Art Linkletter, Nancy Reagan, and Sergeant Joe Friday would like you to think otherwise, but it was really model-car companies who made paint-huffing glue sniffers out of our nation's youth. Rick Hanson knows; he was 12 when Monogram released the Black Widow, a model kit based on a cut-down 1927 Ford roadster pickup. That was 1960, and there was Rick, Testors model cement in hand, staring point blank into the steely gaze of 1:24-scale King Bee headlights.
As the self-help gurus will tell you, there's no cure for addiction, and the recidivism rate for those who shake the habit is high. Sure, he fell off the proverbial wagon a few times and built a car or two; however, one time he fell hard-not for the little gateway jobs that initiated this slippery slope, either, but for the bigger, harder stuff. He built a hot rod, but not any hot rod; he built a fullscale version of the Black Widow.
OK, so we took some dramatic liberty with Rick's story, but he really did build the Black Widow. He calls his the Black Widow 2, as his isn't a nuts-and-bolts copy (Model A body, radial whitewalls, full fenders), but the connection is more than suggested. It's black, it wears polished Moon discs, and it sports a red-and-white gut and white top and tonneau. Even if it's not the Widow in body, it's the Widow in soul.
The project started as a very incomplete roadster pickup and stayed that way for some years in Rick's garage before he fully committed himself to building it. Instead of setting a realistic pace and never finishing, as most of us do, however, Rick took a different approach: He thought it'd be neat to debut the car at the 2006 Grand National Roadster Show-the same show in which his brother's car placed third in class in the mid-'60s. Now here's the catch: He made that decision in about April 2005.
Instead of leading you along for the duration of the story, we'll tell you right now: He made it. He met the same cast of characters that push us forward and set us back as we build our cars, but, due to this compressed time, they seem so much more ... interesting.
Consider his friend Cliff Heitman who, while he stored the car, chopped and leaned the windshield, patched some of the body's cobby areas, and found a way to wedge a '40 Ford dash between the A-pillars. Then take Bulgarian ex-pat Kiril Popov, the old-world master who straightened the bed and chopped it 8 inches, bobbed the fenders, and massaged the truck back to shape using nothing more than simple handtools and heat.
Factor in only two days of driving the car in bare metal as a shakedown run; then consider the discipline it took to actually disassemble the car for finish work. If Rick couldn't have done it without Kiril, he surely could've done without the unnamed painter who worked under a tarp-clad lean-to in a dusty marina-the guy who set Widow 2 back by a full month a mere month before its GNRS debut and still didn't finish the job.
If building a car under an impending deadline isn't stressful enough for you, do what Rick did and cancel those pesky obligations to your customers and do without income for the month leading up to an event. Rick's gamble did actually pay off, though, since people came out of the woodwork to help-people like Martinez Auto Body's Gary Hernandez, who finished the paintwork.
Trimmer Armand Annereau Jr. not only understood Rick's instruction to stitch wide pleats to match the model's seat, he coined the phrase "fullscale model car," a name that stuck. Leave it to 'striper Herb Martinez to not only work around Rick's crazy schedule, but to render the model kit's chunky pinstripes in 1:1 scale. Finally, good personal friends and artists Robert Lee and Susan Fair sandblasted the windshield with the model's web motif.
To understand the crush under which Rick worked, Kelley Hunter detailed the Black Widow 2 practically as it rolled into the Pomona Fairplex building four. Rick's ride was just another shiny car in a convention hall until sign painter of note Al Meadows delivered the hand-lettered acrylic show-car plaque. Suddenly a 12-year-old's 1:24 fantasy sat practically cheek-and-jowl at 1:1 proportions with America's Most Beautiful Roadster contenders.
Many a grown-up kid can recant our elders' pleas to change our ways. They told us those aromatic solvents would wreck our brains. They warned us we'd waste our lives by throwing good money after bad cars. And you know what? They're probably right. After all, here's proof on four wheels.
If that's the case, there's only one thing I can say: Pass that tube of glue, would you?
Like the Black Widow model,...
Like the Black Widow model, the Black Widow 2 has a Chevy; however, that's where the similarities end. While Rick runs a simpler four-barrel carburetor, he created the effect of a trip-deuce intake by topping the air filter lid with three slash-cut tubes la velocity stacks. The model sported 1955/56 exhaust manifolds and a generator, but Rick runs block-hugger headers and an alternator.
Model designers have to exaggerate...
Model designers have to exaggerate certain proportions so they'll translate well to mass production. Monogram did that with the seat pleats, but Armand Annereau Jr. picked up on the idea and chunked up Widow 2's pleats to match. It's usually tough to talk a 'striper into laying fat lines, but Herb Martinez also got the picture, as the fangs on the dash illustrate.
From the discipline it takes...
From the discipline it takes to make the first cut to the finish work it takes to make it look right, it's tough to work a '40 dash into smaller cars. Cliff Heitman pulled it off, though, and Kiril Popov did a similarly smashing job fitting the matching column. The smaller '40 wheel is a LaCarra exclusive from Rod Parts Warehouse.
The Black Widow as we know...
The Black Widow as we know it from the box top was a Model T, not a Model A as Rick built, and as such, Rick's car and top is shaped far differently yet has the benefit of more room. Here's a tip for would-be pickup builders: Forego the blocky roll pan everybody else does in favor of a rear apron like the one Kiril Popov fabricated for the gap below the bed.
By the late '50s, not even...
By the late '50s, not even truck beds escaped the trimmer's scrutiny. Armand Annereau Jr. followed suit and finished Widow 2's to show-car standards, even if the show car was 6 inches long.
Taillights from a '50 Pontiac...
Taillights from a '50 Pontiac make just the right treatment for rear brake lights.
Here's the kit that initiated...
Here's the kit that initiated Rick Hanson's slippery slope into hot-rod depravity. Check out the background and the getup on the flirty tomato; Monogram didn't even bother to hide the fact that they wanted you to think it was Bob's Big Boy in Burbank! A hot rod, the attention of a cool chick, and a hep scene; I ask you, what boy couldn't resist?