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History Mystery Model A 1953 / Demystifying The Model A (by Pat Ganahl)

Discussion in 'Traditional Hot Rods' started by HEMI32, Sep 17, 2018.

  1. I'm a subscriber to "Pat Ganahl's ROD & CUSTOM" Blog (or as @pgan calls it, his "column") ... and every week, I anxiously await his latest installment.

    Although not all of Pat's columns are "HAMB-friendly," I suggest that all HAMBers also "subscribe" to it as it's always a great read ... and it's FREE :D

    At any rate, Pat's post for today (Monday, September 17th 2018) is very very HAMB-friendly ... check it out HERE.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2018
    bowie, catdad49, partssaloon and 2 others like this.
  2. I'll go ahead and post the column here ... but if @pgan, @Ryan, and/or any of the H.A.M.B. moderators object, I (or they) can certainly delete this post ... or the entire thread.


    September 17, 2018


    Someone, somewhere, sometime–possibly as much as 10 years ago–accosted me with “How come you never give credit to [so-and-so]? He was just as good a builder as Doane Spenser. He’s the one who did all the work on that black Model A roadster that Paul Chamberlain gets all the credit for.” The problem is that I can’t remember who told me this, where it was, and certainly not the name of the obviously talented rod-builder. It was only later that I discovered several photos of this car in my archives, in a folder simply marked “Pomona 8-18-53, Casa Colina Benefit”. The folder contains three proof sheets of 35mm photos, 20 shots each, and I’ve written “Racer Brown” on the back as photographer. The best part is all the original 65-year-old negatives are there, and that’s what I scanned to make these photos. The only other thing I know is that Casa Colina is a hospital near Pomona that benefitted from this well-attended drag race.

    So I’ve started with a full-frame photo of the ’29 roadster in question, taking off down the nicely repaved strip on the western edge of the L.A. County Fairgrounds (where the NHRA Winternationals are still held today), to show how it looked in ’53, with the once-familiar warehouse across the street. Later the timing “tower” was moved to the right side of the track, which would have been directly behind the roadster in this photo. But in ’53 it was on the same side as the photographer, with bigger spectator stands beside it, and the pits and parking lot behind. The only other thing to note in this photo is that the car has chrome wheels with “baldy” hubcaps on the rear as well as the front.


    And here’s a view looking down the track as it’s flagged off on a later single run (note painted rear wheels, probably with larger tires). You see the well-known pumphouse at the left of the finish line in the distance, and the usual gaggle of onlookers behind the chain-link fence on the right. Not much later they planted a thick hedge along the fence to block the view.

    OK, now let’s take a closer look at this very slick A-bone, to see what my forgotten haggler was talking about:


    In the photo above you’ve got to love all the white T-shirts, cuffed Levis, and I’m betting some blue suede shoes. But rodders will see how all the body lines have been deftly hammered/shrunk out of the A body, the hand-made 3-piece hood, filled ’32 shell, and arrow-straight panels with perfect fit (check the trunk and hood). The hood panels were even chromed, and then the louvers masked off before the flawless black lacquer paint. The very nicely done upholstery was red and black.


    The gas tank was relocated and a ’40 Standard dash beautifully molded into the cowl, along with a matching wheel and column shift. Of course there’s a tach on the column. But apparently no windshield was fitted. There’s just a lot we don’t know about this car–or its builder–beyond what we can see in these rare photos. For instance, you probably detected the fully chromed axle-behind-spring ’40 Ford front suspension and brakes.


    What you can’t see is a steering arm below the axle to clear the radius rod and headers. We also know nothing about the 4-carb flathead, except it appears to say “Smith” on the heads(?). With a generator and headlights in place, we assume it’s built to drive on the street, even without a windshield and probably no fenders. However, we do detect small tow-bar tabs on the front frame horns, likely in place of a front nerf bar to match the rear. You can barely see “hidden” hood latches in the left side panel, similar to those common on 3-piece hoods today. I even think the doors are flush-fit, but it’s hard to tell in these photos.


    Now here’s the “tell” photo. Not only can you see this hiboy sits on Deuce rails, with neatly crafted side pipes, and plenty of beautiful chrome, but look closely at the driver. His left arm is fully decorated in ink. The design, at least in part, appears to be a dragon or lizard of some sort. Tats were not uncommon in the early ’50s, especially after the Korean war, but a full sleeve like this was something rare. Just assuming the driver is also the owner/builder of this amazing roadster, who the heck is he?


    Now this, of course, is how the car looked when owned from ’59-’61 by my neighbor and friend Paul Chamberlain. He bought it from someone (not the original builder) who crashed it on Angeles Crest Highway, tearing off one front wheel and badly bending the axle/suspension. Besides fixing the damage, adding a windshield (Dodge) and fenders, and some fresh paint, he also installed a new 300-inch 4-carb flathead. When this photo was taken in the oft-seen Petersen parking lot by Eric Rickman for a feature in the Sept. ’60 Hot Rod, 19-yr. old Paul was an L.A. Roadsters member and Art Center College student. In ’61 Paul made a deal to sell the car to the L.A. Roadsters for a set amount, so they could in turn raffle it off at the 2nd Roadster Show–not successfully, as I understand (they didn’t try that again). Paul says, from what he heard, the new owner tangled with a city bus, totalling the roadster. It’s certainly never been seen since. More mystery.

    Special Bonus:

    Next to this folder in my files was another labeled Pomona 1-4-53, with “By Racer” penciled on it by me long ago. This one has 4×5 proofs and negs, and I think this was the first big NHRA meet, also held at Pomona and ultimately won by the Bean Bandits dragster. But as I was thumbing through the many photos, this surprisingly similar (and nice) ’29 roadster caught my attention.


    Viewing this top-end action shot on the proof sheet, I thought at first it had a ’27 T body. The Hallock-style V-windshield is obvious, and not only does it lack a roll bar, but the driver doesn’t even have a helmet! Also, check the orange groves that used to be across the street, where the airport is now.


    From this start-line angle, it’s obviously a ’28-’29 A, with even more body-smoothing than the prior one (the wheelwells are filled). At first it looks a bit like Scotty’s or Calori’s, but the pipes go down instead of up. And the tonneau has a Tony Nancy look, but the clearly visible driver is older than Tony would have been in ’53. Hammering out those body lines–especially as smoothly as on both of these–was a huge job. Many don’t even like the look. But it’s amazing to see two very similar, yet different, ones in the same place at nearly the same time.

    And One More:

    Although these hiboys are racing on the track, they have license plates and were obviously driven on the street, as well. But how about this one parked in the spectator lot, along with some nice, slightly newer rides?


    With its wire wheels, unchromed and undropped axle, and stock A frame, it hearkens from a slightly earlier era, but it’s still a very nice piece, especially for a driver. Who’s was it? Who knows? Another mystery.

    Hopefully I’ve satisfied some yearning for early drag race coverage. And maybe whetted your curiosity enough to find some answers. If you can I.D. that tatted roadster driver/builder, email me and let me know. Better yet, forward this column to anyone you think might have a clue–or who would just enjoy it. On the other hand, if you’re yearning to see something else from my files, tell me. I’ve probably got it. And I’m happy to share.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2018
  3. Speed Gems
    Joined: Jul 17, 2012
    Posts: 6,432

    Speed Gems

    It looks like one of the roadsters from one of those old black and white movies. I haven't found it yet but thought i'd give this a bump. I'll keep looking.
  4. Great article with unbelievable photos. So good Pat is opening his archive.

    This is the Charles "Scotty" Scott A roadster. I sent Pat an email earlier.

    bowie, exterminator, Stogy and 5 others like this.

  5. I bookmarked Pat's column. Thanks for the great tip, Hemi32.
    HEMI32 likes this.
  6. Some great reading,thank you.
    lothiandon1940 and HEMI32 like this.
  7. Marty Strode
    Joined: Apr 28, 2011
    Posts: 8,707

    Marty Strode

    Jimmy B, you continue to amaze !
    HEMI32 likes this.
  8. A couple vintage photos of Scotty's '29 Roadster from our friends at the American HOT ROD Foundation:

    Charles Scotty Scott's #11C '29 Roadster (AHRF).jpg
    Charles Scotty Scott's #55C '29 Roadster (AHRF).jpg

    Some vintage photos of Charles "Scotty" Scott's '29 Hiboy culled from @Jimmy B's "Hot Rods of the Dry Lakes Era" Blogsite:

    Charles Scotty Scott's #11C '29 Roadster (HRotDLE).jpg
    Charles Scotty Scott's #55C '29 Roadster (HRotDLE).jpg
    Charles Scotty Scott's #55C '29 Roadster -Dec '48 (HRotDLE).jpg
    Charles Scotty Scott's #55C '29 Roadster - BALDY WALDO (HRotDLE).jpg

    ... and some original artwork by @Jimmy B:

    Charles Scotty Scott's #55C '29 Roadster (by Jamie Barter).jpg
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2018
  9. Stogy
    Joined: Feb 10, 2007
    Posts: 26,330


    Thanks @HEMI32 for the bigtime cool injection of vintage Hotrods and links. Thanks to the others for the additional information.
    lothiandon1940 and HEMI32 like this.
  10. Jet96
    Joined: Dec 24, 2012
    Posts: 1,431

    from WY

    There's a picture of that same driver with the tatoos in one of the dry lakes or 40's hot rod threads. I remember it because it was unusual to see that much ink. He was leaning against a roadster talking to a REALLY stylish young woman!
  11. pgan
    Joined: Apr 7, 2009
    Posts: 238

    Member Emeritus

    First off, thanks Todd (and Ryan) for sharing my column here, and helping spread the word that it's up. Second, I was at least half right (in saying the 2nd roadster looked like Scotty's), which is better than half-....well. And third, as I've said too many times, I have to go back and re-read what I once wrote to remember what I once knew. To quote my dear mother in her later years: "My brain is full, it won't hold any more!"
    If you look in my last book, Hot Rod Gallery II, on pg. 37, you will see a correctly identified photo of Scotty sitting in this beautiful (and fast) roadster at the lakes. One thing that threw me in the "clean" photos was the V-windshield, because I think I had only seen previous photos of it racing with the windshield off. More significantly, look at Scotty in my book photo. I knew Charles Scott pretty well, and have a lengthy interview with him on tape (which might tell when and how he got this roadster...I can't remember). But the helmetless guy driving the car at Pomona does not look like Scotty to me.
    Plus, I got a call from Tom Branch last night saying he not only met the tattooed guy who owned the "Chamberlain" car, but interviewed him and got earlier photos--some in color. I don't have time to tell and show that story now, but watch for it in a future column. Some things are answered, but some real mysteries remain....
    Pat Ganahl
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  12. BrerHair
    Joined: Jan 30, 2007
    Posts: 4,993


    Beautiful. Thanks Todd for the link, thanks Pat for the blog and letting us look into your deep well, thanks Jimmy for keeping everyone straight!
  13. 62rebel
    Joined: Sep 1, 2008
    Posts: 3,232


    Time period + tats+ locale + quality of work (either expensive or bespoke of great personal talent) = Navy vet IMHO. Tats don't extend past the wrist (Navy regs restriction). Might even have been still on active duty with somewhat disposable income. Just my .02. Anyhoo, thats a spectacular little car as well as the others. Rolling jewelry!
    Jet96 and 51 mercules like this.
  14. So this morning (Monday, January 21st 2019), @pgan posted an update to his "MYSTERY MODEL A 1953" column entitled "DEMYSTIFYING THE MODEL A" ... you can check it out HERE.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2019
    kidcampbell71 and bowie like this.
  15. For those that don't like to click hyperlinks, I'll go ahead and post the column here.

    Blog Logo.png

    January 21, 2019

    Sit back. Relax. Maybe kick your shoes off. It’s nearly 11 AM here, I’ve got my chores done, I’m in my slippers, and have a fresh cup of coffee. I’d rather be out in the garage installing the seats, gas pedal, and throttle linkage on our ’33 sedan. But it’s pouring rain out there, my old California garage has no heat, and it’s not attached to the house. So I’m going to stay here where it’s warm and cozy, and tell you about a bunch of stuff I learned about that slick, black mysterious Model A I showed you racing at Pomona in 1953, plus the young, T-shirted and tatted, unidentified owner, driver, and (maybe) builder.


    Yes, this one. And the reason I want you to get comfortable is because now that I’m retired, I don’t have a managing editor saying, “Ganahl, you’ve got 500 words and 10 photos. Don’t go over.” Ha. We’ve dug up about 50 photos, some conflicting stories, a few answers, and much remaining mystery.

    In the upper photo you see blue-dot ’50 Pontiac taillights and a ’52 license tag. Above, note heavy undercoating inside the hood, hidden latches on the left, and an intricate generator bracket

    When I posted that column a few weeks ago, I asked if anyone out there had any idea who this guy was. That evening I got one phone call, from @Tom Branch. He’s the guy who’s quite well-known for his gold, channeled ’32 roadster, not to mention wife Diana’s blue, hammered ’32 sedan, both powered by hot Studebaker V8s. They now live in San Gabriel, with a backyard full of hot rods. But Tom grew up in a once-seedy area called El Sereno, south of So. Pasadena. In between is Alhambra, and a main, divided avenue that runs east and west through the area is Huntington Drive. All this figures in the story.

    The guy’s name was “Topper” is what Tom told me. At least that’s what everybody called him. His full name was Maurice “Topper” Chasse. And while he started with hot rods in the late ’40s and early ’50s, he bought a Porsche coupe in 1955, and from then on, until his death in 2005, he was quite active in the Porsche Owners Club as an owner/driver, car builder, and racing instructor. He also started some sort of civil engineering business, with an office on Main St. in Alhambra, plus he acquired an abandoned Standard Oil service station training center on Huntington Dr. (at Main), that he turned into a “hobby shop” where he stored some Porsches, a couple of restored Model A’s, trophies, photos, and so on. At this site, which included an old gas station, he held “cars and coffee” type get-togethers on certain weekend mornings for invited Porsche, other sports car, and even hot rod clubs. Tom just happened to be cruising by in his roadster one of these mornings, pulled in to see what was going on, and met “Topper,” who was eager to show him photos of his old hot rods, including the black ’29 in question, and tell stories.

    These amazing color photos are from a car show at L.A.’s Marshall High in 1953. Not only do they show the red-and-black upholstery, abundant chrome, and an interesting lakester or dragster in the background, but check the grayish sports coupe right behind it. This is one of the only completed (if not yet painted) examples I’ve seen of one of Bill Burke’s fiberglass Cisitalia “kit cars” made from a mold he secretly splashed from R.E. Petersen’s real one. Much more on this in a future column. Stay tuned.

    That’s Verne Houle’s Mexican Road Race Lincoln in the background

    Tom said this was in ’04 or early ’05, and he made arrangements to come back with a camera to copy photos and a tape recorder for the stories.

    The first thing Topper wanted to show Tom was an article from the L.A. Herald Examiner from’48 or ’49 about how the police chased him in his chopped ’32 5-widow coupe, until he lost control and crashed into a hot dog stand. We’ll get to Topper’s earlier rods in a minute, but Tom was more interested in the beautiful, black Model A that he knew was later Paul Chamberlain’s. Topper claimed that he built this car himself, and “Won the L.A. Motor Sports and Hot Rod Show” with it. He also obviously drag raced it. He said he built the roadster around ’52, and he bought his first Porsche in ’55. So what happened to the ’29?

    First off, you have to remember that we’re dealing with 50-60 year old memories here. You remember that Paul Chamberlain said he bought the car from some guy (not the original owner/builder) who lived in a little old house with a 1-car garage in Highland Park, who had lost control on Angeles Crest Highway above Pasadena, hit a bank, and knocked the right front wheel straight back, bending the axle, but not much else. He paid $500 for it (he thought less engine, but photos prove otherwise). The Sept. ’60 Hot Rod feature, written by Tex Smith, stated “Paul added a ’32 frame, then filled and boxed it. Car had been rolled down a mountain when he bought it for $400.” Just because something’s written in a magazine doesn’t mean it’s true.


    What Topper told @Tom Branch, on the other hand, is much different, as well. He said he and a friend were going up to Lake Elizabeth, where his parents had a cabin. This would have been up Bouquet Canyon Rd., the route rodders took to Muroc and other desert dry lakes. They were likely hot-footin’ it up the canyon, when they hit some rocks or gravel, lost control, and “flipped the car.” Topper went into much detail, saying his friend was thrown clear, but he stayed inside, and the driver’s door came down on his arm, breaking it. He said they had to flag down a passing car to take him to a hospital, because his arm was “crushed.” Asked what became of the car, he said two brothers from Eagle Rock came and got it “for nearly nothing.” That part we know is correct. The strange thing is that Topper claimed he had no idea what became of the car, and never saw it again–this despite it’s HRM 2-page feature, and being seen on many L.A. Roadster runs.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2019
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  16. Sometime Earlier

    Still with us? Comfy? There’s more. Some of the photos are fuzzy, but still worth seeing. Nobody seems to know when, how, or why he got the name “Topper,” though he was described as a “ladies’ man.” He also served in the Navy just after WW II, which is when he likely got tattooed. He said the chopped and channeled ’32 5-W coupe was his first hot rod, which he bought as-is in ’47 or ’48.

    A young Topper with his first hot rod, as purchased. Note setback of flathead engine. He also appears to have an inked left arm. Someone said he worked at this International Harvester shop, owned by his father. The Fords in the background sit on rakes.


    In the fuzz-o-graphs above, besides the well-supported girlfriend, it looks like the Deuce might have been freshly painted and fitted with a Slingshot 2-carb intake.


    We can’t read the license tag on this chopped ’27 T roadster pickup on an A frame, but he said he got this, again as-is, as a “work truck” around 1951. The house and garage look like the one Paul described, where he got the damaged roadster.


    We assume that’s Topper on the left. The engine shot on the right is quite surprising, in contrast to the level of detail and chrome on his roadster just a year or so later.


    On the other hand, Topper also had this very tasty ’40 Standard coupe about the same time. You have to squint a bit, but you’ll see chrome wheels(?) with baldy caps, a louvered hood, custom upholstery, three carbs on a detailed flatty, chrome hood hinges, and even a gauge in the firewall. Given the first two cars, my personal assumption is that he bought this car, and the roadster, pretty much the way they were. He never claimed to do bodywork or paint (as far as I could ascertain), and hired others to do this work in his Porsche shop.


    Now, what does this previously unseen photo tell us? It’s really hard to say. He’s got a very nice ’40 coupe in the background. Plus he now has this fully painted and upholstered Model A roadster, with a ton metalwork done on the body and a whole lot of speed parts and chrome on the engine and chassis. It’s an axle-behind-spring ’40 front end, but many parts show skilled hand-crafting, such as the headers, headlight stands, shock mounts, and the teardrop split radius-rod frame attachments (which don’t show here). The car is obviously incomplete here, being “built” to one extent or another. We just don’t know the exact story, and I couldn’t find anybody who could tell me anything else about Topper.

    olscrounger, kidcampbell71 and bowie like this.

  17. More from Paul

    Paul Chamberlain was at my house a couple weeks ago, as I was working on this, so I started drilling him about more details on the roadster. The first thing he said, emphatically was “What did I know? I was a 17-yr. old high school kid. I was just getting into the hot rod thing. My dad loaned me the money to buy the car, and my older brother and I went down to get it.” This was ’57 or ’58. Paul lived in Eagle Rock, which was then a hotbed of hot rodding and home to several L.A. Roadsters members. Colorado Blvd. ran right through it, from Glendale to Pasadena. And right across the street was his 2-yr. older best friend, Alan Johnson, who was driving a powder blue, chopped, Hemi-powered Deuce 3-window built by John Geraghty, and later sold to E.R. neighbor Lloyd Bakan. Alan’s the one who knew the damaged ’29 was available, and guided Paul in rebuilding it. And then Paul surprised me by saying, “Topper. That’s what they called this guy I bought the car from. Topper.” So it wasn’t some clueless schmuck who bought this beautiful car and then crashed it on Angeles Crest, as Paul had thought. It was Topper.


    That’s 17-yr. old Paul in his new roadster the day he brought it home. Topper put some junk wheels and tires on it, and stripped parts off the engine. But otherwise it’s quite complete and not much damaged. You can see the frame horns are bent, as is the right headlight, and there’s some damage on the lower right grille shell. You really can’t tell that the right front wheel and axle is bent straight back about six inches, but you can see the culprit in this and the prior photo. Even though the stretch-dropped axle ends have been filled, they were stretched really thin, allowing it to bend there. Being chromed, it’s surprising it didn’t crack or break, and it’s amazing the radius rod, header, and hood were unharmed.


    Paul says of this first-day photo, “You should see the front tire on the other side.” Harder to see in this soft pic is the torn upholstery on the tack strip, just behind the driver. Paul also “sorta” remembers some small dent in the body back there. Could this car have flipped, crushed Topper’s arm, and only done this much damage? Seems impossible. But nobody knows for sure.


    What a cool photo, especially with the ’56 Buick ‘vert and ’57 Bel Air in the background. Paul disassembled the car, had the frame straightened, then had the body repainted black lacquer, with the hood and grille done in enamel, preserving the chrome louvers. Note the radius rod brackets.


    Being 17 years old, Paul can’t remember what he did with the previous engine, but jumped at the chance to get this full-race, 304-in. bullet, to which he added the four 97s with SP tops. Luckily the nice headers remained. But keeping this big flatty cool was a problem.


    These photos, taken in the famous Petersen back parking lot by E. Rick Man show a few things. The seat wasn’t damaged, but Paul had to have the piece behind it redone. It’s surprising whoever molded in the ’40 dash and added the column shift and wheel used Standard instead of DeLuxe parts. Paul remembers the wheel was bent, so he replaced it with a similar one. The rear view shows recap slicks and a small button of some sort to open the trunk. You might also notice the blue dots are gone from the taillights. Paul says the first time he cruised down Colorado the the Bob’s Big Boy in Glendale, the local cops nailed him immediately for those, no fenders, and of course a glaring lack of windshield.


    It’s not sharp, but this is the only color photo you’ll see of this car in this final form. The Hot Rod feature calls the windshield a Model T. I thought it was from a Dodge (like the one on Roth’s Outlaw). Paul says he has no idea what it was. “I bought it at Ford Parts Obsolete, like several other things for the car.” I now think it has reworked ’27 T stanchions with a handmade frame. Paul added, “I used what I could get, to get the tickets written off.”

    If you’ve read this far, congratulations. You know the story from here; it was in the first part. What’s up next? I dunno, but I’ll make it shorter and sweeter. Check in and see.

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  18. Rckt98
    Joined: Jun 7, 2005
    Posts: 1,127


    What a great read. Funny, I was just re reading Pats book last night when this popped up this morning.
    HEMI32 likes this.
  19. swifty
    Joined: Dec 25, 2005
    Posts: 2,183


    Definitely a great read and a big thanks to Pat for sharing his info and pics. Both those roadsters were top class cars for their day.
    HEMI32 likes this.
  20. 40 & 61 Fords
    Joined: May 17, 2006
    Posts: 1,999

    40 & 61 Fords

    Sooooo glad Pgan started doing the online column! I have always loved his history lessons!
    HEMI32 and olscrounger like this.
  21. sloppy jalopies
    Joined: Jun 29, 2015
    Posts: 5,256

    sloppy jalopies

    On one of the roadsters they have left the h/l bar but not the lights... drag car.
    they cut the bar and welded it to the fender braces outside the h/l sockets...
    all I have ever seen [or done] use the h/l bar's ends welded inboard of the sockets...
    that pic shows that is truly the way it was...
  22. razoo lew
    Joined: Apr 11, 2017
    Posts: 535

    razoo lew
    from Calgary

    This thread made my morning.
  23. Thanks Hemi 32 - for putting this out there !
    HEMI32 likes this.
  24. scotti32
    Joined: Jul 13, 2009
    Posts: 284


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