Ken Gross' roadster


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Ken Gross' roadster
« on: February 19, 2018, 03:53:09 PM »
words by Ken Gross himself:

Long before I mastered the intricacies of four-and five-speed gearboxes, and knew anything about Porsches, Ferraris and Jaguars, I'll confess, I was a hot rodder. My high school cars included a '40 Ford coupe with an Oldsmobile engine and a '48 Ford Club Coupe with a warmed-over flathead. I pored over well-worn copies of Hot Rod Magazine and Rod & Custom with rabid attention to detail that should have been reserved for chemistry and biology texts. Like many of my fellow Choppers Car Club members, I lusted after what I thought was the real thing -- a 1932 Ford roadster. It would have to be a fenderless highboy, of course, with a full-race Mercury flathead. That was the car I knew every teenage boy in California drove, but in snowy Swampscott, Massachusetts, owning such a car was probably more fantasy than possibility.

Over the years, despite ownership of five Morgans, two Ferraris and a Lamborghini, my interest in hot rods barely waned. Six years ago, I decided to build the car I'd wanted when I was 17. I spent some time gathering the requisite parts and delivered them to Dave Simard in Leominster, Massachusetts. A primo selection of rare flathead speed equipment, painstakingly gathered at venues like Hershey and the LA Roadster Club's big Father's Day swap meet, or found in Hemmings Motor News, was given to Mark Kirby, whose engine shop, Motor City Flathead, in Dundee, Michigan, has mastered the secrets of Henry's percolating "Underhead valve" V-8.

Everything on this car had to be original or fabricated in the fashion of 50 years ago. So my roadster features a hand-made Ed "Axle" Stewart dropped axle, a three-speed '39 Ford gearbox with a Lincoln Zephyr close-ratio first and second gear cluster, and a Halibrand quickchange rear end. The brakes are rare Kinmont discs from the forties -- only a few hundred sets were made. Big and little bias ply tires on narrow '40 Ford and wide-based '37 Lincoln wheels mount tall vintage Firestone rubber.

A tan Carson type padded top, reminiscent of those produced in Los Angeles in the forties sets off a full leather tuck and roll interior. Steve Pierce, Gilford, New Hampshire, did the honors. A '34 Auburn instrument panel features restored early 30s Stewart-Warner convex-lense gauges. There's even a specialty heater from the period.

1932 Ford Roadster EngineUnder the hood, a 59 "Z" block, probably from a military vehicle, was bored and stroked to 304-cid. An SCoT Roots-type supercharger develops 6 lbs of boost. Oversized valves, a meticulous port and relief job, lightweight pistons and a racing cam are just a few of the many modifications. Some of the things you can't see, that contribute to reliability, include a rare Harman & Collins racing magneto that's converted to solid state. It's operated by an innocuous-looking light switch that's connected to an MSD regulator for 15-18 degrees of ignition advance. There's an electric fuel pump tucked away; the frame is boxed from the K-member to the kick-up, and there are three additional tubular cross-members. Belond-type W-shaped headers dump into long lakes pipes that exit under the car and divert to Smithy glass-packed mufflers.

I'm a perfectionist, and so is Dave. I know I bored friends and colleagues for years with progress photos. Thanks for your patience. I'm only doing one car like this, so it had to be perfect. We chromed every single piece at the same plater for consistency. And did I mention 26-30 coats of hand-rubbed black lacquer (paint I'd been saving for years)? Kevin Olson and Phil Austin painted the car up in Vermont, and everybody rubbed out the paint in the dead of winter. Some of the specs make grown men cry, like the finned Eddie Meyer cylinder heads, Filcoolator remote oil cooler and the '39 International headlights with their cats-eye flashers. Everywhere you look there's lots of eye candy, especially underneath where, if it's not painted glossy black, it's plated.

Dave Simard and his team patiently solved every problem, resurrecting the old Ford sheet metal and frame, adapting and fashioning genuine Ford parts (even original Ford D-nuts from an extra frame). They have over 4,000 hours in this car. It's all metal finished; there's no putty or plaster. I can't thank them enough. It was like having your best friends build your car.

Good things take time. I visited Leominster every two to three months for five years and logged hundreds of phone calls. At the Oakland Roadster Show, with Dave and his team present, the car was presented with the coveted Bruce Meyer Preservation Award. That's it for car shows. The roadster is tight, solid and powerful; I have about 600 miles on it, and it's a thrill to drive. Just 2500 rpm translates to 65mph, and I've seen over 80 mph in second! It's all I ever wanted and more. And it's a road car now!