There’s nothing quite like a hot rod with a genuine pedigree … that is, unless it’s a hot rod with a genuine-pedigreed Riley SOHC V-8! Texan rod aficionado Don Smith just added a roadster to his collection with quite the eclectic history: an ex-drag Deuce, the “Kreepin’ Krips” B-Roadster, with early lakes racer Gene Van Arx’s original George Riley single overhead, circa 1936. Not only is that a mouthful to say, it’s one hell of a lineage.
As Don Smith recalls, “The ’32 roadster came from the Long Beach area, where the Kreepin’ Krips used it as a club car. It ran in B-Roadster, car No. 200, at the drags, equipped with a 354ci Hemi and a Halibrand quick-change … the color at the time was metallic blue. The car eventually received a 350/350 Chevy combo … then later on it was painted purple with a Flathead and steelies.” That alone warrants plenty of historic significance for a restoration all its own, wouldn’t you think? Not for Don, apparently.
Through a listing on eBay, everything shifted gears … or more appropriately, the motorvation changed. Seems a gentleman by the name of Don Ferguson inspired Don to backpedal, as it were, with the direction he wanted to go with the roadster project. Here’s Ferguson’s ad description as it appeared in the eBay listing (along with giving some good history on the Riley V-8, it illustrates the inspiration Don Smith had to create his early style racer):
“Only two of these Riley V-8s survive today; the other one resides in Bill Smith’s Speedway Motors Museum [Museum of American Speed]. It was designed for use in early Ford V-8 roadsters, early hydroplanes, and Sprint Cars. It utilizes a stock 21-stud Flathead crank and stock Ford rods. It displaces 225 cubic inches, produces more than 175 horsepower, has a full-pressure lubrication system, and weighs only 375 pounds.
“This Riley V-8 engine was carefully rebuilt by the premier East Coast Offy engine specialist, Ken Hickey, shortly before he died. He took a special interest in rebuilding this engine, indicating that he had actually improved its performance by more closely aligning its oil passages, matching its intake and exhaust ports, perfecting its cam timing, and carefully adjusting its gear lash, among other related tweaks.
“The engine originally came from California and it is clearly visible in lakes racer Gene Van Arx’s ’29 Ford roadster (as seen in the George Riley Racing Scrapbook). It then passed through the hands of well-respected enthusiasts Greg Snyder, Jim Etter, Thom Fitzgerald (who hired Ken Hickey to rebuild it), and Bill Chapin. This engine is totally fresh and ready to run—it would be very easy to build an award-winning cover car around it. Can you imagine pulling into your local drive-in with this piece of history lurking under the hood, or with its overhead cams sticking out from your highboy’s engine compartment?!” (Hmm … —Ed.)
Well, other than doing just what Speedy Bill did with his Riley and use it as a museum piece, the only fitting option we see for an engine of that sort of provenance is throwing it in an early Ford roadster as Don Smith has done. And for the “rest” of the Riley roadster’s construction, he relied on Hatfield Restorations in Canton, Texas, who actually came up with the concept to begin with (originally, they envisioned using a McCulloch supercharged Flathead before the Riley SOHC came into play).
Along with the aforementioned ex–drag car roadster body, Hatfield started out with a set of American Stamping ’32 ’rails, pinched the front, kicked up the rear, and added girder-style crossmembers. The suspension was assembled using a hand-fabbed front axle, radius rods, and friction shocks, along with a Posies transverse leaf and Pete & Jakes spindles; an early Ford banjo equipped with a Rodsville quick-change (serving as the driveshaft-driven alternator mount as well) also relies on a Posies spring—enshrouded in leather too—and handmade radius rods and friction shocks. All four corners use Wilson Welding’s Lincoln-style drum brakes slightly concealed by 18-inch Dayton knock-offs fitted with Excelsior radials (5.50 front/7.00 rear).
By now, obviously, you know the origin of the engine, however, there are further details to be told. In addition to the Riley SOHC conversion, the 21-stud Flathead V-8 features a variety of hand-fabricated items, such as the box-type intake manifold (sporting Stromberg 97s), spark-arrester–style air cleaners, and the very unique, un-muffled headers. For the transmission, Hatfield took a GM T-5 and disguised it by removing the ribs from the cast-aluminum case before mating it to the Flathead.
On the exterior, the original FoMoCo roadster shell was not only reworked to perfection, a few twists were added as well—most all of which was done by hand. For instance, both the inner and outer floorpans (yes, two sets) are not only hand-crafted, they’re fully polished as well—no filler/no paint! Furthermore, the ’32 Ford grille shell has been reshaped, giving it more of an early Miller Indy car feel while still retaining its stock insert dimensions in order to accept a Pines Winterfront adjustable insert. The split windshield is yet another hand-fabbed Hatfield item, the headlights are courtesy of a ’36 Ford, and the taillight an aftermarket Sparto motorcycle piece. As you may have already noticed from the photos, the custom sheetmetal work on Don Smith’s roadster is boundless, evident in the trunk area, below the grille, pretty much everywhere you look! Anything not polished or plated has either been painted red or cream—or pinstriped black in-between.
That takes us inside the racer-inspired roadster, where we conclude with even more of Hatfield’s creativeness. The Bell-style steering wheel is actually scratch-built, as are the column it resides on and the drop mounting it to the dropped ’32 dashboard housing a Plymouth gauge cluster. The interior, also handled by Hatfield restorations, is a perfect period blend of red canvas and leather, with “orthopedic seating” as Don describes it in the form of—you guessed it—handbuilt buckets.