Just the Facts
Model: Model A Roadster
Owner: Dick McCann
There's an 11-mile stretch of U.S. 129 at the Tennessee/North Carolina state line called the Tail of the Dragon. It features more than 300 curves and more than 1,000 feet in elevation changes. Several years ago, on a sunny late-October day, Dick McCann was there, sailing his ink-black full-fendered Model A roadster through the twists and turns of the Tail of the Dragon. "It was one of my most memorable moments with this car," he told us.
Dick told us about another ride he'd taken in the late 1950s when he was a high school kid. He and his friends were driving from DeKalb to Chicago to go to a concert. As they sped along, Dick spotted a Model A coupe parked on somebody's property. He tried to convince the driver to stop to let him check it out, but they didn't even slow down. The next time Dick passed by that stretch of road, he looked for the Model A. It was gone and he never saw it again. He'd seen the car for only a few seconds, but remembered it the rest of his life.
Maybe he was remembering that coupe when he got a catalog for a Kruse Auction in Murray, Kentucky, and phoned in to bid on a few of the Model As for sale, buying an unmodified 1929 roadster body and chassis. When he got the car, he was glad to find out that the body was solid, with just a little rust and a few cracks. The plates showed the most recent registration date of 1957, confirmed by an antifreeze tag dated the same year.
For a little more than a year, the roadster sat in a shipping container while Dick planned the build. During that time, he started talking to Jeremy, Phil, and Neal Gerber at The Roadster Shop. "I'd been building the car in my mind since 1957," Dick said, so in determining a direction, the question was always "What would we have done in 1957?" The Gerbers caught Dick's vision, and the roadster was delivered to The Roadster Shop.
One thing they might have done in 1957 is modify the factory chassis. Dick said that was his intention but, after talking to the Gerbers, he decided it made more sense to start with a new Roadster Shop chassis built with traditional parts. The 1929 frame (saved for another project) was replaced by 10-gauge steel 'rails with stepped crossmembers.
Pete & Jake's supplied front shocks and a Super Bell drilled, 4-inch drop I-beam axle. The mono-leaf front spring is from Posies. A Vega box steering setup was provided by Flaming River. Dick wanted disc brakes in the front, but kept a '50s look by using SO-CAL Speed Shops drum-covered discs. The Winters quick-change rearend features 3.90:1 gears with limited slip, suspended by P&J's ladder bars and QA1 coilovers.
The 1929 came from Murray, Kentucky, with the original Ford steel intact; the roadster body is still all factory sheetmetal. The Roadster Shop repaired the few rust spots and fender cracks, and made sure the car was wrinkle free before letting painter Joe Belfiore finish the car in glossy black PPG paint. The windshield was chopped 1-7/8 inches and leaned back. Door handles are stock, but new front and rear stainless steel bumpers came from Rock Valley Antique Auto Parts. The Model A headlights are reproductions from Vintique. The 1950 Pontiac blue dot taillights are an authentic traditional hot rod detail. Trim and hardware was sent to John Wright's Custom Chrome Plating in Grafton, Ohio.
The 16-inch Gennie wheels from Wheel Vintiques were painted red to contrast with the body color, with 1947 Ford caps and rings to contrast with the red. The wheels roll, appropriately, on 7.00-16 and 4.50-16 Firestone piecrust bias-ply tires.
Things get bright again under the hood. Dick owned that 1953 8BA Flathead engine long before buying the roadster. The engine came out of a long-ago 1946 coupe project and had been sitting on a pallet for almost 20 years. "Every time I walked by it, it would holler at me," he told us. It was the perfect choice for this car, so Dick sent the engine to H&H Flatheads in La Crescenta, California, where Mike Herman rebuilt it consistent with the "What would we have done in 1957?" theme. Ross Racing pistons and Scat rods connect to a Scat Mercury crankshaft. H&H distributes Navarro Racing Equipment and used a pair of Navarro aluminum heads on the Flathead. Mike added dual Stromberg 97 carbs on an old-style S.CO.T. blower, not as much for horsepower as for nostalgic impact. Cloth-wrapped plug wires add to the effect. Back at the Roadster Shop, they built a pair of custom headers and the 2-inch exhaust pipes. Backing up the Flathead is a Tremec TKO-500, built by Bowler Performance Transmissions in Lawrenceville, Illinois.
The clean simplicity of the interior is combined with a few Roadster Shop nostalgic touches. Classic Instruments rebuilt the workings and created a new face for '34 Pontiac speedometer and gauge combination, dressed up with a custom bezel and trim and mounted in the center of the dash. A matching tach is mounted in a fabricated vintage-style bracket below the dash. The Tri-C tilt steering column holds a leather-wrapped four-spoke Sprint Car wheel from SO-CAL. A custom bench and panels were covered with bright red tuck 'n' leather by Steve Pearson at Upholstery Unlimited in Clinton, Iowa. A pair of bomber-style belts maintains the retro appearance and provides safety.
Dick and the team at The Roadster Shop succeeded at creating a 1957-flavored traditional hot rod with 21st century quality. These days, the 1929 is crowded by a circle of admirers wherever it goes, from the local cruise to national events. Among those admirers are the Goodguys judges, who selected Dick's Model A as a Hot Rod of the Year finalist in 2010.
Dick made a few changes after these photos were taken. He removed the bug screen from the grille, and added a half hood, cut to expose the modified Moon velocity stacks that now top the carburetors. The wheels and rear tires you see here were swapped for some SO-CAL cast-aluminum knock-offs and Hurst cheater slicks. The look still says 1957 but with a slightly different accent, and can be altered back to this appearance quickly and easily.
Dick had told us that after he built the roadster the original chassis started hollering at him, and he dropped a hint about using it to build a lakes-style cruiser—another time stopper. Unfortunately, Dick died earlier this year with that project still in the planning stage.
Our efforts at stopping time never completely succeed, but our hobby lets us relive times gone by. So if you're ever lucky enough to drive the Tail of the Dragon, listen for the sound of a blown Navarro Flathead running through the twists and turns. And rap the throttle once or twice in memory of Dick McCann and all others who've taken the ride before you.
Dick wanted the roadster top to have the shape of Henry Ford’s originals. Upholstery Unlim
The club plaque pivots on a hideaway license plate frame—built by Ball’s Rod & Kustom—