Rodders have long been inspired by race cars that have populated the Indianapolis International Speedway. Whether it is the design of the vehicles, the engines that powered them, or the drivers that pointed them left in the turns and all-out down the 3,300-foot straights, there is something very special to hot rodders about Indy.
Johnnie Davis, a 66-year-old retired GM machine mechanic, lives in Springport, Indiana, just 65 miles northeast of the famed track. It also stands to reason you can't really be a hot rodder from Indiana and not be influenced in some degree by the big rectangular oval, and Johnnie Davis certainly has with his latest ride: a modified '32 roadster pickup.
In the mid-'80s, Johnnie took notice of what the Buick- and Chevy-powered Indy race cars (used by folks such as A. J. Foyt) were using to create all that horsepower: an odd-fire V-6 design where groups of two cylinders are separated by 90-degrees of rotation (like in most V-8 engines) with other groups separated by 150-degrees of rotation (its 1-6-5-4-3-2 firing pattern requires 720-degrees of crank rotation for all cylinders to fire).
The ultra-clean interior reminds...
The ultra-clean interior reminds some of a race car-purpose-built and without any bells and whistles. The black vinyl covering for the Chrysler minivan bench seat was stitched up by Interior By Ed (Mitchell, IN). Bill Carter anodized the aluminum door panels and fab'd the roll bar for the car, too. Up on the '32 Ford roadster dash, six Stewart Warner Maximum Performance gauges tell Johnnie what's going on with his motor while a Lobeck removable steering wheel helps guide the way.
Of course, those Indy motors had been tweaked with special GM voodoo for maximum performance, but thinking it would be a great base to work from in a hot rod, he looked into what it would take to get one between his own framerails. Finding all of the appropriate part numbers he needed, he went to visit his local dealership, and found that if they even knew what he was talking about, the parts were rare and far too expensive for what he wanted to do with his hot rod.
So the idea was shelved until the mid-'90s, when Johnnie ran across a set heads and a very-rare injection system for one of these motors at the NSRA Nationals in Columbus. After buying the parts and now properly motivated, Davis then went about collecting all of the rest of the parts for this unique engine that GM hadn't sufficiently provided to the general public, which included the camshaft, pistons, crank, and a dry sump oil system.
Located in Muncie, Indiana, and just a short drive from his house, Johnnie hooked up with Bill Smith Motorsports, who did the internal balancing of parts as well as the boring on the aluminum six-cylinder block. Al Robbins of ARC Racing in Brownsburg, Indiana, did the line boring and assembly of the short block, which included using a Moldex 3.5-inch stoke crankshaft, Oliver 6-inch rods, J&E pistons (10:1), and a Crane hydraulic roller camshaft. The final displacement comes in at 281 cubes.
The heads (used on those Indy cars) use a splayed valve configuration and are equipped with stainless steel valves and Crane springs along with Crane roller rockers. Feeding the heads is a Hilborn-type fuel injection that has been converted (with help from Gemini Fuel Injection) to an electronic injection system by Davis that uses a Holley 950 Commander ECU tuned by Prodigious. Ignition is handled by a MSD 6A distributor and Taylor 10mm Pro wires, and the exhaust exits custom headers from Steve Panarites, who also stuffed baffles in the collectors before having the system coated at Pro Coat Indy. Cooling is accomplished with a Stewart aluminum water pump, a SPAL electric fan, and a Saldana radiator and fan shroud. Completing the drivetrain package is a Muncie M20 four-speed manual transmission that is equipped with a Center Force disc and plate and operated via a Hurst Competition Plus shifter.
It's no wonder that, with an engine that is as special and unique as this one, Johnnie chose to build the car around it rather than the other way around. He worked with Mike Ball, who created a special '32 Ford roadster pickup from fiberglass, which was modified by John Mort to include rear wheel wells, a four-inch channel job, and a mini dam, or lip, on the cowl in front of where the windshield would eventually be placed.
The body would fit to a rectangular and round-tube chassis created by Steve Panarites of Steve's Auto Fab in Jamestown, Indiana. Using a 95-inch wheelbase as a guide, Steve pinched the front of the chassis and tapered the rails so they would fit to the custom body. The rear suspension uses a torsion bar and four-link setup (with the top set of arms that run through the body), a set of Pro Shocks, as well as a polished Winters quickchange (3.24:1) fitted with Wilwood disc brakes.
Up front, '41 Ford spindles were used with a Magnum axle, split wishbones, and a pair of Bilstein shocks. In this section the torsion bars run inside the frame rails. A Unisteer rack-and-pinion was also utilized, which points the 140/90-15 Dunlop-wrapped 16x3 Borrani wires (with Hallcraft hubs and stainless steel spokes) down the road. Out back, 16x8 Billet Specialties Dragster wheels are shod in Toyo 275/70-15 rubber.
The rest of the body pieces (after all there aren't that many on this car) include a Brookville Roadsters shell that was shortened by DF Metalworks-the same Huntington Beach, California-based, company that supplied the custom grille. With the body complete, Johnnie was ready to get some color on his car, so he enlisted Jamie Keister of Hot Rod Alternatives in Jamestown, Indiana. Jamie used a House of Kolor Shimrin Silver base and clear covering the exterior and interior, including the '32 Ford roadster-type dash. Johnnie then fab'd an aluminum insert to fit the dash, to which six Stewart Warner Maximum Performance gauges were evenly laid out and wired up using an American Autowire kit installed by the owner.
The door panels are aluminum, too, and were created by Bill Carter (who also made the roll bar for the car) and then anodized by Colors, Inc., of Indianapolis. A Chrysler minivan bench seat, hinged for easy access, was covered in black vinyl by Interior By Ed in Mitchell, Indiana, and they also added the black wool carpet before the Pep Boys seatbelts were added. Johnnie also fab'd the stainless steel steering column, and it's topped by a three-spoke Lobeck's removable steering wheel.
The whole idea for Davis was to build the car from the engine out, with one eye looking to complement the little V-6 with a body that was just the right proportion to its smaller size. Davis points out that this car was not built to any particular time period or era and that it is an accumulation of many hot rods, feelings, and thoughts that he has entertained over the years. We'd say he nailed it!
Borrani wires (16x3 and outfitted...
Borrani wires (16x3 and outfitted with Hallcraft hubs and stainless steel spokes) and 16x14 Billet Specialties Dragster wheels are wrapped in Dunlop 140/90-16 and Toyo 275/70-16 rubber, respectively.
It's not your average V-6....
It's not your average V-6. This odd-fire Chevy 281, mated to a Center Force-equipped Muncie four-speed, uses many parts developed for Chevy's Indy-car program back in the mid-'80s. Inside there is a Moldex 3.500-inch stroke crank, 6.00-inch Oliver rods, special J&E pistons (10:1), and a Crane hydraulic roller camshaft. Up top, a Hilborn-type injection system was converted over to electronic fuel injection by the owner who used a Holley 950 Commander ECU. Steve Panarites created the one-off headers (with baffles tucked inside).
A Winters quickchange (3.24:1)...
A Winters quickchange (3.24:1) works with a set of Pro Shocks and a custom four-link torsion setup that features the top arms running through the body. Wilwood disc brakes are used on each corner. The gas tank was made by Bruce Wright of Muncie, IN.
The front torsion bars are...
The front torsion bars are hidden inside the framerails-part of the custom chassis Steve Panarites created for Davis. A Magnum I-beam axle, a set of Bilstein shocks, and a set of chrome split wishbones complete the suspension package.