The roots of hot rodding extend back to the ’30s. By the ’40s, it was a fast-growing phenomenon, especially around Los Angeles where the climate provided perfect year-round playing-with-your-car weather and the dry lakes on the nearby edge of the Mojave Desert provided a playground. But as soon as the United States entered the Second World War at the end of 1941, the popular new pastime hit the brakes. The shortage of supplies and the immediate demand for war materials—not to mention the fact that many of the young men who had been contributing to the growth of hot rodding were overseas serving in the military—led to a dry period for the hobby.
Fred Ruth was 11 or 12 years years old during that time, too young to drive and too young for military service, but just the right age to start messing around with cars. The fact that hot rod activity had slowed down didn’t affect his enthusiasm. His first motorized toys were Cushman scooters. His first car was a soon hot-rodded ’33 Plymouth five-window coupe. By the mid ’50s, hot rodding was more popular than ever. Fred, married with three young sons, got involved in Quarter Midget racing and began his own company building them called Pacemaker Quarter Midgets. When that lost popularity, Fred started a metal fabrication business and an auto parts store. He later raced Indy cars. Through it all, Fred was building hot rods. Now on the verge of his 80th birthday, he still is. The car you’re looking at is Fred’s latest, probably number 50 or 60 on the lifelong list that has included just about everything.
After the LS-powered, Kugel-chassised ’32 Dearborn Deuce he built with his youngest son, Larry (of Larry Ruth Engineering), was totaled, Fred wanted a project that wouldn’t require nearly as much time or money. He told us he saw an ad for Factory Five Racing’s (FFR) ’33 Hot Rod on the pages of this magazine and thought it would be fun to build one. His middle son, Dan, got on board with the project, but before making the commitment, father and son traveled to Massachusetts to check out the FFR factory and meet owner Dave Smith in person. Back at Dan’s shop in Litchfield Park, Arizona, they inventoried what had been supplied by Factory Five and began work on the build.
The FFR ’33 is lower and wider than the ones built in Dearborn 78 years ago. Several coupe and roadster variations are offered by the manufacturer, but the Ruths mixed things up a little by modifying a coupe top for use with a roadster windshield. They also lowered the headlights and recessed them into the front fenders, bobbed the rear fenders, and added a pair of Rodworx ’42-48 Ford-style LED taillights. Southern Rods provided the turn signal outside mirrors. Fred says they spent 21 days (in 100-degree-plus heat) to complete the fiberglass work prior to paint. The color is GM Victory Red from Spies Hecker; Ivan’s Auto Body in Laveen, Arizona, invited Dan to use its spray booth to shoot the basecoat and clear finish.
The original plan for the powertrain was to use a new 5.7L or 6.2L Dodge Hemi, until a friend stepped forward with a 119,000-mile ’96 Lincoln Mark VIII for sale for $1,000. As Fred says, “The hot rod Lincoln was born!”
The most distinguishing components of the FFR ’33 chassis are the inboard coilover shock setup and tubular control arms. For rear suspension, the company offers a four- or three-link solid axle rear suspension, but Fred chose neither in favor of building an independent assembly, using most of the complete brake-to-brake rearend assembly from the Mark VIII. A Wilwood master cylinder controls the Lincoln rear brakes and the 11-inch PBR front brakes. Fred and Dan decided to add airbags to change the stance of the ’33 with the push of a button and Jason and Jeremy at RideTech developed a system specifically for the Hot Rod Lincoln.
A faux quick-change cover from Speedway Motors covers the 3.27-gear rearend. The rearend assemby measures 58 inches hub to hub to allow room for the combo of 20x12 Billet Specialties Legacy 2-G five-spokes and 305/35ZR20 Goodyear Eagle radials. Proportionally smaller 18x8 rims and 245/35ZR18 tires roll under the front fenders.
Using a Ford or Chevy OHV engine would have simplified the build. Even one of those Hemis might have made things easier, but for Fred and Dan the Italian-block 32-valve four-cam 4.6L engine and accompanying 4R70W electronic four-speed out of the Mark VIII was a unique choice. Every inch of the engine was, even though the engine required a lot of fabrication to make it fit, look, and work right.
The intake system in particular required many modifications; the Ruths handbuillt a custom plenum and massaged the OEM valve covers. “We didn’t want the hollow tube ring you get with tubular headers,” Fred says, so they went online to find some ’03 Ford Cobra headers, which were ported, polished, and ceramic coated. The 2-1/2-inch stainless pipes were modified to fit the lowered engine and fitted with turbo-style mufflers and hand-formed exhaust tips. Transmission housing mods included the removal of undesired bosses in addition to extensive other cutting, grinding, and polishing.
The cockpit is a combination of FFR design and Fred and Dan Ruth’s imagination. The ’glass FFR dash was modified with a Parr Automotive insert housing Auto Meter gauges from the American Platinum line. At each end are vents for the Southern Air A/C system, which runs off the compressor from the donor Lincoln. Dan installed the Kenwood head unit and the speakers for the sound system and wired the car using wiring from Ron Francis. The Detail Zone supplied a Telorvek system loom for engine, trans, and other functions, connecting the OEM controls to a common panel. Dan also built the custom console where the controls for the air, stereo, and airbags are mounted. A pair of ’04 Volkswagen Jetta buckets were upholstered in tan vinyl at Nacho’s near Fred’s home in North Hills, California.
Skeptics who doubt a street rod like this ever gets driven should get on their hands and knees and peek above the rearend cover where a hidden hitch receiver has been added for towing the small fiberglass trailer that hauls Fred’s luggage during road trips. We met Fred during the 2010 Road Tour from Louisville to Bonneville and wouldn’t be surprised to see him out there again on one of this year’s tour legs. After all, when you’ve been doing this stuff since the early days, like Fred has, it’s hard to stop.