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.