The Legacy of Walker Radiator Works Continues

How Johnson’s Radiator Works Builds a 1932 Ford Radiator

By Tommy Lee Byrd   –   Photography By the Author

When Alan Johnson builds a hot rod he takes design and functionality into account with every component on the car. Most of the Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop creations are built to be driven. Johnson has faithfully used Walker Radiator Works because of their durable construction and reliable performance. Vernon Walker revolutionized the street rod world with traditional brass and copper radiators that were guaranteed to cool. When Walker Radiator Works closed its doors, Johnson bought the entire operation. All the machines, patterns, and notes came with the purchase, but the name was not available, so he renamed it Johnson’s Radiator Works and moved the operation to a facility near his hot rod shop in Gadsden, Alabama.

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02 Walker Radiator Works booth at the first Street Rod Nationals in 1970
Walker Radiator Works was a vendor at the very first Street Rod Nationals in 1970. Vernon Walker’s updates and improvements brought these brass and copper radiators into the modern era.

Although there has been a learning curve, Johnson and his staff have devoted many hours to dialing in the manufacturing process. All the systems and processes that Walker implemented are still in place but transferring it over to a new facility and new staff took some time. Now the crew at Johnson’s Radiator Works is building up an inventory of cores, tanks, tubes, fins, and brackets, and fulfilling orders as quickly as possible. Every piece of the radiator, apart from the drain petcock, is built by a small but dedicated staff who want to build the very best handcrafted radiators right here in the USA.

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03 Machinery and tooling at Johnson’s Radiator Works
When Johnson bought the company, he got all the machinery and tooling. Johnson’s Radiator Works continues to manufacture its components with all the details that made Walker Radiator Works famous in the street rod world.

When shopping for a radiator for your street rod, muscle car, or classic truck, you have plenty of options. You could use an original radiator but they typically need repairs to be usable. Even then, the original tube and fin design is not the most efficient, which is why most people want to upgrade to a new radiator. While aluminum radiators are physically lighter, the brass and copper construction is more durable and conducts heat better if configured properly. That’s where Walker Radiator Works entered the scene with a custom-fin design that provides more air direction changes inside the core and four rows of 0.125×0.500-inch brass tubes for excellent flow. These two features dramatically increase cooling performance, compared to stock brass and copper radiators and most aluminum radiators.

04 Louvered copper fins of a radiator enhancing cooling efficiency
One of the reasons these radiators cool so efficiently is the louvered copper fins. The louvers in each fin encourage air direction changes, which in turn offers excellent cooling capability.

With dozens of direct-fit radiators covering the 70-year span of cars and trucks, Johnson’s Radiator Works offers a wide range of radiators. We followed along with the staff as they built a 1932 Ford radiator, which is available with Flathead hose configuration and other V8 applications for traditional Chevrolet and Ford engines as well as modern LS engines. Johnson’s also offers 1932 Ford radiators in standard height as well as shortened versions, up to 6 inches shorter than stock. This example has a standard V8 hose setup and comes complete with a Vintage Air AC condenser.

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05 Brass tubes made from flat sheet stock at Johnson’s Radiator Works
The brass tubes are made from flat sheet stock. The machine folds the flat stock into 0.125×0.500-inch tubes with a Pittsburgh seam for strength. The tube is then coated in solder and cut to lengths, depending on the application.

The manufacturing process is labor intensive and great care is taken in every step of production. Follow along as Johnson’s Radiator Works starts with flat sheets of copper, brass, and 12-gauge steel and builds a 1932 Ford radiator that’s guaranteed to cool, no matter the conditions. MR

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06 Brittany Winningham assembling a radiator core with four rows of tubes
Brittany Winningham assembles the core using four rows of tubes. You can see that the size and shape of the fins (0.250-inch fin height) allows for more tubes than a standard brass and copper radiator.
07 The structural strength of a radiator due to the designated fin height and additional tubes
Extra cooling capacity and structural strength are benefits of the designated fin height and additional tubes. This is especially important on cars like a 1932 Ford where the radiator is a structural part of the car’s front sheetmetal.
08 Assembled cores dipped in heat activated flux
The assembled cores are held in a special fixture and then dipped in a heat-activated flux. The cores are then lightly dried with an air nozzle.
09 Glenn Jackson placing assembled cores into the oven
Glenn Jackson slides several assembled cores into the oven. This melts the solder that is coated on the tubes and creates a strong bond with the fins.
10 Header panels stamped out of brass with flanged holes
Header panels are stamped out of brass and feature flanged holes to provide a tight fit around the tubes. The placement and length of the tubes must be precise to ensure proper fitment of the headers.
11 Glenn fastening the header panel onto the core assembly
Glenn carefully hammers the header panel onto the core assembly and then uses a special hammer and dolly to securely fasten the header to the core by swedging the tubes evenly across the entire surface.
12 Dipping the header in solder in a heated dipping tank
The header is held in place with solder, which is brought to temperature in a heated dipping tank. The core is first dipped in flux and then dipped into the solder tank. After the liquid solder is blown out of the tubes, the core is washed thoroughly.
13 Jackson and Brittany feeding a sheet of brass stock into the shear
Now that the core is complete, Jackson and Brittany feed a sheet of brass stock into the shear. These pieces are measured and cut to length and provide a blank canvas for the one-piece tanks.
14 Stamping machine for the upper tank of a 1932 Ford radiator
The 1932 Ford radiator uses a stamped upper tank, and this machine makes quick work of it. Dies are changed, based on the application of the radiator, but once it’s set up Jackson can stamp dozens of tanks to have them on the shelf for future builds.
15 Lower tank of a radiator stamped with strengthening beads
The lower tank starts as a flat sheet of brass and is stamped with strengthening beads before it’s formed.
16 Lower radiator hose outlet punched out on the lower tank
The lower tank has its lower radiator hose outlet punched out and is then formed into the proper size and shape, based on extensive notes for each application.
17 Spot welded tabs on each corner of the formed tank
After the tank is formed, the tabs are spot-welded on each corner. The seams will be filled with solder when the tanks are attached to the core.
18 Punching station for the upper tank of a radiator
The upper tank is taken over to the punching station where the holes are punched for the filler neck and upper radiator hose.
19 Punching holes in the upper tank based on application information
Johnson’s Radiator Works has files of information on each application telling the workers exactly where to punch the holes. After the holes are punched, the “Johnson’s” logo and a serial number are stamped.
20 Core assembly placed in a rotating and pivoting fixture
The core assembly is placed in a rotating and pivoting fixture that allows easy access to all edges and corners of the radiator. The large pads prevent damage to the fins when it is clamped in place.
21 Johnson fitting the upper tank to the core
Johnson takes pride in each piece that leaves the facility and knows the manufacturing process from front to back. Here, Johnson is fitting the upper tank to the core.
22 Johnson hammering the flanges down for a tight fit on the tank
The tank fits inside the header and then Johnson hammers the flanges down for a tight fit.
23 Johnson using a torch and solder to apply flux
Johnson uses a torch and solder while applying flux with a brush to keep things flowing. It’s an art to make the solder flow out and look nice, but it’s a challenge that Johnson enjoys.
24 Johnson installing the filler neck and hose outlet
The long run on the upper tank is done in sections to hold the tank in place. Johnson installs the filler neck and hose outlet after the tank is secure and then goes back to fill in the gaps.
25 Solder holding the filler neck and outlets in place on the brass tanks
Solder holds the filler neck and outlets in place and provides a strong, leak-free bond on the brass tanks.
26 Cutting and punching mounting brackets from twelve gauge steel
Twelve-gauge steel is used to build the mounting brackets for each application. Here, the rod holders for the 1932 Ford radiator are cut to length, punched with mounting tabs, and then stamped to the proper shape.
27 Completed radiator with mounting brackets from Johnson’s Radiator Works
No radiator leaves Johnson’s Radiator Works without complete mounting brackets—ready to bolt into your vehicle. Twelve-gauge steel is used for the brackets, which are held in place with solder.
28 Johnson soldering the rod holders onto the upper tank
Johnson is a perfectionist and spends a great deal of time ensuring each radiator looks good and performs as advertised. Here, he solders the rod holders onto the upper tank.
29 Pressure testing each radiator before painting and shipping
Every radiator is pressure tested before it’s painted and shipped to the customer. Johnson’s Radiator Works radiators are designed to operate with a 15- to 18-pound radiator cap, so 20-plus pounds of pressure ensures proper sealing.
30 Radiator on an assembly line leading to the painting station
After the tanks and mounting brackets are installed, the radiator is placed on an assembly line that leads to the painting station. Brittany handles painting duties and final assembly.
31 Installation of Vintage Air A C condensers on Johnson’s Radiator Works radiators
Johnson’s Radiator Works uses Vintage Air AC condensers on all of its air-conditioned applications. Brittany installs the condenser and hard lines before preparing the radiator for shipment.
32 Completed radiator from Johnson’s Radiator Works carrying on the Walker legacy
Decades of research and development from the Walker family and Johnson’s dedication results in products that are guaranteed to cool and carry on the Walker Radiator Works legacy.
33 Preassembled Johnson’s Radiator Works radiator ready for installation
When a Johnson’s Radiator Works radiator shows up at your door, it is ready to be installed. Mounting brackets, condenser, and lines are pre assembled and ready for use on your hot rod, classic truck, or muscle car.
34 Handcrafted American made radiator from Johnson’s Radiator Works ready for shipping
This 1932 Ford radiator is ready to be boxed up and shipped off to the customer. The handcrafted, American-made radiator is ready for the highway and guaranteed to cool.

Johnson’s Radiator Works
(256) 399-9925

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