In The Garage Tale of a Tub

Part 1: This Rare Model A Tudor Phaeton was Built the Old-Fashioned Way … at Home

By Gerry Burger – Photography by Art Fortin

Once upon a time this was the rule rather than the exception: Real hot rods were built at home. Inside a reasonably well-equipped garage, armed with how-to articles from street rod magazines, cars were painstakingly assembled and driven.  Hot rod clubs were active and what the owner couldn’t do, club members would jump in with just the right talent. Well, folks, today seeing six-figure (dare we say the occasional seven-figure?) street rods winning awards is somewhat of the new normal, but fear not, the homebuilt hot rod still makes up the majority of the hot rods at most events. We are in no way disparaging the professional-built cars, rather we hold the pro cars up as examples of new trends, techniques, and parts that might find their way into our own backyard projects.

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An old industrial cart is the basis for this mobile frame jig. Fortin added outriggers to accommodate the length of the 1932 framerails. When shop space is limited, a mobile jig is the answer.
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While a lot of tarmac has passed under our collective hot rod rubber, there is still that next, or for some that final, street rod project. Enter Art Fortin, a longtime hot rodder originally from Massachusetts. When a job transfer landed him on the West Coast, he brought along his recently completed, full-fendered Deuce roadster. The year was 1981. Knowing full well there would be future hot rods to build, his stash of vintage parts was also relocated. Sure enough, over the years another Deuce roadster and a 1935 Ford Woodie would roll out of the Fortin garage.

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The first order of business was setting the framerails parallel and locating the axle centers for the stretched 109-inch wheelbase. It’s critical both framerails are perfectly parallel and level from side to side.

Now, motoring around in the Woodie was fun, but Fortin felt the urge for one last build. While he had loved his Deuces, it seemed the 1932 Ford roadsters were everywhere. He knew he wanted another open car but longed for something a bit different. After some research, he decided a Model A DeLuxe (two-door) phaeton, built highboy style, would be the perfect car for he and his wife, Louise. Since the car would be built as a highboy, Fortin decided to use a set of gennie 192 Ford framerails he had picked up at a swap meet years earlier. A buddy on the CHP ran the numbers stamped in the original framerails and discovered the number was clean and open. A clean title was issued and the build was underway.

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The rear of the framerails were stepped in the width of the framerail (2 inches) on each side. This was to provide all-important tire clearance. Neatly “tucked” tires are important for that proper highboy look. The rear frame sections were also kicked up 4 inches.

Fortin decided early on to build this car with a vintage theme, we’re talking late ’50s and early ’60s. It would be a car that would be street legal, but with enough performance for the occasional pass down the quarter-mile. Like most hot rods built in this time period it would be constructed in his home shop with a little help from his friends. The only concession to slightly later parts would be a Vega steering box, an alternator rather than a generator, and the five-speed gearbox. Of course, a nice, modern MIG welder replaced the old stick welder.

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This sideview shows the stepped chassis and the kicked-up rear section. This 4-inch kick gives the tub the desired ride height. Big Buick drums are attached to an early Halibrand quick-change rear.
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Power would come from the venerable 283 Chevrolet with the desirable-for-the-time “double-hump” heads, fed by an Offenhauser four-barrel intake. Coupled to a five-speed tranny, the power is passed back to a genuine Halibrand quick-change rear. Buick drum brakes on all four corners provide the stopping power and suspension consists of a dropped front axle and a Halibrand quickie suspended via a Model T rear spring. The wheelbase has been stretched 3 inches to 109 inches.

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Looking from the rear corner we can see the stepped frame and also the rear crossmember. Note the rear section of the chassis was fabricated from rectangular tubing and grafted to the stock 1932 framerails.

That’s the basics of the chassis; check out our photos for more detail. Suffice it to say the craftsmanship was first class and details abound. Of course, then there was the small matter of trying to locate an original 1930-31 Model A DeLuxe phaeton body to rest on top of this fine frame, but that story will have to wait until part 2 when we show the bodywork portion of this build. For now, enjoy viewing a great homebuilt chassis.  MR

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We love the spring attachment brackets Fortin fabricated to hold the early Model T spring in place. The well thought out design is not complicated, just very clean and functional. A piece of large angle iron and a filler piece of flat stock complete the bracket, while nice shaping of the pieces add style.
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A duplicate spring attachment bracket was formed for the back side of the rear crossmember. One look at the quick-change rear and Model T spring and you know this is going to be a very traditional tub.
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Beefy spring hangers were formed at home and include a second hole should ride height adjustment be called for. Tube shocks nestle between the spring the axle housing.
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From the inside you can see the shock mounts are clean and simple. The round crossmember has brackets to mount the tubular antiroll bar and arms and links complete the connection to the axle housing on both ends of the bar.
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Fortin designed his own transmission crossmember and whittled it out of 3/16 plate. It was done the old-fashioned way, with combination of torch, grinder, chop saw, or a cut-off wheel.
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A combination of SO-CAL Speed Shop radius rods and homemade brackets locate the quick-change rear. The tubular crossmember stiffens the framerails and will serve as a sway bar mount.
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Early Ford spindles mount Buick drum brakes. Those shock brackets are Pete and Jakes items that were designed as a weld-on bracket. Fortin made additional brackets to convert them to bolt on. The brackets were then chrome plated.
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The Model A front crossmember welded between the Deuce ’rails will provide a 1-inch drop. Note the clean-and-simple front spring mounting brackets and a transverse front spring with reverse eyes adding to the overall lowering.
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The reforged dropped front axle is located via split 1932 Ford wishbones, a simple stud through the axle is the lower shock mount, and all holes in the stock 1932 side ’rails have been filled.
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The now bolt-on headlight/shock absorber mounts were bolted in place with the headlights to be certain everything was going to align properly.
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The Flaming River, Vega-style steering box was located forward of the motor mounts with a Deuce Factory bracket. A Speedway Motors steering column will connect to the box.
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The clutch and brake pedal assembly are from SO-CAL Speed Shop and solved a lot of engineering. The tapping in the Chevy block dictates the location of the assembly. It should be noted not all blocks have the same tapping location … Fortin can attest to that.
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The master cylinder is a snug fit and is located in the owner-designed X-member. The dropped center bar is a SO-CAL Speed Shop item, all other tubes were bent by a local fabricating shop to Fortin’s specs.
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The super traditional approach continues with a 283 bored over 0.030 with camel-hump heads, a Thumpr from Comp Cams. The Offenhauser intake holds three deuces. The Zips water pump riser keeps thing cool and we like touches like the black alternator and the stock fuel pump.
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After all those hours of fabrication, grinding, and metal finishing the chassis is out of the homemade jig and in primer. Note the 2-inch step of the side ’rails and the bobbed rear framehorns.
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Chrome plating on the wishbones, axle, and shock mounts provide the perfect contrast to the burgundy chassis. Painting things like the pedal assembly, steering box, and motor mounts black add detail to the package.
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Jim Taormino handled the modifications and build of the Hurst-shifted, Camaro T-5 transmission. Contrasting silver is perfect and note the body mounts on top of the X-member tubes.
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The early Halibrand rear is filled with 3:78 ring-and-pinion and a final ration of 3.05, perfect for cruising. The 38-spline axles will spin the 16×6 McClean steelies with ease.
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After just the right amount of chrome plating the front suspension is picture perfect. Note the sway bar and the beautifully detailed Buick drum brakes.
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We couldn’t resist this overhead parting shot. It proves with basic tools, patience, and a healthy dose of hot rod experience, you can still build a beautiful hot rod chassis in your home shop.
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