TOMMY FLATHEAD

“I  wasn’t looking for a car at the time,” Tom Knezevic begins with a hint of innocence, “but I have always considered the ‘33/’34 three window coupes as the ultimate model to aspire to own. I do own a five window Aussie body ’34 as a project that I have had for a long time… so I guess you could call me a ’34 guy.” 

Tom goes on to explain that what started the ball rolling with the blue coupe before you was the perfect storm; the Aussie dollar was up and the American economy was hurting. At the time, a flood of good cars began surfacing from hibernation for decent money as American’s sold their toys and long term projects to help ease the financial pain. 

Tom was on the H.A.M.B (Hokey Ass Message Board) one day and casually came across a genuine 50s hot rod Ford for sale. It was a fully fendered, flathead powered ’32 coupe that Tom recalls featured on the cover of a ‘little pages’ publication, and a temptation he found to juicy to ignore. 

“The asking money was really reasonable so I started looking at seriously buying it,” he says. 

Unfortunately the deal went sour due to the seller not wanting to provide any further images of the coupe, even though he stated that it did have some rust issues. Rejecting Tom’s numerous requests for visual validity, the sale was withdrawn from Tom’s grasp. Left empty handed and feeling somewhat denied of his unearthed treasure, Tom’s mindset shifted from whimsical wish list to a motivated must have. 

Fuelled with newfound enthusiasm, Tom searched the internet for a worthy replacement, striking pay dirt during a virtual tour of the Ford Barn, a website dedicated to spreading the gospel of traditional old hot rods that even Henry would approve of. From the intact mohair trim and running flathead to the white walled Kelsey Hayes wires, the complete package had everything that Tom was looking for.

Not wanting a repeat of the previous “no sale”, he enlisted the help of an importer friend to check it out in the flesh. “I found this five window coupe for sale and it looked too good to be true. After the inspector reported back that it was mint… I bought it. At the time there were a lot of guys I knew importing cars and I guess I jumped on the band wagon, but I got my coupe, so be it!” 

As soon as the sweet ‘34 wheeled into Tom’s home garage he set about transforming it into the hot rod you see here. 

“I wanted to change it into what I consider a hot rod should be,” he says, “but the thought of chopping the top never crossed my mind.” 

Don’t get Tom wrong, he loves chopped coupes as much as the next guy, but in his words this one was just too good to cut up and that some need to survive.

“It’s a pristine original 1934 Ford coupe, I wanted to work with the subject matter I had and keep it pristine. If it was a basket case I would probably do things different,” he adds. 

The wheels were another story. Once Tom had purchased the genuine magnesium Halibrands, it took him almost two years to extract them from the US based seller.

“I was in constant contact with the owner and his wife, but during that time he had become very ill so I didn’t want to push him too hard, but it was still very frustrating.” 

The wheel dilemma was resolved after Tom discussed his concerns with long-time friend, Lance Sorchik. At an amazing stroke of luck Lance knew of the seller and told Tom that he would handle it. In just under two weeks, the wheels arrived at Lance’s home in New Jersey. Bolted to the revamped coupe, they’re a major component depicting the coupe’s late ‘60s persona. Although the rears are of unmatched offset, it only adds another layer of character to the coupe’s timeless appeal.

As interesting as the wheel story is, I found the tale behind Lance and Tom’s first contact more fascinating.

“I was at Robbie Warden’s place together with Tony Cassar and Steve Galdes. We were chopping Robbie’s Fiat Topolino to transform it into a salt racer. It was a boy’s weekend and we were kicking back late Saturday night, enjoying a few beers and pizza. Lance was the artist who was responsible for the back page illustrations in the Rodder’s Digest. I was looking at his renderings and noticed a bunch of numbers running down the spine and thought that it must be a phone number or something? So we rang it! Together we recalled which state he was from and his wife’s name Diane, from a previous magazine feature. Robbie can talk under water with a mouthful of concrete, so here he is trying to explain to her that all four of us were on different handsets, on the same call from Australia. She was freaking out a bit, but we ended up getting Lance on the phone. He was equally surprised saying, ‘I can’t believe that you guys are calling me from downunder!’ You have to remember this was almost 20 years ago!” 

“We talked for about an hour,” Tom continues, “and we hit it off really well. Before we hung up we all agreed to send Lance a package about ourselves and that he would send us one each in return, which we did.”

From then on, Tom and Lance have kept in contact with each other, forming a long lasting friendship that continues to this day.

“A few years after that spontaneous phone call, I ended up going to the states for work and I called Lance to meet him in person. I asked how would I recognise him and he said, you’ll know me!”

“When I arrived at the airport, Lance was standing there holding a picture of me sitting in my project ’34 roadster that I had told him about, along with the words Tommy Flathead! He gave it to me and said, here’s your first present! From that day on the name stuck.” 

As mentioned earlier, the coupes motivation was delivered by a venerable Ford flathead mill. As you can see by the hand lettered artwork on the doors, Tom is pretty fond of Henry’s sidevalve, and even more so of the 8BA residing under the coupes handsome hood.

“The original engine had been rebuilt at some stage with a new crab style dizzy and an unusual cam. It sounded really hot, but it constantly displayed low oil pressure.”

Assuming that it was a faulty gauge Tom was abruptly corrected when the old flatty expired due to lack of internal lubrication. Undeterred, he exhumed one of his previously imported sidevalves that he had stashed in the corner and rebuilt it with all the go fast goodies as featured on these pages.

“I had the motor ear marked for the coupe anyways, but this just sped up the process.” 

While the engine exchange was in progress, Tom also had the ‘39 top loader style gearbox rebuilt by Colin Bates. Meanwhile the original I beam axel was sent to Garry Paige for re-alignment. Garry has been ‘dropping’ stock axels for decades and combined with a reverse eye spring front and rear, nailed the raked stance that Tom was striving to achieve. 

With the lowered front end buttoned back up, Tom slipped in the coupe’s new heart, instantly transporting the mild resto rod into an asphalt demon of the past. 

Tom’s belief that you don’t need to screw around with a great design to create a hot rod with appealing longevity is front and centre in this feature. Add a handful of selected visual components along with a smattering of desirable performance enhancements and call it quits. It’s not rocket science, just an old fashioned approach that delivers in spades. And we dig it!

BY DALE HABERFIELD, PHOTOS MILLBROOK STUDIO
AS FEATURED IN CRUZIN 174.

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