BONNEVILLE SPECIAL V12 – NORM HARDINGE 1934 FORD COUPE

From the first time Norm Hardinge stepped onto the crusty dry bed of a salt lake, his direction of building hot rods would be forever inspired by the purpose built ‘lakesters’ of the 50s and 60s that screamed across the barren surface in search of ultimate speed.  One particular vehicle that has been influential for rodders and racers is the Pierson Brothers 1934 Ford coupe. The striking colour combination of metallic blue, red and white was further enhanced by its stunning wind-cheating profile. From the severe roof chop to the hand formed track nose the coupe was a winner from any angle, either flat out across the Bonneville salt or standing still.  

Back in 2009 Norm’s affection for the coupe intensified when he visited the famed NHRA museum in Pomona, CA with only one objective; to see the Pierson Bros coupe… for real. The coupe was on exhibit celebrating the 75th anniversary of the ‘34 Ford and Norm wasn’t about to let this opportunity slide.

“I have been collecting models and reading about that coupe for as long as I can remember and to see this legend of a car in the flesh was really exciting. I even got to touch it and examine it in its real form on a personal level.” he exclaims, grinning like a 10-year-old kid at Christmas. 

The Body

Norm has been affected by salt fever for over 14 years, clocking up frequent flyer points with eight visits to Bonneville and countless treks to our own Lake Gairdner. He is hugely involved with the Aussie DLRA movement, regular readers will certainly be familiar with his popular Cruzin the Salt column. When Norm decided to embark on building his own lakester ’34 there was no guessing as to what would be his inspiration, but it was good friend Ian ‘Elvis’ Davis, of Rod Bods Downunder that would become the major element for his creation. 

“Elvis kept telling me he wanted to build me a car,” Norm explains,  “but when I wanted to recreate the Pierson Brothers Coupe, he said ‘Can’t you pick something easier!” He rang me one day and said I don’t have much on at the moment are you still interested in that coupe? So I sent him a copy of the Rodders Journal with an article on the PB coupe and the So-Cal coupe, showing the more severe chop.”

From those informative images Elvis set his sights on creating his own interpretation of the slippery profile with one of his ’34 bodies mimicking the heavily laid back A pillars and slammed roofline. Due to the incredible time and effort involved in producing Norm’s version, Elvis approached him about releasing a limited run of only 10 bodies to help offset the escalating cost. “I said go for it. I didn’t really care how many he made as long as I got my coupe!” Norm said. Due to popular demand a further 20 bodies were produced in a different configuration with a taller screen to satisfy consumers. “I think he did all right even though I drove him nuts,” Norm quips. 

Apart for the visual appearance of the PB coupe, Norm also loved the story behind the radical screen angle. Back in the day roof chops were bordering on ridiculous and a new ruling was brought in by the SCTA to standardise the height to 7 inches, but they didn’t specify at what angle! An opportunistic Bobby Meeks adhered to the rule and laid back the screen until almost all vision was lost and then tweaked it back up just a tad. No one realised they were making hot rod history at the time. From the firewall back Norm’s coupe pays homage to those early pioneers who weren’t afraid to push the rulebook to the limit. 

One of the major components that gives this coupe its convincing nostalgic charm is the original 1934 bonnet, albeit much modified for the new nosecone. Norm credits good friend Tom Peach for creating the coupe’s unique character.

“I met Tom through supplying radiators for cars that Tom was also working on, cars like Rolls Royce and Bentleys and such. I was looking around his shed one day and on the walls were photos of cars that I had worked on, and we soon realised that over time we had worked on a lot of the same cars. He really liked having input on hot rods and when he found out that I was building the coupe he couldn’t wait to do the nose. He made templates out of cardboard and transferred it onto sheet steel and hand formed the nose in pieces. Knowing my love towards the Buick rocket hood emblem, Tom’s son Steve reproduced the iconic piece in a scale that is befitting to the car, without looking oversize like an original would. He also hand formed the brass jewellery that gives this salt inspired ’34 its own identity.”

Norm was striving to recapture the look of classic coachbuilt cars that depicted the era of Art Deco. Tom and Steven previously fabricated German style helmets as air cleaners on another of Norm’s hot rods, his blown Hemi ’32 Ford, both producing near identical versions from hand beating steel, German silver and brass. German silver is also featured on the dash inside the tight confines of this ‘34s cockpit made from scrap pieces leftover from radiators destined for high roller Marques. 

The V12 

“I was in Pomona with Rod Hadfield and Elvis and we went to this amazing wrecking yard that had racks of V12’s,” Norm reminisces, “I was originally going to run a small block Chev with a front mounted blower but through a series of circumstances, I didn’t have the blower when we were setting up the chassis and then I had settled on one of those V12 Lincolns. Rod had a V12 Lincoln Zephyr in his A Model and I just loved it. This is a 1942 Lincoln Zephyr V12, 310ci, and I just thought this motor in a classic rod would really be a nice thing. Although they were used in landing craft during the Second World War, Tex Smith informed me that his first car to ever top 100mph was a Lincoln Zephyr.” 

At one point Norm acquired not one but three V12 motors in an attempt to speed up progression of the build. The third motor was purchased in Queensland as a runner while the other two were still being machined and assembled. Proving that third time’s a charm Norm sold off the previous motors to fill the huge divot left from his most recent purchase. 

Norm reveals that during the five year build, the motor was the biggest obstacle to overcome. Elvis fitted the V12 to a ’34 chassis and went from there. It’s been stepped and boxed with transverse springs front and rear, old school friction-style shocks and a Dutchman quick change out back. Rod Hadfield supplied the 5” drop Super Bell axle and fabricated the headers for the V12 which is balanced and blueprinted with triple 97s, all backed by a C10 Auto. 

The Details

One of Norm’s preferred manufacturers of motor vehicles is the esteemed pouncing big cat, Jaguar. While most hot rodders are familiar with incorporating Jag suspension parts or independent rear ends, Norm’s preference was the quality and size of the XJ6 instrumentation. Mik from Mik’s Signs and Graphics etched the large faced dials with the Big Knob Racing logo for additional and individual enhancement.  

Equally unique are the hubcaps adorning the original Ford wire wheels. “I got four plain caps that fitted these wheels and gave them to Tom to see if he could hammer the V12 into them,” Norm explains. “He said yeah… easy, but when he was done he had hand beaten a complete new set entirely from scratch!” The grille was also hand made from steel by Tom but when it was sent off to the chromers, disaster struck. A normal turnaround time for chrome work is about two weeks from Norm’s preferred guy. But after a while had past with no contact Norm gave him a call and was told to come over, as he needed to have a talk to him. “I got there and he handed me a bag full of bits that made up the grille. Whatever the solution he put it into to strip it for chroming destroyed it. Then I had to ring Tom and see if he could do anything with it. Tom said, ‘I’ll just make you another one…’, he doesn’t stress too much about that sort of thing and he resurrected it for a second go at chroming. This time he did an amazing job with the chrome.”

Mik Wallmeyer was responsible for the cool pinstriping that decorates the hand formed body and panels. Norm’s only instructions were that he wanted Lincoln Zephyr on the bonnet in the same colour as the wheels and an orange line separating the bodyline, but after a sleepless night of stressing about the colour combination he detoured from the plan at first light. “I spent all night thinking it was going to look shit and changed it to black the following morning. I’m glad I did,” he says with a sigh of relief. 

Interior

Anyone that’s met or seen pictures of Norm posing on the salt beside a racecar will quickly recall that he’s not a four foot nothing. Fitting his tall frame into a heavily chopped coupe was never going to be easy if he wanted to be comfortable at the wheel. A pair of Austin Healy Sprite seats pushed back to the parcel tray helps immensely with the legroom and interior aesthetics for a racecar inspired interior. A Schroder ‘push pull’ steering box may alleviate engine compartment restrictions but takes up valuable cockpit space.

With Norm positioned so far away from the dash and vintage four spoke steering wheel, a clever idea was to house the ignition key and important switches on a headlight pod closer to his fingertips. Tom’s talent with German silver is also evident with the hand lettered glove box lid and dash facia. Manny from the Trim Shop covered the entire cockpit ensemble in rich leather, complimenting the primrose accents of the exterior very nicely.

The Finish Line

Norm quickly points out that Vicky came up with the paint scheme and it was always going to be black with primrose wheels. First intentions were to have large scallops on the front but as the car developed, the scallops were dropped for a more classic appearance. Norm stepped up to the plate and laid down the deep black two-pack exterior in his home garage with pleasing results, only to be frustrated beyond belief when settling particles adhered to the fresh paint during drying. After a failed second attempt and further frustration, Norm was very fortunate to be offered the spray booth at Rotunda Revival, who he thanks whole heartedly. 

As a member of the 200mph club Norm’s need for speed is unquenchable. Even as the finishing touches were being addressed to his apparition of past racing luminaries, his attention is already being averted to building a full race version of his own coupe sporting a big block 429 Ford. While admiring his present achievement I sit and wonder if this stealthy black beauty will become the inspiration for future hot rodders chasing the dream of building their own salt lake racers immortalised by historic legends…like Norm.

Thanks. 

Throughout the hot rod community, local and abroad, Norm and Vicki have a huge family of friends who they would like to thank dearly for their help and support to build this amazing 1934 Ford. Ian ‘Elvis’ Davis of Rod Bods Downunder for his enormous effort in creating the desired body style to make this a reality. Tom Peach for designing and hand fabricating the track nose and grill, hub caps and dash facia. Steven Peach for hand crafting the brass jewellery. Miks Signs and Graphics-pinstriping and lettering. Manny at The Trim Shop for a stunning and befitting interior. Road Runner Windscreen for Glass. Rotunda Revival for the booth and advice. And finally a special thank you the indispensable individuals –  Oggie, Bevan, Rod Hadfield, Darren Milburn, Jack Wyldstone, The Cranksters and all the team at Aussie Desert Coolers.

BY DALE HABERFIELD, PHOTOS BY MILLBROOK STUDIO. FULL FEATURE CRUZIN MAGAZINE #157.
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