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."
By June he sent it to City Glass & Upholstery for brown vinyl and loop carpets. Barely a month later he debuted the car at the '08 Goodguys West Coast Nationals in Puyallup. The following day we shot the photos, the car still reeking with that new-car smell.
Though the car is practically new, John already has stories. "On Saturday night after Goodguys I was driving home and it started raining," he recalled. "After throwing some nice tall rooster tails all the way home, I pulled it in to the garage. And even though I was soaked and covered in dirt I would not have done it any different. Cars are meant to drive and this one is really fun!"
But probably our favorite goes back to the car's birth. "I was loading it on to a car trailer when some guy walked by and said, 'Why did you buy that thing? You're never going to do anything with it,'" he said. "I wish that ass could see what I did do with it.
Offenhauser still makes the...
Offenhauser still makes the Red Ram 3x2 manifold. This one wears a trio of Holley 94 carburetors. Hot Heads offers adapters to mount a Chevy pump to these engines, but John kept the original since it's up to the task and it serves as the engine mount as well.
By way of Hot Heads parts...
By way of Hot Heads parts and machine work by friend Scott Murray, John rebuilt his 241-inch Dodge Red Ram to 150-horse specs. The intake, re-curved dual-point Chrysler distributor, and the Sanderson headers do give it a bit more beans, though.
City Glass & Upholstery trimmed...
City Glass & Upholstery trimmed the simple plywood seat and laid the carpets. Mike Walter fabricated the dash, including the twin-pod boss for the Classic Instruments All American-series gauges. John used a reproduction '40 wheel on the '64 Falcon column.
John and co-worker Brett Lewis...
John and co-worker Brett Lewis bent the 14-gallon fuel tank on brakes at work and Brett welded it together. John repurposed an old ice chest as the battery box.
The wheels are Wheel Vintiques'...
The wheels are Wheel Vintiques' 10-series Smoothies and the cheater slicks are radial carcasses recapped by Hurst Racing Tires. John dissected the original bed keeping only the stake pockets and hardware. He made the rest.
FACTS & FIGURES
1927 Ford roadster pickup
|Frame ||2x3x.120 wall by owner |
|Wheelbase ||113" |
|Chassis plumbing ||Bundy tube and rubber line |
|Rearend / Ratio ||Ford 9" with 28-spline axles by Mark Williams Enterprises (Louisville, CO) and Yukon limited slip gear carrier by Randy's Ring & Pinion (Everett, WA) / 4.11:1 |
|Rear suspension ||Ladder bars & Panhard rod by Art Morrison (Fife, WA); coil-over dampers by Strange Engineering (Morton Grove, IL) |
|Front suspension ||5" dropped I-beam and hairpins by Pete & Jake's Hot Rod Parts (Peculiar, MO); spindles, oil-filled dampers, and transverse-leaf spring by Total Performance (Lincoln NE) |
|Brakes ||Pedal assembly, dual-circuit aluminum master cylinder, residual and proportioning valves, 11-inch rotors, and four-piston calipers by Wilwood Engineering (Camarillo, CA) |
|Steering box ||'64 Ford Falcon |
|Wheel make, size ||10-series Smoothie by Wheel Vintiques (Fresno, CA) / 14x5 and 15x10 |
|Front tire make, size ||5.60-14 Firestone Deluxe Champion by Coker Tire (Chattanooga, TN) |
|Rear tire make, size ||30x10-15 radial-carcass cheater slick by Hurst Racing Tires, (Oregon City, OR) |
|Gas tank ||14-gallon stainless welded by Brett Lewis |
|Make ||1954 Dodge |
|Displacement ||241ci |
|Machining / Assembly || Machine work Scott Murray (Fife WA) / owner |
|Pistons ||Hypereutectic-cast pistons, 8.5:1 by Egge Machine Co. (Santa Fe Springs, CA) |
|Camshaft ||stock, checked, polished, and reinstalled Polished checked and reinstalled |
|Water pump ||Dodge iron |
|Cooling fan ||14" Mechanical flex fan by Flex-a-Lite (Fife, WA) |
|Radiator || Copper/brass radiator by Vick's Custom Radiator (Deer Lodge, MT) |
|Alternator ||100-amp GM 10SI alternator |
|Manifold / Induction ||Offenhauser / Holley 94 |
|Ignition / Wires ||Chrysler dual-point with custom advance curve by owner / 7mm by Taylor Cable Products (Grandview, MO) |
|Headers ||1 1/2" block-huggers by Sanderson Headers (South San Francisco, CA) |
|Exhaust / Mufflers ||2" stainless by Top gun muffler (Sumner, WA) w/pack-style mufflers by MagnaFlow (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA) |
|Transmission ||'68 GM Powerglide by Puyallup Transmission, Puyallup, WA |
|Shifter ||Lokar Performance Products (Knoxville, TN) |
|Driveshaft || Drivelines Northwest (Fife, WA) |
|Body style / Material ||roadster pickup (Canadian) / steel |
|Grille ||'25-27 Ford style, Howells Sheetmetal (Beaumont, TX) |
|Modifications ||Bed shortened 16"; new bed sides w/original bed hardware & stake pockets |
|Bodywork ||Owner |
|Paint type / Color ||PPG Concept urethane base/clear / Ford Washington Blue |
|Painter ||Mike Walter, Rainier Rod & Custom (Graham, WA) |
|Headlights / Taillights ||'29 Ford / '38-39 Ford |
|Glass ||City Glass & Upholstery (Tacoma, WA) |
|Plating ||Maranatha Plating (Puyallup, WA) |
|Dashboard ||Custom steel by Mike Walter, Rainier Rod & Custom |
|Gauges ||Classic American by Classic Instruments (Boyne, MI) |
|Wiring ||Painless Performance Products (Fort Worth, TX) |
|Steering wheel ||'40 Ford, Streamline Hot Rod Parts (Denver, CO) |
|Steering column ||'64 Ford Falcon |
|Seats ||Stock Ford riser, plywood base & back |
|Upholsterer ||City Glass and Upholstery (Tacoma, WA) |
|Material / Color ||Vinyl / brown |
|Carpet ||Brown closed-loop |