Hot rod in motion

Let’s start with this hazy and blurry photo, because that’s exactly what this week’s column is–hazy and blurry. Let me explain.

My good friend and one-time video partner, Robert Kittila, found this small, white, letter-size envelope stuffed with curling black-and-white 3×5 photos sitting right at the top of a filled trash can set at the curb on trash day, and picked it up since he could see part of a hot rod roadster protruding under the flap. In fact, it held two dozen photos of modified cars (and one Piper Cub airplane), mostly fenderless roadsters, and apparently mostly taken in 1945 on the streets of Los Angeles. Being a devout vintage hot rodder himself, he brought them home, perused them, then gave them to me because he knew I collected such stuff. That was some 20 years ago. I used two of them in my first Hot Rod Gallery book, but I’ve never shown any of the others…as far as I can remember…because I don’t really know anything about them. There are no notes on them; no I.D. of any kind. '29 roadster in 1945So I can only make presumptions and speak to what I (and you) can see in the pictures, such as this ’29 roadster with the fenders, running boards, aprons, bumpers, and hood removed to show a stock 4-banger, but with later wire wheels, bullet headlights, and a filled ’32 grille shell. Deuce roadster in 1945Or this similarly stripped Deuce roadster, also with a stock-appearing V8, but with a chopped and raked windshield and very nice chopped soft top.

So my first assumption is that this person had a 35mm camera (because of the horizontal format) that he could point and shoot quickly at any hot rod he happened to see, even as it drove by. I could further guess that, being 1945 and the end of WW II, this might be a serviceman from some other part of the country being mustered out here, and fascinated seeing these fenderless jobs cruising the streets. However, since they were found in a Pasadena trash can, that’s probably wrong. Who knows?

But a couple of things to consider: There were no rod magazines in 1945. But even if there were, the kind of cars you’d see featured in mags were generally nicer, and cooler, than the many more you’d see driving on the street. Plus there were very few hot rod parts manufacturers, or even places to buy any. Both the dry lakes and the circle tracks had been shut down from ’42 to ’45. In fact, 1945 was just the beginning of the huge hot rod craze (and the coining of that term) that would swell exponentially between then and 1950. In 1945 you couldn’t buy a dropped axle or a quickchange rearend. OK, enough scene setting. Let’s see what our mystery photographer pointed his camera at.

'30 Model A in 1945This ’30 Model A looks fairly good from this angle. It’s obviously had a lot of work done, starting with the body channeled over the stock frame, a split front wishbone, handmade V-windshield, and a custom dash full of gauges. Between ’39 teardrops you can see the 1945 CA plate. The whitewall tires were unusual for the time, and the ripple disc caps might have been covering wire wheels. The weird thing in this photo is the small, single pipe exiting near the rear of the hood side.

'30 Model A hot rod in 1945'30 Model A hot rod in 1945However, seen from these angles, things don’t look so good.  The handmade hood certainly doesn’t fit, and hangs strangely below the frame. Who knows what the steering is. It has mechanical brakes. The over-the-door upholstery is cheap. It could use a grille and lose the extra headlights. And it even has a sizable dent in the rear quarter. And with no pipe on this side, I’d guess it has a stock 4-cylinder.

'28 Model A hot rod in 1945This ’28 A, also channeled over the stock frame with mechanical brakes, has a nicer, straighter, painted body, a filled Deuce shell, and a 59A V8 with finned Edelbrock heads, twin carbs, and even a chromed generator. It’s hard to see, but it has a set of those rare “crescent” Du Vall caps on the front, and maybe big airplane(?) tires on the rear. But that sports-car-style cut-down, filled-in door and big puffy upholstery just kill the otherwise cool look.

Model A roadster in 1945Ok, how about something a lot nicer? This pert, probably black ’28-’29 A roadster–again channeled over a stock frame, but with post-’39 juice brakes, has excellent bodywork and paint. It also has a filled ’32 grille, plus a nicely formed 3-piece hood with lunchbox latches and side louvers like those in Ray Brown’s ’32. Plus the rear wheelwells have been filled and smoothed (look closely–so has the front spreader bar). This time the over-the-door, probably brown leather upholstery with a nice back roll, looks professional. With painted wires, blackwalls, and chrome caps ‘n’ rings, this is a magazine or show-worthy rod…if there were any mags or shows then. The only part I don’t get is the high headlight bar. The height law wasn’t enacted until 1951, and I can’t figure what that white piece is.

Deuce roadster hot rod in 1945You’ve probably noticed that most of the cars so far are Model As. They were cheaper and much more plentiful. Well here’s a Deuce roadster that would still be in style today, starting with the steel wheels with caps and rings. Although the curved headlight stands are a bit strange, it has hydraulic brakes and even (Mopar) tube shocks. The Deuce shell is nicely filled, the windshield is heavily chopped and raked, and hopefully you’ve noticed that all of these cars are painted; some better than others, but none in primer like many think today. Finally, this ’32 is fitted with a later 59A V8 with stock heads, but what appears to be one of those side-by-side dual carb intakes with two chromed 97s.

'32 3 window in 1945 While closed cars weren’t allowed to race at the lakes, that didn’t mean that rodders (or our camera-man) eschewed or ignored them. This ’32 3-window might appear primered, but I think its perfectly cherry body is just in original fading paint. It’s not lowered because there was no simple way to do that in ’45. But it has had the fenders, running boards, and bumpers removed (plus the cowl lights). It has bullet headlights, and some sort of newer taillights set in the rear. And strangely, the rear frame horns and spreader bar appear to be crudely torched off.

Deuce 3-window in 1945

This Deuce 3-window is another story. I’d guess it was built in the late-’30s in the emerging custom style. Again, lowering wasn’t an easy option on a ’32. But look at the neatly bobbed and reshaped front fenders, chrome gravel shields on the rears, and especially the nicely formed (’34-like) pan covering the gas tank with a recessed cap. I can’t I.D. the newer bumpers, and the taillights look like ’41 Chevy, but they have bulging lenses. Of course it has chrome dual pipes, a filled grille, sealed-beam headlights, solid hood sides, and single-bar flipper caps, all of which could have come from Eastern Auto. Looks like our photog talked the owner into lifting the hood to show off what appears to be an original but very clean 21-stud V8 fitted with a slingshot 2-carb adapter and a little extra chrome. You’ll also note that baloney-slice carb stacks seem to be the preference (possibly only choice?) for carb-toppers.

Deuce hiboy hot rod in 1945Now here’s a part I can’t explain. I wish the photo of this Deuce hiboy were better, because it’s just plain bitchin’ (to quote Gray Baskerville), and it needs no real explanation, other than why it has such tiny rear tires (possibly temporary, given wheel color), and why it has the number on the door (maybe it raced Muroc pre-War). But it’s obviously a cool street rod in this form. '27 T track roadster hot rod in 1945'27 T track roadster hot rod in 1945'27 T track roadster hot rod in 1945But here’s where more mystery evolves. Besides the one photo of the #44 Deuce, there are no less than six pics of this ’27 T track roadster, which I must assume belonged to the Deuce owner. I further assume that the top photo is the earliest. There are four photos of the scalloped version, both on and off the trailer, with and without the windshield, and from the right and left sides with no pipes showing, so my guess is a V8 with under-car headers. Remember that track racing didn’t resume until 1945–at numerous SoCal tracks–so I’d say the #1 form is the newest, after it won a season championship at some track. I must say I love the wheel/tire combination. But several questions arise. Whose car was it? Was he (or they) friends or neighbors of the photographer? How come there are no photos taken at a track? And there’s an obvious time lapse here–how long? The big problem is that between ’45 and ’50 there were hundreds of these roadsters running on at least a dozen tracks, so identifying one—even a champion–would be luck. Anybody know?

You can also tell me if this is too much information–TMI. But here’s the real clincher. Hopefully you’ll agree (and maybe even know more about this than I do).

Custom car in 1945Custom car in 1945Custom car in 1945What in holy hubcaps is this thing? Well, I can tell you right off that it wears 1945 New York license plates (but the billboard in the photo above advertises Ida Lupino in something at the Wiltern Theater, so this is L.A.). It has right-hand steering and left-hand exhaust (denoting an inline engine). And it’s obviously custom-built to resemble–though not mimic–a Bugatti Type 59SC Atlantic of the mid-to-late 1930s. But what’s really intriguing, especially to our rod/custom photographer, is that it appears to include some Ford components. Notably the headlights and taillights, and in fact the whole front and rear fenders, look like they started life on a ’38-’39 (Standard) Ford. Most of the rest looks like it was deftly formed from sheetmetal by hand with help from rollers, wheels, or brakes. Who knows what the bumpers came from. Even the Bugatti-like grille is unchromed, suggesting it was hand-formed as well.

There’s more, but it’s only a vague memory. Remember, I got these photos 20-some years ago. But I think a neighbor back then not only identified this car, but showed me photos of the bare body stacked in pieces. He might have briefly owned it. I can’t remember. But he was old then, gone now. If you can shed further light on any of this, please let me know. Until next time, as Gray would say, Adeeos.