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Wednesday, 14 October 2020 11:03

On The Lighter Side: Red Rod Rides Again

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In the days before you could buy a rubber-burning, heart-stopping-speed muscle car off a car dealer’s lot, high-school boys with a need for speed and a few bucks in their pocket built their own “muscle cars.”

In the 1950’s they were the pioneers of hot-rodding. Mahlon Love of Albuquerque, NM was one of those teens. In 1953, Love was 17 years old. He had spent several years and $2,800 that he made while working part-time as a bus mechanic building his own hot rod called Red Rod. It is said that he may have received some help and expertise from the renowned Unser family of racing fame.

 

Red Rod old 5

 

Typical of the time, the car had a 1927 Ford Model T body secured to a 1932 Ford model B frame. The frame and firewall were altered to make everything fit. It featured a highly modified 274CID 1948 Mercury flathead V8, chromed Clark headers with an exhaust dump which could be opened for racing.

 

Top-side it featured Evans high-performance heads and two interchangeable intake manifolds, one, made by Edelbrock, was matched with four Stromberg carbs used strictly for racing. It also featured Mallory ignition, a Cadillac radiator for cooling and Steward Warner gauges fitted to an all-business dashboard. Steering was taken from a 1940 Plymouth and the transmission and rear end “borrowed” from two different Fords. The car was painted a bright “Chinese red.”


During high school and a few years after, Love had fun racing and cruising in his Red Rod. Upon entering military service in 1956, Love sold his “baby” to a man in Pennsylvania. The car was registered in 1957, apparently driven for a short time, then parked behind a barn and forgotten.

 

Fast forward to about 1980. Jim Goetz of Twinsburg, OH had been customizing and painting cars in his garage for years, always working on something. A friend found the now much dilapidated Red Rod where it was abandoned and called Goetz who promptly bought the car and brought it home in the back of a pick-up truck.

 

Screen Shot 2020 10 14 at 11.23.45 AM

 

The car was literally a basket case… a partial body, frame, and three bushel-baskets full of miscellaneous parts. Years of sitting outside in the rain and snow had badly rusted the body. The engine, drive-train and tires and wheels were missing.

 

Mechanically, all it really had were some “good bones” to build from. But it had something not every hot rod from that era had… a detailed magazine article about the car, and its builder which appeared in the October 1953 issue, Volume 1, Number 1 of Sports Cars and Hot Rods magazine created by the editors of Mechanics Illustrated and published by Fawcett Publishing.

 Cover Oct 1953 Sports Car Mag

 

 

Interestingly, while searching the Pennsylvania title of the car, Goetz found it still had a lien on it from 1957, the last time the car was registered. Goetz found the wife of the person who had placed the lien on the car, only to find that her husband had died two days before. Long story short, the lien was settled and Goetz began tinkering with the car. But it would be another 35 years, around 2015, before Goetz got serious about resurrecting the Red Rod.


 

A friend of Goetz, more inclined to mechanical work, made the chassis and brake system road-worthy while Goetz, more adept at body work, secured repair panels and made the body whole again. Oddly, the doors had been welded shut. But when Goetz broke the welds, the doors opened beautifully. (Goetz surmised that the doors may have been welded to make the body more rigid and thus make it corner better.)

 

 Screen Shot 2020 10 14 at 11.23.21 AM

 

The missing drive train was supplanted with a 350 Chevy engine, and drive train. The chassis and body was restored to its original red, this time with PPG / Omni acrylic enamel paint in Nissan Red Line red.

 

Red Rod finished 6

 

Thanks to a photo in the 1953 magazine showing the original license plate, Goetz was able to find a company that made specialty and replica license plates and have the original plate replicated. Because the original frame numbers could be found, and thanks once again to the photos in the 1953 magazine showing the original registration plates, Goetz was able to legally register the car in Ohio… although he usually sports the replica plates.

 

Red Rod finished 5 

 

The Red Rod’s racing days are over. Today Goetz likes to take it to car shows and the occasional “cruise-in” which he hopes will resume after the COVID 19 pandemic subsides. Goetz notes, “People sometimes ask me how fast the car will go. I say I’m not sure. I’m more concerned about how fast it can stop. This car still has drum brakes on all four wheels so you really have to think ahead about where and when you want to stop.”