At what point does an classic car become a full-blown custom? It seems to be one of those open-ended questions that can never be fully answered, but it’s an ambiguous topic that is brought back to the surface with Rocky Nash’s ’34 Ford Roadster.
For many reasons, Nash’s ’34 Ford is one of those cars that sits just on the borderline between “clean classic” and “radical custom.” This is because there are very few components throughout the bright red hot rod that are actual Ford components. Probably one of the more common of these is the motor; Nash’s trick ’34 custom is powered by a ZZ4 crate, Chevy 350 small block with aluminum heads, chasing a 700R4 transmission built by Phoenix. This ride also features a Heidts independent front and rear with coil-over suspension, and front and rear discs sporting polished calipers from Wilwood.
It wouldn’t be such a big deal to build a clean, ’30s Ford with a buff Chevy small block, except that what makes Rocky Nash’s ’34 so over-the-top is the body of the rod itself. First, Nash started with a ground-up, custom chassis from Bobby Alloway, and Rat’s Glass Street Rod Bodies of Friendsville, Tennessee built the clean, all-fiberglass body that you see today.
Where things get ambiguous is with the fiberglass body from Rat’s; at what point has Nash’s Ford turned from one of Ford Sr’s original, steel creations to an all-fiberglass “hybrid” of a street rod that can never truly be classified by science?
Given the fact that the Ford is the most popular of all the three-window coupes, it must be taken into account that this particular style of coupe, characterized by two side windows and a backlight, was produced by Ford for a time, though the ’32 through ’36 three-window Fords are the most popular in the world of hot rodding, and the three-window cars are distinguished from the five-window in that the five-window cars had one additional window on each side. In general, three-window coupes were at their peak of popularity from the 1920s until the beginning of World War II.
What this means from a construction standpoint is that it’s really not worth building a three-window street rod like Rocky Nash’s from an original, steel bodied Ford; not only is steel much heavier than fiberglass, but the original steel that was used during the 1930s is not nearly as easy to mold as the fiberglass and aluminum-based shells that are used on contemporary customs. What these possibilities of molding and shaping mean for the rodding hobby is that there is a lot more that can be done in terms of lines and shapes.
As you can see from Nash’s ’34, using a fiberglass body with a custom frame has allowed for a couple of things: first, the body maintains the shape and integrity of an original, while still allowing room for a bit of modernization. But this “modernization” is much more than just in terms of appearance; the fact that Bobby Alloway has built, for the ’34 Ford, a full-custom chassis has allowed for the installation and use of many modern, useful suspension components, such as the independent front and rears from Heidts with coil-overs.
We can guarantee you, from a purely technical standpoint, that rod builders would never in a million years be able to achieve this level of ride and handling with an original, 1934 chassis. Let’s face it, when it comes to retrofitting pre-1960 cars, late-model suspensions are just as much the “way to go” as late-model drivetrains, and it’s just so hard to top that kind of accuracy.
As we can see from Rocky Nash’s ’34 roadster, there is a much more dramatic emphasis on custom styling than there is on originality. While all-original cars win the most points at shows within certain categories and are worth a lot more money, there will always be something profound that can be said about a custom rod-builder who flexes creative muscles to the max, testing the boundaries of what can be done with modern computer drafting and milling technology.
But then I also contemplated that there were those motoring enthusiasts who fell into both categories, those motor enthusiasts who are, what we like to call, “all-embracing;” they understand the pros and cons of early and late-model builds.
Personally, we don’t blame them for their philosophies of rod-building, because both sides of the fence have their merit. On one end, there’s something nostalgic about the lines and shapes of early-1930s, American auto design, but on the other hand it’s just nice to have the smoothness and stability of a full-tube chassis with coil-over suspension. As a lover of all cars, there’s a part of you that has to feel bad, because you know that you don’t really want to butcher an original American car from an era that was big on chrome and steel, in the case of the 1930s, probably a lot more steel than chrome.
But you just can’t deny that people, like suspension components, just weren’t built during the 1930s like they are today, and so because this is true, the new Millennium has imposed a much greater need for more legroom, more aerodynamic body designs, and better-insulated interiors with better and stronger platforms to build them on.
So far in this installment, we’ve focused on a lot from the technical side of rod-building, but we can’t leave an extensive write-up like this one without talking about just how damn clean a full-fiberglass body like this one from Rat’s makes an old Ford like Nash’s look. We really don’t think that car manufacturers during the early 1930s were as focused on making a car look “clean” as we are today, given the simple fact that the custom auto industry really wouldn’t manifest into a reality until the 1950s, when builders like Barris and the Alexander Brothers started to chop tops and shave door handles off of early-model Mercurys.
But because CNC-milling and computer design are realities in our own world, we now have the opportunities and the vision to stretch a ’34 Ford body farther than it ever before has been, and the prospects of fiberglass and aluminum allow for a much higher degree of quality, showroom finish. Given these kinds of arguments and this clean of a street rod, one can see how all the pros and cons outweigh themselves.