Time Warp T – Repeating History with the Walsh Family’s ’27 T Roadster
It’s said that those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it, but what about those pieces of history we want to repeat? When it comes to traditional-style hot rods, many of us have a certain sliver of history we’d like to revisit – or at least imitate. As it turns out, that’s not always easy, either. We’ve all seen plenty of “traditional-style” hot rods and customs that miss the mark, mixing and matching the wrong pieces or incorporating obvious contemporary elements that throw off the vintage vibe. That’s certainly not the case with this incredible 27 T roadster, built by the Walsh family – father Tom, his son Justin and daughter-in-law Cindy. It’s easy to see that this trad T incorporates all the right ingredients to capture the classic early-’50s era of hot rodding.
For Tom, getting the history right on this roadster was partially a matter of living that history. He’s been into cars since the ’50s and has seemingly seen or done it all – street-based hot rods, drag cars, Bonneville racers, AMBR contenders, and more. Along with Gary “Goodguy” Meadors and Bill Burnham, Tom was a founding member of the influential Danville Dukes car club and has been a member of the Nor-Cal Early Iron and Bay-Area Roadsters clubs. Tom’s time with the Danville Dukes even inspired the roadster’s nickname – The Duke. Adding to their list of credentials, Tom and Justin are also members of the SCTA’s prestigious 200mph Club.
The Walshes collected parts for this build for the better part of 15 years, gathering an original steel ’27 T roadster body, a ’47 Flathead V8, Halibrand quick-change rearend, and many more desirable pieces. The build eventually started to come together in Tom’s garage, where modified ’32 Ford frame rails created the foundation for a custom chassis that incorporated a spring-behind drilled front axle, split wishbones, lever shocks, and ’40 Ford brakes. The Halibrand quick-change center was incorporated into a ’40 Ford rear axle assembly, while 16-inch ’35 Ford wires with 5.00 and 8.90 Firestone Deluxe Champion bias-ply tires got things up and rolling.
The 296c.i. Flathead was built by the late Ron Sterbenk, who ported and relieved the block before topping it with Sharp aluminum heads. A trio of Stromberg 97 carbs on an aluminum intake was employed for fuel delivery, with a Vertex magneto lighting the spark. The coated headers and straight stainless exhaust result in an authoritative bark when this Flattie fires to life – a definite blast from the past! A ’39 Ford transmission keeps the gear selection as traditional as the rest of the build.
Beyond the tweaks needed to fit it on the custom frame, the core of the roadster body remains essentially stock. Jim Hendricks and Guy Ruchonnet made the necessary metal repairs, massaged the metal straight, and built a full belly pan, including a tidy louvered rear pan with outlets for the exhaust pipes. Marcos Garcia at Lucky 7 Customs got the nod to apply the beautiful British Racing Green finish. It’s the details that really help to complete the theme on this roadster, including era-correct B-L-C headlights, leather hold-down straps for the hood top, teardrop-shaped covers for the wishbone mounts, chopped windshield posts, a small tubular rear bumper, and ’37 Ford taillights.
Speaking of details, the two-place cockpit is full of ’em. They begin at the bottom, where race-influenced floor panels were built from sheet aluminum with dimple-die lightening holes. The dash is filled with an array of basic Stewart Warner gauges. The reversed Model T steering wheel has a cloth-wrapped rim, while the shifter handle on the exposed ’39 Ford transmission is adorned with a Ford medallion from the 1933 World’s Fair. Sid Chavers gets credit for the minimal upholstery work, which consists of brown leather on the door, side, and rear panels, plus tastefully stitched cushions on the aluminum aircraft-style bucket seats.
As the ’27 T roadster was taking shape, the Walsh family learned of the 2019 Santa Barbara Drags being put on by The Race of Gentlemen. The event’s goal was to recreate the midcentury street-race scene with traditional-style hot rods built using pre-’53 running gear. It was a perfect place for the roadster to debut and offered a target deadline for getting the build completed. The family not only got the ’27 T roadster done in time, they had a lot of fun racing it on the blocked-off streets of Santa Barbara, within sight of the Pacific Ocean. It was like taking a step back into history, which is exactly how Tom, Justin, and Cindy feel whenever they climb into the cockpit of this lean, green time machine.
Photos by John Jackson & Damon Lee