By on March 20, 2014

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

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24 Comments on “2014 Detroit Autorama: Al Grooms’ Amazing and Original Bassackwards Midengine 1950 Ford F-1 Pickup...”

  • avatar

    Steampunk racer!


  • avatar

    Confirmed bachelor Speed Buggy is interested, very interested…

  • avatar

    I hope this is driven, just so the Darwin award can be handed out when someone is killed by this ‘creativity’

  • avatar

    I’ve long thought that the term “mid-engined” was wrong, because a truly “mid-engined” car would have its powerplant in the middle of the cabin.

    It would be a lot more accurate to describe the car’s layout based on the engine’s location relative to the occupants.

    A Corvette is front-engined. A Ferrari 458 and a Lamborghini Aventador are rear-engined because their powerplants are behind the cabin.

    • 0 avatar
      slow kills

      Well, if you’re thinking of style or ergonomics, I guess that makes sense. The current convention is based on placement relative to the axles. If the engine falls between the axles, it is mid-engine. There are a few cars where the engine was just behind the front axle…

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, I know. But I have this thing about language.

        For example, the word “drinking” means the ingestion of a liquid. So why is it commonly used to describe the consumption of ONLY alcoholic beverages?

        Or “technology?” The word “technology” means essentially any man-made item. So why is “technology” used commonly to describe only computers and software?

        The term “mid-engine,” to me, falls into the same category.

  • avatar

    OneAlpha – What would you call the Palatov DP1? The engine is next to the driver: (click D1)

    Side engine, perhaps?

    • 0 avatar

      That looks like fun, and if the engine’s under 250 lbs, I’d call it well-balanced!

      “Center-offset” would be my best guess for an accurate name.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Love the Moon dead pedals. A friend brought one back for my project on a west coast trip several years ago and they’re stoutly constructed; I’d be surprised to see anyone use them as a gas pedal as they have none of the pivot and mounting hardware on the back side apart from those 2 countersunk holes in the front.

  • avatar

    Needlessly complex, but cool.

  • avatar

    I spent the better part of an hour looking over this car Thursday night before the show opened. It is all kinds of awesome. I regret that the owner wasn’t there at the time to ask questions. It is as much a work of art as the traditional rods upstairs. I think Steam Punk fits it better than rat rod. there is not much “ratty” about it. The engine is from a marine application – further supporting the naval undertone of brass fittings and steam valve steering wheel. The double 180 drive line was necessary to get the input lined up with the rear axle housing. I would love to drive/ride in it for a leisurely Woodward cruise, but anything more than 3/10ths would be pushing it.

  • avatar
    old fart

    As strict as our State Highway Patrol is I can’t understand how this car (while very cool ) could possibly be plated , unless he did all the work without an inspection . Too many exposed spinning parts , no fenders , no bumpers. A friend of mine got a healthy ticket for no rear bumper on a HD truck that didn’t come from factory with one .

    • 0 avatar

      As far as I can find on the internet, Ohio doesn’t require a safety inspection before registering or for tag renewal.

      Whether a lawman takes issue with it would be another story. An Ohioan acquaintance of mine drives a rat rod ’40 Chev pickup with no floors (not rotted away, just never installed upon rebuild) and hasn’t been hassled.

  • avatar

    Could you imagine the noise from the driveline on this beast whilst driving? All that chain slapping around inches from your body. Definitely one of the coolest design exercises to be seen at the show, the automotive Rube-Goldberg.

  • avatar

    This seems…incredibly over-complicated. The engine’s spun round backwards, outputs to the front, and then is re-outputted to the rear? And there’s all these components spinning round right near where your body is?

    I appreciate the ingenuity, but this is less transportation and more functional art.

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    Sorry the Emperor is wearing no clothes. This thing is utter crap.

    It’s not well made, innovative, good looking or clever in any way. Go to a show or swap meet and you’ll see thousands of kit car makers, customisers, rodders who have made better stuff.

    Garbage masquerading as ‘art’ – dangerous art at that.

  • avatar

    Life is cheap! That’s just a farm accident waiting to happen.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    That is art, far beyond function. I like the patina rather than paint finish.

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