Lil" Buck - Street Rod Builder, December, 2001Street Rod Builder

December, 2001

"Lil' Buck: The Making of an Icon, our First Company Car."

By John Dianna.

Photography by Scott Killeen, Stephan K. Anderson, and Matt Emery.

Presented by Ford Racing.

Big buck, low buck, or in our case, just plain Lil' Buck; the cost of a street rod is becoming more relative all the time. What rods cost today is a definite byproduct of the talented builders who strive to make each of their creations better than the last, as well as the number of enterprising manufacturers who now offer exceptionally unique products. You can actually build yourself an entire street rod from a box of parts, really well-thought-out parts, we might add. The selection and scope of variations available to us nowadays is a far cry from the times when you made do with what was available from the local yards or "our buddy's collection of leftovers. Swapping parts then was as common as the big brown truck is today, as it stops at your door to drop off yet more parts.

Lil' Buck was not a difficult car to build, not nearly as challenging as it was to conceive. Planning and purpose are every bit as important in the building of a rod as the actual construction. When we decided that it would be wise for us to build a Buckaroo project, we were quick to acknowledge that what we didn't need was a one-off, hand-crafted metal sculpture, not for our first car. We needed a real-world super rod, something that most everyone could identify with. Not everyone needs to like it, or even desire to own one. What seemed important at the time was that everyone understand that they could build one like it, or anything similar, just as easily. Their car doesn't need to be a '32, or even a fenderless car, or as powerful as the one we built, for our shared experiences to be useful. Your choice could be any style or shape of car, but it should be a believable one, and one that you could actually complete.

Lil' Buck

Lil' Buck is a real-world car, built to be driven, and built to make a statement on behalf of the magazine. It is as simple a car as can be imagined, and there is nothing complicated about it. Still, it is anything but ordinary. From its handmade Dan Fink stainless grille, to its hand-formed Borla stainless quad-exhaust, this chopped sedan is bad to the bone, and it was conceived just that way.

From a vehicle balance standpoint, our choices of parts were simple, and, for the most part, basic: We chose from a selection of parts from our list of advertisers, plus a few who aren't as yet, or those who have been at least involved with the magazine at some point. We felt, as you must, that there are multiple choices out there, and, because there is more than one manufacturer making the same types of parts, that we would choose from those who are supportive of this magazine. I'm sure that in your parts selection you do the same-you go with the Companies you believe in. We all have brands that we like, that we feel comfortable with, and these affections are built upon the image of a particular manufacturer. Reputations in this business tend to be earned, and enthusiasts like to associate themselves with companies that support their personal involvement. Like you, we didn't get these parts for free, at least for the most part. No one dumped a pile of parts at our feet, pleading with us to build our car at their expense. Nope, we paid our way, so don't think that this is a free car. We built Lil' Buck just as you would have to do, over time and against a budget

I actually put myself on the other side of the pages of this magazine, which I tend to do frequently anyway, and I embarked on finalizing the specific type of street rod that would best suit the image of this book. This was a challenge, considering the options. This would also represent our first ground-up project-for all intents and purposes, our first company car. I also knew that I had two more planned vehicles behind this one, but neither of those is a watershed car. One is much wilder and will take longer to build; the other will be a pretty car, making a totally different statement I sat and flipped through our own magazine and began my parts list for Lil' Buck. Once I thought I was close, I then finally began to piece the car together in my head: how each component would work with the next, what the balance of the car would be like, how I felt the fun quotient fit in, or if it fit in enough. Would I tire of driving the car? Would this type of car be appealing to our readers? Was I simple-searching the car too heavily for my tastes? Would the car be a bomb? The Fatman built a similar car for himself, although he finished it quite differently than I intended, and years ago Gary Meadors built the yellow Goodguys sedan, which still stands today as his organization's icon. I kept coming back to the same vehicle configuration, and finally figured that there would be only one way to find out: build the car.

As you know, any number of styles could have been chosen, even with the specific Gibbon body that I felt best fit our objectives. After all, besides being a driver, using it to trip over to our local Barnes & Noble, this car would also serve us at many of the events we would be attending, either as our display vehicle or as a cruiser. The car itself had to accommodate my smaller frame, and because my friend Jim Dalton travels with me to all the shows, his six-foot stocky body. So, right off, we had choices. We had to have a car big enough, yet our desire was to have a car that was smaller in size and nimble in handling.

Overall price has always been a consideration; we had a budget. The frame selection was straightforward. Roy Brizio built one of his typical Stage III chassis, fit for a small-block Ford. The front-end assembly is a combination of parts, ending up with the all-new billet stainless Worm front axle, which looks great on the car, with a Brizio-built four-bar, Bilstein gas shocks, Durant mono-leaf front spring, and big Baer road-race-style disc brakes. We also incorporated the relatively new Stainless Steel Brakes Royal roller bearing king-pin kit, which is a very slick assembly. The Mullins aluminum billet steering box was used, coupled to a stainless Flaming River tilt-column, again to accommodate the big and little bodies. Brizio used Curbside rails and built the rest of the chassis in his frame jig at his old shop. The rear suspension is a Pete & Jakes four-bar, a Mark Williams aluminum rear-axle housing with steel tubes and a set of Bilstein gas-filled, 12-position coilover aluminum shocks.

One of the more unusual features of Lil' Buck is its race-bred rear-axle arrangement Because it was being built somewhat in the tradition of an old-style drag racer, like the old Orange Crate, a slight competition appearance was desired, as opposed to the flash of a slicked-down custom rod. Our intention was to pull off that competition feel, with a look that did not incorporate the polished parts and fake, race-like aluminum center section that carry many 9-inch Ford gears and bearings. No, I chose a Mark Williams modular rear-axle assembly, and you can be sure that there's nothing fake about this MW unit. It's basically the same design he builds for all types of drag cars, including dragsters. gassers and modifieds. These rearend assemblies are available virtually any way you like. with any number of ends, bell-cap styles, center sections, beefier internals, and so on. You will be seeing much more of these rearends in future street rod projects; they are bulletproof, very adaptable and can be made to fit just about any power level and rear suspension configuration.

Outside of the dragstrip, I first saw the MW rear installed in a rod under Rocky Childs' sedan while at Jim DeFrank's California Car Cover facility (who, by the way, made a car cover to fit Lil' Buck while it is resting). Childs, of Childs & Albert, is another friend of Williams, so the thought of incorporating this beefy axle housing has been on my mind ever since. We will have more on Williams' assembly as we get further into the buildup; you can expect a full technical feature on it as well. If you are unfamiliar with his new design, call and get yourself a catalog (be sure to tell him SRB sent you), and check out all the features and options available for his unique center section. It's very interesting, and when you consider that a conventional after-market 9-inch Ford assembly can cost upward of $2,500, his is a bargain for the structural integrity that is built in. We went with his basic unit, including a limited slip, and 3.70:1 gears. We also had Williams build us one of his "I dare you to twist one" driveshafts, using his own super-duty yokes.

We wanted to keep this car all Ford, so we selected what we think is one of the best engine buys going today, the 435hp, 392ci 351-based small block. The engine is potent as is, and in stock form produced a baseline power level of 452 hp on the dyno. But with the help of Richard Holdener (one of our technical editors), he flogged on John Baechtel's Westech dyno to develop a tune-up top-end package that netted 537 streetable horsepower! The package includes a set of Air Flow Research aluminum cylinder heads, a Comp 282HR-12 Xtreme Energy hydraulic roller cam, Edelbrock V351 Victor Jr. single-plane manifold, MSD 6 Solid State ignition and a Holley 75Ocfm single four-barrel carburetor. We will begin street testing Lil' Buck with the stock engine, dial in the car, and, using our new test equipment, baseline the car at the track for its various points of useable performance. From there, the 750 Holley will give way to a home-built Holley EFI, using the same manifold, modified by Jim Shofner's Arizona Speed & Marine. The Comp 282HR-12 cam will then be installed, and, timing-wise, Ford is reported to have a new aluminum cylinder that improves upon the GT 4OX head currently on the engine. By then we should have the gears of the five-speed well burnished in, especially after we install the Gear Vendors gear-splitter, which will allow all sorts of interesting gear-tuning situations. This car will be a ton of fun, regardless of where we ultimately choose to level off the power of Ford's stout 392.

The exhaust utilizes Ford's shorty headers, dumped into one of Borla's universal exhaust kits. The 3-inch exhaust routes up into the frame and into a pair of Borla Stainless mufflers, specially made with dual 3-inch outlets per side. We wanted to connect an H-pipe up close to the headers, but there was simply no room. From the mufflers flow four 3-inch tailpipes that route just under the rear axle and end just below the tapered rear rolled pan. The headers are HPC-coated, and the Borla head pipes, mufflers and tailpipes are polished. All the fabrication effort fitting this unique, but large for this car, exhaust was well worth the trouble. The system not only looks great, but sounds even better. You couldn't ask for a better exhaust note on a car like this. I am certain that the system will help the numbers on the chassis dyno. We will let you know once the car is broken in.

As you probably have surmised, the basic car is built around a chopped Gibbon two-door sedan, and we had Kyle Bond's crew install the power windows. The rest of the car is as it would be delivered to Anywhere, USA, and, in fact, the Gibbon crew did deliver the car to the NSRA Nats, where we loaded it into Boyd Coddington's truck for its over-the-road jaunt to Scott's Hot Rods 'N Customs in Ventura, California.

We went to Watson's StreetWorks for its Trilogy three-function remote key-less entry system (L-TR3) and assorted relays, including a power-window down relay. Since the car has no door handles, to enter, the key-fob actuator controls the driver's-side window only, and an extra relay allows for its battery-disconnect feature (L27R). We also opted for Watson's external battery jumper studs, just in case of an emergency, and to access the battery more easily for charging. The Optima battery is mounted behind the Scott's Hot Rods custom fuel tank located on the inside of the back half of the interior. Watson's has a rather extensive line of electrical components and is well versed on how and when they should be utilized. Watson's helped us a great deal, or we would have, without question, ordered the incorrect parts to accomplish what we wanted.

We did not home-build the car in our own garage, but instead contracted with four major shops, each for specific work to be done. The 392 engine was obtained locally, in the San Francisco Bay Area, so it was easily delivered to Brizio's South Bay shop. His guys breezed through the frame, recalling their vast experience to include all the necessary components, along with those I felt essential. More details can be found in the frame buildup. This is the second project that I have done with Brizio's shop, and, like the first, the building of Hot Rod's 50th Anniversary Track Roadster, this one was equally pleasing. Even when one of his busiest show periods fell during the completion of the frame/chassis, they never forgot us in order to accomplish their own objectives.

Brizio trailered the car to Pleasanton, where Justin Padfield and his crew picked it up and transported it to their shop here in Ventura, California. We had never talked with any of the owners of, or experienced for our-selves, a virtual turnkey car that Scott's had built. While Scott's has done many, we simply watched over time what they were doing in the shop, and ultimately felt that the dose proximity of the shop to ours would work better than having the car worked on at some faraway place. The decision made sense, since, even as basic as this car may seem on the surface, numerous situations did occur that required decisions along the way.

Scott's mated the body to the frame and connected the Flaming River steering to the cross-steer front end, made up of a variety of parts from a host of manufacturers. While at Scott's, we "borrowed" the car for a time and took it to another neighborhood facility, Borla Performance Industries, where the exhaust work was done. Borla's manufacturing plant is also dose to us, and will be a mere half-mile from our brand-new Buckaroo Building (currently under construction) in Oxnard, California. Scott's fussed with fitting the Rootlieb three-piece smooth hood, and, in fact, to get it just right, basically decided to do parts of it twice. They also formed the rear rolled pan, tunneled the '39 Chevy rear taillights, and recessed the "LiI' Buck" personalized license plate. With the engine and five-speed installed, the body was positioned and the trans tunnel and floor trimmed to fit around the top of the transmission. The beefy B&M shifter lever had to be modified to clear the seats for my short legs. The stock design would have been fine for Dalton, but that's where the personal mods come into play once again. Longer-than-standard seat tracks were supplied by Tea's Design. Tea's own Tom Ashton carefully selected our blood-red leather hides. He covered two of his popular sports seats and shipped the remaining hides and woven headliner material so that Rick Preston of Rick's RV Center in EI Cajon, California, and his able right-hand man, bodyshop manager Ruly Gomez, could custom fabricate the door panels, overhead radio console and very slick modular-sectioned rear "tonneau" cover. Rick's is a full-service interior shop, and it recently completely revamped its RV storefront, totally separating the rod shop, which now has its own building, display room and vast shop area. These guys are street rodders to the core, and we found they can do just about anything when faced with adversity.

Before the car actually went to Rick's, it left Padfield's shop for Randy Clark's Hot Rods & Custom Stuff, in Escondido, California. There, weeks were spent on some metalwork and finalizing the body curves and flat panels, as well as the metal-formed parts, for paint. Clark also suggested a few additional upgrades that he felt would improve the individualization of Lil' Buck. Clark knows these cars as well as he knows his own teeth, and, with his ever-watchful eye, literally demanded that a few of our decisions be reconsidered. He's quite convincing, and his work totally supports his opinions. He yanked out the Gibbon fiberglass dash and provided a metal one, which, of course, he modified to house the air-conditioning ducts, and added a curved rolled-edge mount for the new billet air-conditioning controls from Vintage Air. The Brizio frame was black powder-coated, but for the outside framerails to look as good as the deep-black DuPont paint on the body, the rails were prepped once again and sprayed to match. Then Pete "Hot Dog" Finlan applied his sweeping licks from the front of the car, down the sides and over the roof. We seized the opportunity to witness this transformation. The talent required to lay out and spray a flame pattern this involved never ceases to amaze us. You don't just walk up to the car and lay some tape. Finlan knew well in advance what he wished to accomplish, and only then did he make the job look easy. To us less creative souls, you could only stand in awe of what was going on before your very eyes. And isn't this what our hobby is all about? You don't even need to like flames to appreciate what is involved to do them correctly. Finlan then color-sanded and applied enough clear so that the body is perfectly smooth.

Scott's was responsible for Lil' Buck's final assembly. And between Padfield and Mike Rigney, the car was assembled and wired. ARP polished stainless and shouldered bolts were used throughout, along with the big suspension-sized stainless bolts that were supplied by Totally Stainless. TS has filled a long-overdue niche by manufacturing the larger attachment stainless bolts with 6- and 12-point heads. ARP, Iong known for its extraordinarily strong fasteners, was a welcome source for engine bolts and assorted stainless fasteners found on many racing and high-demand applications. A company like ARP has set new standards for home buildups. Average rodders no longer go to local hardware stores for bolts to "screw together" their new-generation projects. Today we have learned that specialty fasteners are just as important as the components they are bolting together. It costs a little more to be safe, but in the long run you get both safety and a very appealing installation.

Other items important to the success of LiI' Buck are: Ford Racing white-faced instrumentation, Lokar pedal assemblies, emergency brake installation kit and stainless cables, Lokar throttle cable, Phipps interior door lights and dome lights, Barry Lobeck-selected headlights, Walker radiator and Cooling Components fan shroud, SPAL electric fan, Total Performance's CoolFlex hose, Zoops billet engine accessory brackets, MSD ignitions, Vintage Air, Deuce Factory front spreader bar, Wilwood brake proportioning valve, Master Brake master cylinder, and Kugel's stainless steel brake line clamps. Baer Brakes got the nod for LiI' Buck, as we desired a true race-car flavor, with huge four-wheel disc brakes. Baer's polished calipers (Corvette type), complete installation kit and beautifully combined, drilled 13-inch rotors and aluminum hats provide surefooted stopping in combination with the 235 35x17 (fronts) and 295 45x2O-inch (rears) Goodyear VR-rated Eagles. The Colorado Custom three-spoke Leadville wheels are 8x17- and 12x2O-inch, allowing an almost unobstructed view of the Baer brakes, as well as a very appealing deep-dish look, particularly with the 12-inch-wide rear hoops. Colorado Custom also supplied a Lazear split-rim steering wheel, which Rick's RV wrapped with the same Tea's Design-supplied leather used for the seats and door panels.

As this is our first company car, and one we plan to display almost everywhere, we have been in no hurry to press it into street action. I drove it around a few blocks just to get an initial feel for the car, and was very impressed. Its acceleration is brutal, and the stopping capability equally impressive. It's never seen the secondaries kicked in yet, and the suspension has never been aligned (short of squaring up and roughly measuring toe-in). We have not weighed the car or calculated its front-to-rear weight bias, and the incredibly adjustable Bilstein shocks have yet to be fine-tuned to the chassis. But all that will happen in due time.

We have considerable editorial plans for the car, plans we hope will help you In selecting component combinations for your own ride and aid in the sorting out of those parts. Lil' Buck represents an over-the-counter rod that just about anyone can build, or have built. Our experience with the builders' shops was top notch, although a few of the costs exceeded budget, but in many of these cases the fault was ours, not theirs. There were no disappointments anywhere in the process-everyone to the man did as agreed, and in many cases did more than what was agreed. So, in the end, our experience of having a car built from scratch was a pleasant one. No horror stories along the way, and not one argument or misunderstanding. Perhaps that is because we knew what we wanted before getting it done, and didn't alter the plans while underway. Although Barry Lobeck's V-8 Shop was not involved in the actual hands-on fabrication or the bolting together of LiI' Buck, he was involved in spirit. "Lobuck" and I spent more than an occasional phone conversation going over the subtleties of the right stance and overall appeal of a fenderless '32, just as if our car was coming out of his own Ohio-based shop. This was particularly important, as this car was not one that was cut from a particular mold, but one that could only be categorized as a super rod. This car is not based upon nostalgia, but it does reach way back to those early days of drag racing. It is not a smoothie, yet there are no protrusions anywhere on the car. It is not a blown, big-inch thumper, yet it will be one of the quickest-accelerating cars in our stable of hot rods.

We are pleased to bring you LiI' Buck, which has been over a year in the making. Now you can make up your minds as to where it falls within the ranks of modern-day street rods. We will be providing you detailed buildups in upcoming issues, and will share with you the important costs incurred, and how we got around certain obstacles to pull the car together as planned. We thank all those involved in the building of UI' Buck, and those manufacturers who not only delivered the parts on time, but also provided us their wisdom and technical expertise to get the job done right, the first time. We are very proud new owners. SRB.


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Hot Rods & Custom Stuff - builds, restores, paints, services and sells parts for classic autos, cars, trucks and street rods.