Amongst old Rotten's collection of dog-eared magazines, this one's extra special. The handsome young man pictured with the Model A roadster is my own dear old dad, and those shiny, chrome-plated '50 Mercury wheels had replaced painted steelies just before this Nov. '61 Jack Flatt double feature. That was in Cars magazine. I'd have been about 3 at the time, but even then I knew it was neat to see Dad and Uncle Gary's roadsters together in black and white. Truth be told, one time, while unsupervised with crayons, I might have "colorized" a few pages. Dad doesn't remember that, but I do, so whenever I spot this issue for sale, I'm quick to grab the replacement for him.
Chromed and chromed-reversed '50 Merc wheels were the cat's meow for show cars of the era, but show-quality plating didn't come easily. Dad could not accept the cloudy plating, which occurred in the recess where the wheel's centers met the rims. He did discover a solution, but that was long ago, so the details are cloudy too. Uncle Gary, however, possesses a certifiably photographic memory. According to him, the rivet heads were ground flat. A drift was used to knock out the rivets and the centers and rims were plated separately. Then, rather than re-riveting, the wheels were bolted back together using ordinary hand tools and Ford-O-Matic torque converter bolts. Torque converter bolts made perfect sense, as they were, after all, designed to withstand spin cycle, and the Ford-O-Matic variety came with a rounded head, making it the most inner tube friendly.
Now before we proceed with the technical portion of this tale, let's skip back, just briefly to the double feature. Uncle Gary still has and still drives his '27 T roadster pickup, in and around Riverside, California, today. Dad's '31 A, however, got away in 1962. Just a few years back I thought it might be fun to try to locate the car. The quest was on and clues eventually led me to Tom, the gent who'd purchased the roadster from Dad. As the story goes, Tom didn't keep it long before selling it to a sailor stationed in San Diego. He never saw it again, and that's as close as we're likely to get, but we can clone it. We have the technology—and we have a bit of a head start, actually. If you're OK with cobwebs, come along and take a peek.
Weighing the Options
As Dad and I build his roadster clone in our heads, the original plan is beginning to waver—just slightly. Today we have options that Dad didn't have and this time around, he'd prefer modern brakes. On a full-fendered roadster we can almost hide discs, but '50 Merc wheels will not allow clearance for our calipers. As we know from previous experience, the full-figured junkyard variety caliper will encounter interference within the cramped confines of many drum brake-type wheels. In the case of the '50 Merc wheel, interference stems from its beveled rim. In addition to that, our junkyard variety rotors would require bolt pattern expansion, and 5-on-5.5 would likely be a difficult stretch. Adding things up, it's time to weigh the options—today's options.
1. Since I've agreed not to, I shall not divulge the exact location, but I can tell you that this door has not been opened anytime recently. Now ordinarily we'd begin with a crowbar, but this time we won't have to. Dad has the key and he's kindly invited us in.
2. Here at the top of a creepy old stairway in Dad's secret time capsule from the early '60s, is the one remaining '50 Merc wheel from his long-lost roadster. This one's an extra, not reversed, and intended to be a front. We're not sure why it wasn't used then, but as cloning begins with an identical cell, this is a start for the roadster clone.
3. Now for the purpose of illustration, Ford-O-Matic torque converter bolts are fittingly revealed by Dad's own hands—the very same hands that installed them close to 55 years ago. Uncle Gary stayed behind. He hasn't been up here in years, yet this fits his description exactly, right down to the rubber-cemented inner tube flap.
4. Back in Dad and Uncle Gary's roadster-clubbin' days, Simichrome polish was the hot tip for chrome. I should know, because by the time I was 5, it was my job to keep things shined up for them. Still available from Eastwood today, this is the original recipe and the familiar fragrance is taking me back.
5. Right about now we're tickled with the one wheel we have and we're optimistic about completing a set. Back home in the barn, continued digging renders only two more and it's beginning to look as though we may have to actually purchase a fourth—if and when we find it.