The car at Conder Custom, its body hanging above itself, looking down like when you die and have one of those out-of-body experiences, but then come back to life and write a book about your experience and then get a reality show on the Lifetime Channel. All photos by the author, unless otherwise noted.
Details. Until now, I’ve been preaching the hot-rod-as-sum-of-its-parts gospel, but the details of any hot rod or custom are what you’ll remember, long after you’ve walked away from it to go get a hot dog and a beer at a car show.
Detail of the frame-mounted water-line bracket, filled with the holes that would come to define a theme of the car.
The circle had always been a theme Conder and I had talked about with this car: taking the lightening hole idea and applying it with more of an aesthetic approach. Early on, racers were just drilling holes all over their cars to shed weight, without a care in the world about what it actually looked like in full Swiss cheese trim. And just like everything else, we now spend all kinds of time preening over every hole drilled to make a hot rod look like it “just came off the dry lakes, bro.” So, while weight savings really had nothing to do with the repeated circle pattern we were hell-bent on reinventing, it would become practical in a few places.
More details of the brackets that would locate the vintage Schroeder sprint-car steering box on the firewall hoop. Circles, man. CIRCLES. That nobody would ever see…
Recall the torsion-bar front-end I’d talked about in earlier chapters: It turned the front end of the frame, ahead of the motor, into a hinge. And because that hinge would be constantly working, we needed some way to “finish” it with a cover where the torsion bar was exposed at either end, like an axle covered by a hub cap. Using the circle theme, Tim came up with the idea of making a functional cover look like a giant screw head: a round, convex cap with a slit through the middle that would rock back and forth as the torsion bar was actuated. Served a purpose and had a neat, subtle, tongue-in-cheek look to it—in the same way some old dragsters’ push-start bars were fashioned to look like giant wind-up toy keys sticking out their tails.
Detail of the torsion-bar end at the center of the hinge it turned the frame into. Here, you can see the relieved end of the forward cap to allow upward movement of it without buckling or pinching.
Since neither one of us had any buddies in the giant fastener business, we’d have to fabricate this big screw head. Two of them, actually: one for each end of the torsion bar, on each frame rail side. Tim looked around the shop and found that the bottom of one of his oxy-acetylene tanks had about the right diameter and concave depth to it. He then cut a big hole in one of his steel fab tables, dropped the tank through it just enough to lay a sheet of aluminum over its butt and got to work. Pounded the rough screw head shape into existence, trimmed the edges, then cut a long, rectangular window out of the center, dropped a stick of aluminum angle through it, and welded it all up with a flat aluminum backing plate. Voila—giant screw head that solved a problem in a way we both dug. Did it all over again for the other side and Bob’s Your Uncle.
The polished butt of the upside-down welding gas tank sticking up through the hole in the steel fab table. And what a sheet of aluminum looks like after its beaten within an inch of its life over it.
With the convex screw head shape in place, the slice was made down its center and this piece of aluminum channel was fitted in it.
Here, you can see the giant screw heads starting to materialize. Just a little trimming and a backing plate would be made for each of them.
GLORY! The screw heads were shaping up nicely as a complete thought…and pieces.
The screw-head torsion-bar cover test-fitted into place! You can see it now, right? RIGHT?
As if the tank wasn’t enough, the most epic repurposing exercise of the car’s build was centered around the circle shapes Tim wanted to apply to the frame rails. See, it’s a fairly common practice to drill a hot rod’s frame all the way through with big holes, but then sleeve them for rigidity and strength. It’s a neat look when it’s done right. But, of course, we had absolutely zero interest in doing what’s commonly accepted as “right.” I got to the shop one morning and he greeted me with a box of galvanized fence-post caps. “These are gonna be the holes in the frame…” and that was that.
I took out a loan for exactly $16.73 to stock up on fence-post caps. Ever see that scene in the movie No Country for Old Men when Josh Brolin’s character is in the hardware store asking for a tent with the most tent poles so he can use them to hide a case full of cash? It was like that.
Tim had figured out that the dome of a fence-post cap could not only supply the perfect “dish” for an outside frame-rail lightening-hole motif, but it could accommodate varying depths and sizes of holes that the rails required, as the shape repeated itself up and down the front half of car’s frame.
The fence-post caps, stripped of their galvanized coating, resting in the holes drilled in the outside rails of the frame.
Here, you can see an uncut cap resting in its hole and what’s left of its neighbor beside it, as it waits for some tack welds.
In the middle, you can see a welded-up cap. Below it is one tack-welded and waiting for the final bead of weld. At the top is the edge of the torsion bar ready to make some magic.
We got to work: Tim marked the holes, I drilled them, sent more than a few hole saws into the atmosphere, and broke my own spirit before it was all done. Then, we dunked the caps into a bucket of acid to free them of the galvanizing sorcery and set them in their hole cradles I had drilled in the outside faces of the frame rails. Cut them flush with their respective holes’ diameters, Tim tacked them into place, ran a full bead of weld around their edges, and I sanded them down. What was left was an impressive effect: lightening holes repeated as a shape with depth and shadow, yet not the typical through-frame sleeve. And we used freakin’ 79¢ FENCE-POST CAPS.
Here’s a still life of the progress: it was all shaping up to the desired effect…we could feel it, man.
See the repetition of the circle pattern, here? GIDDY. Both of us.
The final mock-up. And the exact desired effect achieved. How often does that happen? Not enough, I think we might all agree.
There’s a Bermuda Triangle of negative space on this car that has threatened to suck Tim’s soul into another time/space continuum if he didn’t figure out how to fill it. Looking at the profile of the car and using the point of the frame kick-up, the rear wheelbase center and the angle of the body between those two, a triangle of dead air doth exist. Going back to the well of early fueler wizardry, Tim realized he could make a torque arm that would not only stabilize the car at-speed, triangulate the frame’s structural integrity and provide more flat surfaces for holes to live, but it would fill that horrid triangle of nothingness. Say no more. And done deal.
Conder’s sketch of what he’d do to fill that negative space under the car. How many people you know can draw this stuff while on the phone and drinking coffee at the same time? And then actually build it exactly the way it was drawn? I know exactly one.
Ever see Close Encounters of the Third Kind when Dreyfuss’ character can’t get the Devil’s Tower out of his head, so he makes one out of mashed potatoes? Found this drawing all over the place…like on one of the shop’s fab tables, for instance.
In classic Conder style, the finished product looked dead-to-nuts like the drawing. And dangit, if it didn’t just make the car look that much cooler. The Olds rear center section was used to locate the rear of the thing, while its tip was mounted in a crossmember, midship. Form follows function? Our version of that process totally makes sense to us.
The torque arm in all it’s drilled-hole glory. Such a bitchin’ piece. Seriously. Shame that it won’t be seen until you’re under the car. Or, maybe…MIRRORS.
The torque arm resting in its natural habitat. Next-level stuff, right? So cool.
From the rear, you can see how the torque arm is located and the role the Olds center section plays in it all.
Close-up of the driveshaft shield incorporated into the torque arm design. Again: circles.
We can all sleep on our backs now: the torque arm in place and not only ready to do torque-armey stuff, but also complete its aesthetic mission.
Details. The overall attitude of the car and its effect on the world around it was a known. And it allowed us to really nerd-out on the details of this project. Would everyone exposed to the car see every detail we fretted over? Well, that was never really the point. We were doing this for ourselves, free from the baggage of group consensus. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that we both shared the bad habit of just not listening to anyone who said something couldn’t be done….