Matt Giarratano already had a nice coupe in the garage when he decided he "wanted to know how it felt to drive and own a roadster." Now, Matt not only knows how it feels to drive and own a roadster, he knows how it feels to build one-and it's all because of this homebuilt, channeled 1929 Ford roadster pickup.
Collecting and assembling parts from the aftermarket is not a bad way to build a hot rod, but Matt took a more "old-school" approach to his project-picking up parts at swap meets as much as possible.
Matt found the '29 several years ago at the L.A. Roadsters Show swap meet-most of the bigger pieces anyway-which has row after row of raw material waiting to be turned into something cool. "At the time it was a bed, body, and the perimeter of a square tubular frame in pieces. The front cowl was a '29 and the body and doors were stretched 3 inches. As I looked at it, I started to see in my imagination how I would begin to build it. I made a deal and took it home."
Before getting after the sheetmetal that ignited the project, Matt built a custom frame from 2x4-inch tubing with round tubing for the crossmembers. "I wanted the truck to sit low-so a friend of mine, Gary Timm, helped me Z the frame a whopping 10 inches." When Matt finished work on the frame, another friend, Jack Calafato, took it to his shop to start working on the paint. Calafato painted the chassis while Matt worked on the body, swapping back and forth to move the buildup forward.
The front was further lowered using a 4-inch dropped I-beam axle from Super Bell with Mr. Roadster spindles. Matt added a transverse spring, Pro Shocks tubular shocks, and a homemade Panhard bar. A 40-inch ladder bar locates the Ford 8-inch rearend from a scrap yard '77 Granada. Matt says these 51-inch-long rearends are just the right fit for a Model A. A bolt-on Panhard and QA1 shocks wrap up the rear. The front brakes are Wilwood finned discs; Ford drums were retained in the rear. The Vega-style steering box is from Flaming River. Matt located the steel 16-gallon fuel tank in the bed.
With the chassis completed, Matt channeled the swap meet steel body 3 inches over the 'rails, and finished the exterior with a '32 Ford grille, Dietz headlights, '50 Pontiac taillights, and repro mirrors. He cut the bed 3 inches as well to maintain the proportions. "I wanted the style to look like back in the day, when they used the term 'glamorizing your hot rod,' so I came up with the idea of making some front and rear nerf bars." Chrome pieces, including the rear nerf bar crown, were finished at Equality Plating Company. The crown was a belt buckle, and a swap meet find that Matt put to better use. Calafato performed some final sheetmetal work before spraying the DuPont paint. The tan is Buckskin, a '61 Dodge color.
Chrome center caps set off the Ford Thunderbird wire wheels, painted to match the engine block and axle. Matt chose 15x7s and 15x6s, with Coker Firestone 8.90-15 and 6.70-15 bias-ply whitewalls to keep the period feel.
"My plan was to build a late '50s, early '60s rod, so it had to have a vintage engine. I was thinking Caddy motor," Matt says. His friend Jamie Macrakin, provided the lead on a '59 390 that he scooped up for $150. Machining and assembly was done at Wholesale Machine in San Diego, California. To continue the period appearance, Matt dressed up the engine with a pair of finned aluminum Offenhauser valve covers and helmet air cleaners on the triple Holley 94 carburetors. It took him a while to locate the Edelbrock three-pot aluminum intake he needed. He finally located one by accident. When talking to a friend about it at a swap meet, his friend's friend overheard and told Matt that he had the manifold he was looking for hanging on a nail in his garage. The exhaust manifold is the stock '59 Cadillac piece. Matt built the side pipes from some old-style lakes pipes he had in his own garage, and added a pair of Glasspack Blue Streak mufflers for the proper tone.
Fitting the Cadillac onto the 'rails required making new radiator mounts, sliding them forward to fit the stock fan and the engine between the firewall and the Walker radiator. A Wilcap adapter matches the 390 to the Turbo 350 transmission. Although he wanted an automatic trans, he also wanted the looks of a stick shift, so a Gennie automatic shifter was the answer. The devil shifter knob is yet another swap meet specimen, thumbing its nose at the Stewart-Warner Wings gauges in the Auburn-style Parr dash insert inside a homemade Deuce-style dash. Gary Timm contributed the '51 Merc steering wheel, restored in Matt's garage and mounted on a column from The Hot Rod Company. Robert Ortiz in San Diego used red and white vinyl to transform an old Ford van bench into a '50s-style roadster seat-and covered the inside panels to match. Wiring duties were handled by Paul Dunn, and Bob Lindeken handled the glass.
It took about two-and-a-half years for Matt to get the roadster pickup on the street. "What really helped me stay focused on the project was a little saying: Dream it, build it, drive it." Matt's enjoying the "drive it" portion of that little proverb now, but told us that he's already made some progress on the "dream it" and "build it" stages of his next project.