Though it's hard to find anyone who was around at the time, when Henry Ford decided to finally update his Model T and debut the Model A in its place it was a pretty big deal. Ford, stubborn until the day he died in 1947, had always been "resistant" to modifying his vehicles just for the sake of the buying public's whims (never mind that other manufacturers were taking customers away from Ford by constantly updating their car lines).
The first Model A debuted on December 2, 1927 and, in each of the next four years, it was refined and improved until the next major model was introduced by the factory on April 2, 1932-the iconic Deuce.
In those years leading up to the Deuce you could find variances in the Model A's design that foreshadowed what was to come, including the windshields on the '31 being laid back a few degrees and a smoothed roofline.
Hot rodders have always wanted to update their rides, too, exemplified by adding '32 radiator shells to their '29s or rounding the hood and door corners on their '50 Chevys. But to take a squarish Model A and massage it to look like a twin brother of the '32 takes a ton of work.
That is what Donnie Hamilton wanted when he dropped off a 1931 Ford coupe to be stylized at Jamie Johnson's shop: Hot Rod Haven in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Johnson, whose hot rod building expertise was revealed on the cover of STREET RODDER (Bruce Burton's maroon '32 three-window in the July '09 issue), is well adept at taking a concept and running with it. The idea behind this build would be to incorporate as many '32 design elements in the Model A as Johnson could.
Because it doesn't have any...
Because it doesn't have any identifying marks, Don is always asked "What is it?" The engine is a '51 331 Cadillac, topped with Cadillac 390 heads and a quartet of Stromberg 97 carbs attached to a Edelbrock CD-694 manifold. The Hidlebrandt valve covers are a nice touch, as in the old Delco-Remy badge on the new PowerGen alternator. To center the mechanical fan in the radiator, Johnson came up with a riser (made from a Flathead mount) and incorporated the thermostat housing into the design.
He started with a SO-CAL Speed Shop '32 frame with a 106-inch wheelbase and then modified it to accept a '32 gas tank between the 'rails out back. A Rodsville quick-change (polished by Joe Vizcarra and outfitted with a vintage Culver City cover) went in, too, as did a Model A spring with reversed eyes. Up front a dropped heavy axle, split '32 'bones, and a reverse-eye spring was installed, and Lincoln drum brakes were added to each corner. For rollers, Firestone-wrapped 16-inch wheels were topped with caps 'n' rings.
The body would receive the majority of the work to get it to look like a '32, though some A-only items, like the windshield visor, was retained, but narrowed and welded to the top. A '32 cowl vent was also sectioned in place and, along with a 3-inch chop, the doors were flush fit. Rounding out the '32 look was the addition of a full-length grille shell (with the insert painted gloss black) and the '32 mirror (which is actually a roadster mirror Johnson likes to use on all the '32 coupes he builds). Johnson, along with his dad, Jim, did all of the bodywork before he sprayed the car with PPG Concept single-stage Lombard Blue paint. With the Pontiac taillights, Guide 682-C headlights, and roll-down rear window glass (courtesy of John Wilson at Trick Glass) in place, the rod was ready for its upholstery.
Inside the five-window the owner slides behind a '40 Ford steering wheel mated to a '46 Ford column. Up on the dash (a '32 roadster item with three-window-style raised sections and glovebox door) a set of five Stewart-Warner gauges, wired up by Al Edwards, tell the driver what's going on. The top section of the dash, which in stock form grows in size toward each side of the car, is now equal width along the entire dash.
Ron Mangus stitched up the cinnamon leather for Don's coupe, covering the Glide Engineering bench seat and door panels in a pleated pattern. Light tan leather, bound with contrasting cinnamon binding, was used on the floor and in the trunk, and Dynamat insulation was used liberally throughout. In another trick for the eye, the third pedal on the far left (usually reserved for a clutch) actually operates the dimmer switch, as the coupe is set up with a TH350 automatic trans.
The '32 cowl vent looks at...
The '32 cowl vent looks at home in the Model A, as does the '32 gas tank between the framerails out back. The roll-down rear window allows the driver to speak with whoever is riding in the rumble seat. In picking a color for his ride, Don didn't have to go any farther than the Ford color chart (Lombard Blue) from 1931. Johnson painted the car with PPG single stage paint.
Steve Silva of Mac's Garage in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, dialed in the trans with a Bendtsen's adapter to accept the '51 Cadillac 331 motor that was bored 0.040 over and fitted with flat-top pistons by the owner. Don also assembled his own motor-something he's liked to do since he was a kid drag racing around Clovis in his early days (think American Graffiti). A Schneider Racing Cams camshaft was also added, as were '61 Cadillac 390 heads. Feeding the beast is a quartet of Stromberg 97 carbs bolted to an Edelbrock CD-694 manifold, and a Roto-Faze distributor with Packard 440 wires supplies ignition.
The headers, handmade from early torque tubes, were fabbed by Johnson and then chromed. Other engine goodies-some for show and some for go-include a beehive oil filter, Hildebrandt valve covers, a PowerGen alternator that looks like a generator (right down to the old Delco-Remy plate riveted in place), and an Eelco fuel block.
Having a hopped-up car has always been Don's dream, and something he was able to fulfill in his younger days. During the time (17 years) he owned a radiator shop, he began building a Model A and was updating it with an IFS/IRS suspension, going all out in order to have a nice driver. But after he sold the radiator shop, he moved to Albuquerque, and started a new business that didn't get off the ground. To save his house, he had to sell his car in 1990, something that he really didn't want to do. It took so much out of him he vowed to never build another hot rod again.
Ron Mangus, located in Rialto,...
Ron Mangus, located in Rialto, CA, cut, stitched, and installed the tan pleated leather in Don Hamilton's Model A, covering everything from the headliner to the Glide Engineering bench seat. Tan carpet covers the Dynamat insulation, and a '40 Ford steering wheel is attached to a '46 shifter column. The dash, besides having a set of five Stewart-Warner gauges set into an engine-turned panel, is from a '32 Ford roadster and includes a glovebox door. Even the dash top piece, which normally gets taller in shape toward its outside edges, was reworked to cleaner dimensions by Jamie Johnson.
But as fate would have it, he started a new business and moved into a new shop, which was right next door to a young kid who was making a name for himself in the New Mexico region building hot rods-Jamie Johnson. The two hit it off, and Don's engine building expertise was often tapped by Johnson while he assembled cars and expanded his own business. Johnson was starting a new Model A rumble seat coupe project for a customer but, after only a week, the coupe owner decided he wanted a roadster instead so Don, with the urging of his wife, Debbie, bought the body and hooked up with Johnson to build it.
Don didn't want anything with a newer look, but something that might have come out the '50s. For an engine, an old Hemi, J-2, Nailhead, or Caddy would be just fine. He started gathering parts for the build and came across a 331 Caddy engine so he bought it. He checked around with some of the old-timers who advised him to make that motor work right, he'd need to find a set of Cadillac 390 heads for it, as the valve size and other improvements would make the engine run better (and Don reports they do).
After picking up his car in SoCal from the upholsterer on move-in day for the '10 Grand National Roadster Show, Don drove directly to the event and displayed his coupe for the first time. It ended up winning First in his class (Early Altered Street Coupe, pre-'35), but as far as Don is concerned, he couldn't be any happier with his Model A, and he's already passing his love for old cars on to his sons. One, Kendall, already drives a '29 sedan while 16-year-old Taylor has his eye on a '27 phaeton in the back of Johnson's shop that might end up fenderless and powered by a 390 Cad. Don considers himself pretty lucky, from coming back from near bankruptcy to being successful businessman, for having Johnson as a next-door neighbor, for having a wife who understands his passions, and to be able to walk out in his garage and find an exceptional Model A coupe waiting for him, and we'd have to agree!