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The Stoner T: How to build a hot rod in 10 years (and influence people), part 15

Published in blog.hemmings.com

All photos by Tim Conder/Conder Custom, unless otherwise noted.

Look, I want you good people to understand one thing about custom shops: you have no idea.

You have no idea, no real understanding of the lengths these craftsmen go to in order to let you realize the vision of your custom car. You’ve seen something or remember something or dreamt something or heard about something that’s inspired you to have a car built, so you’ve found a shop owner who is totally simpatico with you and you’re finishing each other’s sentences and you love telling your buddies that you had this old shifter knob or fridge door handle or pink rabbit’s foot that you just had to have a car built around and it’s actually happening, man. You love dropping by the shop to see your car taking shape and then heading straight to the bar to show those buddies all your latest phone pics. All the bench racing, all the “youknowwhatyoushoulddos,” all the rightful bragging, and all the blissful dreaming-drifting-off-to-sleeps like a big kid, but with a mortgage and a car being built for you. It’s all awesome. But you have no idea.

And that’s OK – truly, it is. Your builder harbors no unfulfilled desire to make sure you know how the sausage is made and, quite frankly, he/she doesn’t need you all up in his/her business every two days, while your car is being built for you, either. Like the shop sign says, “Shop rate: $50/hour, $100/hour if you insist on helping.” But cable TV networks have made quite a bit of money feeding you “reality” shows that promise a complete show-quality custom car built in seven days and forty-six cases of diet beer and that’s not doing anyone in this business any favors. He/she answered this calling because he/she loves building cars for people and there are few greater satisfactions for him/her than watching you drive off in your totally rad custom car, under your – and its – own power, giggling like you did when you were six years old and got the newest Tonka. But you have no idea.

It’s with all this in mind that I bring you this week’s chapter in the Stoner T build at Conder Custom. When we first started talking about this series, Tim Conder had agreed to pull back the curtain and bring us all along on this journey and I think it’s fair to say we’re all seriously enjoying the hell out of it. Not many shop owners would agree to such a thing, and it’s a real shrine to the integrity of Tim and the shop with his name on the shingle out front. With that, I’m gonna shut my trap and let Tim take the mic: Sausage, meet thy maker.

Tim: “Let’s start with the custom-designed-and-built fuel injection. In order to stay faithful to the original mechanical injection on the Gotelli Hemi, we have to change things around a bit. Hemmings’ own Steve Berry told me that if we want 500+ horsepower-worth of fuel to flow through the original-size Gotelli fuel injection plumbing, we have to combine both shower hat lines into a feed to the fuel rail. That means running the fuel return into a new opening of the barrel valve that ties into the return outlet at the bottom.

Stoner T

The barrel valve will turn out to be for looks, only. No need for the rotating drum accelerator inside, as all the computer needs is a simple light dimming-style rheostat switch to actuate fuel delivery. We only need the old linkage to actuate the butterflies.

Stay with us on the EFI thing. Thanks to Steve and his experience building these systems for his vintage Volvo guys, it’ll work.

The trick is matching a junction that will allow the 3/8-inch fuel feed line to feed both 1/4-inch fuel lines going into the injector. Then, we have to plumb the return line from the fuel rail through the hat into the barrel valve and on out back to the tank. Gotta do it. It’ll look dumb if we don’t.

Stoner T

Moving to the interior and the weird-shaped, thick-wall roll cage tubing I needed to fabricate to mimic the lower dash line: no patience for those hand rollers anymore to get the extreme, yet not as tight as a die bend, arc in this tubing. I bent it with a piece of firewood and my truck.

Stoner T

I started with a long piece of tubing for leverage. Then, I laid it over a log, stuck one end in my hitch, and swung from it to get the bend, checking it with the shape of the dash itself…

Stoner T

This end came out nice, but I had to cut it. This ruined my leverage. So, to get the gradual curve for the rest, I wedged the tubing over the log and under my tire, then had my friend back over it until it looked right.

Stoner T

True, there was no WAY I could get the curves to be in the perfect spot. So, I spliced three curves together with thick-wall inner sleeves and rosebud welds like the dragster guys do to get the shape. Remember, this is a STREET CAR with a nice cage. Not a certified race car. Sleeved connections like this in racing roll cages aren’t legal. However, this is very strong and helps when the tubing bender isn’t available. Or the sadistic tube roller. Or a torch.

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We did try originally to get the first bend by using a telephone pole, but I kept catapulting my helper into traffic. Cold metal is springy.

Stoner T

Really nice fit and very strong.

Stoner T

Stoner T

Also, started on the seats: more to come…

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Finally, these @+$÷!#=%=÷×$*€€_;:%&&:==$×+!!!! headers: another new $$$ 20-foot stick of stainless 2.25 o.d., .065-inch wall tube. The new method for getting the correct tube radius must be done with a POWER roller. The hand roller presented… problems.

Stoner T

Photo on left by Sherm Porter.

I researched getting the bend on these Gotelli weed burners ’till I was blue in the face. No muffler shop could do them. The mighty H&L Metals, the guys who’ve bent tubing for dragsters since the cave man days, said, “No.” Big exhaust companies could only do the radius they had dies for. All too small. Specialty mandrel-bending companies? No. This radius is too big for a die bend. The tubing can’t get “cupped” or “dimpled.” Tube rollers – power or hand – work better on thick wall tubing. How do I know this? Even a hand roller dimpled the thin-wall tubing and began to change the tube from round to oval.

Stoner T

Stainless work hardens like crazy. It got out of hand, trying to get the radius. It wasn’t funny. I destroyed the tubing before I was halfway there.

Stoner T

More phone calls. More advise. First, more tubing. Now, these pipes can’t exit the engine straight down like they did when this motor was in the Gotelli dragster. They have to “butterfly” out to clear the frame and radius rods. The original radius was too much to look right for this application. But it was too gradual to use dies.

A friend of mine knew a sculptor named Grant Irish who shared space with him at American Steel down in Oakland, CA. He thought we could get the radius with his power roller. We had to do it in one piece with a smooth, wrinkle-free radius, but the tube might still “oval.”

I strapped the 20-foot stick to my truck and spent the day at American Steel with Grant. It was nutty.

Stoner T

I really didn’t want oval headers. So, we decided to pack the tubing with sand and cap each end. One fifty-pound bag of sand filled the tube, but I literally had to climb 20 feet up a scaffold to put sand in the tube. Luckily, they had a gigantic overhead crane, so carefully holding a fifty-pound bucket of sand while pouring into a 2-inch hole, was easy.

Stoner T

You lose about 8 inches on each end in the rolling process, which left me with eight 27-inch-ish tubes in the end.

Stoner T

The tubing was pretty heavy, filled with sand, so the crane came in handy. These guys are spoiled: they use this crane for everything. Carrying groceries. Pouring coffee.

Stoner T

Stoner T

I estimated a 25-inch radius and Grant laid out a template for checking the tube, as it rolled. It was up to us to keep the tube level as Grant rolled it through. He constantly checked it with a level as well as the radius template.

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There it is, my requested radius.

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Here it is back at the shop, drained of sand and ready to be cut into eight pieces.

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The radius wasn’t enough. It looks perfect until the end, but they don’t curl out like they need to. This is only the second phase of the header saga, stay tuned!”

Stoner T

To catch up on other installments of the Stoner T build, click here.