How To Build A Bad ’33 Race Rod In Five Days

It was an idea that should have been thought of years ago; a street rod meant to turn corners instead of just running 1,320 feet at a time, or built for the sole purpose of cruising. Sometime around 1995, Pro Touring legend Mark Stielow started work on a wicked little all-wheel-drive ’32 Ford that was meant to tear up the road course. When Mark went to work for Summit Racing, that car was finished as the “Quadradeuce,” but it never really turned a tire in anger.

Then around 2003 or so, illustrator/designer Thom Taylor penned a similar rod, a bad-to-the-bone ’33 coupe with a similar purpose. That illustration lit a spark in the guys at Factory Five Racing, builder of perhaps the most popular kit Cobras (among other cars) in the country.

When one of FFR’s marketing guys secretly sent me a photo of a rough prototype of their new Hot Rod kit, not surprisingly based on a ’33 Ford coupe, I knew I had to have one.

As the car got close to production, in 2008, company owner Dave Smith agreed with me that I would be a good person to help build and promote the car, so we schemed to get a kit and drivetrain to LK Motorsports in Hermosa Beach, California, and put the word out on the FFR message board for help on the build.

Jeff “Batman” Miller (Temecula, California) fit the body panels and sprayed the evil flat/gloss black paint, and the body came to LK’s shop on a Monday in May of ’09, where 20-plus FFR nuts from the message board ganged up to build the car. By Friday, we were driving it around the block, and on Saturday it was featured in the annual kit car show at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California.

It then went on FFR’s truck for display at the Hot Rod Power Tour, and finally back to my driveway in Burbank, California. After jumping through the many flaming hoops of California’s awful, dreaded DMV, I finally got the car registered and tagged, and immediately hit the streets. And when it’s not on a road course (or, more accurately, spinning off of one), autocross, or dragstrip, the street is where it eats.

The word 'spartan' does quite detail how non-existent any frills or creature comforts exist in this race-ready rod. Specifically hand-built, this '33 is a true one-of-a-kind machine.

The FFR kit comes with everything you need to build the car except for an engine, transmission, rearend, wheels and tires. There are upgrades available; we opted for the big AP Racing brakes, 3-link rear suspension (standard is a 4-link), and electric-assist power steering. The drivetrain consists of a Ford Racing Boss 347 small-block that makes 415 horsepower, a Tremec TKO-600 5-speed, and a ’94-later Mustang 8.8-inch rearend.

The rolling stock consists of 18- and 19-inch Rushforth wheels and Nitto NT05 tires, 275s all around. One of the neatest things we used on the car was a Racepak UDXSR digital dash. We mounted it right in the middle of the dash for maximum visibility, but in retrospect should have put it right in front of the driver.

The car is a blast to drive and gets tons of looks, but its real goal in life is performance, and at that it excels. With only 2,300 pounds (without driver), 415 horsepower is adequate and has pushed the car to an 11.80 at 122 mph.

At the NMRA/NMCA event at Fontana, California in July 2011, the ’33 competed in the Tremec True Street class and ran a best of 12.30 at 114 on California Speedway’s dragstrip. That was on a 100-degree day and with a malfunction in the electric fan that raised the water temp to 230 degrees as I was staging the car.

It blasted the Hotchkis Performance autocross at that same event, and with only a few laps was knocking down times right up there with the faster street cars. And that was on the 200 treadwear Nittos with street pressure settings.

Perhaps the car’s most infamous outing was the 2009 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational, an annual pro touring shootout the Saturday after the SEMA show in Las Vegas. The competitors drove from Vegas to Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, about an hour north of Vegas, to run the road course, an autocross, and a 0-60-0 speed stop contest.

The Ford Racing Boss 347 small-block makes an impressively logical 415 horsepower, and doesn't need to overpower its powertrain to get the point across. Of course, knowing Rob who can't leave well enough alone, the 347 is expected to punch it up to 480 with a couple mods - including fuel injection - in the near future.

The Race Rod’s first run was on the road course, and with not one single practice lap, I went out and did a warm up lap…then proceeded to spin the car off into the dirt on the first corner, raising a huge cloud of dust. I wasn’t the only car off that day, but the ’33 was the only one to get hauled back to the pits on a flatbed. Sliding through the dirt, the left-front wheel grabbed a rock and it was a big enough hit that it broke one of the control arms and sent the wheel/tire into the grille. D’oh! Not only did I feel stupid, but organizer Jimi Day even made fun of me in the one-hour TV show about the event. Great, just great.

and it will absolutely see some more road course action. The plan is to hit several open track events with stickier race rubber, set the car up a little more to my liking, and kick ass. There’s also a truly bitchin’ Inglese 8-stack EFI setup sitting on my kitchen table as I write this, and it’s going on the 347 soon. It probably won’t make any more power, but it’ll run better and look way cooler. If it’s still not fast enough, there’s a 480-horse TFS-headed 347 sitting in my garage that might make its way in the car.

No shrinking violet, this '33 hot rod can step up to any other road course racer thanks to its lightweight, strong, rigid architecture and smooth power delivery. Rob took first place in the NMCA Fontana Hotchkis autocross event over a month ago.

There’s no real convenient way to have a full rollcage in the car and still make it easy to get in and out of, so for now it just has a single hoop behind the front seats. Because of that, it’s a bit scary on a fast road course since a rollover would be, shall we say, bad? The car is an absolute riot on the autocross though, and that’s where it really belongs.

As for the street side of things, I’ve been driving the snot out of the car, and it shows. The rockers still have chips from the off at Spring Mountain, but I’m not going to repaint them. That’s a badge of pride right there, so to speak, and shows that the car gets used hard. Again, that was the point from the beginning—beat it like a rental and go fast. Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake, California is about 2 miles from my house, and the Race Rod regularly makes the famous Friday night cruise there. Overall, I’ve put several thousand miles on the car, and have a lot more than that left to put on it.

What would I do differently? Probably give it more tire. We went with 275s since that’s what the FFR Challenge Cobras use, and the build came together so quick that we just defaulted to that size.

Without fenders, the sky’s the limit on tire size, so I’d like to go much bigger, and maybe even get a set of big slicks and skinnies for the dragstrip. The Nitto tires are great, but with no weight and decent power, it just won’t hook up when you’re gettin’ with it. Plus, it’s a ’33 Ford, and those cars just look good with bigs ‘n’ littles, right?

If it’s too loud you’re too old. Well, I guess I’m getting old then. The fiberglass packing in the mufflers lasted all of five minutes, so the exhaust is basically un-muffled, which is great around town but will wear you out after an hour on the freeway.

I have a set of DynoMax’s new mufflers with the flapper valve in them, so those’ll go on as soon as I get some time. I also have an optional roadster windshield for it, so one of these days I’ll unbolt the top (it’s held on with about 10 bolts) and make it a roadster just to mix things up.

Other than that, there’s nothing to complain about with the car. Everyone I know begs me to take them for a ride, people on the street and at the grocery store lose their minds when they see and hear it (usually the latter prior to the former!), and it’s very easy to drive. The electric power steering is a bit numb in corners, but once you get used to it it’s fine, and with big tires in the front, it’s nice to have in parking lots.

If you’re looking for a cool hot rod that’s about more go than show, and you want to build it yourself at home, I highly recommend the Factory Five Hot Rod. Check out for the full scoop, and start using a car for what it’s supposed to be used for—driving hard and fast!

About the author

Rob Kinnan

Rob Kinnan requires very little introduction. Many would recognize Rob from his days as the Editor of Hot Rod Magazine. He is a dyed-in-the-wool hot rodder and muscle car enthusiast, a road racing aficionado behind the wheel of his Factory Five roadster, and a hardcore NASCAR fan.
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