If they think like John Gunsaulis it's a matter of when, not if.
They say a person is the sum of his experiences. Think about the choices you make. You might not recognize it, but every one owes itself to some event in life.
But what about your car? Most owners say their cars are extensions of their personalities but ask someone why they did a particular thing and chances are they'll say that they saw someone else do it. You'll seldom hear that a modification owes its existence to its creator's other interests.
This year a Model A showed up at the Grand National Roadster Show that didn't exactly fit that mold. It was a hot rod, but it bore only two speed parts. It appeared to be made from mass-produced cars, but many parts defied recognition. Those looked too old and sophisticated to be new, much less made by the ordinary-looking guy in the T-shirt next to the car. It had to be coincidence that he built a seat in the image of a piece of iconic early mid-century Modern furniture.
There's nothing coincidental about John Gunsaulis' car. It's like a sailor's tattoos in the sense that it tells his life story. Here's the more detailed account.
John's dad, the late Richard "Speedy" Gunsaulis, started building hot rods during the golden-age of the show car. Cars were a family thing; in magazine photos John's mom, Barbara, factors prominently in the driver seat of Richard's hot rods (polio robbed him of the full use of his legs). John and his sister, Janelle, both got Ford woodies upon their births (they still have them). Frequent visits by the late Ford historian Lorin Sorensen suggest history factored prominently in the Gunsaulis house. Art did too; John studied graphic arts.
John's broad spectrum of interests would've remained independent had it not been for an unlikely catalyst: his wife, Molly. "We moved to Detroit in 2005 so Molly could do her residency," John begins.
For historians Detroit is sort of like Mecca. "Going to Edsel's house changed everything," John says. His dad wrecked his spirit and the company wrecked his name but Edsel was the cosmopolitan genius behind some of the company's most praised designs, many of which took root in the various speedsters he commissioned to test his ideas.
"I kept thinking about those guys driving those cars," John ponders. "It really helped me focus on building something that looked more like a prototype than a hot rod." As he couldn't work on the roadster pickup he left behind, he did the next best thing: he built it in his head. "A lot of the prototype cars have the names of places," he observes. Ford's Highland Park plant is on Woodward. John and Molly lived on Woodward thus the "Woodward Roadster" was born.
Upon his return John bounced his new vocabulary off an old friend and artist, Jeff Allison. "Jeff would come over and we'd fight and fight and fight about ideas," he says fondly (it's Kabuki theater). "We'd yell and scream at each other … even though we were talking about the same thing."
John began with a hashed 1932 frame. He and Darrell Peterson extended the K-member's flanges to the framerails and installed a Model A front crossmember. They severed the frame where the running board reveal ends and grafted a Model A rear crossmember to the open channel. Fabricated framehorns rise from that crossmember and point rearward. John welded a Model T rear crossmember between them.
A Ford V8-/60 tube axle and Deuce wishbone lead the car. John split the 'bone and lengthened its legs 9 inches. The legs mount to the frame by tie-rod ends but not by the way you'd think.
He cut 1932-34 tie-rod ends across the ball opening and welded the sockets to the wishbones' ends. He trimmed wishbone balls, the threaded end of a Ford tie rod. Those screw into the tie-rod ends on the wishbone legs. Wishbone clamps bolted to each framerail capture each wishbone ball.
Model 40 perches mount horizontally in crush sleeves welded to the wishbone legs. Deuce perch bosses welded to the perches link to smoothed and extended 1936 Ford dampers that Logan Asher donated to the cause. John and Tim Hein extended the steering arms to make the tie rod land behind the crossmember. John drew the drag link arm in Adobe Illustrator graphics software, had it laser cut, and bent it to clear the axle. A lengthened Deuce drag link connects that arm to a Deuce steering assembly.
John relocated the spring ahead of the rear axle, something usually achieved simply by swapping Ford axle housings side for side. But the Columbia two-speed John intended to run doesn't do that. John severed the right side axle end from the Columbia housing and grafted a left one in its place. Friends Mike Robison and Tom Carnegie at Spokane's Antique Auto Ranch assembled the axle.
John and coworker Justin Merrill made the overdrive linkage during lunch breaks. "He was great because he was so open to my crazy ideas," John praises. He adapted a 1932 brake cross shaft as one of those pivots to give the linkage the same approximate axis as the driveline. A modified parking brake mechanism on a Deuce shift tower activates the linkage. Billy Johnson built a gearbox with 1936-39 gears to work with the Deuce tower's forks.
Family friend Dave Swenson rebuilt a desirable late-1936 LB block and heads as a stocker. The engine boasts the only manufactured speed parts on the whole car, a housing for two WICO magnetos and a modified Navarro intake manifold. Chris Swenson rebuilt the Stromberg 81 carburetors. John and Darrell fabricated a filter housing in the likeness of a 1936 Ford's.
When Ford curled the base of the cowl line forward it opened a triangle at the base. "I always hated that," John admits. In the end John removed the cowl sides, spread the body, and lowered it until the frame came up to the top of the triangle. The trimmed cowl sides land on top of the frame.
John removed the windshield header and squared the A-pillars with the door tops. The tank top rolls into the cockpit as a 1936 pickup dash top. To maintain the manufactured look he seamed all of the joints. "That was a nightmare," he says. "I bet we did the upper corners 10 times just to keep the seams."
The 1938 Ford grille sounded implausible but looked great if you squinted. That and the eternally optimistic fabricator and friend, Darrell Peterson, is all he needed. "I'm telling you it was a bitch," John says. Peterson split the hood top and merged it to parts of a 1936 hood. John imposed again. "I wanted an uninterrupted spear for a hood hinge but the Ford hinge wouldn't get out of the way of itself," he says. Inspiration appeared as a 1938 Chevy.
They fit the Chevy hinge to the car and then grafted its hood's flanges to the Ford hood. John sent the hinge to Russ Meeks at Finish Line Coatings to have him build up the surface by flame spraying it with silicon bronze. "Dan Weaver took over the plating process for that piece," John says. The spear boomeranged from Tripleplate Chrome Plating for filling and Weaver's shop for filing. "I bet we have 120 hours in that spear alone," John marvels.
Peterson and Rob Kisler flush-fit the doors and made the door and rear quarter reveals consistent with the cowl shape. They also wrapped the lines around the back of the cab as a radius. "Once we got the nose into shape we finally had a chance to push it outside," John remembers. "I told Darrell, 'I'm cuttin' it off.'" So the rear panel that took three months to build lasted 15 minutes. Within the hour he met Jeff so they could fight over a solution.
Steve Galloway and John slip-rolled the new panel. The bow interfered with the frame kick-up, so Jeff extended the cab as a tiny turtle deck. "That's the genius of Jeff," John says. "That little shape closes the gap that would open up between the body and tank."
Early on John found and intended to use a Fordson tractor tank. "After a while I didn't want to use it because it was obvious that it was the only rat rod part," he decries. But he says he liked the idea.
Earlier he scanned the V-8 badge and drew a typeface to match. John's coworker Dick Lile converted John's graphics into 3-D so a CNC router table could mill the tank sides from 1/4-inch-thick aluminum plate. "It's trickier than you'd think because a letter like the 'A' has a tiny little triangle in it," he reveals. "We made the file to cut those parts a little bit shallower than the rest."
John and Peterson formed the tank skin in the likeness of the Fordson tank, which Ken Carvalho and Justin Merrill welded together. Jimmy Sadkowski slip-rolled the straps to which Peterson welded eyelets and ribs. John made a filler neck and Model A fuel gauge from aluminum, including the arms and graphics.John derived cockpit inspiration from a tubular-steel chair designed in the mid 1920s by Modernism pioneer Marcel Breuer. Familiarly known as the Wassily chair, it resembles a splayed-open paperclip with slings between its rails.
The rear legs drop over sleeved bolts that mount the body. Jeremiah Fanning at Resurrection Upholstery in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, spanned the rails with 1/4-inch-thick leather.
"Jeremiah was one of the other great people with the build," John says. "His answer to any idea I'd come up with was, 'Oh yeah. We can do that.'" At one point he told John he'd cast some small rubber pads for a boat. "When I heard that I said, 'Oh yeah, we're gonna make a whole floor mat like that.' He just said, 'OK, let's try it.'"
They pulled a fiberglass mold from the floor. John designed a rib pattern in Illustrator, had a negative pattern cut from plastic, and bonded it to the mold. Jeremiah had the material sprayed into it.
An arched tube that evokes the one John Tjaarda used in the "Briggs Dream Car" in 1933 spans the cowl. It skewers a pod that John built from antique car radio housings and sheet steel. A CNC router carved an aluminum bezel to resemble a 1940 Standard cluster that mounts vertically. John designed the gauge and odometer graphics to read upright and in his typeface
The 1937-39 wheels bear about the least modifications on the whole car. In fact the rears remain stock. They're not common, though; their 5.5-inch width suggests that they were accessory wheels. The front wheels measure 3.5 inches wide thanks to Peterson. Even though John based the car's typeface on the 1939 cap's logo, he had Russ Meeks fill the stampings.
John's good friends Dusty Smith, Travis Thornburg, Brad Gortsema, Josh Scott, and Korey Huenink prepped the car for paint. John's close pal Russ Freund, who competed for the 2011 AMBR title with his "Takeout T" (July 2011 R&C), applied the black Martin Senour urethane. Kim Degenstein's crew at Spokane Metal Finishing plated the car's brightwork.
After his dad's premature death, John's mom Barbara married longtime family friend and drag racer Clarence Bennett, a guy who John refers to as, "...the coolest dad I could ask for." Unfortunately, Clarence's health started failing toward the end of the build.
"I wanted to spend more time with him," John says. "He'd yell at me to go out there and finish that car because it was his goal to come to L.A. to see it." He almost made it. Rather than quit, John's family, coworkers, and club mates, Thee Inland Emperors, rallied around the car.
You likely know by now that John didn't earn a spot on the trophy. But that he and his broad family made it into the esteemed group of AMBR contenders is a victory in itself. Not to get too romantic, but friends and resourcefulness earned him membership in a group most people consider beyond their station in life.
Every worthy contender makes a statement, but John made a point, one that Freund made two years prior. "I'm not going to lie; we wanted to win" he summarizes, "but the goal was to show that normal people can do this." He may not have a bunch of money but he's indeed a rich man. I mean, when was the last time you heard an entrant's mom helped build a show car's display?
The Woodward Roadster may not have taken the title but it bears something that almost no big-trophy contender will ever have: the sum of its creator's experience. And no money in the world can buy that.