I’m so glad that Al Grooms brought his truck back to the Detroit Autorama this year. Last year it was the car that everyone that attended the show with whom I spoke mentioned. He hasn’t made any changes to it, but there are so many clever touches that it’s hard to take in all at once, which is why I was happy to have a second look. Al lives in Ohio and works in a steel mill and he is undoubtedly a deviously clever man. He was having so much fun with the people coming up and admiring his project that I’m sure his facial muscles were sore from grinning.
If I got the story straight, Grooms started out by turning the hood and front end of a 1950 Ford F-1 pickup into the forward seated cockpit of a very low rat rod. Since there was no room for the engine up front, he had to put the Ford Y-Block 292 V8 back in the bed, but again space was an issue. There wasn’t enough room between the cockpit and the rear axle for both the engine and transmission, so he turned the engine and four-speed manual gearbox around 180 degrees. The front of the engine now faces the back of the “truck” and the output shaft of the gearbox points forward. The transmission tailpiece sits between the two seats, and Grooms has mounted some expanded metal to act as console/armrest on top of the tailpiece. Speaking of expanded metal, the floors are made of that grating so you can see the pavement rushing by underneath you. The output shaft of the transmission is connected to a short drive shaft with two universal joints. All this machinery is exposed and spinning rather closely to the driver and passenger’s arms and legs so I’m guessing that for safety’s sake (safety??!!) the U-joints are slightly enclosed inside shrouds. After the second U-joint, the shaft goes through a bearing block and terminates in a large sprocket that drives a double row of very heavy roller chain that is connected to another sprocket sitting in the front of the passenger’s foot well. An idler wheel keeps the chain tensioned. Don’t worry, Grooms mounted a couple of Moon gas pedals as dead pedals to keep your footsies out of the works. That second sprocket is at the head of a driveshaft that then runs to the back of the car (there’s a section of pipe that it runs through to keep the passengers’ pant legs from getting caught in the spinning shaft).
Last year, when Grooms first brought his creation to the Autorama “Extreme” show in the basement of Cobo Hall, I just assumed that the driveshaft just went back to the front of an offset Ford rear axle. Of course that would be too simple for this project. This year I noticed that the axle is flipped around so the nose of the differential is facing the back of the vehicle. The driveshaft that starts in front of the passenger’s feet runs to the back of the car, where another sprocket and roller chain setup transfers power to the final drive. Copper plumbing connects the engine to the rear-mounted radiator, sitting right in front of a mesh panel where the tailgate would normally be. An electric fan moves air past the radiator.
Calling this a rat rod really doesn’t do it justice. While my description makes it sound like it was thrown together, in fact it’s a very well thought out project and even looks good. The suspension is a bit primitive, a solid axle up front suspended on what I think are technically called quarter elliptical springs – leaf springs cut in half. There doesn’t appear to be much suspension travel up front but Grooms says the ride is comfortable. Consider the source is a man who sits on bare metal over floors that he deliberately left as open as he could. The rear axle is suspended between two pairs of oppositely arced leaf springs. Looking at the photos, there’s another link in there so I’m guessing there’s some kind of Panhard rod or other kind of laterally locating device.
I’m not sure what kind of frame members there are up front, but judging by the large square section tubing that makes up the rear part of the custom frame, I’m sure that they’re sturdy.
In the cockpit another nod to safety are serious racing seat belts and shoulder harnesses. The steering wheel was originally part of a very large valve and has been cut down butterfly style. It looks great. Grooms mounted some gauges on a stack made of brass banister parts, which gives the cockpit a bit of a nautical look that goes well with the valve handle steering wheel.
As I said, there are so many touches on this car that I could go on and on. A lot of people think that the basement of Cobo during the Autorama is where you find “real Detroit car culture”. It’s where the rat rods, works in progress and oddball cars go but you’ll find that the people downstairs can be just as clever as the shops who build the Ridler Award competitors upstairs. As a matter of fact, if you look closely you’ll see that Troy Trepanier of Rad Rods by Troy autographed the dashboard of Grooms’ truck. Last year, when a ’56 Buick that Trepanier’s shop had built was one of the Great 8 finalists for the Ridler, Groom’s midengine masterpiece got Trepanier’s vote in the Autorama’s Builders’ Choice competition.
Human creativity is an amazing thing.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS