You couldn't tell by walking the aisles of a modern car show, but the hot rod originated as the alternative to spending a lot of money. It gave a bucks-down kid the opportunity to pit his ingenuity against dollars: An old cast-off car was cheap, and with sweat equity and an engine swap it could be made fast for not a lot of money. Roundly dismissed as beaters, they offered something that no showstopper ever could: unadulterated, juvenile, tire-frying, donut-spinning fun.
Many say that cost and availability have all but killed the beater, but a few continue to prove them wrong. Josh Martinson is one of those few. We propose that his '31 Ford pickup is pretty faithful to those original hot rods, at least in its philosophy. Hear us out.
The pickup began as a dream and a $250 body. "It was rough, rusty, and disassembled, but it came with some replacement panels and a new wood kit," he said. "Because the body was so beat up, I figured the military theme would work well--as if it were built by a hot rodder returning from service and had brought parts back with him." And thus began his low-cost quest.
Because the body didn't have a frame and a new one cost less than buying, boxing, and building crossmembers for an old one, he started with a bare Total Cost Involved Engineering Model A chassis with a 4-inch rear kick-up. The Super Bell axle is a fraction of the cost of a stretched Ford, and the F-1 spindles and their self-energizing brakes are practically giveaways compared to earlier passenger-car spindles and non-servo brakes. Including the bungs and tie-rod ends it takes to split them, '35-and-later wishbones cost less than even the cheapest hairpins. Vega steering boxes are now more affordable than F-1s, and the cross-steer arrangement they encourage doesn't bumpsteer. About the only expense Josh spared was the monoleaf spring, but it's hardly a premium over a conventional reversed-eye spring.
We love small-block Chevrolets...
We love small-block Chevrolets because; A) they're cheap, B) they go fast real easy, and C) they make snobs whine. This one's a standard rebuild with hogged-out 327 swap-meet heads, a no-name cam, and a mild Edelbrock/Holley induction system.
The rear suspension is a little less conventional but every bit as frugal. Most people overlook them, but the axle that came under compact 4x2 Toyota pickups from the '70s to the mid '90s have a stout 8-inch ring gear, 11-inch brakes, and a popular 5x4 1/2-inch bolt pattern. They're the same width as the most popular Ford units, they came from the factory with gear ratios from 3.15:1 to 4.88:1, and a healthy aftermarket offers a wide array of limited-slip and locking differentials. Since the one under Josh's didn't cost much more than its weight in scrap metal, he invested the savings on a Pete & Jake's ladder-bar setup. He saved even more by using a cast-off front spring from a '40s-era Lincoln.
Say what you will about a small-block Chevy being ordinary, but the cost of the rebuilt 350 in Josh's car came in less than the core value of its exotic alternatives. And with nothing more than 2,000 pounds to push around, it's plenty adequate with a mild cam, carb, and intake. The TH400 it bolts to is so low-buck that Josh doesn't even know who rebuilt it.
Josh is a tall guy, but the biggest of the Model A pickup cabs is a short order. So instead of chopping the top, a slice that would easily eat up more than 5 inches to make it look right, Josh channeled the cab 4 inches. Rather than find and repair old door latches, Josh turned to the industrial hardware market for universal rotary latches, parts usually marked up and re-sold as bear-claws in our hobby. He also filled the window channels.
Pickups from this era had cloth tops, so Josh fabricated passenger car-style side panels and spanned the gap between them with OD-green canvas. Legend has it that Josh hand-rubbed each of the 40 coats of paint it took to achieve such a deep luster. Okay, so we're jiving you; Josh really used cheap alkyd enamel, but he did admit to using the finest brush he could find.