It is truly amazing when you start to figure out how many hot rods that start out one way end up going in a totally different direction before getting finished. The number has to be in the high 90 percentile. That fact in itself is not a bad thing, unless someone gets caught up in a multi-year build and ends up with a mis-match of parts and themes. But the ability to refine and adapt as you go along usually means you're thinking about what your car is going to look like when you're done, and by staying focused it usually works out in the end.
The problem is when you're a rather creative individual, it's hard to leave well enough alone and just build a car but, when you have tied your livelihood into the project too, well then it's darn near impossible not to fiddle around with what's in front of you.
Such is the case with Alan and Angie Johnson, who run the well-known Johnson's Hot Rod Shop in Gadsden, Alabama. We say well-known because if you've been following hot rodding at all in the past 15 years you've either read about or seen at least one of their cars. A builder of last year's Ridler winner and recipient of multiple "Street Rod of the Year" accolades as well as many automotive magazine articles and covers, the varied cars that come out of the Johnson facility all have one thing in common: They are stylish.
But in an effort to educate his wife, Angie, on what it really takes to put a hot rod together, Alan Johnson worked out a plan for her to help build a highboy roadster that would eventually be used as her everyday car-something that could be driven without any worries that a more delicate high-maintenance machine might have. Angie also wanted to learn about rods as she didn't like being left out of the conversations when her husband would talk business. Plus she felt she needed to be better educated on how all the parts worked together when she would talk about parts to customers on the phone. When the project started, she took an active interest in welding by watching the guys in the shop, and then she picked up a MIG gun and learned how to do it (and liked it!).
When we asked Alan to describe how this car came about, and how it changed along the way, this is what he told us: "It was going to be a training tool to help Angie, and my parts manager, Shane, become more familiar with the parts and the processes required to build a car. They helped with the initial planning of the car, working at night and on the weekends for a couple of months during the initial mock up of the car. But, as it normally happens, all of our customers' cars took priority over any work happening on our own roadster. As the car sat with no work being done to it, the more I looked at it the more the original plan of building a simple Deuce roadster changed. I could see several unique parts being developed for the car and, in turn, making the parts into production pieces for us to sell. These items would set the car apart so it wouldn't be just another black '32 roadster, and they would have to maintain a traditional look and feel to go along with the build style of the car.
"The ideas started with the front radius rods. I saw the parts could be machined from billet aluminum, but made to look like an original wishbone that had been split with the seams welded and holes added. We made a couple of trips to Monterey, California, for the annual Pebble Beach Concourse and the historic races at Laguna Seca. I had seen several late '30s to early '50s European race cars and sports cars that had several items that I wanted to incorporate into our roadster.
"The road race tires on most of these cars had the same overall width and height of a Firestone or BFGoodrich bias-ply (that you would find on any traditional hot rod) but the tread pattern and sidewall had a very different look. Most of these tires are no longer available or, if they were, were not DOT legal for street use. When I first saw the Excelsior tire from Coker Tires I knew that was the tire I wanted to run.
"The hood louver idea came from the late-'30s Alfa Romeo, which had long tapered louvers in the hood top and sides. The first time I saw one I wondered why no one had ever done this with a '32 Ford. Later, I found out why, after Angie and I punched the louvers on the Pullmax it flattened out the hood top. The only way to get the correct curvature back was with hours-make that days-of hammering and stretching the louvers to allow the hood to go back to its natural shape.
"The nickel plating influence also came from these cars, and on Angie's roadster this was expertly handled by Jon Wright's Custom Chrome in Grafton, Ohio. Most of the European race cars I'd seen used either nickel or some type of bluing for a finish on any suspension or chassis part. Other influences came from the Doane Spencer roadster. I like the overall look of the Spencer roadster with the bobbed rear and no fuel tank, but I didn't want a rolled rear pan. I like the low-slung look of some of the channeled dry lakes roadsters, but I didn't want to lose the framerail detail or have the tire higher than the wheelwell arch just to get the right stance.
"I thought if the frame was kicked up in the rear to nearly touch the rear body panel it would get the car sitting lower with the tall rear tires. Then the 'rails could be bobbed and I could fab a curved spreader bar that matched the shape of the rear body panel to finish off the rear without using a roll pan, and small corner pieces could be made to finish off the outer framerail to the lower quarter-panel. This led to raising the rear wheelwells 2 inches and moving them forward about an inch to keep the area between the main body line and the wheel opening body line from getting cramped.
"The '36 roadster dash-to-door sweep is a copy from the Spencer car also. The elongated vent in the seat was something I saw in an early '50s Ferrari race car, and the leather strap for the hood side was also from the same car. I wanted something different for the interior of this car and I knew I wanted a minimal amount of material. The painted border on all of the interior panels comes from a '60s-era VW.
"When all of this was being fabricated I didn't know what I would do with the insert panels as I really didn't want to upholster them, so that was left for later as the car was being completed. Before the car was finished I saw a new Harley-Davidson Road Glide motorcycle that had a flat finish unlike anything I had ever seen, and it had the feel of rubber or velvet. After doing some research I found the supplier for the clear, which was called velvet touch. It worked out well giving a different texture to the inserts without covering them in cloth or leather. The dash concept was to use early '50s Ford components, including a '52-53 Ford gauge cluster (reworked by Classic Instruments), along with some raised detail areas around it the way a '32 three-window had, and making one of the raised details a glovebox door.
"The steering wheel design is a combination of many late-'30s European cars, as a lot of them had the multi-leaf-type spokes and most had a wooden ring. I liked the look of the center hub that I'd seen on a '30s Talbot Lago, but I wanted the painted grip and hub look of the late '30s to early '40s Ford steering wheels. And this wheel is one of the items we developed to sell over-the-counter at our shop. The rear sway bar comes from these same cars. Most of the street rod sway bars are too narrow to work well and the look doesn't belong on a traditional car. These race cars had splined sway bars that were as wide as the chassis and mounted as wide as possible to the straight axle. I just designed a splined sway bar arm that complemented all of the other suspension parts with the holes. The sway bar connector links-another item we now sell-are the same dog bone shape as the stock '32 Ford shock links."
The roadster body itself came new from Brookville Roadsters, but in pieces rather than as a complete unit. That way Alan had a chance to rotate and move the quarter-panels the way he wanted before he assembled the body. Along with the work to sweep the door tops onto the dash top, the dash was lengthened top to bottom to accommodate the larger instrument cluster. All of the metal fabrication was done in-house by Johnson crew members Tony Inman, Cirilo Garcia, Galdino Garcia, and Alan Johnson, with special metal finishing accomplished by Anthony Myrick.
The chassis uses American Stamping 'rails and boxing plates, but the 'rails are pinched at the cowl, the framehorns thinned up front, and the rear section kicked, shortened, and reshaped. The front crossmember is flat, while the center crossmember is made from 1 1/2-inch round tube with integrated driveshaft loops added. A Posies Model A rear crossmember was also used in conjunction with one of their Super Slider Model A springs, and it's the same type of spring used up front.
Other steering and suspension parts consist of a Borgeson box, Super Bell spindles, a Magnum 5-inch dropped axle, Pete & Jakes shocks up front and Bilsteins out back. Alan made (and now sells) his own aluminum radius rods, which not only come pre-drilled with lightening holes but one specifically placed so you can slide a tie rod through to connect the spindles. Heath Griffin had done all the machining on these parts when they were being developed, and they're now offered through their Perfection Hot Rod Parts by the Alan Johnson line. The 15x5 and 16x7 steel wheels came from Wheel Vintiques, and are wrapped with Coker/Excelsior rubber, and are topped with '39 Ford hubcaps.
The upside to building a car like this is you get to experiment with design and see how all these different elements look together. The down side is the original concept for the car, to build a simple everyday roadster for Angie, went out the door many months ago. But the finished product has garnered a lot of attention for Alan and his shop, and we know Angie is already looking for another project to call her own. The '32 Ford roadster is her favorite car, and the three things she wanted in a roadster (a Flathead motor, steel wheels, and a Rodwell windshield) all came to fruition, but the rest of the car exceeded everyone's imagination. So she hasn't given up on having her own roadster, but she knows it just may take a little more time to build just a simple one.
Alan developed many parts...
Alan developed many parts to sell at his shop while building this car, including the drilled aluminum radius rods (items featured in a tech article in the February '10 issue of STREET RODDER). The single leather hood strap idea was a design Alan had seen on early European race cars.
Another set of Johnson-drilled...
Another set of Johnson-drilled aluminum radius rods were used out back along with a Winters V-8 quick-change, Dutchman axles, and Bilstein shocks. The framerails came from American Stamping but were heavily modified to fit this custom application. Check out the 1 1/2-inch crossbracing to add structural support to the body.
The drilled-out shifter is,...
The drilled-out shifter is, of course, a custom item, but look at the extra metalwork done on the trans tunnel. The wood floor will be stained and not covered with any kind of carpet. Note the recess in the door and kick panels-similar to that found on early '50s Volkswagens-which will be painted to match the car.
At first glance you may think...
At first glance you may think '32 roadster dash, but this one is custom-made a bit longer to accommodate the '52 Ford instrument cluster. The steering wheel is reminiscent of a '30s Italian race car, but the ring and hub will be painted to match the car. The floor is made of poplar wood, and has recesses cut into it for flush-mount floor mats, which will be covered in saddle leather.
The bench seat, created and...
The bench seat, created and covered with Nubuck leather by Paul Atkins, is patterned after some early Ferrari race cars Alan and Angie had seen on trips to the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in recent years.
Commerical '33 Ford headlights...
Commerical '33 Ford headlights from Vintique hang off the frame with modified SO-CAL stands and a custom Johnson tie bar. The brakes are SO-CAL finned aluminum faux drums covering the disc brake system inside.
The Rodware windshield looks...
The Rodware windshield looks like it could have come off a '38 Alfa Romeo and makes the car look like it's going fast even when standing still.
Rather than have a rolled...
Rather than have a rolled rear pan Alan chose to fab a 2 1/2-inch stainless steel spreader bar to match the curvature of the rear body panel. The custom aluminum license plate frame also follows the curve of the rear body panel.
Alan noticed a fair amount...
Alan noticed a fair amount of nickel plating was featured on those European racers from decades past, and he used it wherever he could, including the flip-top gas filler mounted just behind the driver's shoulder.
Starting with a '51 Ford truck...
Starting with a '51 Ford truck motor, a SCAT 4 1/4-inch crank, Ross pistons, SCAT rods, and an Isky 400JR camshaft was used as a base for the roadster's engine. A trio of Stromberg 97 carbs feed the Flattie, and an MSD ignition system with Blaster coils deliver the spark. Exhaust exits through Fenton headers that have been porcelain-coated by Capp's. The engine was assembled by Keith Dorton of Automotive Specialists Racing Engines (Concord, NC) and the Flathead is backed to a Tremec T5 trans equipped with a '50 Merc bellhousing adapter from Cornhuskers, a McLeod clutch, and an aluminum flywheel.
Just a '32 Ford roadster?...
Just a '32 Ford roadster? Not in the least. The more you look the more you find.
Greg Chalcraft, Anthony Myrick,...
Greg Chalcraft, Anthony Myrick, and Wesley Johnson performed their body and paint magic (Glasurit BASF black) on the roadster.