If you like a little extra ‘hot’ in your hot rod, then you will certainly appreciate this steel bodied 1937 Ford built by John ‘Doc’ Claydon. What appears to be a race car is really a street car on steroids, and aside from the open headers can you believe that this tube-chassis coupe is street legal in England? Who knew that Pommy hot rodders had it so good?
Doc is quite at home behind the wheel of overpowered, short wheel base, streetable race cars, evidence to this the steel 1941 Willys coupe which he brought with him from the UK when he emigrated from England to Perth in the 1990s. A street driven car in the UK, the Willys was the ultimate hot rod, but there was little chance the tubbed and blown hemi-powered coupe was ever going to be registered in WA and it was ultimately sold.
Doc is an accomplished fabricator and painter and ran his own hot rod shop back in the UK. This ’37 Ford belongs to a friend who asked John to complete the project which began in the UK over 10 years ago. “He bought the ‘37 as an old street rod, drove it for a while, then had another builder tear it down and build a tube chassis for it,” explained John. “The goal was to run in the same bracket as I ran my Willys – ‘Street Eliminator’ at the Santa Pod Raceway.”
Now a bracket called Street Eliminator might sound tame, but it ‘aint and it certainly sorts out the men from the boys when it comes to the word ‘Street’. There are a few restrictions, such as no Lenco gearboxes, wheelie bars or slicks and the car must use pump grade unleaded fuel, but aside from that it’s open slather – any steel bodied car, any engine size, blowers, turbos and nitrous – as long as the car is legally street registered. Considering John’s Willys and this ’37 both have tube chassis, tubs and mountains of blown motor, we’re guessing the rego rules in the UK aren’t very restrictive. Racing is heads up and the top contenders are dipping into the 7s over the quarter, but before you can race you need to prove your car can be truly street driven. John gave us a rundown on the procedure.
“On the Saturday night after qualifying, all of the cars running in the bracket have to go out on a 30 mile cruise through the local villages. Everybody has to put a couple of gallons of unleaded in the tank from a gas station enroute and make a second hot start at a designated spot. You have to be back at the track that night and if you don’t make it back by the designated time with your fuel docket then you’re declared DNQ (Does Not Qualify) and you can’t run in the eliminations the next day.”
A coupe like this would have been a great addition to the bracket but the owner relocated to Australia before completing it, bringing with him the unfinished project. The tube frame and much of the aluminium work had already been completed to a high standard, so it was left to Doc to complete the body, assemble an engine and complete the car to the finish that you see here. The body was sound, needing only simple repairs before the rear wheel arches were radiused and lengthened about 100mm. The boot lid is now just a skin and lifts off with the flick of a few Dzus fasteners. The doors are completely detachable thanks to ring pull hinge pins and the impressive one piece flip front is all of Doc’s handiwork. For alternative access he also kept the hood operational with original hinges and gas struts.
The ’37 retains all of its exterior trimmings including correct headlights and taillights, door handles, hood mouldings and even the hood ornament. Not standard is the huge adjustable aluminium wing, but it serves its purpose on the track and makes a big improvement to the stability of the car in the braking area. Racing experience was behind the choice to pick a colour straight out of a catalog, in this case PPG Ford Shockwave Blue. “We painted it a standard colour so that if it got knocked about it would be easy to touch up,” reasons Doc.
Inside is all business but again those original Ford pieces keep turning up. The chrome bezel gauges are a nice deviation from a row of Autometers, although we’re not certain that the 160mph speedometer is going to be enough. The seats and interior panels are mounted with pins and Dzus fasteners for easy removal, which gives fast access to the gearbox or allows you to remove it from inside the car should you really need to. Beneath is a full belly pan designed to cut wind and drag from underneath.
We didn’t ask John for a full spec list on the engine, but to keep things simple it’s a 502 Chevy with a Blower Shop 8/71 supercharger and twin 750 Demon carbs. Add nitrous oxide and things start getting really serious. Behind is a reverse pattern Turbo 400 and braced 9” rear. Knowing that the car would be used on the track only here, Doc built a compact radiator for basic cooling and zoomie headers for maximum efficiency. “If this car was in the UK we would run a larger radiator and a street exhaust,” he explained before reminding us that everything else is AOK on the Queen’s roads.
Satisfied now to have finally completed the coupe, the owner has decided to sell it before giving it any track time. Doc reckons the engine will do a low 8 with a proper tune, maybe even a high 7, and that’s on pump gas. “Change out the carbs for a hat and run methanol and that will really liven her up,” he grins.
BY GAVIN KELSO, PHOTOS BY MILLBROOK STUDIO. FULL FEATURE CRUZIN MAGAZINE #157.