Growing up with a Top Fuel racer as a father, do you think Tyler Hilton had a chance in hell escaping the gearhead gene? Since we're engaging in this discussion here, that answer's clearly obvious. But, it goes well beyond that. As a return gesture, the younger Hilton reinvigorated his dad Bob's interest in the hot rods he grew up around, and before long, the two were building cars together.
The effort of theirs that first caught my attention, in a big way, much like it surely must have for many others, was of course this coupe: Tyler's stylish Model A. It doesn't set any trends; there's nothing revolutionary about it...and that's precisely what sets it apart from the others attempting to accomplish the above mentioned. It's pure hot rod, period.
Again, like many, the first place I laid eyes on Tyler's coupe was at the Lonestar Round Up in Austin, Texas, a few years back. Initially, I figured it to be an old build with a fresh redo—details and execution screamed true vintage. But as it turned out, Bob and Tyler had recently completed the 1930, with a mere six months under their respective belts to do so.
It all started with, as Bob recalls, "a body from the estate auction of a three-generation Model A restoration shop business...[it] was in immaculate, almost perfect condition. The 354 Chrysler Hemi engine was bought at the Springfield, Ohio, swap meet as it looks currently—carbs, log manifold, original pitted chrome. It was an original old race engine—origin unknown." But it wasn't simply a matter of mating cherry tin with aged mill. "We have always been intrigued by very period-correct hot rods and decided to build something that looks like it would have been on the cover of a custom/rod little book, circa 1961," Bob continues.
And that they did, indeed—in that short time span, father and son Hilton produced quite the period poster child. Based on a custom-built chassis reminiscent of a Model A (kicked up 10 inches in the rear, 4 up front, "to achieve that heavy East Coast channel look without sacrificing as much interior room") the coupe body has been dropped 6 inches over with its roof section left stock height and dusted in "modified" PPG 1959 Pontiac Dusty Orchid metallic, further adding to the perfect 1960s vibe. The firewall, wheels (a mixture of 1940 Ford and 1950 Merc), suspension, and engine have all been treated to a complementing white, those rollers capped with screw-on Moon discs, "sanded and polished to a mirror finish...a different touch that gives an early custom hot rod feel," as Bob describes. Inside, one of the few areas the Hiltons offered up to outside assistance, old barstool seats were repurposed as buckets, ultimately covered with black leather along with the surrounding paneling by Ray Butche.
Not only has the Hilton coupe been on the road for a few years now, it's done its time on the track as well. "Tyler ran a 13.00/106-mph pass at the HAMB drags in Mokan, Missouri, smoking the bias-ply street tires for almost half the track," Bob proudly remembers. And the roadworthy recollections don't stop there. When asked to comment on any other memorable accounts he surmised: "When Tyler grenaded the first of many Muncie four-speed transmissions leaving the 2011 Lonestar Round Up after receiving a Builder's Pick award from our now friend, Jimmy White of Circle City Hot Rods."
Rod & Custom Feature Car
The Plains, Virginia
1930 Ford Model A coupe
Model A–based frame features a 10-inch kickup in the rear, 4 inches up front, to aid in what father Bob Hilton refers to as "heavy East Coast channel look." Suspension-wise, a 1936 Ford axle dropped by Oklahoma's Joe Casto features same-year split wishbone, Chassis Engineering transverse leaf, and Pete & Jake's shocks hung with modified F-1 mounts. A smooth-back Ford 9-inch rearend, geared with a 3.70 Posi, is hung via a '40 Ford front spring! A 1956 F-100 box handles the steering. All work by the Hiltons.
Purchased in "as-shown" condition, externally speaking, the 1956 Chrysler 354 Hemi was machined by D&D Engine Services (Cincinnati) and assembled by the Hiltons, who used a "wicked" Schneider cam, J-E 11.5:1 pistons, and stainless valves. Six fully functional, non-progressive Stromberg 97s top a ported and polished Weiand Drag Star intake; ignition is stock MoPar points; and exhaust exits 1936 Ford driveshaft headers. As mentioned, Tyler literally bangs gears in his coupe through a Muncie M-22 four-speed...his third one to date—thanks to a Wilcap adapter/flywheel and Lakewood scatter shield, as well as a Hayes clutch.
Wheels & Tires
Mirror-polished Moon discs cover '40 Ford 16x4 wheels up front and 15x5 Mercurys out back, with 4.50-16 and 7.50-15 Firestone Deluxe Champion bias-plies from Coker. Early Ford drum brakes are used at all four corners, the fronts based on '40 hydraulics fitted with finned Buick drums.
Body & Paint
Other than its 6-inch channeling, the pristine 1930 body is fairly as-was, with the slight exceptions of the PPG Pontiac Dusty Orchid paint and chrome roof insert, all performed by the Hiltons. Additionally, Bob and Tyler added stylish nerf bars, the rear encapsulating 1956 Dodge Royal taillights and the front flanked by vintage Yankee Owl aftermarket sealed-beam headlights. A Brookville 1932 grille shell has been treated to a chromed custom insert.
A Brookville 1932 dash features a vintage Mercruiser insert with N.O.S. Stewart-Warner gauges, and supports an F-100 steering column topped with a vintage white-rimmed, three-spoke Superior wheel. Bob and Tyler spared a pair of barstool seats from the garbage, now serving as buckets covered in rolled and pleated black leather, courtesy of Cincinnati's Ray Butche. Between the repurposed seating is a handmade trans tunnel/center console.
The Hilton Coupe, Part 2
Six months seems to be the running theme with the father-and-son team of Virginia's Bob and Tyler Hilton. At least it is when it comes to the build times each of their Model A coupes required to go from parts and pieces to driven masterpieces, according to the elder Hilton. The family, which nearly literally has nitromethane running in their veins (dad's an ex Top Fuel racer; both avid vintage drag racers), not only builds everything from their home-based shop in The Plains, well north of Richmond, Virginia, they drive what they build...hard, far, and regularly.
At the end of one summer, Tyler and Bob decided it was time to add another 1930 Model A to their stable of hot rods and race cars—with the upcoming Detroit Autorama as their deadline...a mere six-month window. As winter rolled around, the project, albeit shy of a couple minor details, was lugged the 500-plus miles to Cobo Center to be put proudly on display downstairs at the Autorama Extreme. From there, the Hiltons hauled A, literally, back home, wrapped up the loose ends, then proceeded to put 3,500 miles (round trip) on the coupe's 1936 Ford odometer to attend the Lonestar Round Up in Texas. "The car went from Virginia to Austin and back with no mechanical or major problems. Driveability with this car was the key to success, along with matching that with major sheetmetal modifications," recounts the elder Hilton.
The road to Austin and back initiated with a set of 1932 'rails from JW Rod Garage, jigged up at Dropped Axle Productions (Cincinnati) prior to being brought home for the beginning of the build. The chassis was completed by kicking the rear section up a couple inches, sweeping the front up an inch and into a flat crossmember, and building a tubular center crossmember from scratch. The suspension integration ensued (consisting of a heavy Deuce axle dropped/drilled by Joe Casto, split 'bones, and so on), followed by the installation of the Chrysler Hemi and T-5 drivetrain combo.
Unlike their other coupe, the latest Model A was destined to sit atop its new Deuce foundation—actually, according to Bob, "The body has been ‘anti-sectioned'–extended downward 2 inches, increasing the height of the beltline. It has Model A sedan doors, which are 1 1/2 inches longer, and sedan front subrails. The rear quarter windows have been relieved and reshaped to give them a more symmetrical appeal." That left room to devote laborious efforts to a healthy top chop, which again, Tyler and Bob took upon themselves to accomplish...with quite the results, we might add. Giving the car a brooding attitude to go with that roof lowering, most everything from the chassis up was coated in deep, glossy black (pre-paint bodywork by Brandon Bowling and Son). To adequately complement as well as contrast the dark exterior, Ohioan Ray Butche laid out the interior in Oxblood vinyl.
In comparison, other than their Hemi mills and origin of manufacture, the Hilton coupes share little. What they do share identically in common: expert craftsmanship and execution, perfect melding of period styling, and the fact that they're the fruit of a father-and-son team who know the true meaning of family heritage hot rodding.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
The Plains, Virginia
1930 Ford Model A coupe
Based on a set of JW Rod Garage 1932 framerails, the coupe's platform features custom-built crossmembers, as well as 2-inch rear and 1-inch front kickup. Suspension consists of a 5-inch dropped 'n' drilled heavy Deuce axle (via Joe Casto), split front wishbone, Pete & Jake's ladder bars, and transverse leaf springs, the rear being a 1940 front spring. Tube shocks, F-100 side steer, and a Dropped Axle Productions pedal assembly round out the chassis package.
The vintage drag racing family heritage is again represented with the coupe's powerplant: a 1956 DeSoto 330 Hemi, machined and assembled by Cincinnati's D&D Engine Services. Internally it's basically stock; externally features an Elco 6x2 log intake topped by a sextet of progressively linked (by Ross Racing Engines) Holley 94s, driveshaft-tube headers built by Matt at Geardrive Mfg., and backed by a Camaro T-5 via a Wilcap adapter. Rearend is out of a Ford Bronco, with a limited-slip 3.70 ring-and-pinion.
Wheels & Tires
Front and rear, the coupe rolls on 16-inch '40 Ford wheels (4/4.5-inch, respectively) wearing big 'n' little bias-ply Firestone rubber from Coker Tire (4.50/7.50-16, respectively) and '40 Deluxe caps. Drum brakes reside at each at axle.
Body & Paint
In house, father-and-son Hilton handled everything body-wise right up to final bodywork and paint (black Centari), chores which Atwood, Kentucky's Bowling and Son were given. Prior to paint, Bob and Tyler adjusted the coupe's profile with a bit of deceptive metalworking (adding sedan doors and subrails, and so on) to ultimately extend from the beltline down. Furthermore, the top was chopped 6 inches, without filling the insert section. Most exterior accessories are of 1932 Ford nature: headlights, Vintique grille, and single taillight.
As with the channeled coupe, the Hiltons relied on Ray Butche (Cincinnati) for the upholstery, this go 'round resulting in a stylish Oxblood vinyl layout with black rubber mat flooring. Sectioned 1936 Ford dash features original FoMoCo instrumentation, and supports an F-100 steering column with a Shroeder 17-inch Sprint Car wheel. Dash inserts, trim pieces, and metalworked trans tunnel are all custom-made.