existed prior to the war but only for about a year and only as a journalistic format rather than a technical one. Even photos are hard to come by; among others Al Drake and Don Montgomery have published several titles with pre-war photos, but both admit examples are exceedingly rare.
Higgins began by modifying the car in the most historically faithful way, by updating it with parts from newer models. He replaced the entire front suspension with a ’32 Ford assembly for several reasons, among them its more massive axle lowers a Model A just a smidge (remember, dropped axles are largely a post-war thing).
But stance wasn’t only what he was shooting for. The V-8 running gear Glucoft and Higgins decided upon called for a later transmission, which of course eliminated the pedal assembly and required a crossmember of its own. Higgins solved both problems by modifying a ’32 K-member and grafting it to the frame. That’s where the Deuce suspension really proved its merit.
As it links the front axle to the K-member, a Ford’s wishbone dictates the drivetrain’s location. By using the ’33-34 wishbone, for example, the engine centers in the engine bay. But the ’32 wishbone pushes the drivetrain back. It crowds the firewall but it also increases the room for larger, pre-war distributors, like the one on this car. But more importantly, especially for a teenager with few resources at the end of the Great Depression, when using a Deuce wishbone the distance between a ’32-48 Ford transmission and a Model A rear axle ends up exactly the same as a Model A driveshaft.
Higgins used a ’39 transmission for its synchronizers; however, to make it look more of the part he replaced its telltale shifter with one from a ’36-37 gearbox. The ’37 engine bolted to it is plausible for its age and desirable for its insert bearings. This one wears earlier alloy heads with integral water pumps and the retrofit plates that Ford offered to seal the block’s pump bosses. A clean-up bore aside, the engine’s displacement remains the same. The heads, on the other hand, have been milled to increase compression ratio, a requirement in light of the increased valve timing the Winfield SU1-A cam offers.
Bolted to the top of the engine is a high-rise Weiand manifold, a part that existed prior to the war if only barely. Though Stromberg 97 carburetors aren’t exactly rare, ones in the condition these are in are getting there. Rather than buy headers, Higgins did as a kid would’ve 70 years ago and welded up his own headers. For the most part he bolted together the car with Ford hardware but he combed through piles at swap meets and in the old-stock bins at Hagens HiWay Auto Parts to reproduce the mismatched collection of that would’ve likely held together a teenager’s car so many years ago.
As noted earlier, juice brakes were highly unlikely to end up on a teenager’s car prior to the war. Deuce brakes, on the other hand, offer nearly the same benefit: they’re the same diameter as the later brakes and just barely narrower. Mechanical brakes have another friendly consequence: They work perfectly with ’32 pedal assemblies and pivots. They’re at least 60 years old but the 6.00-16 Atlas and 6.50-16 Remington tires mounted to the Kelsey-Hayes wheels are as supple and crack-free as the day they were molded.
A Deuce grille transforms a Model A into a layman’s Lincoln and, as Dean Batchelor noted in The American Hot Rod, they fit Model A bodies with minimal alteration. Higgins relocated the radiator’s filler neck and filled the grille top. Rather than shave the door handles he replaced the doors with ones from a ’28. But beyond that, though, the body remains absolutely original right down to the holes left by removing the top rests.
Both Higgins and Glucoft admit they took a few liberties with the level of work invested in the body and the finish applied to it. Lead alone doesn’t yield a surface as perfect as this but plastic is plastic whether applied by a spreader or spray gun. Both got a little bit shy when they explained the modern polyurethane finish.
The cowl tank remains but Higgins updated its gauge pod with dials from a ’36 Diamond T truck. Pat Swanson prepped the Stewart-Warner tachometer mounted to the column. Paul Reichlin at Cedardale Auto Upholstery in Mount Vernon trimmed the seat and rear side panels in a heavy-grain material that he refers to as school bus vinyl. He also crafted the lakes tarp.
So does the Amocat Model A push boundaries? Consider the following. Here’s a car painstakingly researched and built to reflect an underreported era. More than anything it’s a restoration; it bears no purpose-built speed parts beyond a manifold, cam, and tachometer. Yet there’s no denying it: It’s a hot rod.
“We’re not trying to do something new,” Higgins once said during the car’s construction. “We’re just doing something you haven’t seen in a long time.”