You’d be hard pressed to find a car that embodies the hot rod ethos while incorporating modern show-worthy construction and detail better than David Martin’s ’31 Ford Model A roadster. It seems fitting, then, that Martin’s Model A has won the Goodguys 2018 Tanks Inc. Hot Rod of the Year Award, announced at the Saturday evening awards ceremony at the 13th Nashville Nationals. In doing so, it became the first ever car to win the AMBR and Hot Rod of the Year.
Martin’s roadster covers all the bases. It’s got longevity – Martin has owned it 36 years and guided it through multiple incarnations, all with true hot rod spirit. It has experienced competition, spending time both on the track and under the lights at the most prestigious indoor car shows. And it has definite hot rod attitude, enhanced by the race-inspired numbering and roll bar installed since it won the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster honor at the 2018 Grand National Roadster Show.
Established in 2005, the Goodguys Hot Rod of the Year honor is intended to honor the spirit of hot rodding by looking beyond just style and build quality (which are also considered), and considering the hot rod’s purpose. Inspired by rodding legends like Bill Burnham and Gray Baskerville who shared his “ya gotta drive ’em” mantra, the late Gary Meadors wanted Hot Rod of the Year to be more than just a beauty contest. With that in mind, Goodguys conceived of an evaluation process that includes a reliability run (this year’s route covered 150 miles), plus dragstrip runs – complete with burnouts. The process is so fun, many rodders enter the contest just to go along on the run!
More than 30 cars entered the Hot Rod of the Year competition this year. By the end of the day Friday – after the reliability run – that number had been whittled down to the Top Five finalists – Bob and Chrissy Gratton’s ’32 Ford coupe, Sean Black’s ’32 Ford roaster, David and Brenda Lurding’s ’32 Ford roadster, David Martin’s ’31 Ford Model A roadster, and Brian Cruz’s ’32 Ford roadster. Ultimately, the combination of design, detail, attitude, spirit and power edged Martin’s roadster for the win.
Martin is a prominent Los Angeles architect who has an eye for bold style. He’s also a lifelong car enthusiast who has a long history with Model As, dating back to the first ’28 roadster he bought at age 13 for $25 and built into a hot rod with Buick Nailhead power. Like so many ’50s hot rods, Martin’s was sold when he was in college, but its absence was felt for decades.
Martin bought this ’31 Model A roadster – a former lakes-racing car – in 1982 and built it into a hot rod powered by a succession of engines – from an ultra-rare Riley OHV-equipped Flathead, to a conventional Flathead V8, and ultimately a supercharged small-block Chevy. The car made the cover of Street Rodder in 1986 and saw thousands of road miles, including multiple Power Tours. In 2003, David commissioned builder Scott Bonowski at Hot Rods & Hobbies to give the car a makeover. The track-influenced result – riding on a Deuce frame, with a bold yellow nose scallop and Dayton wire wheels – earned a first-place class trophy at the Grand National Roadster Show before seeing thousands more road miles.
A few years ago, Martin felt it was time for another iteration of the roadster “The idea of a hot rod is that it was always changing,” Martin said. “It was never frozen in time – it was always evolving.” Happy with Bonowski’s previous work, he again called on Hot Rods & Hobbies.
The idea this time around was to refine the car’s functionality and “find the beautiful engineering solution,” according to Martin. To that end, the chassis was updated with a longer wheelbase, wider track width, a torsion bar front suspension designed by Moal Coachbuilders, rack-and-pinion steering, JRI shocks, and custom 16- and 17-inch EVOD wheels that evoke vintage Indy Halibrand items. There were plenty of other racing influences, as well – from the Speedway Engineering quick-change rearend and aluminum belly pan, to the four-spoke steering wheel, aluminum racing seats, and competition-style gauges from Redline Gauge Works.
Legitimate race-proven power was put under the hood, as well, with an all-aluminum 401c.i. small-block Chevy built by Tom Malloy at Ed Pink Racing Engines. With a Brodix block, Edelbrock heads and a Borla eight-stack EFI, the engine dyno’d at 530hp and 493 lb-ft of torque, with a Richmond five-speed backing it up. Of course, a major focal point for many are those artfully crafted headers – built by Jerome Rodela of Rodela Specialty Fabrication – that gracefully flow out of the hood sides and back in through the frame – a trait shared with Martin’s first roadster from the ’50s.
Plenty of racing influences were incorporated into the body, as well, including louvers on the hood and deck lid, riveted hood blisters, a pop-up fuel filler in the deck lid, and race-style mirrors. Even the red leather upholstery – stitched by the talented Mark Lopez of Elegance Auto Interiors – has a no-frills feel to it. The blue Axalta paint – reminiscent of Sunoco blue – is a hue that’s been consistent on this car since the ’80s, while the orange beltline stripe added a bold exclamation point. For Nashville, the car was treated to bold numbering on the doors, plus the roll-cage-and-single-seat setup used when the car ran in the Silver State Classic open road race in bare steel last year – where it averaged 101mph for more than 100 miles!
Martin’s Model A marks the first time an AMBR winner has entered the Goodguys Tanks Inc. Hot Rod of the Year competition. Its win is not only a testament to incredible engineering and craftsmanship of this roadster, but also to its proof of function and hot rod spirit. Congratulations to David Martin, Hot Rods & Hobbies, and everyone involved in building this very special roadster.
Photos by Steven Bunker and Mike Harrington