Dwarf Rods, Fuel Curve

Dwarf Rods! Maricopa, Arizona’s Ernie Adams Builds ‘em Small

Ernie Adams, known far and wide for his dwarf rods, has a neat collection of cars starting with a ‘42 Ford and a wicked ‘49 Mercury. But they don’t look all that unique until someone steps up next to it and you realize these are scaled-down classics. Yes, Adams hand builds cars that are scaled miniatures of the real thing in his shop/museum outside of Phoenix, in Maricopa, Arizona.

Dwarf Rods, Fuel Curve

Adams first got his start on mechanical things as a kid in Harvard, Nebraska when he took home discarded gasoline engines that had been originally used with washing machines. He placed them on carts and scooters and learned to enjoy mechanical work.

Eventually in 1971, he moved to the Phoenix, Arizona region to pursue mechanic jobs. After seeing some motorcycles with side cars racing on dirt tracks, he was inspired to craft a dwarf race car.


Dwarf Rods, Fuel Curve

The idea was to make the sport available to the working man via simple, economical parts. Adams made quite a name building these dwarf cars in the 80’s and his sideline business mushroomed. But the grind and demand of building dwarf rods for others wore on him, opting to move on from that work he decided to build his own scaled down version of some of his favorite cars.

Dwarf Rods, Fuel Curve

Dwarf Rods, Fuel Curve

As a youth he recalled seeing an abandoned refrigerator with a tire propped against it. In the right light the outline resembled a car and that image remained with Adams. To make his first car, a green 1928 Chevy (above on the far right), he wanted to use a twelve inch wheel so that became the inspiration for his scale. He obtained photos of a 1928 Chevy sedan and used them as references. He shrunk down a profile shot, until he had his 12 inch wheel. None of the parts are cut or reduced from a stock car part. Instead he uses steel rods to form his framework and then drapes sheet metal pieces over the foundation and then cuts and hammers them into shape. The Chevy actually used sheet metal from nine refrigerators during the construction which took 3,000 hours to build.

Dwarf Rods, Fuel Curve

His 1949 Mercury was built on an 80 inch wheelbase which became a standard for Adams. Someone figured that translated to an 11:16 scale for the cars.

Dwarf Rods, Fuel Curve

He’s particularly proud of a ’34 Ford sporting a patina finish. That’s his favorite because he” doesn’t have to wash it!” He’s taken his cars to the Back to the 50s show in Minnesota as well as some Goodguys events at Westworld and says folks “go bananas” when they see the cars.

Dwarf Rods, Fuel Curve

Over the years he has built eight cars, all of which are street legal. Generally, he has the cars painted by others, along with the upholstery work. He is proud that the dwarf rods are able to be driven and perform flawlessly. He frequently gets offers for his cars and refuses to sell any of his masterpieces.

His children suggested setting up a museum for his cars as part of his workshop next to his home and he gets upwards of 100 visitors a day to marvel at the scale models. He also has a collection of tools, Matchbox cars and signs to showcase at the Dwarf Car Museum but make no mistake this workshop is still a workplace.

Dwarf Rods, Fuel Curve

He is still working in his shop on the next model, a 1932 Ford three window, and sees no reason to stop or slow down. Adams is never too busy to stop and chat with visitors but is also anxious to get back to his tools and get closer to finishing another dwarf rod. We’ll be anxious to see the final version too.

Photos by the author and Kevin Adams/Dwarf Car Museum

Mark C. Bach is a well preserved automotive junkie, due to the Arizona dry heat. He loves anything that moves and is especially fond of muscle cars and classics.

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