Nostalgic old-school hot rods are nothing new, but nailing the look and feel as authentically as Scott Walter’s wicked, heavily chopped ’34 Ford coupe still seems to be a pretty scarce achievement. Part of the success of Scott’s car stems from its legitimate vintage roots. The three-window coupe apparently received its lakes-influenced top chop back in the ’50s and was destined for racing duty before the project was abandoned and the body set aside.
Decades later, Southern California hot rodder Joe Clary bought and revived the old Ford. It took plenty of patching to get the neglected body back in shape, but the heavy chop – 4.5-inches in front, 5.5-inches in the rear, with significantly leaned A-pillars – needed nothing but a little refining to make it right.
The low lid was enhanced by channeling the body 2.5-inches over the boxed ’34 Ford frame. A Model A crossmember and spring-behind-axle front suspension achieved a remarkably low stance from the drilled but un-dropped axle located with drilled wishbones. Finished off with a four-carb ’53 Cadillac V8, green paint and chrome wheels, the hoodless coupe had a tough and showy ’60s feel and turned more than a few heads around SoCal, even earning a feature in Traditional Rod & Kulture Illustrated magazine.
The coupe’s combination of history and attitude appealed to Scott when the car came up for sale a few years ago. “I’ve had numerous hot rods, mainly Model A to ’36 Fords, but never my dream car of a ’34 three-window coupe,” Scott said. “I’ve always wanted a postwar, radically chopped Bonneville-style car. When I saw Joe’s car, even though it was completed and show winning, I knew that had to be the foundation for my dream hot rod.”
Scott turned to Nick Sinioris at Phoenix-based Hubcaps Hotrod & Custom to handle the car’s transformation. “I knew Nick was the guy that could help me nail down the look,” Scott said. To that end, Nick and the Hubcaps team re-mounted the front end, dialing in a more street-friendly amount of caster. Out back, a Model A spring and split, reinforced ’46 Ford wishbones were used to suspend the Halibrand quick-change and ’40 Ford axles. “The only thing louder than the open exhaust on the road is the screaming quick-change with no interior,” Scott joked.
To achieve the proper postwar feel, the chrome wheels were set aside in favor of rare 16×3.5-inch ’40 Ford front wheels and 16×5-inch Merc rears, painted black and wrapped in Firestone 16×4.50 and 16×7.50 tires. The vintage Schroeder sprint car-style steering box Clary had installed was left in place to guide the rolling stock down the road.
One of the most refreshing things about the coupe – and part of what lends the authentic ’50s flavor – is the ’53 Cadillac 331c.i. V8. The engine was part of Clary’s original build and was rebuilt by Carter’s in La Puente, California. It was attached to the frame using vintage Hurst engine mounts and topped with a quartet of Stromberg 97s on a vintage Edelbrock intake, fed through a Weiand fuel block. Chrome-plated exhaust manifolds were used to feed the fumes to chrome side-exit exhaust pipes built from ’36 Ford torque tubes, just like those used on so many ’50s hot rods. A sectioned Walker radiator was added to keep everything cool.
One of the few modern conveniences incorporated into the build was the World Class T5 five-speed transmission backing up the vintage Cad V8. An S-10 tailshaft provided a more comfortable location for the shifter, which was topped with a vintage brass New York City school knob.
Scott didn’t want to change much on the car’s body – especially that wicked chop. He did have Nick and the Hubcaps crew fit a full hood using original Henry steel, and also refine all the metal work in preparation for a new finish. A pair of vintage BLC headlights was used up front, with ’37 Ford taillights mounted under the chrome rear spreader bar, which has a vertical center pushbar for added competition feel. The 98 louvers in the decklid were punched by Eric Vaughan back when Clary built the car.
When it came to a new color, Scott was originally envisioning white, like the early So-Cal Speed Shop or Pierson Brothers cars. “At the last possible second, under my wife Tracey’s correct urging, it went deep single-stage black,” Scott said. Nick laid down the flawless finish, starting with Squeeg’s epoxy primer and finishing with black RM paint. Caleb Nejadeh polished it to perfection. The look is nothing short of menacing. “I love it,” Scott said.
The approach was equally bare bones and basic inside – no A/C, cup holders or stereo. Instead, the stock bench seat was covered in black leather by Rex Copeman, with vintage WWII-era aircraft seat belts to strap in Scott and his passenger. Vintage Stewart Warner gauges were installed in an engine-turned panel, while a coveted ’50 Ford Crestliner wheel was Scott’s one concession to showy accessories (its large diameter also lends leverage to the heavy Schroeder steering box).
Buying someone else’s finished car – especially one with a bold, well-defined look – can be a gamble. All too often it will continue to be identified as their car, not yours. Scott has succeeded in overcoming that issue with his ’34 coupe, redefining its appearance to not only make it his, but also to give it a fresh, authentic period look and real-world drivability. Sometimes, it seems, it is possible to make a good thing even better.
Photos by Mike Harrington