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Is this Britain’s most expensive hot rod yet?
When Les Howlett spied The "Brookville Dynaliner", the nostalgic, lakes-style ’32 coupe built for Dynamat in 2005 to promote the company’s sound-proofing materials, he was hooked. Les loved the style and appearance of this cutaway coupe and the very careful attention to detail - right down to the patina’d paintwork and lettering.
“I really liked the idea of repeating that concept for the road in the UK, and creating a unique rod with some ultra-rare components, like a LaSalle Grille and Kinmont brakes,” recalls Les. A slight complication, however, was that he was half way through having a custom Model A roadster put together by Home Grown Hot Rods, which ended up as a stunning car in its own right. As regular visitors to the website will know, this was featured in drcreview.com in March 2008. Les’s overriding passion for a lakes-look-alike meant the A had to go, however, and early in 2008, it was moved on to a new owner in Germany. Armed with a significantly revitalised bank balance, Les was now in a position to get the new project underway and spent little time in moving it forward.
Les's '29 Roadster on '32 rails
Over a period of months, he set about scouring the rod shops and small ads to find the components he wanted to make it almost era perfect. Of course, a major factor would be the body and here Les sourced a chopped, ’34 steel three-window coupe shell off ebay in the US. “I paid a lot of money for that body, but I’d never buy blind again,” says Les, with some regret - more about that later.
Les liked what Adrian Smith had been turning out at Buckland Automotive, and in particular, the treatment of Paul Beamish’s heavily modified Model A coupe. It was different and featured very few off-the-shelf components, something Les wanted to factor into the project. The two got together for an initial chat and Adrian produced some illustrations of how the car could look, penned by Adrian’s able partner, Drew Ford. Les was impressed and the seeds were sown. In February 2008, armed with the body and a few other parts, Les returned to Buckland’s shop in Bedford.
Paul Beamish's coupe on the right outside of Buckland's workshop
“We took the view of building a coupe that would sit well between the Chrisman and Pierson Brothers cars, with a highly detailed chassis and lightly patina’d body atop,” says Adrian. Virtually all of the car would be hand made and, of course, when you go this route it can be very time consuming, as well as costly. Time was in short supply, however, as a self-imposed deadline of 12 months had been set so the car could debut at the SINS show in Belgium during April 2009, just over a year away.
First job on the “to-do” list was to sort that body. Les explained that, from a distance, it had looked very good, but on closer inspection, was found to have been seriously bodged. Even the roof chop hadn’t been done correctly, and Les noted that in some sections there was filler at least six inches deep! There was no other solution but to take the body back to bare metal and start again. In the end, not one single part of the body was left untouched. There’s a new screen reveal, a new back half of the roof, which incorporates an equally fresh rear window reveal, new door shuts and inner door panels and new sheet metal for the lower 12 inches of the body. Adding further to the desired look is a wedge section job with three inches removed from the front and two inches from the rear. The final exterior touches included a fully louvered deck lid and roof infill panel.
Inside the shell, Adrian and Drew grafted in a narrowed ’40 Ford dash with a new mechanism to allow the screen to open and close. They installed custom aluminium panelling, a roll bar, fabricated seat frames with drilled out sections and installed a pair of Adrian’s trademark aluminium bomber seats complete with leather inserts by GB upholstery. There’s custom broadcloth headlining in there, too, as well as a unique set of pedals.
Mid-way through fitting out the interior
As you can see in the photos, completing the shell was really only half the job, and it’s probably fair to say that a similar amount of creativity and effort went into fitting that distinctive ’37 LaSalle grille, custom side panels and hood, to achieve the effect both Les and Adrian were after. The fact the new nose looks like it was meant to be there in the first place is testament to Buckland’s metal-working skills. You really have to see this car in person, however, in order to appreciate all the little details that make it so convincing.
“There was only going to be one choice of firepower for a car of this type,” says Les, “and it had to be a ‘blown’ flathead.” Les turned to noted US specialist engine builder, H&H Flatheads, and gave them a $20,000 order to produce a custom-built motor with a GMC supercharger. In the end, the motor delivered was a 296 cuber, equipped with Navarro heads and inlet manifold, triple Stromberg 97 carb set-up, Scat internals and the aforementioned blower. Sadly, the motor didn’t last much longer than a quick fire-up before literally grinding to a halt. On stripping it down, it was found the internals were, let’s say, far from pristine, and a new short block was ordered and delivered at no cost to Les within a matter of a few weeks. Thankfully, the replacement motor was what the original should have been and ran as expected once all the ancillaries had been painstakingly bolted back on. It makes around 300 horsepower, which is not huge by modern V8 standards, but very healthy for a 60-year old flattie. Handling all of that antique horsepower is a modern T5 five-speed transmission, which hooks up via a Wildcap gearbox adapter.
As more of the chassis and drivetrain components were acquired, Adrian was able to start piecing it all together. He used ASC rails, which he and Drew boxed, drilled and sleeved front to rear with the exception of the front and rear frame horns. A neat touch involved reversing and sectioning the rear horns to follow more closely the curvature of the body and adding a custom rear spreader bar. What you can’t see under that body in the pictures, however, is the Model A front and rear cross-members plus a custom chassis K frame added for good measure.
Originally, the front suspension was designed with an ‘I’ beam axle, but that has been ditched in favour of a rare ’37 Ford tube item on ’40 bones, which have been partly drilled and sleeved. There’s also a custom steering arm, ’40 Ford spindles, custom flat spring, rare Hartford friction dampers and even rarer Kinmont disc brakes, which hark back to the mid-’40s. Imagine having such brakes on a car back then – their performance must have been really outstanding compared with the conventional drums that were the order of the day. Apparently, automobile manufacturer, Tucker, noted for its advanced automotive design, selected Kinmont brakes for its limited run of production cars. If you can actually find a pair now, you’ll probably pay in excess of $10,000 for them! By modern disc brake standards, the actual friction area is pretty weedy, but it’s the rarity value and unique actuation that has no doubt made them iconic hot rod parts. Talking of rare components, steering is handled by a Schroeder sprint car set-up with a bell wheel mounted on a custom cowl hoop.
At the rear of the chassis, Adrian and Drew fashioned up custom brackets to take the iconic Winters Quickchange rear axle, equipped in this case with 10 inch diameter Ford drum brakes. There are also telescopic dampers and a transverse Model A leaf spring included in the mix.
When it came to painting the chassis, Adrian and Drew had been experimenting with powder-coated finishes and the recently extended range now included gold and copper shades, as well as chrome. These are apparently very durable and hard-wearing and, as demonstrated on the Crazy ‘A’ produced for Paul Beamish, can look very convincing compared with more conventional painting. In the end, Adrian selected chrome powder coating for the chassis and gold for the front axle and location arms.
Prior to powder-coating
As for the body, a chocolate brown shade was chosen by Adrian, applied and given the weathered patina you might expect of a 50-plus year old lakes car. This is further emphasised by the rubbed through numbers on the doors and some of the folds in the body panels. Finishing off the external appearance are a pair of rare Edmunds & Jordan headlights, Pontiac tail lights and custom-made Vintique 17 and 18 inch diameter wire wheels painted in contrasting cream and wrapped with Excelsior competition tyres.
“We worked 12 hours per day, seven days per week for the last two and a half months to get the car ready for the SINS show,” reveals Adrian. “In the end, we finished it just six hours before leaving for Antwerp. For us, the greatest part of the build was seeing it move under power for the very first time – it made the hairs on your neck stand up. It was awesome.”
All of this effort did not go unnoticed once the coupe was on display at the Belgian event, and it went on to take the Best in Show trophy – a just reward. Since then, it has been displayed at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where it drew favourable comment from non other than Bruce Meyer, and was also seen at the Supernationals and Goodwood Revival meetings, ending what you could say was a fairytale debut year. For owner, Les, this “fairytale” came to a rather abrupt end with the sudden collapse of the housing boom during the year. As a brick contractor, his business suffered badly and that stark reality meant the coupe on which he’d lavished so much money, time and attention had to go.
“I was totally gutted,” observes Les. “I’d only driven it about 12 miles and mostly in first gear since it was completed and it was my dream to take it to Bonneville and put it on the salt. I spent an awful lot of money on parts and, understandably, having the car virtually hand built with very few off the peg components proved to be very costly. It really broke my heart to see it go, having spent well over £100,000 to get it built in the first place.”
The car was recently purchased by Paul Beamish of the Crazy Horse custom bike emporium and, according to Adrian, is being used extensively.
As for Les, we’re pleased to report it’s not all doom and gloom anymore, and he’s purchased a new toy – a steel ’32 five-window coupe – to keep himself busy over over the new year.
Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk