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1931 Ford Model A Coupe is Resurrected into a Very Traditional, Hemi-Powered Hot Rod

DIY.

It takes a certain amount of faith to dive headlong into a do-it-yourself, traditional hot rod build project, especially one that begins with a basket-case shell of an old Ford. Faith that you’ll find the parts you need. Faith that you can marry disparate—and sometimes ancient—components into some cohesive whole. Faith that the end result will not only move under its own power but do so safely, while looking good, too.

Many of us have the dream. We know a lot of people with garages full of old parts. But not everyone has the skills and patience to put them all together.

Steve Patton did all that: had the vision, collected the parts, and assembled them with his own two hands—and a lot of help from his father, Leonard; his wife, Kate; his sons, Connor and Christian; his father-in-law, Steve Tanner; plus a number of old-time hot rodders, fellow members of the H.A.M.B., and even some vintage HOT ROD magazine articles.

What’s remarkable about Steve is the fact that he isn’t a mechanic by trade. As he tells it, he taught himself to build this hot rod while building this hot rod. Most of his hands-on experience with cars came from high school metal shop classes he took years ago. “I turned that into the hobby I love,” he says.

Steve’s automotive love affair began when he was a kid and his dad brought home a brand-new ’68 Road Runner. Steve nurtured his automotive passion building plastic model kits and owned his own Road Runner when he was a teen. “I had quite a few cars after that,” he says, including a nailhead-powered ’29 roadster pickup. “I enjoyed the heck out of that car, but I really wanted a coupe.” So the pickup was sold to help finance this project.

Colorado

Steve’s idea was to build a traditional Ford hot rod “with nothing on it newer than 1955. I wanted a coupe that would make Milner nervous.”

(That makes two references to American Graffiti in one issue, by the way. Check out Stephan Szantai’s “Coupe with Attitude” for the other.)

The coupe body was an eBay find out of Colorado, one Steve picked up for cheap because the pictures of the rough tin “scared everybody away,” he recalls.

When the transporter arrived at Steve’s Southern California home with the body, he was expecting rough. But he wasn’t expecting damaged. “The decklid was lying under the car, all scratched and gouged. The truck driver said it literally blew off on the highway, landed upside down, and slid like a sled across the road. Somehow he saw it, turned the rig around, and put it back on the trailer.” The lid was “tweaked a little,” but Steve was able to straighten it enough to use it.

Turns out that was one of the more minor fixes the body needed. “Somebody back in the day decided to suicide the doors,” Steve says. “It was rough, terrible. I threw all that away.”

He had to start over with “just a shell. There was no wood left in the car. I had to build the inner door structure myself.” He was able to use a hinge kit and went with bear-claw latches to make sure the doors wouldn’t “pop open going down the road.” He also decided to modify the doors so they would fit flush when closed and not overlap the rear quarter as they do from the factory.

Remember, Steve took all this on with little more than high school shop classes under his belt. “I had to borrow a plasma cutter. I did have a welder, a small Miller. I had to buy a second torch because I needed two to bend the front axle. I got both my sons involved heating the axle while I was running the jack and pulling measurements.”

Yes, Steve (and sons) dropped his own axle, a Model A piece he downed 4 inches. He also built a whole new floor to channel the car 4 inches, using 20-gauge steel and a bead roller he bought from Harbor Freight. “My son Christian turned the roller while I fed the material through it.”

Steve also had to deal with the car’s top. “Somebody attempted to chop the top before I bought it. It was rough, and I had to redo it.” That first whack at the lid cut off 2 inches. “I’m 6 foot 5, and with a 4-inch channel already in the plan and 2 inches out of the top, there were already 6 inches out of the car. To make sure I’d fit, I built the car around me.” He left the roof height where it was, but fixed the prior poor workmanship, squaring what wasn’t square and taking kinks out of the laid-back A-pillars.

The coupe’s roof panel was in such poor shape, “I was afraid I’d have to cut it out,” Steve says. But his father-in-law, Steve Tanner, stepped in to help. “He had a skill I didn’t have, how to stretch and shrink metal. He came over, ran his hands over the roof, and told me, ‘We can save this.’ He spent an hour, hour and a half, working on it with me watching, and then had me finish.”

California

Steve bought a second Model A frame that had a small-block Chevy between its framerails. “I was going to go with the small-block and mount an Offy 4×2 intake on it. But I’ve been a Chrysler-Dodge guy all my life, and I really wanted a Mopar in it. I was dragging my feet on the small-block when Dale called me. That’s when all the gears changed.”

Dale Snoke, a friend of Steve’s, had spotted a ’54 331-inch Chrysler Hemi for sale on Craigslist. He knew Steve was looking for one and rang him up. Steve took the day off from work to drive to Torrance and check it out.

“The owner told me it was a good running motor when it was pulled, but it had been sitting in his garage for a lot of years and he never got to it.” A tag on the engine indicated it had been rebuilt in the 1980s with a 0.040-inch overbore.

“When I got it home I pulled the heads off and checked the cylinders, and they looked great. The heads looked good. I dropped the main cap on the crank, the furthest in the oil circuit, and that bearing looked good, so I took a chance that the rest of the bearings were good.” Steve got a new oil pump, plus lifters and pushrods from Hot Heads, had the cam reground, and asked All Star Clutch to make him a new 12-volt starter as the factory starter “was mammoth and wouldn’t fit in the car.”

The intake is unusual, an Edmunds two-pot manifold that had been cut apart and reworked to add a third carb between the outside two. He’s only seen one other like it, in a photo of a “Mystery Kurtis” featured in Pat Ganahl’s story on “The Thrifty Show” in the July 2010 Deluxe. (Close inspection of Rickman’s original photography of the Kurtis shows that the manifold is similar but not the same manifold as Steve’s.)

A car in Deluxe also inspired the Hemi’s headers. “My favorite hot rod of all time is the Ross Heale/Jack Foye Model T roadster pickup [“The Wild Ride,” May ’10]. In fact, I see Jack often, and I think he’s sick of me telling him how much I love it. I looked at his headers for an idea of how to get the bends and sweeps for my car.” Steve bought the flanges and j-tubes and built the exhaust himself.

Steve said his dad was “instrumental” in putting the Hemi in the car, “fabbing motor mounts, getting the motor laid out, making sure it was going to fit.” Christian helped Steve with the adapter for the Cad/LaSalle transmission.

At first, Steve put a ’34 Ford transmission behind the Hemi, though several friends who are longtime hot rodders warned him the Ford box couldn’t withstand the Hemi’s torque. “I told them I understand that, and I believe you, but I want to live what you guys lived, do what you guys did,” he says. “I knew I was going to go through transmissions.”

But after rebuilding that early Ford trans twice, he relented and followed their advice to put the stronger Cad/LaSalle gearbox in instead. Steve learned how to join the engine and transmission by “reading old hot rod magazines from the ’50s and ’60s that I picked up over the years. We looked for what would work to bolt up a Cad/LaSalle to an early Ford torque tube and banjo.” Among his reference sources was “From Stock to Hot,” a story in the Feb. ’57 issue of HRM about how “manufacturers are quick to meet the hot rodder’s demands for modern horsepower-early chassis combinations. You’d be surprised,” the editors said, “what fits what!”

Alaska

The interior of Steve’s coupe is full of custom touches, from his scratch-built floor and seat (to better fit his lanky frame), to the ’41 dashboard modified to accommodate a ’51 DeSoto instrument cluster. What dominates the cab, though, is the “Hollywood wheel” he found in Alaska.

“I went to Palmer, Alaska, fishing with my brother-in-law,” Steve recalls. “His uncle, Pat Hodson, builds hot rods up there in the winter in a heated shop. Pat knew I was a car guy and he told me about a wrecking yard on the other side of town where I could find a steering wheel for my coupe.”

The wrecking yard turned out to be “some guy’s yard with cars spread all over it,” but among them was a ’55 Plymouth Savoy. “It’s not the prettiest car, but when I walked up to it and looked inside, I knew right then that was the wheel I wanted. I couldn’t believe a wheel that pretty came out of that car.”

Steve brought the wheel home in his suitcase; but when he tried to mount it to his car’s early Ford steering column, “it just wasn’t going to work,” he says. “So I called Pat and asked him to go back to the guy’s place. I said, ‘If he still has the car, I need the top 3 feet of the steering column, including the turn indicator.’” Pat performed the surgery and mailed the column top to Steve, who then performed a successful graft, though “it took forever to tie all the wiring in.”

Steve had three and a half years of adventures like these to finish the coupe, which he’s been driving now for about six years. To him, the process wasn’t just about the car; it was also about people—the family and friends who helped him, as well as the traditional hot rodders he tried to emulate.

“I envy those guys. At this stage in their lives they may want a car that rides nicer, so they end up selling you their older stuff. But they’re more than happy to tell you stories about how they did things. It doesn’t get any better than when an old-timer walks up and gives the car a close looking over. They ask, ‘Who did this?’ I did. And one of the best compliments I can get is when a guy who knows what he’s looking at tells me, ‘That’s how we did it back in the old days.’”


Before and after side views illustrate the results of more than three years of hard work on Steve’s “rusty body out of Colorado.” The doors had to be completely redone (they were held in place with baling wire and duct tape when he bought the car), as did the 2-inch top chop.

Dale Snoke, a friend and fellow car guy, found this 331-inch ’54 Hemi on Craigslist and tipped off Steve about the mill. It had been rebuilt in the 1980s, sat in a garage for 20 years, and was in great shape, Steve says.


The intake on Steve’s Hemi is an unusual Edmunds manifold that has been sectioned in the middle to add a third carburetor. Steve has seen just one like it, in a photo that appeared in Deluxe in July 2010. That manifold was on a customized Kurtis sports car that Eric Rickman photographed at the Thrifty Car Show in 1955. Close examination reveals similarities between the two, but they are not the same manifold. (Photo: Eric Rickman)


Steve’s “favorite hot rod of all time” is the Ross Heale/Jack Foye Model T roadster pickup that Deluxe put on its cover in May 2010. He copied the shape and sweep of the truck’s headers when building the exhaust for his Hemi.

Triple Stromberg 97s top the Edmunds intake. The outer carbs are older than the center atomizer and don’t have the “97” cast into the body.

The beautiful valve covers were with the engine when Steve bought it. They were painted silver then; he had them chromed.

Rick’s Radiator in Azusa, California, built a new radiator to Steve’s specs. “I told them it was for a ’32 so it would fit inside the grille shell,” he said. While the body is original Henry steel, the shell is a reproduction, which better fit Steve’s budget.

Under the body is a ’29 roadster frame that Steve bought from a local hot rodder who wanted to upgrade his own car with a more modern chassis. “It still had all the early stuff on it,” says Steve, including a ’32 front axle, ’32 trans crossmember, split wishbones, a later ’40 Ford rear axle, and a platform for the buggy spring behind the rear crossmember. The Deuce axle hangs in his garage; he opted for a Model A beam as it was smaller and would be easier to drop.

Steve Z’d the frame 3 inches in the rear and “re-stacked and chopped up the springs three times” to get the rake he wanted. There are ’40-’41 Ford juice brakes at both ends.

In keeping with his “do all the work myself” mantra, Steve painted the coupe in his garage, using Hot Rod Flatz paint, a mix of Burnt Burgundy and Carnival Red Pearl.


In 2012, Steve’s coupe was featured at the Mooneyes Open House. “I contacted Chico at Mooneyes and arranged to meet Wildman, who does all the striping for the Mooneyes guys. He striped it right there at show.”

Steve scratch-built the seat using plywood and 2x4s. “The stock Model A seat has a beautiful contour where the sides hold the cushions in place,” he points out. “I made a template and out of plywood made them a lot shallower. The seat pads had to be shorter so I could fit in the car.” There are no springs in the seat; instead, it’s “done like a boat with nylon straps put in with the padding.” A guy named Martin, “who only fits you in if he likes you,” did the oxblood and black tuck-and-roll, along with matching panels for the trunk and headliner.

Wildman also striped the Coupe’s ’41 dashboard, including the “Resurrection” lettering. The name has deep meaning for Steve. “It tells two stories. One is for my faith and refers to the resurrection of Christ. The other is about bringing this car back from the dead.”

Evidence of Steve’s faith is also found in crosses that are stamped into the sheetmetal pieces he fabricated, including on the firewall and here on the brake master cylinder cover. “When I got to those points in the buildup, I felt influenced to reflect my faith, which is why I put the crosses there.”

Steve found his coupe’s steering wheel, from a ’55 Plymouth Savoy, in an Alaskan wrecking yard. “I couldn’t believe a wheel that pretty came out of that car.”

The instrument cluster is from a ’51 DeSoto. The speedometer and gas gauge are original DeSoto meters; Steve and his wife, Kate, disassembled them, cleaned them, and then painted the faces to match the body. They’re joined by a vintage Mooneyes tach.

Under the dash is a swap-meet-find gauge panel. All are early-style Stewart-Warner gauges; at the right is an ammeter Steve switched to battery voltage.

The taillights are shoebox Ford pieces Steve recessed into the rear panel. “You pretty much have to recess them because they have a curve and don’t mount flat.”

The Shortimers club was formed shortly after the Korean War. Its members were among the first to hold organized drag races at Pomona before it became an NHRA-sanctioned track, Steve says. One of its founding members, Homer Overton, saw Steve’s coupe and “got it,” so Steve joined the club.

This coupe may have been Steve’s first traditional hot rod build, but it won’t be his last. There are parts for a ’29 roadster laid out “all over my garage floor.”

The Build Book

Steve Patton thoroughly documented the do-it-yourself buildup of his coupe and shared many of those photos with us. We still are amazed that he taught himself most of the techniques he used to complete the car.


The coupe body as Steve bought it.

Frame Z’d in the rear

The Patton clan—Leonard, Christian, Connor, and Steve—locate the Hemi in the frame.

Steve’s father, Leonard, and his wife, Kate, await the Hemi.

Steve describes this as “late-night welding.”

Steve built the headers himself, inspired by the Heale/Foye roadster pickup.

After rebuilding his ’34 Ford transmission twice, Steve replaced it with a stouter Cad/LaSalle gearbox.

The coupe’s metal awaits paint.

Steve painted the coupe in his garage.

Some of the work that went into recessing the Ford taillights.

Because the body he bought was a bare shell, Steve had to fabricate an inner structure.

The DeSoto instrument cluster with the Ford/Savoy hybrid steering column below.

Mooneyes’ Wildman striped the car, including laying down its “Resurrection” name on the dash.

The post 1931 Ford Model A Coupe is Resurrected into a Very Traditional, Hemi-Powered Hot Rod appeared first on Hot Rod Network.

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