Dominic Palazzolo occasionally shows up at car shows and cruise-ins, but he’s far from a typical enthusiast. The hopped-up 1930 Ford Model A he drives is a “gow job,” a hot rod from before the term “hot rod” was coined: a car built almost exclusively with 1930s mechanical components, yet capable of besting a lot of modern automobiles at a stoplight.
“Gow” was once a term for opium, which was used to improve the performance of racehorses in the early 20th century. Thus, in 1930 — long before hot rodding went mainstream after World War II — a hopped-up car was a gow job. Roughly 20 years later, automotive enthusiasts would coin the word “hot rod.” But the seeds of America’s high-performance hobby were planted on the dry lake beds of California in the late 1920s.
What was it that made our grandfathers want their cars to run hot? History shows that humans have always wanted the fastest machine. We’re wired to compete. In 680 B.C., the ancient Olympic Games included chariot racing. Since their buggies first took over the roads, neighbors have been racing each other in horse-drawn carriages. Rudimentary cars were raced across two continents less than ten years after the first automobile was born in 1886.
Some of America’s earliest informal auto-racing events took place at Muroc Dry Lake in California in the 1920s. The lake bed’s vast expanse allowed for ample acceleration. The U.S. military was well aware of this fact when it established Edwards Air Force Base at Muroc, in 1938. But in the years preceding the military takeover, many young daredevils pushed their Ford Model T’s and Model A’s to speeds they were never meant to achieve on the lake bed’s hard, sunbaked surface. Most of the cars were stripped down of unnecessary parts, such as fenders or interior trim, to reduce their weight. Also, the engines were modified to produce quite an amount more horsepower than Henry Ford had given them.
Many of the early entries were Ford Model T’s, but when the Detroit automaker introduced the Model A for the 1928 model year, those with a taste for speed recognized its potential. In 1931, the first dry lake event for which records are available was held. Ike Trone won the race in his 1929 Model A roadster, which was fitted with a Riley head and other performance parts from garage-based entrepreneurs. This would make him part of a large California automotive performance industry.
It was that type of machine — a throwback Model A lakester — that Mr. Palazzolo, 65, acquired when he bought a 1930 Model A from his friends Keith and Judy Allen. They all live in Macomb County (Mich.), about 35 miles northeast from Detroit.
The Allens, an older couple, had modified the car the old-school way. Keith Allen, a self taught mechanic who is 77 years old, has a passion for Ford Model A. Both Allens are traditional hot rodders and purists who have modified many Fords over the years. They sold the car to Mr. Palazzolo under strict conditions: It would not be equipped with a V-8 and it would be kept as is. It was a bond to protect the honor of a unique machine.
The Allens built this car half a century ago. Mr. Allen discovered some Model A body parts in a garage located in the Irish Hills, Michigan. He took them to a prewar Ford sheetmetal expert who assembled them with original Model A rivets.
A chassis was purchased separately and fitted with original but rebuilt equipment: brakes steering and drivetrain parts as well as a serviceable but used Model A engine. Mrs. Allen, who works shoulder to shoulder with her husband, found a set of somewhat wider 1935-style tires at a swap meet, and she mounted them on Ford wheels of the same vintage — just as prewar enthusiasts would have done. The Allens drove it for a while, but eventually blew the engine.
The couple saw that as an opportunity to fit the car with the kind of “banger” engine that a modified Model A of the mid-30s — one of the cars that first raced on the dry lakes — might have had.
The Ford factory’s 3.3-liter engine produces around 40 horsepower. To give it considerably more punch, Mr. Allen applied age-old engine modifications, including increasing the engine’s compression ratio and its displacement. Both were accomplished by machining engine components. Henry Ford’s single carburetor was replaced by two carburetors on an intake manifold aftermarket. It is an exact copy of the 1930s intake manifold. To help the engine draw in air and expel exhaust more efficiently, a camshaft with a bit more lift and duration was assigned the task of opening and closing the engine’s valves. All parts were available for 1930s enthusiasts.
Model A parts were used for the rebuilding of the transmission and rear ends. This transmission does not include the synchronizers which smoothen the gearshifts in modern manual transmissions. It is therefore difficult to operate.
Mr. Palazzolo purchased the car and redid the interior using seats from a Model A Tudor sedan. Model A roadsters had a bench seat originally, but Mr. Palazzolo preferred individual Tudor seats. Today, most would call them bucket seats, but in the ’30s they were known as jump seats, because to move from one seat to the other, a jump of sorts was required.
A folding canvas top was added by Mr. Palazzolo. Although it would have been considered a luxury by Jazz Age Model A racers but it protects the driver as well as the passenger from the elements when it gets bad. The top was undoubtedly removed by Lakester racers who had it, as extra weight and aerodynamic impediments were a liability when speed was the goal.
Mr. Palazzolo has had the car up to 70 miles an hour on rare occasions and says it’s probably capable of 80 or more, but the narrow bias-ply tires deliver a less-than-reassuring ride at high speed. The dry-lake racers were daredevils, but Mr. Palazzolo doesn’t see himself in that role. He is a long-time automotive enthusiast with mechanical skills and enjoys working on the car when needed. He also considers himself a grateful student to the Allens.
“I think of Keith as my stepbrother,” he said. “My wife, Dody, and I are good friends of Keith and Judy Allen and spend a lot of time with them. I was inspired by their respect of history and tradition to buy, drive, and wrench this car. It’s my favorite car. It’s different. It’s something few others have.”
Source: NY Times