Hawaiian Rat Rod Build-up part 1
Don Pierce's `30 Model A Coupe
Part One –
R.R. Hammerfoot •
Photos: Mike Owens / Don Pierce
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Hawaii – Many moons ago, a little Model A Coupe had been
driven (possibly by a tribal chief) countless miles on the bumpy,
dusty roads of a New Mexico Indian reservation with a broken frame,
splitting the body in two halves through the beltline. The old A
bone was then discarded and left to rot on the desert floor. It
could have very well been abandoned because the poor battered body
had been clearly broken again in the same area adjacent to old
haphazard welds that appeared to be keeping it together.
it was decided (by whoever originally brought the coupe to Hawaii)
that since the body was cracked in two, it would be cut in sections
that were then shipped in a crate with big expectations of being
resurrected in paradise.
coupe then went through a couple of owners and over the years Hawaii’s
salty humid air took its toll more than the dry New Mexico
environment ever could, turning it into just a heap of rusted metal.
And that’s where Don Pierce
Pierce – When I first laid eyes on this pile, 4 years ago
in friends’ yard, it was my judgment that it should be thrown
while revisiting my friend I was eyeballing the remains of the coupe
in the weeds where it seemed to be rusting in peace. In casual
conversation I asked what his plans were for the coupe? He replied
that $200 would buy it. Although I didn’t need another car because
my daily driver for the last 15 years, a 1930 Ford pick-up, has
served all my transportation needs. I rationalized that the gas
tank, which had some paint remaining, and the stainless steel
radiator shell, the only two parts without rust, were worth the
check was written and the remains, which consisted of 15 pieces of
this old Indian coupe, were loaded in the back of my 1930 Ford
pick-up. It was surprising that the 20 odd pieces of the coupe body
fit as one load in the small bed of my truck. In this one load were
the following parts: gas tank, cowl section, doors, quarter panels,
roof section, sub-rails, floor pans, hood sides, rear fenders and
extra firewall. A photo was taken of this load overlooking the ocean
at Diamond Head lookout.
home and the parts spread out on the shop floor it occurred to me
that if the rust could be removed, with some perseverance that this
might be a good candidate for a Rat Rod to be built on an economy
a starting point, for this budget project, I decided to use a 1989
Mustang 5.0 HO engine and 5-speed transmission, which was a spare
for my truck. The $250 cost of this engine and trans was the value
of a scooter I exchanged for. I also had some parts left over from
my Cruising Classics Car Rental business. Humnn… a plan was
starting to crystallize - remove the rust, weld the body back
together, chop the top and scrounge all the missing and needed items
for transformation of this forgotten Indian coupe into a Hawaiian
first order of business was to remove the rust. The body panels and
parts were dipped in my homemade vat lined with sheets of visquine
and filled with 50 gallons of phosphoric acid. Normally you would
need a larger tank with thousands of gallons of solution but this
body is in sections so soaking a few pieces at a time fit nicely.
then set off in a quest to re-acquire a pair of `32 Ford frame rails
I had given away some 13 years ago. I was able to locate them and
purchase them from their present owner Lane, at Ken’s Auto Body
Shop, for $300. Also purchased, from Lane, a used radiator and deck
lid for $50 each.
Gary Pierce, Don’s cousin, stopped by while vacationing in
Hawaii from Lower Burrell, Pa. and gave a hand assembling Don’s
cut-up Model A back together. Actually, Gary happily spent the
better part of his two-week vacation working on it saying,
"I am having the time of my life, I don't know anybody
back home that can say they helped build a hot rod in
have been able to find and purchase the following items for this
project from a couple of the old time Hot Rodders here on Oahu,
Francis Parsons and Roger Asato. Another used radiator, front axle,
front and rear `36 Ford wishbones, front and rear Model A cross
members, front and rear springs, early 15 inch Ford wheels with
beauty rings and a 42 inch wide seat from an unknown make and year
van. The parts acquired so far have not made much of a dent in the
list of parts needed to complete this project.
my quest to economize, I was off with a parts list in my back pocket
and a fully loaded toolbox in both hands to visit Ben Post, parts
manager, at ABE’S AUTO RECYCLERS in Pearl City. Two days of
climbing around, under, over, and through stacks of vehicles I was
able to remove and purchase the following:
– Parts List–
9 inch Bronco rear end.
1966 Ford Pickup steering
Parking brake handle and
cables (unknown sports car)
Ford ranger tie rod ends (4ea. for the wishbones)
Four used tires, front
165-15, and rear 235-15
Fuse panel - Fiat sports car.
Steering wheel (Mfg. Unknown)
Front timing cover from an early 302 (for fuel pump use)
Distributor from above 302 engine.
Battery cables and starter
Toyota Land Cruiser wiper
assembly & gas pedal bracket.
Some of the challenges in the Coupe’s
construction beyond the labor and time required are as follows:
1. Engineer and fabricate a safe driveable vehicle with correct
steering and suspension geometry. Install safety glass, seat belts,
parking brakes, turn signals and windshield wipers.
2. Keep costs to a minimum by purchasing parts on Oahu (shipping
costs from the mainland to the Islands can equal or exceed the price
of the parts).
3. Hand fabricate or modify junkyard parts when possible rather than
buy aftermarket parts and have them shipped to Oahu.
4. A Rat Rod in my opinion should not be associated with crude
shoddy workmanship but a driving rolling example of a functional
vehicle as a work in progress and always in primer paint.
5. I think that a rat rod can be an expression of the owner/
builder, reflecting not the size of his wallet but his artistic
ability and originality, clever planning and resourcefulness. I
believe that hand crafted quality workmanship communicates more
about the talents of the builder than a larger wallet might. Of
course the talent, or lack there of, to have that larger wallet may
be the reason this project ever got started. – Don
Click on ANY picture for a bigger view.
Stay tuned for part two, when the
Hawaiian Rat Rod gets its chassis and driveline completed.
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