The problem with trends is they quickly get pigeon-holed to the point they become cliché. Eye-opening designs and never before seen build processes are soon relegated to a bevy of check-boxes and “gotta-haves” if you’re going to be part of the club. Name a style or genre of rodding, and if good money is worth betting, you’ll likely find a list of things “required” as the price of admission.
Then, there are those who reside outside of the group-think, where only some of the craziest, and most creative minds dare to tread. Eventually, their thoughts may become the accepted dogma of the latest craze, but at the time of conception, their mind is the only place where such ideas make sense. That is, until they flesh-out their thoughts, allowing those thick, but fragile barriers within our own gray matter to shatter, opening floodgates for their “ahead-of-the-curve” ideas.
At its very core, hot-rodding isn’t anything new. We’ve been hammering out horsepower from steel and glass that has been circling the red-hot ball in the sky for over half a century at least. Sometimes, the end result is so far from the original we need a DNA test to find out that from which it was born.
Other times, the car’s creator is able to walk that razor-thin line where the blend between old and new is so thin, so sharp, that it is almost imperceptible. Such is the case with this wildly-styled 1951 Ford built for the professional racer, team owner, and all-around car guy, Bruce Leven. When you understand Bruce, this potent concoction of old and new makes perfect sense.
Bruce grew up in the heyday of hot rodding. He purchased a disposal company and built it into a waste materials empire. As his company grew, he was able to pursue his interests in owning and racing various cars in SCCA competition. He subsequently raced in the Trans-Am Series and was the 1979 Rookie of the Year, then moved into the IMSA Camel GT competition. His privately-entered Bayside Disposal Racing team claimed three victories in the Twelve Hours of Sebring (1981, 1987, 1988). He enlisted such drivers as Peter Gregg, Hurley Haywood, Al Holbert, Scott Pruett, Hans Stuck, Bob Wollek, Jeff Andretti, and Bobby Rahal.
Bruce enjoyed racing, and his efforts at Bayside Disposal made it all possible, but cars were Bruce’s passion. Bruce disbanded the racing team in the ‘90s and founded Bayside Auto Group, consisting of several new-car dealerships and a commercial floatplane business. This continued to serve him well and allowed him to continue his interest in cars through building custom cars and hot rods.
Bruce had acquired many awards for his cars over the years, and this 1951 Ford is the last of his builds, and possibly the most awarded. Bruce’s financial success allowed him to contract well-known and highly-capable builders to flesh out his bidding. This car was constructed by Craig Wick, the owner of Wicked Fabrication, and his talented team of craftsmen. If you step back and look at the car, you can see how they wove the threads of both old and new, also including a few strands of racing pedigree to give the car’s fabric some speedy flavor. Craig explains in this video of a visit to Jay’s garage that Bruce had envisioned building this car since the ‘50s. “He brought us this ’51 Ford and a drawing,” he said.
If you look at the car up close, the extreme detail and care by which it was engineered are amazing. If you step back and look at the car, the extreme build concept of custom, hot rod, and race car blend together so seamlessly, you would be hard-pressed to categorize each treatment. Sure, you could pull the magnesium, Indy-replica wheels, and Goodyear tires and place them in the paddock. The car’s body is classic ’51 Ford, off to the custom or hot rod garage for you. But, other components, such as the car’s choice of engine and transmission would easily allow it into the hot rod or custom crowd, but the exhausts billowing out through those plate-metal-shrouded tips look more akin to Days of Thunder.
The fuel-injection atop that vintage 1956 Lincoln 368 cubic-inch mill and the 5-speed Tremec transmission try to pull the build into the resto-mod camp, but then you see that injection unit, an honest-to-God Hilborn system, straight from the roundy-round sector. We can neither confirm nor deny that this system is EFI, but we THINK we see some wires going to the unit, and Craig mentions the magneto-styled sparkler uses an MSD-style pickup for a signal to the computer. That said, there surely is a major helping of racer sleight-of-hand in making the system appear vintage but giving it a modern edge. If it IS indeed still mechanical, that would explain the additional spark plugs on the firewall, as these systems can be finicky to tune for the street.
Looking at the car, it’s obvious the guys at Wicked Fab did some serious fabbing on the car’s body panels, but they’ve done it so subtly, it even has Jay trying to figure out what is different. Turns out Wicked Fabrications sectioned the body by cutting five inches out of the front and 2.5 inches out of the rear. To get the car even lower, they “pancaked” both the car’s roof and hand-molded aluminum hood.
To keep the car’s showy tires from hiding behind sheet metal, they also radiused the wheel wells, which would help considerably when changing those knock-off wheels and tires. Swinging a hammer near such pristine paint is not for the faint of heart! Under all that smoothness is an Art Morrison chassis, featuring a 3.91 diff’d quick-change rear and Wilwood brakes all around. There’s also an air ride suspension up front, to give that buffed and dipped front tin a fighting chance over speed bumps and potholes.
Inside the car is equally as impressive and features a similarly-broad scope of differing techniques. The rotund speedometer/tachometer pod hearkens to the avionics side of hot rodding while the shiny bits’ treatment is akin to Pagani-esque styling. Minimalist in appearance, the interior is anything but simply utilitarian. The small tracts of square-weave carpeting are surrounded by painted and polished surfaces that are just as nice as the car’s exterior and creature comforts such as the Vintage Air unit, help keep the cabin cozy.
While the Lexan windows come without cranks, they definitely connect the car’s interior and exterior with the racy-race vibe. Another cue that connects the car’s innards to its exterior is the color combination. Craig explains how the two are different, but similar by stating, “The car is blue/gray on the inside and gray/blue on the outside!”
Check out this video on Jay Leno’s Garage and you’ll see why this car has won so many awards such as the Gene Winfield Award, three Goodguys Builder’s Choice Awards, Custom Rod of the Year finalist (Scottsdale Goodguys), PPG Dream Car, and the 2016 SEMA Grand Turismo Award. As such, if you play the game, you can try your hand behind the wheel of Bruce’s beauty. Sadly, the car’s owner, Bruce Leven, never got to enjoy this work of art, short of watching it gather awards. Bruce passed away shortly after the car was finished and at the time the car visited Jay’s Garage, it only had approximately 170 miles on the car.
We’ve seen vintage cars with a racing theme before, but this car ties that racing theme so tightly, melding today’s technologies with vintage mechanics. Craig said the car is intended to be what Ford might have created to take on the world back in the 50s if the technology existed. We can only imagine what these forward-looking, ahead-of-the-curve creations would be like today if it did!