Ronnie Kerr, from Brownsburg, Indiana, Jo's dad, picked him and his mom, Kama, up from the hospital and took them straight to the dragstrip. That was Jo Kerr's first day, and it's been cars and racing ever since. Kama and Ronnie were into cars and had a '27 Chrysler coupe before they ever had Jo. Ronnie was a drag racer and circle track racer while Jo was growing up. Jo was "doomed" and started racing when he was 8 in go-karts and eventually worked his way up to Sprint Cars. After a few years chauffeuring Sprint Cars, Jo decided that he would rather fabricate race cars and hot rods and moved to Indy to run a fabrication shop.
One of the really sweet old-school...
One of the really sweet old-school details is the reversed firewall. The extra clearance allows more room for the '61 Buick Nailhead motor and allows for a little engine setback. Electrics are handled by the Powermaster PowerGen alternator. The carb hats and velocity stacks on top of the Carter marine carbs are made of 6061-T6 aluminum and finished to look like castings.
The spark that lit the desire for Jo to build a hot rod was finding his dad's '27 Chrysler coupe 31 years after his dad parked it in a barn. It was sitting in the same spot after all of those years and had never been touched. Overwhelmed by emotion seeing the car that he had heard about for his entire life, Jo tried to make the '27 his. Long story short, two weeks later that guy decided to build a new car from the body of the '27.
Not getting his dad's old '27 set Jo on a mission to build his own hot rod. He put the word out to his friends and got a good tip on a '30 Model A Ford coupe. It looked pretty good till Jo got the paint off. It had been hit in the rear and needed a lot of work.
Getting all the parts together to build a traditional rod can take a while. Two years went by while Jo and his wife, Connie, were tracking down everything they would need to complete their coupe. During that time, Ryan Schon, Jo's lifelong friend, fixed and fine-tuned all the sheetmetal. Schon always helped Jo during his racing career and did all the painting at Jo's custom bike shop. Schon did everything on the body except the 5-inch top chop, which was handled by the Cincy crew at BSM. Another of Jo's old friends and hot rod buddies, Josh Shaw, handled the graphics and kept Jo on the "right track" during the build.
The frontend features a Model...
The frontend features a Model A crossmember and spring, a 4-inch dropped I-beam axle, and '37-41 Ford spindles. The shocks are Pete & Jakes. The brakes are '46-48 Ford 12-inch-diameter, 1.75-inch-wide drums. The wheels are 16x4 steelies with '40 V-8 caps, and 16x5 Coker Firestone Deluxe Champion tires. The front headlights where a swap meet find. Jo made a sprint-style-inspired front bumper, which is a little tribute to his racing heritage.
Jo picked up a set of American Stamping '32 Ford framerails and rear crossmember; he pinched and boxed the framerails and crossmembers. Jo really got lucky when it came to finding an engine to power his five-window coupe. His friend Mike Whitney had a Buick 401 Nailhead motor just like the one that Jo's parents had in their '27 Chrysler coupe. Nailhead's are one of the most sought-after traditional rod motors. These early overhead valve V-8s made lots of power for their size and weight. After setting the body down on the frame to mock up the engine mounts, he opted to reverse the firewall to gain as much engine set back as possible. Once they fabbed up the engine and trans mounts Jo gave the engine to his father and friend Scott Wibel for the rebuild.
The '61 Buick 401 Nailhead engine came from the factory with a forged steel crank and rods. Ronnie had Dan Kennedy from Milan, Indiana, bore the block 0.030 inch over, and do the rest of the engine's machine work. Ronnie used Jans 12:1 forged pistons with Hastings rings on the rebuild. The cam is an original hand-engraved custom spec Isky cam; it was ground to work with the 1.875-inch intake and 1.5-inch exhaust valves. The heads are stock with Isky valvesprings and stock rockers. The ports in the heads are small but with the right cam these engines produce huge amounts of torque at low rpm. The Offenhauser dual-quad manifold has a special adaptor that Jo made to mount the WCFB Carter marine, 435-cfm, four-barrel carbs. The carbs were a gift and came from a sunken houseboat. The carb hats and velocity stacks were made by Jo out of 6061-T6 aluminum and finished to look like a casting. The valve covers are stock stamped steel painted with the firing order on them. The Vertex mag on Jo's ride works well with Jo's pedal-to-the-metal driving style. Jo made the mount for the Powermaster PowerGen. The pipes are Speedway cone headers that Jo got at a swap meet and cut up to fit the engine. He welded Schoenfeld Shorty mufflers in the headers. The oil pan was enlarged to hold another quart and the water pump is a Buick heavy-duty A/C model.
Jo went dumpster diving, so to speak, for a $150 T5 transmission from a '91 S-10 that runs a stock Buick flywheel and clutch with a Chevy disc. Jo ordered the shortest driveshaft Speedway Motors makes and it was a perfect fit. The custom 9-inch rearend was fabbed by Scott Wible. It supports a limited-slip differential with a 4:10 gear and Moser axles.
The rear suspension is a wishbone triangulated four-link with a transverse '32 rear spring. The shocks are Pete & Jakes while the brakes are '65 Mustang drums. The rear wheels are 16x4-inch steelies with Coker Firestone Deluxe Champion 8.90x16 grooved dirt trackers.
The sparse race-inspired interior...
The sparse race-inspired interior has a super-wide Sprint Car-inspired seating with matching aluminum interior doorskins sporting leather pouches taken from a tool belt. The shifter is made from 1-inch round mild steel machined flat with a groove milled into it. The shifter was bent and drilled and then topped off with a brass shift knob. All the pedals, linkages, bell cranks, and steering column were home fabricated. The dash insert is filled with Stewart-Warner gauges. Hidden in the shadows behind the seat is a four-point 1-1/2-inch chromoly rollbar.
Most of the front suspension came from Thompson's Garage. The axle is a 4-inch dropped I-beam with '37-41 Ford spindles all controlled by Pete & Jakes shocks. The front spring is a cross-mounted '32 Ford resting within a '32 crossmember. The front brakes are '46-48 Ford 12x1-3/4-inch-wide drums. The wheels are 16x4 steelies with '40 V-8 caps wrapped with 16x5 Coker Firestone Deluxe Champion grooved front tires.
Jo twisted into service an F-100 steering box that became a cowl steering unit with a homemade Pitman arm. The steering column was another piece Jo made from aluminum and topped off with one of his old Sprint Car steering wheels. The extra knowledge gained from setting up race cars has helped Jo tune the suspension for a thrilling but surprisingly stable ride.
While the chassis and running gear were perfected, Schon was laying down the Sherwin-Williams black paint on the '32 grille shell and the straightened out '30 Model A coupe body.
The interior is a fabrication wonderment, resulting in seat and door panels fabricated from aluminum and have flanged holes thoughout. The shape and profile of the seat were made to match the seats that Jo once had in his Sprint Car but increasing the width to fill the Model A interior dimensions. The driving position is pretty close to how you would be sitting in a Sprint Car except the seat is laid back a little more. (I was really comfortable in the car and I'm 6 feet, 2 inches tall.) The pedals and shifter are more garage-bound handiwork showing off more of the "hole" theme. The engine-turned-aluminum panel supports four Stewart-Warner gauges, the ignition, and the headlight switch. The door handles and all other hardware is drilled and the bolts are safety wired throughout. The only glass in the car is the windshield and Deuce rearview mirror. The roof is fitted with the correct amount of wood but for now this really is a sun and moon roof! Jo says in the not-too-distant future the sky view will be closed. Getting caught in a downpour a few times with an open roof car and you become a convert.
The throttle linkage is stout...
The throttle linkage is stout and totally adjustable. More of Jo's detail work can be seen on the return spring perches. Jo had to fabricate an adaptor to get the Carter marine carbs to work with the Offenhauser manifold. The cowl steering is based on a modified F-100 box; Jo fabricated the steering arm.
As the project was coming together Jo made sure to enlist a series of little touches that he wanted the coupe to have. The front and rear bumpers have a Sprint Car look to them. The drilled rear bumper features a pushbar and the license plate is mounted in the pushbar area with a Model A taillight right above it. The brass door hinges and shift knob are more subtle touches, while the Josh Shaw pinstriping adds the finishing touch. The finished hot rod has won awards since the day it was done. It won Best Coupe and Best Engine at Cavalcade of Customs in Cincinnati, Ohio; Indy High Winders Pick at World of Wheels in Indianapolis; 2010 Best Hot Rod Dan Webb's Pick at Autorama; Chopped and Dropped pick at Goodguys Indianapolis; Relix Riot at Gilmore Auto Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan. Apparently this car is well liked!
This rod is understated in its beauty. It takes a little while to soak in all the details but it's an enjoyable process. The stance, chop, and wheels are perfect. The Nailhead motor backed with T5 trans and good handling suspension makes this hot rod a driving experience. The details are endless and interesting with a theme that honors Jo's family's lifelong love for racing.