Tim Sutton

The Hinman Roadster

Tim Sutton
The Hinman Roadster

Words by Eli English

Pictures by Joshua Elzey


 

 

    While during a visit to California around 1947 Buddy Hinman and his father stopped to check out a hot rod parked on the curb with a for sale sign. Deciding to pass on taking it home still led to a long trip with Buddy’s mind wandering eager to build onewhich was not uncommon for any 11 year old. Buddy’s father then bought a used 1931 Model A not long after the CA trip at a Utica NY car lot for $50 to which Buddy made short work of the frame as he Z’d and installed a green mint condition roadster body given to him by his uncle. Over the next few years Buddy would build the banger motor that had a cyclone head and full oil pressure. 

While parked out in front of the house one day in Deansboro NY a man from Clinton NY took notice so initiated a trade for a channeled 1936 Ford Cabriolet in 1953 that was too hard to resist. At some point the roadster minus the motor ended up back in a junkyard located within Rome NY which just so happened to be owned by a friend of Buddy’s. It was at this point they installed a 1939 Ford Flathead taken from his father’s stock car within a turned inside out frame. They also made the front suicide front suspension have adjustable height, used a filled drop axle, and reversed front spindles. To allow the engine setback desired meant a heavy channel and partial bell pan under body to be applied with a rear section of another Model A frame welded to the top of the inside out frame to mount the rear axle requiring even more Z’ing.  They then bolted up a 1939 transmission bolted to an inverted Model A crossmember and used an Edmonds custom 2/2 where one sat behind the firewall due to the offset. The scrap yard owner took the leopard print blanket left within the roadster to use as the seat covers before running it around. 

Buddy lost track of the car in 1955 however the roadster turned up on EBay in 2008 located within Pennsylvania where it did not sell. The owner then traded the Ford to a used car lot in New Jersey as yard art! While Thomas Peach was driving thru NJ he stopped and bought it to then bring the roadster to its new home in Marblehead MA inside of a storage trailer where it remained until December 2015. During this time Buddy began racing and still runs vintage sprint cars with the notable win of the Midstate Speedway Championship held in Morris NY during 1969. Building the car was quite the feat for a 13 year old that didn’t have the Power of HAMB (which the current owner thanks for being able to dig up all this history) and surely limited finances, knowledge, and parts on hand. 

    Eli English was buying parts for a customer and queried an ad on craigslist for come Cadillac flathead heads in which the seller mentioned he also had a survivor roadster for sale but with no knowledge of the cars history except it was supposedly built in upstate NY around 1940 to 1950’s. The seller noted that it was complete except for the radiator and fuel tank. After seeing in person Eli decided to bring it back to the Traditional Speed and Custom shop to restore.  About 2 weeks after Eli bought the Hinman Roadster, a friend of his posted it on the HAMB where someone recognized it right away! Now that the history was starting to unfold Eli had to choose between restoring it as is or make a slick show car. With ‘The Race of Gentlemen’ just around the corner several suggested that Eli enter the survivor. Having had now several conversations with Buddy on the roadster this was also an opportunity for him to see the car once more plus be able to race!

    Being late January allowed only 4 months making the car drivable and meeting the TROG requirements. This gave no time to rebuild the original flathead sitting under the hood due to the fact it was very stuck so Eli salvaged what he could such as the starter, Edmunds custom 2/2 intake, and fuel pump stand. Eli then located a ‘stock’ rebuilt 1947 59AB to put the salvaged parts on and then put in the survivor. Next was to replace the original 4" dropped and filled '32 big beam axle that Buddy Hinman said he bought from Bell Auto Parts when he first built the car. At some point the car was crashed and the axle was snapped and splinted back together with bolts and re-bar. Eli was able to save the split wishbones, spindles, drag link, tie rods and de-arched front spring however. Rust… the years were not kind to the lower reveals on all of the side body panels so Eli fabricated new lower repair panels for the cowl sides, door bottoms and rear 1/4 panels.  With the new body work Eli had to decide on painting the body or attempt to match the patina, Eli chose the latter. After a bunch of trial and error, Eli was able to blend the old with the new and maintain the overall original patina. 

When Eli bought the car the hood tops were also missing but he happened to have a set stashed away in his collection of vintage parts. The "number five” lettering was added to the tops in honor of Buddy Hinman as that was the number on one of his vintage race cars that he still shows and races today. Eli was also able to salvage some of the original leopard print upholstery to make a driver seat and decided to salvage or replicate any and all of the mechanicals. Eli actually used the original starter cable (welding cord), replaced the 39 master cylinders with a new 39 master, and replaced the original copper brake lines while replicating all the original bends with new copper brake lines re-using all of the original clips and brackets. He was able to re-use the original rear mounted battery box and replaced the original push button starter solenoid with a NOS one to be mounted it in the same location. The steering box was shattered due to a previous accident that broke the front axle but he was able to determine that it was a '47 Ford F3 box and able to re-use the original pitman arm. Andrew Kohler utilizing a jig made a new front axle. The tires are just what Buddy said he had on it being 500/16 motorcycle tires up front and 750/16 heavy truck tires in the rear. Eli changed the oil in the rear end and transmission which put them into service. The remains of the original chrome shift knob were still on the shortened and re-bent shifter, so Eli filed it smooth to put another original knob he had laying around on top using the old one as a Ferrell. Next Eli added the original Model T tail light and plate bracket so it could be street driven. To get it on the street Eli installed an original Model T fuel tank would be needed. Only thing left was the missing radiator to which Eli noted in the pictures of the car while on ebay there was a '47 Ford radiator in the background so that’s What Eli looked for. Once in hand it fit perfectly inside the cutouts in the motor mount plate! Eli then put on a pair of used Strombergs, new fuel pump, and used generator with a ‘40s NOS regulator.......and the Hinman Roadster was ready to meet the road again....and now its original builder at TROG!

This build ended up being the ‘Holy Grail’ for traditional builder Eli as he always wanted a unique survivor car and being able to experience the entire discovery of the roadsters history.  At TROG the car won the Heritage Class award taking home one of the coveted TROG pennants while at the same time giving Buddy Hinman the chance to race the roadster once more now after 65 some years later. Eli couldn’t keep from smiling as he hit the sand staring thru the steering wheel only inches from the ground zipping by the spectators like a go-cart!