How to Build a 1929 Ford Hot Rod
By: John A. Ansons
The inexpensive way
Using Imagination, ingenuity, and determination
Not just cheap, but a high quality build
Catch your interest, read on……
John Ansons and his 1929 Ford Hotrod live in Strathroy, Ontario, Canada . The story of this car is a rather twisting and complex one that started with the purchase of two old and rather tattered Plymouths in 2004. There is trading and piecing together. Selling, bartering, designing, and building of parts such as the frame and other parts. There is tearing down, fabricating, parts transplants, There is money in and money out. But the most interesting financial aspect of the finances of this project is that in the end the “in” and the “out” of it is almost even. This project cost very little in terms of money. What it did cost was supplemented with a lot of thought, even more imagination and ingenuity, stubbornness and the determination to see it finished.
It is also a matter of some pride that it was done with little money and a lot of hard work. It is easy, with pockets that go deep enough to have a brilliant polished project parked in the driveway for all to see. That, is easy. (Written by: J. L. Reilly my best friend, partner, and best of all, my wife of 4 and 30 years. Thanks, Janis)
So you want to build a hot rod, where do you start? – Part 1
The journey begins here.
This all started when I was growing up in a small mining town in Northern Ontario. We always made things and fixed everything. It was a necessity of the time. A regular part of the routine was fixing up old beater cars used for everyday transportation. There was a succession of many $25 and $50 cars. Add a bottle of rye for a mechanic and you had a safety check and a “new” daily driver. Boy things have changed. That is a good thing.
Like most kids, I was in there like a dirty shirt, helping my father out the best I could. Probably, I was in the way most of the time, but he never said word about it. Fairly early on, I wanted a snowmobile. Of course we could not afford one. One day, my father came home with one. A strange looking thing called a Snow Bug. I looked at this thing and thought “this thing is outright weird”. Necessity overcame pride and this is what I had, so I worked with it. Snow Bugs were not like normal snowmobiles, these had the motor in the back and you sat on a seat in the front on top of the ski. They had a 24″ wide track and only one wide ski in the front. They were made out of aluminum and not painted. The one my dad brought home was in pieces, lots of pieces. With my father working all of the time, I became impatient and started to put this thing back together. There was far more pushing it home than driving it, and lots of regular repairs. That Snow Bug taught me lots about engines, pulley and gear ratios.
When I started High School I made many visits to the variety store during lunch breaks, checking out the magazine racks. Magazines on Hot Rods and Dune Buggies caught my interest. I could not find an old car like the early 30′s Fords that I liked, but we had lots of old VW beetles kicking around. The Baja Sand Rails and classic dune buggies looked attractive. The fibre glass body was out of the question for obvious reasons, but I did have access to an oxygen/acetylene cutting and welding set. Lots of old water pipe was easily accessible for the right price, free. So, I went to design and build my first VW dune buggy, in the style of the Sand Rail. I found lots of pictures in various magazines. They became my blueprint. This was at the ripe old age of 13. Now we call builds like this, Rat Rods.
So you want to build a hot rod – Part 2
Being left alone at home during the summer time, I had lots of time to learn how to use the torch and gas weld. No problem here. I watched my father do this many times. I found out quickly, that watching somebody do something is not the same as doing it yourself. This still holds true. To think of this now, it must have been scary, driving this contraption, built with elementary welding knowledge. I must have done all right, I am still here to tell this story.
Of course, growing up in a mining town, and having a father that knew how to do and try lots of things also helped. He was my resource and supplier of parts. Growing up poor and having to learn how to fix everything, and make all sorts of improvisations to keep up with the Jones’ also had an important role. Incidentally, the Jones’ did live down the street from me. I find it interesting how life’s early beginnings set the path for what you end up doing later in life.
About 5 years ago, I came up with the idea of building a hot rod. I researched the idea of building an AC Cobra kit car and came up with a fabricator and supplier about 2 hours from home. Everything about building a Cobra seemed very expensive. This didn’t make any sense at all. We still had young kids at home, a mortgage, just trying to make it to the end of the month was a challenge. I decided to end future frustration before it began. I let the idea die an early death.
The Internet is an excellent resource for research. I found many books on building cars of all types. How to Build a Sports Car For as Little as 250 Pounds by Ron Champion was very interesting and exactly what I wanted to do. This book had possibilities and looked very appealing. Why did this interest me? Everything could be completed cheaply, and the use of an old four banger car was easy to find. With titles and ISBN numbers in hand, off I went to the library to search for titles I found on the Internet. Of course, living in a small town has disadvantages in this department. None of the titles I was looking for were available locally. I did find one book on the shelf, Street Rodder’s Handbook by Frank Oddo. This had a good amount of basic information that I needed to start with. Knowing the librarian, I asked her to make inter-library loans for the books that I had on my list. The library is a great place and an excellent resource. Many of these books took weeks to arrive, and many never did. Every week I would provide the elderly librarian a new list. I think she was starting to get just a bit annoyed with me. In one of our conversions, I told her she will get a ride in the hot rod that I build when it is completed. She is holding me to it.
I started to do lots of reading. Magazines started to come home by the cart load. After many discussions with my best friend, who just happens to be my wife, I decided search out a car.
We have an expression here at home, “when you start looking for something, you always find it”. This holds true for everything, from houses to furniture and everything else you can imagine. An adult student and hot rodder that I was teaching electronics at the time at a local community college I work at gave me a copy of an Old Autos newspaper. Old Autos is published twice a month, in Bothwell, Ontario and is a must for anybody getting into vintage cars or hot rods.
So you want to build a hot rod – Part 3
The paper I received was several months old, but I still looked at the want ad section. There was an ad for two cars about 30 minutes from home. Perfect! One 1930 and one 1931 Plymouth four door cars for $3500. I made a call, and discovered this person still had both cars. We arranged a time for me to view the cars. I was excited. Who would have thought I could find something so fast and so close to home. Remember the expression, “when you start looking for something, you always find it”! It’s true. Away, I went in my Mustang convertible, top down, and for a drive to this fellow’s house, on a nice sunny day. When I arrived, I noticed this fellow had a big collection of Plymouths and a lot of other junk, all in need of work, lots of work. My guess is that if this fellow lives to be 150, he will never finish all of these cars. In fact, I do not think this fellow has ever finished a car for himself.
1930 plymouth hanging from the shop ceiling
1931 plymouth hanging from the shop ceiling
Upon entry to his shop, I found more cars and stuff. The Plymouths I came to look at, were on top of each other to my amazement. The ‘30 Plymouth was hanging on chains from the ceiling, only inches from the roof of the ‘31 Plymouth resting on the shop floor. Cars were packed in like sardines in a can. He had an old truck chassis on small coasters, and pulled it away from the Plymouths. Bearings from the coasters, started to bounce and roll across the floor. The weight of the chassis was just too much for the little wheeled coasters. I started to wonder what I was getting into. You would have to think about this. Putting a heavy chassis on rollers meant for a small cabinet. This did not make sense. I wondered what kind of builder this person was? Finally, I was able to check the cars out. The ‘30 Plymouth had a complete body with bits and pieces of the mechanical parts missing and all sorts of things piled inside the car. The ‘31 was totally complete with engine sitting on the floor in pieces ready to be reassembled. I was only interested in one car, the ‘30 Plymouth. It did not look like it would ever be put back together in its original form. It made the most sense to turn this one into a hot rod. I only wanted the ‘30 Plymouth, but this fellow would not separate them. Maybe he thought they were sisters and needed to be in the same home. This was a problem for me, I did not want sisters. My shop is small and loaded with woodworking equipment and lots of wood. I simply did not have the space. This required a bit of thought. More like a lot of thought. So I went home to think about this and talk this all over with my best friend, my wife. Please remember one thing, if you want to stay married, you better have the support of your spouse. Life is too short for conflict.
In the mean time, I started to clean and organize the shop. A bit more space was made, but still not enough room for two very old cars. After thinking this all over for about a week, I decided another trip to see the cars was in order. One more drive on a sunny day in my Mustang convertible. It doesn’t get any better than that. Go for a drive, smell the roses and enjoy life. During my visit with this fellow and looking at the cars again, he started talking about cutting up the cars and selling all of the pieces, making him far more then the $3500 he was asking for both cars. I am not sure what this was all about, maybe a bit of pressure, maybe just a bunch of loose talk. Then he mentioned that he would even deliver the cars to my house. Not, liking the high pressure of selling, off I went back home to think about this some more and clean up the shop a bit more. After a few days, I gave the fellow a call and said okay lets make a deal. He asked me if I wanted the engine put back together. This made a lot of sense since I did not take it apart and it would take me longer to figure out than it would take this guy. The best thing of all was he was not going to charge me any extra for this. He wanted me to buy a 8 cylinder distributor he modified for the old four-cylinder Plymouth engine. His rationale was that the original distributor did not turn in the engine. Something didn’t click with me on this one and I decided to pass on his modified distributor. A few days later, the ‘31 Plymouth arrived at my place. We unloaded the car and pushed it into the shop. We made arrangements for the ‘30 Plymouth’s delivery in about a week. It was getting late, so he went home, and I stayed in the shop staring at my acquisition. What was I getting into?? The next day I started unloading some of the boxes inside the car and came across the vintage distributor for the car. This fellow must have liked ripping things apart. Every part that could be taken off the distributor was sitting loose in the box. Why would anybody do that? Maybe just busy work?
1931 plymouth still on the trailer outsided my shop
1931 plymouth delivered outside my shop
1931 plymouth ready to roll into my shop
So you want to build a hot rod – Part 4
Some people are hard to figure out in this hobby. I have seen people buy all kinds of cars and parts, but never do anything with them other than store them. Eventually some people end up with warehouses of stuff! One thing I have learnt is that you need to stay focussed. Have a plan and stick to it. This is especially for the first time builder, only buy what you need for the stage you are at and do not get anything that you think you might use or need just because it is cheap. You are not a bird chasing after shiny things! I have bought many items on EBay and at swap meets. Some I have used, and many items are either still sitting in the shop, or have been re-sold. Many of the items I have re-sold have been sold for a profit. This was fortunate, and may not always be the case. Of course, the profit on these items sold did lower my overall build cost. With a small shop out of necessity I developed the policy if I have not used something in two years I sell it. I have found things in my shop that I forgot I had, so if I forgot about them, it makes perfect sense to sell these items.
Go to cruises and ask lots of questions. Most car builders are flattered when you take an interest in their car by asking questions. You should even take pictures of cars similar to the car you are building. This is not for the purpose of copying someone else’s ideas. It is good to develop your own reference library. You always think that you are going to remember a great idea. Inevitably you will forget it by the time you get to that point on your own build. Worse you will remember you saw a great idea, just not what it was exactly. With digital cameras it never has been easier to take pictures.
Finally, when you are out looking at other people’s work, leave the “Critic” at home. I have heard some people comment on the builder’s methods and choice of materials loud and long. You mark yourself as a ignorant bore or worse. Often those comments come from people that do not have there own car or have not built their own hot rod. The people with the most advice are the ones who do the least. Remember, if you can’t say anything good, don’t say it.
So you say, what does this have to do with a 1929 Ford Hot Rod? Well, it’s the start of an interesting journey. You will have to read on.
Money making distractions will be the next section.