Miller Time

Steven & Shane Hill
Whittier, California
1929 Ford Model A roadster pickup

There are a number of ways to start a hot rod project. One could start with an original vehicle, or an older hot rod, or piece one together from all-new repro parts. Or it can be done the hard way: piecing together a hot rod from parts procured at swap meets and from like-minded rodders. There are no prizes for guessing which route Steven and Shane Hill took with their ’29 Model A roadster pickup, though it actually all started with the engine.

The father and son team wanted to work on a project car together after Shane purchased a ’32 banger engine some 12 years ago. After disassembly and inspection they discovered it was a crack-free and near-perfect block. They discussed what a great base it would make for an overhead conversion. As Steven told us, “The late Jay Steel of Taylor Engine in Whittier (California) offered to supply a Miller overhead conversion, and proceeded to rebuild the Miller head with large intake and exhaust valves, heavier springs, and a healthy port and polish. The engine was also converted to run insert main and rod bearings, with a drilled crankshaft for full oil pressure. New Taylor connecting rods were installed as well as JE pistons. Jay modified a 265 Chevy dampener, and the flywheel is a 12-pound billet piece. An M-13 camshaft from American Cams was used. With a well-built engine to build upon, it was time to decide what to put it in.”

A Model A roadster pickup was what the Hills settled on, and pretty soon they had purchased a body from Jay Kennedy, then spent many weekends at swap meets searching for parts. Mel Gross supplied a not-quite-era-correct (but infinitely preferable to the ol’ three-speed) rebuilt T5 transmission, and a Magnum 4-inch dropped axle is one of the very few new parts used in the build. A ’40 Ford rearend was selected, converted to open drive using a Hot Rod Works conversion kit, though as a ’40 spring is behind the axle rather than above as on a Model A, the chassis required stretching to suit. This was entrusted to LimeWorks, who are conveniently located not far from either Hill’s home in Whittier. They performed a fantastic job, but on reassembly Steven wasn’t happy with the ride height, so Kiwi Steve’s Hot Rod Shop in nearby Brea Z’d the rear by 7 inches to achieve the desired altitude.

Steven admits that if they did it again they’d probably look for a better body and bed, as countless hours were spent straightening and prepping them for paint, but the flip side of that is doing the bodywork and watching Shane spray the car in his home garage (which also houses his ’27 T lakes racer, incidentally) ranks as one of his most memorable experiences during the build. One of the things this writer likes most about this cool little truck is that there are a lot of neat touches and reused vintage parts, from the wishbone ends used for lower rear shock mounts, to the spring shackle plates used as tailgate latches. The finished truck gets used a couple times a week, has participated in the Pasadena Roadster Club reliability run, and has run a best quarter-mile time of 17.29 at 74.46 mph at the Forever Four Club’s Antique Nationals. Not bad for a pile of parts that came from all over, huh?

Chassis

An original ’29 Model A chassis was stretched to mount the spring behind the rearend, though the original 103-inch wheelbase was retained. The frame was then Z’d 7 inches. A Magnum 4-inch dropped I-beam mounts on a Chassis Engineering spring and Pete & Jakes shocks, with Ford spindles and ’39 Ford hydraulic brakes. A master cylinder from the same year is used, combined with a pedal assembly fabricated by Shane. Mel Gross supplied a ’55 F-100 steering box, attached to a Shane-built column.

Drivetrain

The engine that started this whole project is a 200ci ’32 Ford four-cylinder, machined by Taylor engine and assembled by Jay Steel and Shane Hill. It uses a ’34 Ford factory counterweight crank, Taylor billet 4340 rods, vacuum degassed and shot peened, and 8:1 JE pistons. An M-13 American Camshaft cam was reground, actuating the oversize valves in a Miller head. A pair of Stromberg 97s, rebuilt by Jere Jobe’s Vintage Carburetion, mount to an Evans intake and wear O’Brien Truckers air cleaners. A 265 Chevy generator bracket was repurposed, while ignition is taken care of by PerTonix and Packard 440 wires. A 1 1/2-inch-diameter Reds header leads to a 2-inch ceramic-coated system, fabricated by Tony’s Muffler in Whittier, CA. Mel Gross assembled the BorgWarner T5 transmission, which features a LimeWorks shifter. Driveline Service of Whittier built the driveshaft, hooking to a ’40 Ford rearend converted to open drive. Shane fabricated the torque arm, while Kiwi Steve’s Hot Rod Shop designed and built the split wishbone-style suspension, using ’48 Lincoln front ’bones (see page 28 in our October 2013 issue for more details).

Wheels & Tires

Bent-spoke Kelsey-Hayes wires are used at each corner, all measuring 4.5x16, though a rubber rake is provided by wrapping the fronts in 450/16s and adding 700/16s to the rear.

Body & Paint

The body and bed are original ’29 sheetmetal, restored by Shane before he sprayed the PPG Delstar enamel Washington Blue in his home garage. The only deviations from stock are the Brookville rear roll pan and ’32 dash, the ’32 grille shell, and the 2-inch chopped windshield. The taillights came from a ’37 Ford, while Guide 682-C headlights lead the way. A ’20-25 Model T gas tank now sits in the bed.

Interior

That previously mentioned ’32 dash holds Stewart-Warner Wings gauges, while Shane’s homemade column sports a Bell-style 14-inch four-spoke wheel. That stock-looking bench seat is actually from an ’88 Dodge mini van, upholstered in “distressed leather” Naugahyde by Jason Loose, a trimmer from New Zealand who was visiting the United States at the time! Owner-installed Kwik Wire wiring ensures everything works, with aircraft latch–type seatbelts wrapping up the simple interior.