Fabricating a Custom Three-Piece Hot Rod Hood

By Gerry Burger – Photography by the Author

Bill Sather has been around hot rods for a long time. Living in the Austin, Texas, area you just know he has an eye for traditional hot rods. Sather acquired this coupe a few years back as part of a trade. It was just an old 1934 ford 5 window coupe body with typical battle scars but well worth saving.

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The coupe had a wicked profile but it would require extensive metal work to build the world-class hot rod Sather envisioned. The car was shipped to BBT Fabrications in Mahomet, IL, where Troy Gudgel and his team could work a little metal magic.

Sather purchased the chassis from a fellow in California, part of a stalled project, but Sather liked the magnesium Halibrand wheels, quick-change rearend, and the dropped front axle with hairpins. So, the 1934 ford coupe was mounted to a vintage hot rod chassis and with the top chopped it became the classic image of a bad-boy hot rod coupe.

The original hood was pretty rough with bent louvers and typical wear and tear. Beyond that, the hood would need to be extended to allow room for the blower drive. A new three-piece Rootlieb hood made the perfect starting point.

Oh, and did we mention Sather has a thing for blowers? Adding a BDS 6-71 blown small-block to the profile completed the hot rod packaging. There was just one problem, while the profile was there, the craftsmanship was not up to contemporary standards. A call to BBT Fabrications in Mahomet, Illinois, would take care of that problem. After talking with Troy Gudgel, Sather was certain he could come up with the perfect blend of old-school hot rod attitude and world class craftsmanship.

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To properly fit a hood, you must first define the opening. That begins by mounting the grille shell. It must be centered in the frame at the proper height and the fore/aft angle must be set.

The 1934 ford coupe was shipped up to BBT Fabrications and work began. The metalwork was extensive and so we decided to follow along, starting with fitting the hood. The 1934 ford coupe came with an original four-piece hood but that was set aside in favor of a new three-piece Rootlieb hood. This three-piece configuration would allow for four vintage-style breathers to protrude through the hood. The hood sides carry stock louvers but without the lower body reveal and the two holes for the hood latch handles.

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Stretching masking tape down the body reveals a good sight line that helps dictate the height of the grille shell.

To properly fit a hot rod hood you must first establish the opening that it will cover, and that entails a lot of work. On a 1934 highboy you must first establish the location of the grille shell and the angle of the grille shell. In this case the radiator was moved forward to clear the 3-inch belt drive on the BDS blower. Since this was going to a non-stock, stretched hood, the angle of the grille shell did not have to conform to the stock hood sides.

All the coolers and A/C components have been mounted and plumbed to ensure there is room behind the grille shell.

The angle of the grille shell was largely done “by eye” and it is close to the angle of the windshield. With the angle and radiator established, new radiator rods were fabricated and mounts were welded to the aluminum radiator. This established the fore/aft location of the front of the hood.

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With the radiator and grille shell height determined it was time to fabricate radiator rods that run from the stock mounts on the firewall to the top of the aluminum radiator. Here the stainless steel rods have been cut and threaded.

Before the Rootlieb hood sides could be mounted the inner splash aprons must be mounted. Gudgel began with a set of reproduction splash aprons, knowing they would have to be modified for this application. The aprons would also require a bit of slicing, dicing, and extending to make the lower body reveal align perfectly. Remember, these aprons were built to be mostly under the fender, so Ford didn’t worry about perfect fit. After the splash aprons were shaped the basic opening for the hood sides had been established.

As you can see the blower drive is almost touching the radiator tank. The radiator rods will move the top of the radiator forward just enough to provide clearance.

Again, starting with a Rootlieb hood, the hood side was fitted to the cowl first and held in place with a couple Cleco fasteners. This established the proper gap at the firewall and the splash aprons. A template was made and the front of the hood was extended. This is a gross oversimplification of the process, so follow along with the photos to see the work involved.

These sanitary radiator rod mounts are a good example of the metalwork at BBT Fabrications. Remember these brackets must also include clearance for the hood top. Note the blower drive now has ample clearance, too.

With both hood sides properly located, the hidden hood latch system was installed and a pair of hood top braces were also installed.

With the grille located it’s time to begin fitting a set of reproduction steel inner splash panels to the car. Here the stock hood side is used for initial splash apron alignment.

The top of the Rootlieb hood was fitted to the front around the radiator cap and grille shell. The original radiator cap was retained to carry on the traditional theme of the car. While the hood sides only required straight forward extension, the hood top was much more complicated.

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Moving to the front, the original hood is clamped in place to get an idea of how the splash aprons fit and what changes will need to be made to fit the new hood to this extended opening.

While the front and the rear of the Rootlieb hood would both fit the grille shell and the cowl respectively, because the distance between the cowl and the grille shell had been extended, the gradual taper of the hood from cowl to grille was changed. The hood top was cut into three pieces, with two sides pieces being fit to the opening.

A similar test-fitting was done on the driver side. This helps establish the location of the splash apron height on the frame rail along with the gap between the hood and the splash apron.

Then the remaining hood skin was wedge cuts to adjust the taper (see photos). The wedge cuts served to establish the shape of the centerskin, a metal strip was added to each side of the skin, and then it was cut to fit the opening. The metalwork and metal finishing exhibited here is extraordinary.

Fitting the new Rootlieb hood to the splash aprons was a similar exercise. Here the hood is clamped in place. Notice the new hood carries stock-style louvers but no hood latch handles and the lower reveal on the hood was eliminated. The gap between grille and hood is seen here, too.

Now the modified centerskin was rejoined to the two other hood top pieces with panel clamps and after many, many tack welds the finish welding and metal finished was completed before the hole was cut in the center of the hood for those vintage-style breathers. In the end Gudgel had fabricated a custom three-piece hood with great fit and finish that combined modern craftsmanship with vintage style. MR

BBT Fabrications
(217) 586-5699

(209) 632-2203

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