Things are changing at the Grand National Roadster Show. Have you noticed? In the past few years, the influence of street rodding’s roots has started seeping more and more into the most prestigious level of GNRS competition: America’s Most Beautiful Roadster.
The change we see has nothing to do with the quality of the roadsters, which has always been excellent. It’s about their style. Most of the complaints we’ve been hearing are about the AMBR finalists and winners drifting too far in the direction of futuristic styling changes that camouflage the classic beauty of the cars—you know, the thing that makes us like hot rods. Now the trend is moving toward modifications that may look contemporary, but that reflect the time-honored design of cool old cars.
To see what we mean, look no further than this full-fendered 1934 Ford roadster. Daryl Wolfswinkel’s roadster is the successful link between high tech and old style. It’s not a period-correct replica rod from pick-your-favorite-decade, or a complete reinvention of a street rod. It’s not going to appeal to every taste, but it is probably the most universally appreciated AMBR winner in recent memory.
The now-you-see-’em-now-you-don’t headlights attach with two-prong aircraft plugs fastened with a retainer nut to upright stands, which are mated to the radiator mount inside the sheetmetal. Boyd Coddington built that 30 years ago. Removing the headlights at the GNRS took about two minutes, but had people in Pomona talking all weekend, and online for weeks.
The roadster features an original ’34 body on original ’34 ’rails, built almost 80 years ago by employees of Henry Ford. We can’t tell you much about the first half century of the car’s history, but in the early ’80s, it showed up at the Pomona swap meet at the L.A. County Fairplex. At the time, Daryl was a partner with Squeeg Jerger at Squeeg’s Hot Rod Connection in Arizona. He saw the car, bought it, and brought it back to Squeeg’s where it began its transformation.
The foundation was laid by boxing the factory framerails, but the front and rear suspension is anything but stock. Squeeg called on long-time friend Charlie Hopkins to install a Kugel Komponents, Jag-style independent front and rear suspension. Wheel choice was a set of 14- and 15-inch Mehelichs. A Chevy small-block engine provided power, paired with an automatic transmission.
The seat, built by Gabe Lopez,...
The seat, built by Gabe Lopez, has the look of a pair of custom buckets squeezed into a single bench. Check out the baseball stitching around the seat bottom and down the center of the seat back.
The roadster went to Kenny Gartman, who replaced the structural wood with steel and wedge channeled the body over the ’rails for a perfect rake. With the metal shaped up, Terry Hegman straightened the cowl line and created a hood top and sides. Dan Fink contributed the functional hood side scoops, hinge assemblies, and grille insert (one of his first). Boyd Coddington fabricated the upright headlight stands hidden inside the body. Dietz headlights were mounted with two-prong aircraft plugs. Before Squeeg and Ron Hunt’s final assembly, the roadster rolled into the paint booth at Squeeg’s for a deep maroon finish. That’s how Daryl drove the ’34 for many years. Then he sold it and away it went.
The story starts up again about six years into the 21st century. Squeeg had semi-retired, his son, Doug, was keeping Squeeg’s Kustoms in the limelight, and Daryl was trying to remember why he sold his cool old roadster. After Doug tracked down the lost ’34, Daryl bought it back and began driving it again. Another year passed and Daryl was ready to get the car completely blown apart and rebuilt—at Squeeg’s Kustoms, naturally.
Doug kept the stock frame and Kugel suspension, updated with Aldan coilovers at all four corners, Wilwood disc brakes, and 4.11 gears in the limited-slip rearend. Brake and fuel lines were entirely replumbed in stainless steel. The wheels and tires were upsized with 15- and 16-inch Real Rodders wheels rolling on Diamond Back radial rubber.
The steering wheel bears the...
The steering wheel bears the name of Italian sports car designer and racer Enrico Nardi, and looks just like a wheel Nardi might have gripped in a ’52 Pegaso Spider.
In addition to the wheel and tire change, there were some exterior adjustments as well. “The idea was not to change the style of the car, with the wedge channel, the lines, and the metalwork,” Doug says. The changes he did make are not radical from our perspective, but Doug said Squeeg had a hard time seeing his original work altered. The hood side scoops got a new pair of hand-fabricated inserts. The handbuilt windshield was left intact and Boyd’s headlight structure was also retained. In the rear, a new pan was built with a recess for the license plate. The old pan had housed the taillights; new taillights in the fenders are 100 percent handmade with LED lights, hand-tinted lenses, and machined brass bezels finished in brushed nickel. When the bodywork was done, the roadster took its second trip into the Squeeg’s paint booth, rolling out with a reflective black finish, done with PPG Concept DCC paint.
The old Chevy drivetrain was switched to an aluminum 427ci Ford Windsor-style engine, machined at Basko Engine Service and built by Mark Clark Speed Sports, both in Gilbert, Arizona. The Dart block was stuffed with 10.2:1 JE Pistons and SCAT rods turning a SCAT crank. The electronic fuel injection is a Hilborn individual-runner system; Dart aluminum heads are topped by custom valve covers. Terry Palmer installed the engine and built the headers, which feed a Joe Spovati–built stainless exhaust system with Stainless Works mufflers. Gary Rogers at Arizona Precision Transmission Center built the Ford AOD trans backing up the 427.
The 700hp Dart aluminum 427...
The 700hp Dart aluminum 427 was bored, stroked, balanced, and blueprinted. “We wanted a high-tech race look for the engine,” Doug says. “It sounds like a race car too. When we pulled into the roadster show, nobody noticed us—until we fired it up. Then they came running.”
As with most project cars, attention to the interior was saved for the end of the build, when the roadster was shipped to Gabe’s Street Rod Custom Interiors in San Bernardino, California. Gabe Lopez built the custom bench seat and wrapped it up in milk chocolate brown leather. The door panels and shifter boot got the same treatment. The square weave carpeting and the Nardi Torino steering wheel enhance the hot rod/sports car hybrid look. Doug built a new aluminum insert panel for the dash and filled it with Auto Meter gauges, wired by Mickey Dwyer.
By the time of the 2011 Grand National Roadster Show Daryl’s ’34 had been done for more than two years and had racked up some local miles—but hardly anybody had seen it, and it had not competed in any other events, meaning that it complied with the show’s new “debut car” rule and was eligible for AMBR competition.
“We decided to enter the car to promote the shop,” Doug says. “We had no idea it would win.” And truthfully, the ’34 might not have won in 2010, 2009, or any recent previous year. But this was the year the revamped rules reinstated “beauty” as a judging criterion for the AMBR award. So in January 2011, Daryl’s ’34 was back at the L.A. County Fairplex, where he found it in the early ’80s. But this time it wasn’t in a swap meet seller space. It was at the center of attention as America’s Most Beautiful Roadster.
Tri-bar spinner caps dress...
Tri-bar spinner caps dress up 15x5.5 and 16x8 Real Rodders Original Sprint-style rims. Diamond Back tires measure 195/50R15 in front with 235/65R16s filling the rear fenders. The black sidewalls have been buffed smooth.
The radiator from the ’80s...
The radiator from the ’80s still cools the car but the upper and lower hoses and thermostat housing—made at Squeeg’s—are new. Brackets and pulleys were also fabricated in-house.
Instead of polishing and chroming...
Instead of polishing and chroming undercarriage and underhood components, the crew at Squeeg’s decided on a more natural brushed-nickel finish, accomplished by Custom Chrome. Other brushed stainless and aluminum was done by Russell’s Custom Polishing.