The Editor Encounters a Hot Rod

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Last September PF Payne made fastest sports-car time of the day at the Gosport Speed Trials in his Ford, clocking 15.92secs for the ss quarter mile. During December he wrote to MOTOR SPORT, asking would I like to meet a real Hot-Rod?

I did not give a great deal of thought to this kind of invitation, expecting to encounter a home-built Ford Special, but I did make an appointment to meet Mr Payne one Sunday in the spacious car of the Royal Huts Hotel at Hindhead.

To this rendezvous I drove the Editorial Morgan Plus Four in a bitingly cold wind.

Arriving before the appointed time I went for a brief walk to enjoy the magnificent view over the Devil’s Punchbowl and when I returned to the car-park, lo, there was the Hot-Rod and two cold mortals, parked beside the Plus Four. I confess I was surprised at what I saw, for here was no attempt at amateur English special-building but a true Californian Hot-Rod.

Mr Payne had owned the car for three years, having been employed by International Motors Inc of Hollywood, where he was closely associated with such diversity of quick automobiles as Lago-Talbots, Offy-Midgets and these American Hot-Rods, of which his own car FTP 348 is a typical example.

He ran it in hillclimbs and races out there and brought it over with him returned to England some time ago.

I was told that in the States this potent Ford, with its spartan two-seater body and long, slim aluminium bonnet topped by a large air-scoop, would be known as an AV8, ie, an A or B-type Ford chassis housing a Ford V8 motor.

The frame is, in fact, that of a 1932 14.9-hp Ford. The original cross-members have been removed and two tubular ones substituted, one by the clutch housing, the other adjacent to the leading edge of the seat, so that this seat can be slung inside the sidemembers. The frame has not been shortened, but the wheelbase is shorter because the 1939-48 type Ford axles are fitted which fall into new locations, bringing the wheelbase to 8ft 7in.

The wheels are steel discs, dynamically balanced; the front ones carry 5.50-16 tyres, those at the back 7.00-16 on Lincoln wheels, which gives a wider track at the rear. 6.00-16 front tyres are preferred but the cycles wings have insufficient clearance.

I was interested to learn that inexpensive American tyres, Firestone for example, mainly of synthetic rubber, have proved safe up to 130mph when he in the 120degree shade-temperature of the Californian desert; also that in America a set of four costs less than a week’s wages! The brakes on this Ford are normal 1939-48 Ford Lockheed, which are quite useful on a 30cwt stock saloon and consequently are deemed adequate for a hot-rod weighing under 18cwt.

I am apt to be sceptical of hot-rods, but Mr Payne invited me to go for a ride and I returned highly impressed. The car has left-hand drive and it was quite an experience to be wafted down the Portsmouth Road in the right-hand passenger’s seat against on-coming traffic! Wafted is an adequate word, for this Ford does perform! 70mph comes up on the speedometer in bottom cog, and then in no time an indicated 100mph shows up in the middle ratio! The top speed is not known, but certainly in a very brief space the speedometer needle had gone beyond its maximum calibration of 100mph. What is so outstanding is the way the car goes up to these 100mph gaits in about a quarter of a mile, very smoothly, with no audible V8 beat from the exhausts and no noise whatsoever on the over-run.

Taking over, I found the clutch and brake pedals high up to the left of a treadle-type accelerator which has a very light movement and a longtravel, but which appears to have been scientifically linked to the triple throttles. The gear lever is a delightful thing, coupled to the box by long, exposed rods, which nestles by one’s right thigh. It works delightfully too. Almost from the desire to go, you are up into the 80s and the clean, smooth acceleration goes on and on, the speed up and up, only traffic checks calling a halt. The steering is very light indeed, but positive and quite high geared, although I found the Bugatti-like 16in diameter, spring-spoke, rubber rimmed wheel from a midget racer startlingly small.

We made the run on Pool petrol, whereas the engine prefers 80-octane, but I recall no pinking, while this ‘souped’ V8 would run easily at 800rpm in top gear. The rev-counter meant little, but I was told that 1,000rpm in top gear equals 25mph and so we must have reached at least 4,500rpm without any roughness or anxiety intruding. I regret that the cold and the approach of darkness cut short our playtime, for I would love to try this Ford along winding roads. As it was, I sampled it only on the straight, when it seemed to use a good deal of highway at 100mph but then there was a fiendish cross-wind blowing. The ride was reasonably comfortable, although the bonnet juddered about a bit.

That easy, punch-in-the-back acceleration will live long in my memory and it does, indeed, represent over 100mph at the end of a quarter-mile, a distance the car covered at Gosport in 15.92sec, only 0.77sec slower than J Goodhew’s P3 Alfa-Romeo which made fastest racing-car time.

No timed speeds have been recorded, but I am assured that with a standard the car engine giving car was capable of 102mph and it is estimated that about 175bhp is now developed at over 5000rpm. The height of the car is a mere 3ft, so something in the region of 130mph is thought to be available. Mr Payne points out that since he has been in England street-racing against other hot-rods hasn’t been possible, nor are roller-dynamometers, or jet-flow-meters readily available. “Indeed,” he remarks, “only one mechanic in a thousand would know the figures for contact-breaker spring tension or understand rpm/vacuum ignition-advance curves. All are widely known in the USA.”

You will guess that Mr Payne is hot-rod conscious and you will be right! “The fastest Ford roadsters will hit 116mph in a standing quarter-mile,” he told me. “Most good Ford roadsters clock 120-125mph with my brand of soup and I have less frontal area,” he continued, adding that “a good V8 revs to over 6,500 and 240bhp has been obtained with a sidevalve V8 on alcohol.” I can well believe that he is able to tour up Portsdown Hill at 90-100mph and I agree that his car gives racing-car acceleration I smelt the rubber burning during our get-aways… WB

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