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BLACK MIRROR: FORD MODEL A HOT ROD

BLACK MIRROR: FORD MODEL A HOT ROD

Posted by Glenn Rowswell on 18th August 2020

Hide the children and lock your pets away. This dark-hearted Model A is holding a distorted mirror up to the very concept of hot rod culture…

FORD MODEL A HOT ROD

It’s often said that cars have a face. You can see the logic of it really – two headlights representing the eyes, a grille for the mouth (or sometimes the nostrils); some cars, like the 2nd-gen Mazda3 and the Austin Healey Frogeye Sprite, look dementedly happy. The rear end of the SEAT Altea XL looks incredibly sad, like a clinically depressed robot. And the Model A Ford we have here? Well, it doesn’t so much have a face as a personality, an aura: a really bloody scary one. This is the kind of car that’d give small children nightmares. Hell, it’s making our palms sweat, and we’ve seen the Scream trilogy twice and hardly hid behind the sofa at all. Its nickname is ‘The Marauder’, a term which describes those who rove the country looking for things to pillage and plunder and defile. It’s a car with an ingrained sense of malice.

FORD MODEL A HOT ROD

For a lot of readers, the world of old-school hot rods like this will be murky and confusing, so let’s start off with a little history lesson. It stems back to early 20th-century America; the vast culture clash of bootleggers and moonshiners souping up their motors to outrun the law, and returning GIs with new-found engineering skills, meant that America was brimming over with restless young guns eager to race each other on dry lakes and gleaming new highways in the 1930s and ’40s. Shoving a Ford flathead into whatever car the tearaway in question was dealing with was a very popular choice, with the ‘60 Horse’ becoming an iconic unit of locomotion. This was the 136ci (2.2-litre) V8 that appeared in 1937, offering a heady (at the time) 60hp. Hence the nickname. Obviously these numbers are small fry compared to what came shortly afterward, but these were fledgling steps into backstreet spannering for Saturday night success. You took what was available in the scrapyard, and you made your car faster. It was as simple as that.

FORD MODEL A HOT ROD

The Ford Model A goes hand-in-hand with early hot rod culture, which is why its popularity endures with such enthusiasm today. This motoring icon first came chuntering onto the flourishing automotive scene at the end of 1927, representing a fresh new era of customer-pleasing options and technological advances for the Ford Motor Company. Its predecessor, the Model T, had been lumbering along for the thick end of eighteen years, so it was about time for a shake-up, and the cutting-edge new A offered logical pedals, all-round brakes and a variety of body styles, from a choice of coupes (standard, deluxe, business coupe, roadster coupe, sport coupe) to the tongue-in-cheek Tudor and Fordor, town car, station wagon, truck, cabriolet, sedan, phaeton… it was mind-boggling. By the end of its relatively short production run, halting in early 1932, the company had shifted almost five million of the things. This, naturally, led to an enduring popularity with hot rodders – a bountiful supply equates to cheap second-hand prices, and their simple construct and swappability of componentry immediately created a tuning aftermarket subculture that’s endured for generations.

FORD MODEL A HOT ROD

Kyle Hands was certainly paying attention. The owner of the Marauder, he’s been dreaming of something like this ever since he was pushing 1:64-scale customs around the living room carpet as a child. “I’ve always loved cars, from Hot Wheels and remote-controlled toys as a kid, to buying my first car and modifying it before I had passed my test,” he grins. “I had a few different ones before I started my first proper build, a Mk1 Audi TT; it was a race-inspired show car which won a few trophies and was magazine featured. I sold that to realise my dream of owning a hot rod, and now I don’t think I’ll ever own anything different!”

FORD MODEL A HOT ROD

There’s a sense of fatalism to all this, as Kyle wasn’t the sort of kid who had posters of Ferraris and Lamborghinis on his bedroom wall, it was always street rods and muscle cars. This wasn’t a matter of if, but when. “I sold my TT and bought a Harley Davidson as a little project while I saved to buy a hot rod,” he continues. “Three weeks later this one came up for sale! I bought it from a guy who had built it to advertise his company, although he then sold it without it ever leaving his garage. The chassis fabrication was perfect, but the rest was a mess – a mix of cheap products and poor attention to detail. I could immediately see the potential in it and had to buy it; the day after I got it I stripped it all back to the chassis and set about redoing everything.”

FORD MODEL A HOT ROD

With the Model A broken down to a jumbled and slightly spiky pile of bits, Kyle could see that the first job before tackling anything else would be to rewire the engine and hide as much of the wiring as possible. The motor itself is an utter monster, incidentally; traditionally the logical move for a rodded Model A would be to bung a V8 in it, the bigger the better, but this unnerving machine is packing a sodding great Cummins diesel straight-six – a gruff and industrial contraption displacing 5.9-litres and kicking out enough torque to ruffle up the tarmac like a threadbare hallway rug. With an imposing compound turbo setup and a shorty smokestack to aid with aggressively rollin’ coal, it’s at once recognisably an A rod and yet totally dissociated from traditional roots.

FORD MODEL A HOT ROD

“I upgraded the fuel system to full braided AN10 lines, an alloy fuel cell, and a FASS pump from America,” he explains. “I moved the air-ride and battery under a pickup section I made to hide it away, and then sunk the fuel tank in the oak pickup bed I made and mounted a big nitrous bottle on the back to complete the look I was going for. The air-ride system itself was all removed, and I replaced it with dual Viair compressors, AccuAir Endo tank and Air Lift Performance 3P management. This transformed the car, and with the presets it makes it so much easier to drive! I was then able to mount an iPad on the dash to control it all.” How cool is that? The redneck rodders of the forties would have their minds blown by this sort of retro-futurist caper, it really is very innovative.

FORD MODEL A HOT ROD

“For the pedal box and handbrake, I went to OBP Motorsport,” says Kyle. “The billet pedals are the key point of the interior; their products are amazing quality and I’ll be using them again on the next build! Then I painted the car and had it all back together just in time to take it to the FittedUK show, where it had an amazing reaction, along with its first trophy and also its first photoshoot.” Things have been naturally progressing ever since, and the spec is extremely impressive: the chopped and channelled ’29 body with its custom ragtop hides a fabulously detailed bare-bones interior, while the chassis boasts Mustang brakes behind those menacingly staggered wheels. It’s not all mouth and no trousers either, with a four-linked rear and a Panhard rod helping to tame the delivery of all that stump-pulling twist. It sure is a long way from an Audi TT, and it’s ticking pretty much every box on Kyle’s mental wishlist – so much so that he’s champing at the bit to build another hot rod. The idea’s really got under his skin.

FORD MODEL A HOT ROD

“It’s an experience driving this on the road,” he laughs. “You feel a bit vulnerable as it’s not exactly the safest car, but at the same time you know everyone has already heard you coming from halfway up the road anyway…” And that’s basically the point of a hot rod, isn’t it? Sure, the genre may have evolved a bit over the last seventy-odd years from picking up cheap go-faster bits at the scrapyard and throwing them into a stripped-down chassis, but the purpose remains the same: these are cars built to go fast, and to look mean enough to intimidate anyone who pulls up alongside you at the lights. This modern interpretation is every bit as proper as a period-built A rod. And it’s absolutely bloody terrifying.

FORD MODEL A HOT ROD

What the hell is a compound turbo setup?
There are two turbos here, but this is no ordinary twin-turbo setup. With compound turbocharging, you have two different-sized turbos running in series rather than in parallel – so instead of splitting the task of providing boost, they work together to accentuate one another’s effect. Atmospheric air flows first through the large low-pressure turbo, then straight into the small high-pressure turbo – as the volume of air runs from a large to a smaller channel, pressure and velocity markedly increase, and voila: changing pressures compound the effect of each turbo. And as a special bonus, compounding turbos massively reduces lag too. It’s win-win

TECH SPEC: FORD MODEL A

Styling:
Chopped and channelled 1929 Model A, Raptor black paint, Harley Davidson mirrors, custom pickup section, oak bed with alloy fuel cell and Wizards of NOS nitrous bottle, roof section cut out with custom ragtop

Tuning:
Cummins 5.9-litre diesel, fully stripped and painted, compound turbo setup (with Holset HX55 T6 and HX35 T3 turbos and 4in spike exhaust), all ancillaries renewed, painted or powdercoated, alloy radiator, intercooler, braided AN10 fuel lines, FASS fuel pump, ZF S5-42 gearbox, Mustang rear axle, custom propshaft, drag 4-link, Panhard rod

Chassis:
6x15in (front) and 10x15in (rear) steels, 185/60 (f) and 31/10.50 (r) tyres, Air Lift Performance 3P management, AccuAir Endo tank, dual Viair 488c compressors, Mustang front brakes, refurbished rear brakes, OBP pedal box, OBP hydraulic handbrake, twin line-locks, Hel braided lines

Interior:
Custom seats, OBP footrests, iPad mount, alloy brake/clutch reservoirs

Thanks:
“Thanks to my wife Janine for putting up with my car obsession. And also to OBP Motorsport, Air Lift Performance, Jay from Players Shows, Impact Metal Finishing for the metal polishing, Jim King for all the stainless welding, StanceWorks, Mike Crawat, Alex at FittedUK, and Dave Cox for these amazing photos and arranging the feature.”

Words Daniel Bevis Photography Dave Cox