An Early Hot Rod Story

I guess my love for hot rods started when I was in high school. I spent a lot of time doodling pictures of them when I should have been doing my schoolwork. When I was around sixteen I found a model A body that I bought for $10. I then found a frame that I paid $2 for. I had an old Oldsmobile engine that I had pieced together from several worn out motors. So I attempted to make my “dream” come true. Looking back, it was a mess. Although I got it to run, it was a rattling old pile of junk. One day after a ride I looked at it in disgust and decided either I scrap this thing and forget it or I tear it down and rebuild it right. It was a close call, but I decided to rebuild it as best that I could at the time. I didn’t have much money, and I had just gotten married. I worked at Hartman Chevrolet as a lube man for $80.00 a week. By going in a half hour early and staying a half hour late, driving the cars in and out I made an extra $5.00 per week. This became my budget for rebuilding my car. The rental that we lived at had a shed with a dirt floor that became my workshop. When it rained there was a stream that ran though the middle of the floor and I had to move everything to the side to try to keep it dry.

Notice the old cars on the hill: Model A, 1952 Olds and a 1950 Mercury

The mechanics at Hartmans knew about my project and would occasionally give me some good parts that they had left over from their work. Maybe a set of spark plugs that were not worn out, or a fuel pump that still worked… Stuff that would go to the dumpster otherwise. Somewhere along the way, my first son was born and I left Hartmans and went to work for Pacific Tree clearing power lines.

Looking a little better. Notice the ’57 Ford convertible in the background.

There was a junk yard not too far from my dad’s house that had a 1957 Olds that had been rear ended. It was low mileage and had the larger 371 cu inch engine. The two owners were into restoring Model A’s and my dad had a sand blaster. So, I agreed to sand blast their parts over a whole winter, paying my dad $2.00 an hour for the use of his sandblaster, in exchange for this engine. By spring it was mine. I found a two-four intake manifold and built my own headers using some oil canisters as collectors. I boxed the frame, channeled the body 6″, and installed an Olds rear end. My wife (at the time) did the interior using naugahyde from Swensons Surplus. She used many, many little buttons and we hand painted each one. By today’s standards it was probably not very impressive. It was not really a roadster, it was a cut down cabriolet. The trunk lid was bent in the middle, but I made it work by cutting it in half and hinging the upper half to open. I used a power seat motor to open it and I had a skeleton hand push it up. The floor was made of plywood and the seats were out of a Renault. It was not really very comfortable to drive, and probably not very safe. But we drove it a lot.

Once we joined a group of hot rodders that would come through Grass Valley every Labor day weekend and travel to Reno. Somewhere there is an old video of us traveling up I-80 with this group. What a thrill it was to be able to join them. Alas, one of the not so cool things about my hot rod was that there was no room for a engine fan to keep it cool. As long as you kept it moving, even at a slow speed, it would stay cool. But if you got stuck in traffic…trouble. Well, when we hit Reno we got stuck, and it got HOT. So we had to pull out of the group and find a place to let it cool down. We lost the group and had very little money, so we had to head back home. I had never driven the car at night, but it did have lights, thank goodness. I remember going down I-80 with the moon shining, and the cool air blowing over the engine. The car was running great and I was thinking “what a wonderful time we were having”. Today I don’t leave home without a pocket full of money, credit cards, cell phone, triple A card,etc. But back then it was just a great adventure. Ah, youth!

– Story and Photos by Lanny N.

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