While superlatives are pretty easy to come by when discussing Tom Lieb's latest vehicle-a vintage Model A roadster reworked at SO-CAL Speed Shop-it's a bold statement to just come out and say it's the "ultimate" Model A.
Most folks can come up with examples of stunning Model A roadsters from all across the time spectrum (such as the AMBR-winning Niekamp roadster, the Barris-built Ala Kart, or even Rich Guasco's purple roadster) but Lieb's car is different-really different.
Part of what makes it different is the guy who owns it. Lieb grew up in the early '60s in Inglewood, California, just down the street from Iskendarian's cam-grinding business, and not too far from the automotive factories that covered the area. Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler all had manufacturing plants there, as well as some of the smaller auto companies. In 1958, at age 17, Tom bought a Model A roadster (the very one pictured here). Though the purchase of the car was kept from his parents, Tom rented a small garage from an old lady who didn't have a car so he could properly store and work on the car.
Always interested in performance, Tom looked around to see who was selling what and, after seeing how one company was able to take used cranks from the Big Three, add counterweights, and resell them to hot rodders, Lieb thought he could do the same. He befriended all of the wrecking yard owners and recyclers in the region and, when he wasn't going to them to pick up engines and transmissions, he'd have them delivered to his house where he lived with his parents. Trucks would pull up and began dropping off complete Hemis and other drivetrain components that he'd bought at discount and would eventually resell.
The new hood is 3 inches over...
The new hood is 3 inches over a stock Model A's hood length of 28 1/2 inches. Shine created the two-piece hood tops with a large piano-style hinge, and had Rootlieb louver custom sides with a '33-style louvers, which follow the arc of the '29's coachline.
Eventually he needed to set up a business, and in the early '60s he created SCAT Enterprises, which today is one of the largest manufacturers of performance crankshafts in the world. The '60s was a great time to be in the performance engine business, and Tom remembers meeting just about anyone you can name in drag racing at one time or another (Lieb remembers selling Keith Black engine parts when Keith was still a Snap-On tool salesman, and he supplied Don Garlits a Hemi after he blew one up on his first trip to California, to name just two).
While his business took off, Lieb also became interested in all sorts of cars, including brass-era American cars as well as European exotics. Finding each and every car interesting, Lieb absorbed whatever he could about as many different types of cars he came across. The interest begat collecting cars, plus the parts and pieces for all of these odd and rare cars-a habit that continues to this day, nearly 50 years later.
Having known Pete Chapouris back when he started Pete & Jakes in the '70s and keeping track of him after he started SO-CAL Speed Shop in the '90s, Lieb felt comfortable in giving Pete the job to paint two of his more prized possessions: a Wills Sainte Claire roadster and a four-door sedan.
St. Claires were only manufactured between 1921 and 1927 in Marysville, Michigan, and few examples survive today. The two Lieb owns are exceptional in their restoration, which helped him win their class at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 2000 and 2001.
The radiator grille and shroud...
The radiator grille and shroud were severely redesigned. The shell was fabricated with a "widow's peak" ridge at the top to accent the hood hinge (right where the original filler neck was located). The shell was also shortened 2 inches and then thinned at its base so it wouldn't look too bulky. The shroud helps direct the flow of air pulled through the radiator by the engine's mechanical fan, and you can see some of the rivets used in the construction-a theme repeated throughout the car.
So when it came time for Lieb to finally rebuild the Model A that Lieb had owned for nearly 50 years, Chapouris got the nod. Pete hooked Lieb up with his main creative fabricator and head "imagineer" Jimmy Shine.
Shine and Lieb hit it off, with Lieb then showing up at the shop every Thursday morning during the build to discuss what had been finished from the previous week, discuss what will happen in the next week, and to go through a new box of parts Lieb would bring over to see if they could be incorporated into the build. Chapouris also consulted on the build, dipping into his vast history with hot rods as well as remembering how important it was to keep proportions a part of the build formula, as they can either make or break the look of a hot rod. On the build end, SO-CAL's Richie Noguiera helped out in the fabrication department, working alongside Shine, as there was just so much on this car to get done.
The car is a conglomeration, but rather than a mismatched collection of items that don't go together, these pieces from different automotive eras fit together like they were made for each other. The ultimate example in the "form following function" theory, this car looks like it could have been designed in the early '30s with all of the best stuff available at the time. Check out the following photos and see just how different it really is.