Along for the Ride
Don Waldron has owned his Model A for decades. He’s finished it a few times, but in more recent years, he has been hard at work bringing it back to its late-’60s guise. The project started in 1967, and when Don was in college he put $2 a week into the car. Progress was slow but steady, and by 1968 it was running, driving and ready to tear up the streets of Ridgecrest, California.
If Don’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard of Rods West—his hot rod shop that specialized in Gassers of all kinds. Although they were famous for their ground-up builds and straight-axle installations, Don also had one of the world’s largest collections of mag wheels. He’s now a couple years north of 70, and he’s winding down the Rods West chapter and focusing on other things—like building an Austin Gasser with his brother and finishing his Model A that he started so long ago.
Up until last year, not many people knew about Don’s roadster. There was all of one highly pixilated photo of it online, and even that wasn’t easily accessible. I met Don last summer when the Rodder’s Journal guys and I made the trip south to check out Rods West, and we ran a feature on his A as well as the “Silly Willy” Willys back in issue #76. Since then, he and I have stayed in touch; I make sure to check in on the car whenever we cross paths.
A few weeks ago, I got an email with a video of the car running and watched it no less than a dozen times. Then, at Goodguys Pleasanton, Don swung by the Rodder’s Journal booth. He informed me that yes, the car finally does run, and he was going to set up a photo with a pair of Deuce five-windows in front of the building later that day. How could I resist? I strolled out there, snapped a handful of photos and then asked Don if we could go cruise the fairgrounds. “Hop on in!” he said.
With a turn of the key and a blip of the footprint pedal, the 6-71-blown smallblock roared to life. The whole car shook, and even though I was basically pinned beneath the rollbar brace, I couldn’t help but grin. From inside the cockpit, I could see pieces of the car’s past, like the finned Moon scoop that he got as a Christmas gift from his mother-in-law, and the parking permit from El Camino College plastered in windshield’s lower corner. With each hit of the throttle, we shot back in our seats. I thought back to what he told me about driving the car in the ’60s.
“The first to second shift on a Hydro is just dynamite,” he said. “Third it falls on its face, but first-to-second is so quick and it has such a good sound. Every time it’d shift, my wife would hit her head on the roll bar—BOOM!”
As my head hit the roll bar, I realized he wasn’t kidding. Once we made our way across the fairgrounds, we both hopped out. A bystander approached us. “Sounds healthy,” he said. “It’s like a Fueler was coming around the corner!” I took a look at Don, and a smile crossed his face. It doesn’t get much better than that.
This car’s technically not finished, but I can’t get enough of it. Here are a few snapshots of the nose-up A that I’ve taken in the past year or so. If you’re looking for the full story (and more photos), make sure to check out the article “One Piece at a Time” in TRJ #76.