Story and photos by Brian Earnest
John Zick grew up a long way from the 1950s and 1960s So Cal hot rod car scene. His dreams were hatched in another time and another place — in Sussex, Wis., a suburb of Milwaukee.
But Zick was channeling Ed “Big Daddy” Roth all the way when he began planning his dream hot rod project. Zick was inspired and fascinated by Roth’s famed Kustom Kulture creations, and when it was time to start building, he went all in.
“I’m still kind of figuring things out. I’ve definitely never had anything this radical,” laughs Zick, of his stunning, metallic green 1930 Ford custom rod. “What I wanted was that Rat Fink look. I grew up reading CARtoons magazine, remember those? Well, that’s the look I wanted.”
Zick knew he was going to start with the original 1930 Ford body that he inherited from his stepfather. And he was going to incorporate the No. 77 somehow, “because that’s the number on my semi-truck, and that’s what paid for this!”
Beyond that, however, his plans were open-ended, and the possibilities were limitless. One of the first things Zick did was team up with Streetworks Hot Rods of Waukesha, Wis. The shop not only handled most of the aspects of the build, but also provided ideas and plenty of inspiration along the way. “I told them what I wanted and we’d brainstorm every weekend to see what was going on,” he says. “We mainly did internet searches for the look. We’d look at a lot of pictures and a lot of videos, getting ideas…It was lot of putting things together and then saying, ‘Oh, I’m missing this.’ I’d run to a car show or a swap met to see if I could find it, or order it online. There are a lot of Model A people online, so I’d be able to pick their brains, and a lot of retailers are online, so I was able to order things.
“I wanted it a to be a street-strip look and be able to drive it on the street, even though my wife won’t let me run it down the strip because we have too much money in it. She’s worried I’ll put it into the wall… The green is in honor of my mother; that’s her favorite color.”
The heart of the beast is a blown 629-horse Chevy small-block that came from NVR racing in Butler, Wis. “They had the block and I had the heads and the blower. I’ve always wanted a blower. I love that whine. And to me that tops off the Rat Fink look. I went with Offenhauser rocker arm covers to stay again with that ‘60s theme… It has caps on the 2- and 3-inch exhaust running to the back. When I have the caps off, yes it’s very loud. I’m not a fan of the wrap [on the pipes], but how the heads are staggered on a small-block Chevy, the head is right next to the body. That’s the main reason to do the wrap — to save the paint.”
Running gear on the hot Model A includes a Ford 9-inch rear and an axel that has been dropped four inches. A pair of independent master cylinders are connected to discs in both the front and back, with the larger rear discs doing most of the braking. The big Radar cheater slicks mounted to the 9 x 15 Helo Brand wheels help with the traction in back. The fancy chrome spoked hoops in front measure 4 x 18.
“It stops alright,” Zick says. “I wouldn’t say it stops on a dime, but it’s not too bad.”
For all its nice mechanicals, it’s the flashy Ford’s styling and creative details that really dazzle. Every inch of the body is slathered in metallic green paint, which fades in and out in different spots. “It’s House of Color candy green,” Zick says. “The name is actually Organic Green. There is a silver base, and in spots where we wanted it darker we shot some blue and then candy over that.” On the cowl is a maze of lace-like artwork, which is bookended by a gorgeous “77” design behind the cab. Tribal pinstriping adorns the top of the radiator shell and custom air cleaner cover. “The stripes are from Barry out of Waukesha. I told him just to use your artistic talent and do your thing. I love it. It adds flavor to it,” Zick points out.
The roof of the cab is a custom fabricated louvered panel, which matches the panels used as a deck lid and inside on the doors. “ It’ all hand made — all the aluminum panels,” Zick notes. “The louvers are for effect and for air flow. With the radiator in back, we need that. The radiator in front is just for looks and for storage. I also have an electric water pump. If I get too warm, I can shut the engine off and turn the key to accessory and the fans keep running to cool it down. I had run into a problem in Florida. We were there [in Daytona] For the Turkey Rod Run and cruising in stop and-go-traffic all the way, it was getting very warm…. The louvers on top, I do get a little wet in the rain. As long as I’m moving, I’m alright. I don’t get much water in there. When I stop, that’s when I have a problem.”
The windows are made from Lexan and are tinted green — naturally. “I don’t drive with them up, because I don’t know if it would pass DOT,” Zick laughs. A custom visor hanging over the tip-out windshield adds to the aesthetics. The top door hinges were removed when the body got its original 4-inch chop.
Inside is a modern So Cal Speed Shop dash and awesome low-back seats. “The seats are great,” Zick says. “They have the bomber looks, but they are like lawn chairs underneath and they are very comfortable.”
One of the big decisions Zick had to make along the way was the transmission. He liked the idea of a four-speed, of course, but logistics seemed to dictate a Plan B. “It is tight [with the hump between the seats],” he admits. “I almost went with the four-speed, but Speedworks talked me out of it. They said there was just gong to be so much going on, they said let’s go with an automatic. And I agree with them. There is a lot going on in there.”
The acid test for the whole project came before the final touches were added when Zick was able to take the car for its first test-drive. He admits it was a nervous moment, after having put so much money and effort into a dream machine that he had conjured up in his mind over the years during many thousands of hours behind the wheel of his semi.
“The first time was scary. Yeah, it was,” he said. “Because I didn’t know what to expect, and we didn’t have the front brakes on it. We took it to the Detroit Autorama and it wasn’t completely done. And it took first place in its division!
“But really, it’s very comfortable to drive. The back is a little stiff, but the front kind of floats over the bumps. The front is a lot softer than the back. And it’s really not [hard to control]. It stays in a straight line. I’ve gotten on it a few times and it’s just stayed in a straight line. And it’s 2,280 lbs. so it’s very easy to steer with a manual [steering] box.”
For the past year, Zick has been having a blast showing the car off, both at big events and on the streets around his home. He still has to pinch himself occasionally to make sure his little green monster is the real thing after being just an image in his mind’s eye for so long.
“It’s funny; I was posting pictures of it on Facebook while we were building it and people that know me where following along,” Zick says. “A lot of them were like, ‘Whoa, this thing is going to be amazing.
“Just yesterday, I saw a friend that I haven’t seen for 30 years, since high school, and he had been following my progress on Facebook, and when he finally saw it in person, he said, ‘Pictures don’t do it justice.’ That’s the kind of reaction it’s gotten.”
Show us your wheels!
If you’ve got an old car you love, we want to hear about it. Email us at email@example.com