Ever bit off more than you could chew? Sure you have. You're reading this, which means you're into old cars. And if you haven't noticed already, old cars rank somewhere around investment-bank bailouts on the rationality scale, which is to say that we often try to fix our poor judgment by throwing more money at the problem.
John Bolen was on the threshold of blazing a trail of diminishing returns when he stumbled upon the seeds of his roadster pickup. "I found the car at an estate sale," he reflected. And by car he means a '27 Ford roadster body, a couple of doors, and remnants of a pickup bed. "It was rusting away out in a field under a lean-to with a couple of bullet holes in it." Imagine his wife Rheanna's surprise.
But John has the benefit of learning from others' mistakes: he comes from an old car/hot rod family. In fact, his dad, Bruce Bolen, built the red '63 Galaxie we featured in the July '08 issue. And judging by the quality of that car, the Bolen family has learned a thing or two over the years.
Those cars are as philosophically and stylistically different from one another as they can get, but they have one element in common that prevented them from going up in a pile of flaming dollar bills: simplicity. Bruce's car is basically a restored car with the right wheels and a hot engine. John's car is barely more than wheels and an engine.
As simple as any car is, the path to build any car is still fraught with potential peril. Take the engine, for example. "I was driving out in the hills and found an old wrecking yard with a '53 Plymouth sitting under a tree," he said. Of all the luck, it was one of the few Mayflowers adorned with sister company Dodge's Red Ram Hemi engines. "The guy wanted to sell the car but I talked him into pulling the motor and delivering it to me for $500.
"That's where the fun started," John noted. "I found out that 241 parts aren't the cheapest things in the world." But at Hot Heads Hemi Research & Racing, he found Bob Walker's shoulder to cry upon. "He started mailing me everything I needed. I sent the engine to a buddy, Scott Murray, for the machining."
Even though it's a Hemi, a basically stock 241-inch Dodge backed by a Powerglide makes not a ferocious animal. So that let John build a very simple frame from .120-wall 2x3 tubing. How's this for simplicity: He and friend Kurt Dickman built it on sawhorses at Kurt's shop.
John suspended the front with a spring-behind Total Performance hairpin kit, and to keep the costs down he employed a cast-off '64 Falcon steering box. He did use a 9-inch, and to make the most of the deep 4.11:1 gears he equipped it with a limited-slip gear carrier and linked it to the chassis with Art Morrison ladder bars. The Hurst cheater slicks don't hurt, either.
"Then I moved the project home to my dad's shop in the fall of 2006, and he and I set about finishing every thing from the brakes to the firewall to the cross members and suspension," John said. With help and encouragement from his brother Brian Bolen and friends Bud and Blaine Wolfe, Devin Froud, Mike Auckland, and Tom Hindman, the duo fabricated the parts to mock up the car. Brett Lewis welded up the 14-gallon stainless tank that he and John brake-bent at work during lunch breaks.
The following spring they pulled it apart and headed off to Mike Walter's Rainier Rod & Custom. "We painted the frame and dad and I got the rolling chassis together, and in November '07 we painted the body at Mike's and mounted it to the frame. That winter we put the finishing touches on it, wired it all up, and had it running and driving by April '08."
John recalled the day he took it off the jack stands and backed it into the driveway. "We were having a light snow flurry, but it didn't matter because I had just finished my car and it was time to drive it. I was so stoked it didn't even matter whether it was snowing or not."