When I was a kid in high school, I devoured car magazines.  My favorite (then and now) was “Rod & Custom”.  Close second was “HOT ROD”, and then “Street Rodder”.  I bought them at the grocery store, and poured over the pages, dreaming of the day when I’d be the owner of a smooth, low custom car with a chopped top, or a stripped down Ford roadster with a big engine, a 4 speed with chrome headers leading in to big chrome pipes that dumped out just ahead of the fat rear tires.  Someday, I’d have a car featured in one of my favorite magazines, and life would be perfect.

Pretty much the opposite (in both dream scenarios) of my high school ride, a dumpy ’41 Chrysler Windsor sedan.  But I digress…

I’ve been fortunate enough to have realized the dream of having had a couple of smooth, low customs, a low, loud, stripped down Ford roadster with a huge engine (although it lacked the chrome headers, big pipes and 4 speed trans), and have been lucky and honored to have had a couple of my cars featured in those childhood favorite magazines I read at the magazine rack in the grocery store.  I freely admit I’ve ruined a few cars along the way, the learning curve has it’s casualties, but the survivors of my (sometimes mis-guided efforts) have been pretty well received.

Life IS good.  But…

All these years though, one car was burned into my psyche.  A little yellow ’23 roadster I’d seen in “Rod & Custom” during those formative years, back in ’68.  It was far different from the other “Fad T’s” in the magazines of the time, spindly things with their glass bodies perched on rectangular tube frames, tall T windshields, motor cycle wheels up front and huge rubber out back.  Goofy looking, to my young eye, unbalanced and out of proportion.

This one had the glass body slung low, literally wrapped around the round tube “bird-cage” style frame, Indy rubber at all four corners, shorty windshield, with the valve covers of the Ardun Ford flat-motor ABOVE the cowl.   The seats were lawn chair pads, the body was trimmed with outdoor carpet, and the floor, about 3″ off the pavement, was the frame.   Nothing but the bare necessities, no frills, no fuss, nothing on the car but what made it a CAR.

I never built one, and my own ’36 roadster was a far cry from that one, but Cotton’s T was always there, in the back of my mind, and while I didn’t copy it, the essence of it, the DIFFERENCE, I like to think, was there.

Fast forward to last summer, when we visited the Gilmore Car Museum,  just around the corner from us, and what did I see?

Cotton Werksmans ’23 T.

Low down, stripped down, glass body wrapped around  the tubing frame (gas welded by the way) so tightly it had to be cut in half to go around it and reassembled, Ardun Ford V8 slung down between the sprint car style front axle and quick-change rear end.  My childhood vision in jet black with a red engine block and polished aluminum,  positioned no less next three Barris smooth, sleek customs.

My good friend Dennis Lesky, who put the Legends display together for the Gilmore, and managed to wrest these cars from their owners for two years was there and gave me a little back story on the car.

This one is not the car featured 40 years ago in “Rod & Custom”, but one of three cars he built along the same plan.  Originally powered by a flathead, now sporting one of his (Cotton is regarded as THE Ardun guy to this day) Ardun equipped engines, 4 speed and quickie rear, this one is black with bright flames.  It, and the entire story of the original, and Cotton’s influence in the hot rod world, are featured in the last “Rodders Journal”,  and done much better than I possibly could, so I won’t repeat all that.


Suffice it to say that the flame has been re-kindled, and as soon as the current, low, smooth custom in my garage, the ’59 T’Bird is done, something will be leaving Cool McCool’s Garage to finance my version of that low slung, bare-bones,  roadster.

Enjoy, and dream along.















I’d bought a cheap-o Sun tach, 3 1/2″ diameter, to put in the T’bird dash where the original clock was.  Good idea, the face was white, like the originals, but it was BRIGHT white,  the originals have a yellow patina, the letters are bronze, where the tach numerals are black, and a different font.

With both gauges out on the bench, it was apparent that the dials were exactly the same diameter, and the sweep, or distance between the numerals, is VERY close to the same.  Why not use the new tach works behind the original clock face?

Hmmm, this gives me an idea...

Hmmm, this gives me an idea…

So, after an hour, I had a new tach, with the clock face, mounted in the dash.  Kim immediately noted that the way I’d oriented the gauge,with the pointer where it was in the original tach position, put the rest of the dial “upside down”.  So, I took it back apart, and also pulled the pointer and moved it so as to have it rest at 12 o’clock, the new “0″.

What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?





There, that's better.

There, that’s better.

Yup, that's it.

Yup, that’s it.

Now, I’ll take the rest of the gauges apart, clean the cobwebs and dirt from the dials, and paint the pointers red to match the new tach, and it’ll be done.


Well, this is better.

Well, this is better.


Today I made an executive decision.  The engine turned gauge panel and glove box door went “Buh-bye”, and the originals took their place.  With the help of an instrument panel schematic, pin-out diagram for the gauge plugs, and a little time, the original gauge panel is going back in.


The steering column install was, incredibly, a direct bolt in.  I measured correctly, it seems,  a 2″ muffler clamp fit the column, and existing holes in the brake/column mount bracket perfectly.  The dirt, bond-o dust and paint dust on the wiring makes it look worse of a mess than it is.  I do need to do a little research for the wiring in the GM style column, in order to connect it to the Ford harness for the turn signals and flashers.


It's not as bad as it looks.

It’s not as bad as it looks.


The wiring is all hidden by the gauge panel.

The wiring is all hidden by the gauge panel.


A trip to Auto-Zone netted a new Auto-Meter 3″ tach, and a gauge trio of voltmeter, water temperature, and oil pressure gauges, all white faced like the originals.  The tach will go in the gauge cluster where the clock is, with a little adapting.  The three little gauges I’m not sure, but they may end up in the console.  The original gas gauge should work with the newer Ford sending unit, and the speedo is mechanical, so that’ll just plug in and be fine.  I also picked up the needed new ignition switch, and floor mount dimmer, since the Mustang column had all the switch gear.    I’ve got the wiring all sorted out, and fired the car up just to make sure all was well.  Happily, it runs perfectly.


It’s exciting to see the original gauges in the dash, I thought I liked the more modern gauges until today.    Stay tuned for the next update, it’s gonna be GREAT!


The tach will get some of the face of the old clock, and little "patina" on the face so as to match the original gauges.

The tach will get some of the face of the old clock, and little “patina” on the face so as to match the original gauges.

The mighty "Del-Ray" Imperial 90.

The mighty “Del-Ray” Imperial 90.


Since the Del-Ray is setting in the driveway, and I didn’t really feel like working on the T’Bird today, I decided I’d ought to finish up one thing completely.  I’d gotten some of the trim up on the campers new ceiling last week, but on looking at it, I wasn’t really happy with some of it.  So, back to Home Depot to get some 1 1/4″ wide vinyl lattice slats to make some new trim from.

This worked out very well around the curved, panoramic front windows, much better then the 1″ expanded foam trim I’d used first.  It had actually cracked just setting in the curve, so it had to go.

When I got that done, I repaired the booth frame in the front, where I ‘d had to take a brace out to get the old water tank out.  I pulled the old pressure pump, repaired the booth frame, and got the new water tank mounted.  I have a 12V demand pump to put in, but it’s over at the shop, so I didn’t get that part done, but it’s almost ready.

Replaced the light fixture over the sink, which has 120 and 12v bulbs, and then cleaned the counters, washed the walls and cabinets with Murphy’s Oil Soap.  It looks nice, but will need a coat of lemon oil, Liquid Gold, Panel Magic, or similar product to keep the wood looking nice.  The backsplash had what looked like adhesive from duct tape on it, and some “Goof-Off” got rid of that.

The original vinyl floor seems to have a thin coat of adhesive on it, from the green shag carpet I pulled out last fall.  It scrapes of with a putty knife, but I decided to forgo that for a later time.

It cleaned up pretty nicely, and I’m happy now with the trim.  We bought some cool ’60′s style fabric to do the booth cushions in, so the brown vinyl will go away for a brighter fabric, more appropriate for the camper.

Now, some butyl sealer on the roof seams, a coat of roof seal over all, a Lava lamp and sunburst clock, and it’ll be done!







No point in swimming against the tide.  I’ve decided, after some research on the Mustang harness, looking at wiring diagrams and pin-out diagrams until my vision blurred and brain hurt, to go with a new column.  They’re cheap, they’ll look MUCH better, and I can get one in  brushed stainless to match the wheel spokes.  Wiring in a new ignition switch should be easy, and I could add a neat-o (but maybe too trendy) push button for the starter.

Here’s the style column I liked.  $170 to $200, depending on paintable vs. stainless.  No switch, no shifter, no problem.

This column.

This column.





Ugly steering wheel.

Ugly steering wheel.

Yesterday I spent all afternoon working on the dash of the T’bird.  When the w/s was sunken into the cowl, the dash mounts went with it, and of course, nothing fit right.  The dash pod and glove box pod got moved up and forward, the steering wheel mount had to be modified, the gauge panel and glove box door then got moved back into their original location, tunneled deep into the pods.

The problem is, the big, ugly, mid-80′s Mustang steering wheel and thick steering column jacket.  In the early 90′s, when I originally built the car, that stuff looked modern, but now it’s dated, worn looking, and doesn’t fit the style of the car.  Now that the car will have some style…

So, I’m trying to figure out how best to “fix” this.  I could just toss the wheel, losing cruise control, which we never used anyway.  I’d like a flat, four spoke Sprint car style wheel, which would work with the column, although it’d still have to have the awkward, bulky jacket to hide the wiring, switch gear and tilt wheel works.

Option two is to swap out the column and wheel altogether, and use a slim, original style column, again using a flat spoke Sprint car style wheel.  I’d keep the engine-turned dash panel and glove box door, but have to add an ignition switch in the dash, and rewire the blinkers.

Option three is the most work, which would be the above column and wheel, and use the T’bird’s original dash and gauges, add a tach in place of the clock, and glove box door.  This would be fine, but then the rest of the interiors machine finish panels won’t match the dash, and I’d have to come up with something different for them.  Maybe matching, machined aluminum panels?  I have friends with Bridgeport mills who’d probably teach me enough to let me do that on my own.

So, the project just keeps getting bigger and bigger…

Machine finished trim panels that match the dash.

Machine finished trim panels that match the dash.

I can't stand this wheel.

I can’t stand this wheel.

Original dash cluster and glove box door.

Original dash cluster and glove box door.


Addendum:  Steering wheel choice made.  Leaning towards avoiding re-wiring the whole car, and making a suitably good looking jacket for the steering column.  I can do it.





This CAN'T be good.

This CAN’T be good.

Regular readers will remember that two weeks ago the roof collapsed under the snow load at the shop at my Dad’s.  Under that part of the building were my brother Barry’s beautiful ’67 Caddy convertible, and a brass era Speedster replica he build while in college.  The other side of the building, with a different style roof truss wasn’t damaged, and that is where our enclosed trailer with the ’68 Mustang GT convert inside and the Del-Ray truck camper were parked.

As the above picture shows, the Caddy appeared to be holding up the majority of the roof and tons of snow.  The car was squatted on the suspension on the right side, and it didn’t look good.  The speedster, parked on front of the Caddy at right angles, was against the back wall, and it too had a huge chunk of the roof and snow resting on the driver’s side.

A crew of local guys hired by my Dad shoveled the snow out the other day, cut up the roof sections and hauled them out piece by piece.  They also moved all the tools out, shoveled out all the snow and cleared the remainder of the buildings roof so as to keep snow melt from just running in the building.

The damage to the cars is staggering.  In that there isn’t really any.  The Caddy suffered a broken power antenna (balky and wouldn’t retract all the way, hence it was halfway up), and a quarter sized chip in the paint on the fender just forward of the antenna.  The Speedster has a scratch across the left rear fender, from a nail plate on a broken truss that dragged across the surface.  That’s it.  No other damage at all.

We have a courtyard.

We have a courtyard.

We may have to total the car, the antenna is broken.

We may have to total the car, the antenna is broken.

Oh.  The horror.

Oh. The horror.

So, the sun rose again, tomorrow is indeed another day, blah, blah, blah and so on.  We’re stunned, surprised and thrilled that there’s no real damage to the cars.  Insurance will take care of the roof and damaged woodworking tools, and the hand tools will appear when the snow melts.  The rest of the stuff is a good excuse to clean house, and get rid of some of the clutter that had accumulated along the walls in 30 years.

It’s also maybe a sign to get these things out, clean ‘em up and use them once in a while instead of simply letting them sit around and deteriorate.  After all, they were saved for a reason.