Earlier this year, Roadkill made plans to run the revised Rotsun and the Impala from the Mighty Car Mods special at No Fly Zone Arizona at Gila Bend Airport. You may or may not be surprised that we didn’t make it in time for the event and instead diverted to Tucson Dragway to make some passes and play with RC cars. We say unsurprising, but also it was sad, since the event looked great and we were looking forward to trying for top speed runs with the Rotsun (it failed us. Again with the unsurprising) Since we didn’t make it to Gila Bend, we thought we’d talk to someone who did make it there. Nicky Flores gave us the low-down on the super-cool 1931 Ford Model A Cabriolet hot rod he ran at No Fly Zone AZ.
Flores works for the Blake Machine Company, which owns the Ford rod as part of the Blake Machine Collection, and Nicky has spent the last five years completing the build that was started at least a half-century ago. The car’s background remains a mystery but what it represents is something really and truly nostalgic: a real honest-to-goodness, old-school jalopy-style hot rod.
The parts list suggest that the original builders made the best of what they had. Under the late ‘31 Ford Model A Cabriolet body—one of less than 7,500 Cabriolets stamped—is a 1934 Ford driveline with a 1939 Ford three-speed manual transmission. The beautiful engine is a first-series Oldsmobile 303 cubic-inch V8, probably a ‘49, with the triple-carburetor setup from a later ‘56 Oldsmobile J-2 Rocket V8. “When you look at everything on it, it’s the definition of what a guy would have done as far as a late ’50s or early ‘’60s build goes,” Flores said. “It was built from stuff that you could have bought for almost nothing in a junkyard. The motor is valuable today, but it was worthless when this was built.”
Bob Blake, who began the Blake Machine Collection, acquired the hot rod in and put it into storage in 1974 between a pair of ‘50 Buicks and under a corrugated-tin roof. Engine blocks were eventually stacked around it (above) until Flores and Dave Blake, Bob’s son, wanted to build a roadster a few years ago. Flores, Dave, and Dave’s son spent a day freeing the Ford from the wall of engine blocks.
The newest piece on the car was a green-flake steering wheel, which Nicky figured to be from the mid-1960s. Everything else on the car was pre-1960, so he figured the bulk of the car was built in the late 1950s or early 1960s. At that time, desire for the Oldsmobile 303 would have been long surpassed in demand by the plethora of Small-Block Chevys around, among other engines. The Olds V8 would have cost this hot rod’s original builders mere pennies.
As Nicky dug into the project over time, it became apparent that the Ford’s build quality edged toward the crude side of work. In removing the cowl to remove the fuel tank, he found the original builder(s) had used a quarter-inch drill bit to cut the metal by drilling one small hole followed by an adjacent hole. All the way around the cowl. That left the entire edge serrated like a saw. They’d also used the same method to cut the firewall hole for the brake master cylinder. The use of cast-off parts and the crude methods of assembly really stood out to Nicky as the work of novice builders making the best of it.
“It was a little like they were trapped on an island somewhere,” he said. “They seem to have had only the most basic of tools—a torch, wrenches, a hammer, and obviously a drill—but they managed to Z the car in the rear and drop the front axle four inches. They had the right idea.”
It was clearly a “low-buck build” before anybody ever used that phrase and it likely never ran with the Olds V8 in it. The first time Nicky depressed the clutch pedal, the throwout bearing fell off because the transmission shaft was too short. He added “extend the transmission snout” to the growing list of things to address. Nicky has still never opened up the Olds V8, although from looking through the spark-plug holes and having the drainpan off, he can tell that it has flat-top pistons and the crank had been nicely balanced before its installation.
Putting the Model A back on the road was no small feat. Obvious things like brake and fuel lines needed replacement, but the dropped suspension also needed to be redone to make it safe. The brakes required a full rebuild and the interior was long gone. The fuel tank Nicky put in the car is one of only a couple modern pieces on the car and it’s mounted out of sight. The other modern item, the removable rollbar, was added so Nicky could take it to drag strips and half-mile land-speed events like No Fly Zone.
The engine was still healthy but needed the ignition system redone. In the spirit of the original build, Nicky dug through piles of old parts and came up with a DuCoil distributor and Judson magneto coils to make spark. Mounting the Judson coils on the firewall caused a long moment of pause for Nicky and Dave Blake. Both wondered if they should be making any new holes in the car at all, but they ultimately decided that it would be OK if it was the difference between the car running—with period-correct parts—or not.
All of the work done was meant to capture what they felt was the builder’s original intention. “This car is more of a preservation project,” Nicky said. “We’re not really trying to blow it apart and customize it. It’s just perfect as-is. Even the little things that would drive me mad on other cars like the grille sitting up a bit higher than the cowl, the plywood dash, the inner rear fenders looking like they were chopped put with a dull axe…on this car, they’re totally acceptable.”
It still looks as it did when originally being put together, albeit with some more patina. Nicky’s still hoping someone will recognize the car and have more details on its origins. For now, he’s happy to drive it whenever he can to enjoy the sonorous Oldsmobile V8 through open headers. After getting it back on the road, Nicky drove it daily for a couple months and, when bored, would ask around to see who in the neighborhood wanted to go for a ride. He takes it to pick up groceries and has noticed that people gravitate toward the car.
“People will open the door and sit in it,” Nicky says. “It’s amazing that it draws people to it like that.”
Nicky’s run at No Fly Zone Arizona was his second time racing at Gila Bend. While he stands out among the crowd of mostly muscle cars and exotics, he’s happy to run the rusty-covered Ford on the broad runway, where he can listen to the V8 fill the desert air with its timeless song.
The “unfinished” look of the Ford suits the desert, too. There’s no “show car” in it, just a “kid who hammered and drilled this thing together” originally, as Nicky put it. Aside from the massive noise—which Nicky can’t get enough of—it otherwise behaves reasonably well on the road and even ran faster than 100 miles per hour in the half-mile at Gila Bend.
In the spirit of old-school hot-rodders, Nicky loves taking it everywhere. The allure of driving an old jalopy-style car to an event, racing all day, and then cruising home appeals to his appreciation for early drag and even sports car racers who did exactly the same in the ‘50s. Next up is a 600-mile round trip to Las Vegas in the ‘31 Ford.
Here’s a video with some fantastic audio of Nicky and the Olds at full song. We’ll get to No Fly Zone Arizona one of these days with our own heap(s), but for now, we’re glad to show you the most Roadkill car there in our absence.
[Thanks to Nicky Flores and Omega Motorsport Events for the help on this story.]