Rod Test

SEMA News—May 2017

By Drew Hardin

Rod Test

  rod test
Photo Courtesy: Pat Brollier, Petersen Publishing Co. Archive

In its March 1962 issue, Rod & Custom magazine launched a series of Rod Tests, in which its editors put hot rods and custom cars through the same kind of driving evaluation that new cars got in Motor Trend and other buff books of the time.

“For once, you get to see what hot rods can do—not just what they look like standing still,” wrote the editors in the kick-off story. “Hot rods are meant to go—they’re also meant to stop. We’d like to show you what sort of performance you can expect from your own car.”

The subject of this first Rod Test was a ’27 T-bucket built by Southern Californian John Souza. He bought it for $200 as a work in progress; the car’s previous owner had narrowed the T roadster body and mounted it to “hefty” ’25 Chevy truck rails.

“Three thousand dollars and many, many hours later, he built the car up to its present standards,” the magazine said.

After burning up a Ford Flathead mill in traffic (“The car wasn’t running a fan at that time”), Souza installed a stroked ’48 Merc Flathead fitted with Edelbrock aluminum heads, a three-carb Edelbrock intake manifold with triple Stromberg carburetors, a Harmon-Collins cam and ignition system, and a fan he built himself. Souza must have been a skilled fabricator, as he also hand-formed the rod’s stainless-steel gas tank and radiator tanks.

Among his “biggest headaches” building the car were figuring out how to install the ’29 Franklin steering box and the swing-away Model T steering wheel, as well as how to clean off the firewall so that it could be upholstered in tuck-and-roll Naugahyde. Those parts were hidden “behind the handmade wooden dashboard.”

The shortened Chevy truck frame was fitted with a ’32 Ford front axle and a ’31 Ford rearend, both carrying ’40 Ford hydraulic brakes. Backing the Merc Flathead was a ’39 Ford three-speed trans with Zephyr cogs, and there were 4.11 gears out back.

The tale of the tape read like this: Acceleration was “good but not unbelievable,” said the editors, clocking the car at 7.49 seconds to 60 mph and 16.75 seconds through the quarter-mile. They were happier with the braking: The 142-ft.-6-in. distance from 60 to 0 was “much less than [for] Detroit cars.”

As for the T-bucket’s driving manners, the magazine said that the ride was “amazingly gentle, considering the short wheelbase and two solid axles. Monroe shocks hold all four wheels firmly planted, even around sharp turns, and there’s no tendency for the rearend to wash out unless you apply full power in a corner.”

The car’s steering was “heavy” at low speeds “but very tight and precise. It lightens up once you get rolling—takes only one turn lock-to-lock.”

In sum, the Rod & Custom staff said, “As a street job, this rod will be hard to beat for all-around flexibility and handling. To John Souza goes Rod & Custom’s compliments and our first Rod Test $75 savings bond.”

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