The Flat 4rd
1934 Ford Pickup
- Engine: 2366cc porsche
- Transmission: 5 speed Porsche
- Suspension: Custom fabricated by Walt Letherman
- Brakes: Willwood
- Tires: Coker
- Exhaust: Custom fabricated by Walt Letherman
- Upholstery: Chris Plante (Aces High)
- Seats: Chris Plante (Aces High)
- Steering Wheel: Custom fabricated by Walt Letherman
- Steering Column: Custom fabricated by Walt Letherman
- Gauges: VDO
- Pedals: Custom fabricated by Walt Letherman
- Noise & Heat Insulation: Dyna Matt
- A/C & Heat: Cruizing with the windows down and the California Sun
- Body Mods: 6" chop, 4" channel, 3" section
- Paint: John Rossi (Rossi auto body)
- Wheels: American racing
Audio & Electronics
- Head Unit: Alpine DVD
- Mids: Bostons
- Battery: Ultima
- Other: Power Windows and Doors
My Father and I built this truck pretty much from scratch. Everything is hand built right down to the steering wheel and even the mufflers.
Complete build up pics can be found here.
http://don.exphose.com/p861300798/h35cc7e88#h35cc7e88 (Copy and paste the link into a browser window)
History of this Vehicle
written by Walt Letherman
There are many different car projects floating around in my head all the time. Some of these projects start from a simple design idea seams different than I can remember seeing on any other car. Over time these ideas are perfected and become a complete concept that just simply needs to be built.
One of these projects derived from when I was restoring an original Andy Brizio Volksrod from the late sixties. I had been looking for either one of Kent Fuller’s or Andy Brizio’s original cars to resurrect and add a few modifications and upgrades. I looked for over 12 years. When I finally turned up a Brizio car a few years back and rebuilt it from the ground up.
I modified it from the original state to make it more comfortable to drive by kicking out the firewall 14 inches to allow my 6’2” 230 pound body to be able to drive it. I also lowered the seat so that I would sit lower in the car so that I was able to run a shorter windshield for a more modern look. I changed the brakes to 4-wheel discs but retained most of the original suspension. The frame was reinforced to withstand daily driving, but other than that, the car was pretty much original to the way Brizio had built it.
After I completed that project and started driving the car it became apparent that with a few more modifications the car would be even more drivable and comfortable with some changes so the building process began in my mind.
The original car was powered by a rear engine type 1 Volkswagen engine and a 4-speed transaxle. The finished car only weighed 1300 pounds with 60% of the weight being on the rear. The car was very light in the front end. If you enjoy wheel stands it is a perfect setup but I really enjoy a car that handles. So it was necessary to build the car with a mid engine design and move more weight forward.
The simple answer was to go to a mid engine 914 Porsche engine and transmission. I could have incorporated any new front wheel drive engine and transmission but I really like the simplicity of the flat 4 air cooled motors that were used in the early VW products and with the right modifications they will produce some very serious hp and performance.
Part of the allure of this project was the fact that I would be able to build a really different streetrod with more comfort than most, while doing it on a budget. This new project would also incorporate a closed cab design rather than a roadster because I plan to drive it across country. Roadsters are a blast but in my opinion for long trips they can kinda wear on you with the wind beating on you constantly. So a chopped top pick was in order. I was trying to decide what cab to start with and finally came to the conclusion that a 32 to 34-ford cab was the answer. The reason was because it was the largest cab that still had a flat lower body edge that would lend itself to the overall design.
I planned to chop the cab 6” section it 3” and channel it 4” which would put this truck so far into the weeds that the lower profile needed to be relatively flat. I also liked that style truck because it still had a visor over the windshield. We finally ended up with a 34 cab and the build was on. I say we, because I had decided to build the truck for my son Don and his wife Jen. I’m not sure how many more cars I would be able to build so I thought that it would be best to build something for them before I have to quit. There are no guarantees in life.
So the project begins. One of my main concerns was to keep the project simple and more importantly to keep the cost to build it down. None of us are what you would call wealthy, so what ever we do, it is already costing us too much
We started with a 1934 Ford cab from a one-ton flat bed truck used by McNeal Libby Co. Don completely disassembled the cab and we sent it out to be chemically stripped.
After getting it back from the stripper we reworked each panel by chopping and sectioning each panel separately. We started with the rear panel after which we did the cowl and windshield posts. We fabricated a new floor from scratch incorporating the 4” channel job and 4” seat wells to insure we had plenty of lower seat cushion.
Next came the doors. This would prove to be one of the most difficult projects of the build. I have owned many Model A’s in the past and the one thing that I didn’t like about them is the fact that they have overlapping doors. The 34 pickup was even worse because they overlapped all the way around. There was only one answer. The doors needed to be flush mounted. I began by fabricating new doorframes from scratch. I hand built hidden hinges and incorporated bear claw latches for that smooth clean look. I installed power windows and totally redesigned the window frame on the inside. The window frames are designed to flow from the dash all the way around the inside of the cab to tie the interior together. I mounted the latches on the door post rather than in the doors for a couple of reasons. First off, the latches don’t interfere with the window channels and secondly the door can be unlatched, mechanically from the inside, from a handle on the headliner rather than on the doors. I really enjoy the little subtle differences when building a car. From the outside, the doors can be opened by solenoids remotely or there is a hidden mechanical device for entry in case of electrical failure.
Since the cab is pretty well mocked up, it’s time to move on to the rest of the truck. Before I started any of the cutting, we photographed the cab from a few different views and inserted them into AutoCAD. As an artist, I couldn’t even draw a straight line so I had to use the only thing that I knew which is AutoCAD. I inserted the picture of the cab into AutoCAD and scaled it to size. I then traced around the photo so that I had a true line drawing of the cab that I could work with. If I were Chip Foose, I would have had it 3D scanned but unfortunately I’m not so this was the best that I could do. Now that I had a side view of the cab in AutoCAD, I was able to start designing the rest of the body profile. I started with the hood and grill and the positioning of the front and rear wheels. Once we had something to look at in Cad, we started to do the mockup.
We started by mounting the cab on a frame jig. Then we set the mockup motor and transaxle where it needed to be to maintain the ride height that we were going for. (By the way, we were shooting for the top of the cab to be at 48” off the ground and the bottom of the chassis to clear the ground while resting on four bare rims.) Once the motor was set we played with the hood length. Our original thought was to use a 32 car grill shell but as we started the mock up it became clear to us that a 29 Model A shell was the best choice. We mocked the hood up with very thin sheet metal and Don and I argued back and forth about the hood length. (It was not quite the same as the American Chopper guys) We finally compromised on the middle ground and we were both satisfied.
Once everything was mocked up we were able to get enough dimensions to start fabricating the chassis. Again I went back to the computer to do the frame design. I solid modeled the frame pieces and built from there. I really like using round tubing to fabricate a space tube chassis so that is the way we went with this project. I used 1 ½”x .125 wall tubing for the frame material and spaced the upper and lower frame tubes 1 ½” apart. The rear section of the frame needed to kick up 17” to maintain the clearance needed. My first shot at the rear suspension was to try and use a stock Porsche 912 trailing arm setup. I found that that wasn’t going to work cleanly on the new chassis and after a few different tries with a modified version of that setup, I finally abandon the whole idea ad designed the rear suspension from scratch. I went back to the computer and came up with an Indy style muli-link suspension setup with inboard coil-over shock absorbers but I incorporated an oldschool hairpin into the design to maintain that classic appearance that we were going for. The design is great because it is completely adjustable in every way so we can get whatever ride and handling characteristics that we want from it.
With the frame rails complete we were able to fabricate the hood and mount the radiator shell. The hood was fabricated from 18-gauge steel and was hinged and latched from one of the few store bought parts on the truck. We used a setup from Dan Fink that worked out very well for us.
Since the rear suspension was done it was time to move on to the front suspension. I wanted to have a suicide front end with a very clean and simple look but it needed to tie into the oldschool look. I opted to go with a tube axle because they are cheaper to buy that a dropped beam axle because remember this is a low budget build. Speedway motors supplied the complete front end complete with old style hairpins, new spindles and a set of Wilwood disc brakes. I know disc brakes were not what you would call oldschool but I am a stickler about performance and safety. One of the biggest problems with using a tube axle with old style split wish bones or hairpins is the fact that there is not sufficient flexibility with that setup. A beam axle will twist slightly so that there is some flexibility in the front suspension but a tube axle requires a 4 bar setup for that flexibility. A four bar setup will not lend itself to the over all design so I came up with another solution. I cut the front axle in the center and fabricated an axle and bearing setup to allow the axle to twist. The end result was that the front end had all of the flexibility of an independent front end or an axle with four bar. In fact it is more flexible that an original beam axle with split wishbones. After that problem was overcome, I started on the front springs. I wanted to keep the front end as clean and simple as possible so I utilized the inboard coil-over shocks again. I fabricated a set of bellcranks and a simple piece of linkage to support the front of the car. It made for a very simple and clean look but again with the hairpins it looked oldschool. Again the finished front suspension was completely adjustable for ride, and ride height characteristics all while keeping with that old style look.
The old five spoke aluminum wheels were unburied from a chicken coop and given to us. They were totally encrusted with years of chicken poop and it took Jen many hours of cleaning and glass beading to bring them back from the dead. We then sent them out to Galvin Precision Machining to re-machine the outer edge. We then buffed them to a better than original shine. Coker supplied the rubber for the resurrected wheels. We are running 500×15” bias ply tires up front and 820×15” cheater slicks on the rear.
We used a Volkswagen bug steering box to steer the truck. They can be purchased brand new for under a hundred dollars and remember, this is a budget build. A simple panhard sway bar was added to complete the front suspension.
Now that all of the important components are in place we can build the firewall. It is kicked out as far as possible for the much-needed legroom but we needed to keep enough space for the largest fuel tank possible up front. We used every remaining available space for the tank, which was fabricated from stainless steel. It was necessary to hand build a clutch and brake pedal assembly, which included a power brake booster and dual master cylinder. There is a small shelf on top of the foot well that will be utilized for the wiring and electrical components. The front park and turn signal lights are place into cutouts in the perforated grill that fills the grill shell. The headlights are mounted directly to a reinforced area on the grill shell for a super-simple look.
It was my plan to keep this truck as clean and simple as possible which included the under carriage. All of the mechanicals are to be enclosed in a center housing much like a VW or Porsche were. I fabricated a channel down the center of the cab that runs between the seat pans that would be a route for the mechanical components. The shifter, emergency brake cables, throttle cable, clutch cable, fuel line, vacuum line for the power brake booster, brake lines as well as the wiring will all be housed in this covered tube keeping the under side of the truck looking very clean and tidy. A stock Porsche 914 shifter was used and I purchased an emergency brake handle from Lokar but everything else was hand built including a handcrafted pulley to turn the throttle cable up 90 degrees.
The exhaust system also proved to be a problem in that there was nothing that could be store bought to fit our chassis, so as usual we had to build it from scratch. I first fabricated the header pipes and then built the mufflers from scratch out of stainless steel. The exhaust tips penetrate the hand built rear roll pan through two notches. The tail lights as well as the license plate were half frenched into and half out of the rear roll pan and a matching set of lower valances were fabricated to tie the rear roll pan to the rest of the truck continuing the lower body belt line all the way around the truck.
The pickup bed was hand built from aluminum and attached to the frame with 4 Zuus fasteners for easy removal. This is for when any serious engine work is needed the bed can be quickly removed. We also built a tonnau cover that is latched shut by (you guessed it) a hand fabricate latching setup that has a flush mounted button at the lower edge of the bed. The cover is supported by a pair of gas springs when it’s open.
Now for the interior features. Again we were trying to keep that classic rod appearance with more modern day comfort. To do this it was necessary to have plenty of padding in the seats witch is difficult with the lack of height in the cab. The 4 “ seat wells allowed us to have a bit more padding while still setting on the floor. We wanted that old-time look of white tuck and roll in the seats door panels and headliner and thanks to Chris Plante of “Aces High Auto trim” Santa Rosa, Ca. that was accomplished very nicely. The plan was to have a lot of smooth lines in the seats and headliner and Chris pulled it off nicely with the one piece bolster around the, tuck and rolled, pocket seat cushions. I fabricated an aluminum headliner insert that Chris skillfully covered with the same white material. We used Naugahyde rather than leather to keep the cost down. I also fabricated the kick and door panels from aluminum for Chris to cover. The original truck cab did not come with a dash so we incorporated an after market 32 style dash which fits the rest of the truck very nicely. We incorporated white-faced VDO gauges and toggle switches to keep with the theme of the project. Some cobweb pin striping was applied to the dash to tie into the hand built cobweb-designed steering wheel. Don couldn’t live without music but he didn’t want a stereo to be seen so we fabricated a drop-down stereo mount that latches up under the dash out of sight when it is not needed. It has mp3 and wma and xm radio as well as dvd capability.
The body was finished off in a coat of wet black base coat clear coat and traditional flames from one end to the other applied by John Rossi of Rossi Auto Body in Santa Rosa Ca. The fresh new 2366 c-c motor, built by Dave Bonnbright of Sonoma Ca. was installed and dialed in by our tuner Tom DelProire of “Nicks Garage” in Sonoma Ca. and we are ready to roll. Look out Purist. Here we come.
Plans for this Vehicle
Sponsors & Special Thanks
to: Walt Letherman (Dad)