Show Season is Here

After a long cold winter, the warm weather has finally returned. Car enthusiasts are already flocking to the empty parking lots of America to exhibit their latest modifications.

Advertisements for local car shows are beginning to show up everywhere, and less formal car meets have been taking place on a nightly basis in preparation for show season.

The Checker project is at a stand-still while we wait for more parts, and I’ve really been wanting to go for a nice cruise that doesn’t involve going to work or school. Today I had the perfect opportunity to do exactly that.

I had liked this post on Instagram recently, and several of my friends from the local car community had seen my “like” and asked me if I wanted to cruise there with them.

I decided it was time to take a break from all my homework, and spend my day off from work doing something fun.

We all met up at the local car wash to detail the whips, and then cruised out to Ludlow for the weekly Starbucks meet.

Once the whole crew was together, we were cruising down the road in our convoy of Subaru Imprezas and Ford Focus hatchbacks.

1meet

The Crew:

Colby – Blue Subaru Impreza 2.5RS

Erik – White Subaru Impreza WRX

Billy – Tuxedo Black Ford Focus ST

Cody – Silver Ford Focus SVT

meet4

There was a pretty good turn out at the meet. About 40-50 people showed up, and there were quite a few really unique cars, such as a track-ready Volkswagen pick-up truck and a lowered Toyota Soarer drift car.

Most of the cars at the meet were Volkswagens and Subarus, but the orange Dodge Dart sounded incredible, and the white Acura Integra was slammed and riding in style.

I managed to snap some footage of the meet, which I’ve compiled into this brief YouTube video.

Advertisements

Rusted and… Rebar

While looking at rat rods on Pinterest, we found this rusty old truck with a visor made out of license plates. We were extremely inspired by this idea, and decided that we could do something similar, but add a unique twist to it. We devised a plan to create a frame for the visor using rebar, which is a type of steel reinforcement bar that is often used in construction for reinforcing concrete. We would then fill in the frame with smaller fragments of rebar, and stitch pieces of license plates to fit over the frame.

The rebar was extremely difficult to cut and work with. Steel is pretty solid. Especially thermo-mechanically treated steel with a tempered core.  The rebar ate through several grinding wheels before we even finished making the outer frame. Luckily, the thickness of the rebar makes it excellent for welding.

visor-1

We used a straight piece of steel for the center, which would act as the main support, as well as a mounting point for our acrylic cow skull. The two side brackets were designed to sit above the side window tracks, using the spider webs to support the sides of visor.

Once the outer frame was complete, it was time to fill in the gaps. Since these structural pieces would be visible from inside the car, we decided that we should make them somewhat uniform.

The sparks from the grinder burned a lot of holes in the workbench, which can be seen slowly deteriorating throughout this progression of photos.

grinder

Once the frame was complete, we started filling in the gaps with license plates. Most of the plates we used are from the 1930s and 1940s because these license plates are made of a much thicker gauge steel than modern license plates, which makes them more suitable for welding.

visor10

After getting the visor welded to the car and sprayed down with our Secret Rust Solution, we fastened on our cow skull and sealed the surface with clear coat to stop the rust from venturing any further.

licenseplatevisor

Creature Comforts

Checker Marathons were used as taxis in many major cities back in the 60’s and 70’s. They were designed as fleet vehicles with rugged frames and a massive interior.

Most rat rods are bare bones when it comes to the interior. To the surprise of many hot rod enthusiasts, this rat rod’s interior is fully furnished. When we first picked it up, both rear arm rests were rotted out, as well as most of the body under the back seat.

before2

The floor was covered in various Bondo patches, and there were still quite a few holes where we could see the ground from inside the car. Once we got all the holes patched up with sheet metal and street signs, we had a lot of space to decide what to do with. We both agreed that a Persian rug would be the best option for a carpet.

rearseat.png

The original heater was also not operational, so we found an old Cadillac heater on eBay for a good price, and it fit under the dash quite nicely. Many older cars run on six volt systems, however the Checker runs on a 12 volt system like most modern car batteries. This heater had a 6 volt blower, so we had to put a 12 volt blower in the heater so that the extra thermal load wouldn’t immediately fry the blower motor when we turn on the heater.

rug1.png

The armrests in the rear were still missing, so we made new ones out of wood.They’re filled with spray foam too, for added stability and structural support. The door panels were also in bad condition, so we added new fabric to the door panels and used it to cover the arm rests as well.

new door panel.jpg

The original pieces remaining in the back seats are the two metal ashtrays that we managed to save and install into the new armrests. My dad also did some custom airbrushing and added some lightning.

Fossil Fabrication

Working on old cars can be a very frustrating task. Although it seems as if this car is frozen in time, most of the bolts are frozen too. As we get closer to the completion of the Checker, one question has been arising quite frequently: “what have we gotten ourselves into?”

three-quarters

After reading this blog post about the vintage car culture of Cuba, I was reminded why I love these machines so much. Some people see cars as simply transportation, but car enthusiasts see them as living fossils, preserving the technology of their day. In Cuba, it became be very difficult to import cars after the embargo, meaning that most of the cars in Cuba are restored classics because they couldn’t import new cars. The embargo has been recently lifted, but the effects of the embargo can still be seen today.

Cuba’s entire car culture is literally frozen in time. The only way for them to drive is to fix the classic cars that were already in Cuba before the embargo. They can’t order parts either, so they are forced to fabricate their own parts and salvage components from other machines, such as boats, lawnmowers, and other cars. If we take care of our cars and maintain them, they will last for generations, like the two-stroke 75cc Coco taxis of Cuba which can still be seen today.

It can be quite disheartening when unknown issues arise, eating up more time and money; but problem solving is what it’s all about. It’s a really cool feeling when you figure out how to solve a mechanical problem. Driving is awesome, but turning the wrench is the most rewarding aspect of custom car culture.

Rochester2G.png

The license plates for the Checker should be arriving from the RMV any time now, which is perfect timing since the weather is finally starting to cooperate. We’re still trying to straighten out a few frustrating issues with the emergency brake and reverse lights, but the beast should be roadworthy within the upcoming weeks.

 

Welding on the World Wide Web

 

After we ran out of license plates and scrap metal, we started to look elsewhere for steel. There are quite a few sellers on eBay with large selections of steel. This eBay store specializes in selling plasma-cut low-carbon steel shapes, which are perfect for rat rods because low-carbon steel will rust quickly if it is not painted or coated. We were able to find a few spiderwebs on eBay that matched the theme quite well. After some hammering and welding, it was a perfect fit.

spiderweb2

Once we had scoured every eBay store and international seller we could find, my dad came across an ad for SPEEDCULT. This place has it all: a blog, an Instagram page, and even an online store that specializes in selling the exact pieces of steel we were looking for at very reasonable prices.

After seeing what SPEEDCULT had to offer, we couldn’t resist putting some of their art on the Checker. We ordered several really unique pieces from them and they all turned out to be extremely cool. They are made of heavy, thick quality steel and they are all cut with laser precision. For all of your rat rod needs, I highly recommend SPEEDCULT.

Rat Rod Bodywork

Once we got the Checker back home, it was time to tear it down and to figure out what species of creatures were lurking inside the body of the car. We were extremely surprised to see that no mice or insects decided to inhabit the Checker, which is very rare for a car in this condition, especially since it has been sitting for so long.

We started sanding down the body, which revealed a larger issue. Many people have owned this car before, and they all had very different ideas of how to do repairs. We found many rot holes that were filled with Bondo, rags, and spray foam. Almost every screw and bolt has been replaced with one that is a different size. Many of the actual components of this car have been replaced with parts from different cars, including the engine, brake system, and most of the drivetrain.

020

Back in the day when this car was built, car parts had much better interchangeability in general. There were less makes and models, making it easier for parts to be compatible. For example, we were able to replace the headlights of the Checker with headlights from a 1958 Bel-Air because they are the exact same units. This made it very easy to find and replace parts due to more compatibility at the time – however, fifty years later, these replacement parts are beginning to fail, and the ease of finding some of these compatible parts has significantly decreased. If we need a new master brake cylinder, we can’t just install one from another 1968 Checker Marathon because this car’s engine and brake system has been replaced with GM components. This means that a Checker Marathon master brake cylinder will not fit this Checker Marathon anymore, making it harder to identify and replace.

We started to look at the price of body panels online, and we suddenly realized why Beau was willing to sell this car to us. There was so much rot and rust that it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace all of the bad panels. Luckily, my dad had a different idea. He has been collecting antique license plates ever since I can remember, and decided that the Checker would be a creative way to put them to good use. After grinding away all most of the rust, we covered all of the holes using license plates.

058

This is the moment when the vision started coming together. Every time we saw another rust spot or rot hole, we covered it with another license plate. We even fabricated a visor out of rebar and welded it over the top of the windshield.

xcx.png

Here’s the finished product, complete with a cow skull. Don’t worry, no small cows were harmed in the making of this visor, it is made of acrylic.

opdfg.png

Eventually he started to run out of license plates, so we went to our stash of old car parts and found my old Chevy Cavalier hood. It was basically worthless because I cut fifty holes in it to install four hood scoops, which I thought was a great idea at the time. Since it was made of steel, we cut it to pieces and screwed it to quarter panel of the checker.

cavyhood.png

Rust is dangerous when it compromises the integrity of a panel or component, but surface rust can be quite beautiful to look at, and is not as much of an issue. We did some research and found out that if you spray a mixture of salt, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide onto bare metal, it causes the metal to rust and oxidize within minutes. Since we’re mad scientists, we sanded the entire car down, and soaked it down with the strongest rust solution we could make. Once the car was completely covered in rust, we clear coated the entire car so that the surface rust we created could not continue to rot away the body of the car. Rust requires oxygen to eat away the steel of your car, so if you cut off the rust’s oxygen supply, it can’t do as much harm to your vehicle.

rust9.png

Acquiring the 1968 Checker Marathon

About 6 months ago, my father and I went for a drive up to Maine to go pick up this 1968 Checker Marathon. He had noticed this beautiful classic sitting in someone’s driveway on his way through Wells, and he had always wanted a Checker since he was a kid. We were looking for a new project at the time, so we knocked on the owner’s door to ask if he wanted to sell it.

It was like something straight out of Count’s Kustoms. The previous owner, Beau, is a motorcycle enthusiast. We talked to him about him the car for a while, and it turns out he didn’t even own this car for more than a few months. Once he started to tear it down, he realized that the car would be impossible to restore back to mint condition like he wanted to do, and was afraid that he may have wasted his money. He used to own a Hudson Super Wasp as well, but it ended up in a junkyard after he sold it to a friend. He was hesitant to let go of the Checker in fear of a similar fate, but we promised him that we were going to do whatever it takes to keep this beautiful piece of automotive history on the road.

Beau asked us to let him keep it until after Halloween so he could scare the kids, and then he would gladly sell it to us. We were worried that we were taking away his project, but he assured us he would rather have his Harley on the road with some money in his pocket, than an unfinished car that needs hundreds of hours of work. Within two weeks, we were on our way back home with the Checker, and Beau was on his way to purchase a new set of handlebars for his Harley. Beau doubled his money on the car, and still got to enjoy it without having to deal with all of the headaches involved with a full restoration.

Beau had also spray painted the words “Local Uber Driver” across the entire driver’s side of the car, which sparked quite a bit of interest during our ride home. Apparently the car was very well known by many of the locals.

As we started to drive back through Kennebunkport, large pieces of the subframe started falling out of the bottom of the Checker, and I noticed a large trail of fluids and smoke following behind us. After I barely dodged a flying wrench that dislodged itself from the engine bay, we decided that it would be best to pull over and call a tow truck to avoid any more hidden surprises. We pulled the cars over to the side of the road, and had lunch at a local sandwich shop while we waited for the tow truck driver. Within a few hours, we were headed southbound in the Subaru, following our new project down the highway.

checkerdayone

The Past, Present, and Future of Automotive