What can be said about a Model A that hasn’t been said before? Better question: What can be done to a Model A that hasn’t been seen before? This is what Andy Leach, owner of CAL Automotive Creations in Bennington, Nebraska, had to ask himself when a header-fabrication job snowballed into a full-kill build for the 2017 Detroit Autorama–ultimately, landing him a seat as one of the Great 8 finalists for the coveted Ridler Award.
Early Fords have been the de facto hot rod canvas for nearly a century, and for good reason. Henry and his factories produced more than four million units, which made them cheap and plentiful for hot rodders and customizers, but after seven decades of chopping and channeling, you begin to feel like you’ve seen every single one of them. Cognizant of this, Andy took the challenge on when owner Ted Hubbard reached out to him to fabricate a set of stainless headers for his 1930 Ford Model A.
“He saw what we had built and began tasking us with other small fixes,” he recalled. Eventually, Andy convinced Ted to turn the yearlong project over to CAL Auto after a few odd jobs. At first, Ted was a little hesitant to embrace Andy’s ideas, but as the project rolled along, he began to invest himself in Cal Auto’s vision, one that bucks extreme trends for an exercise in subtlety.
Grille as starting point
That vision begins at the grille, where both halves were power-hammered into shape at CAL Auto. The sunken grille teeth, along with the convex radiator surround on the backside, give the nose a deep but lithe profile. The 8-inch headlamps, custom-machined by Atomic Machine, are downsized for a slimmer look while retaining the factory-style turn signal on top.
“Nobody hates driprails more than painters and body guys,” Andy joked. “With each build, try to do things better; you learn to make things easier on yourself. I hate when you mow driprails offâ I think it makes them look a fiberglass car. So we drew all these driprails in Solid Works and machined them, and made them bolt on from the inside of the car.” This allowed the body and rails to be individually sanded, prepped, and painted separately before final assembly, saving tedious touch-up work that’s common when painting fixed driprails. “It’s little details like that, where most people would never in a million years guess, ‘Who in the hell would machine driprails?’
“The color took some convincing, but it kind of happened on accident,” he admitted. “We were trying to shoot for Washington Blue, an early Ford color, but then you screw it up a little and decide, ‘Eh, we’ll just spray it and see what it looks like.’” In the end, it fell right into Andy’s alternative hot rod look. While the color might’ve been a hard sell for Ted, his wife, Colleen, became the tie-breaker upon seeing the mix. Andy explained that the selection was part of the process to ensure the build won’t be dated. “We like to build cars that will stand the test of time. They’re not the six-month big hit, and then old news after that. Asking, ‘What will this car look like in 20 years? Will it still be relevant?’”
From the back, your eyes are drawn past Bowler Transmission’s one-off, CNC-cut taillamps to what initially looks like a pair of medieval flange maces between the rear wheels as they peep below the coupe’s body. “It’s a traditional Winters quick change, but I had to do something about it.” That something is 20 CNC-cut fins that were fitted and welded to the housings.
The initial plan meant chroming the entire housing at Advanced Plating, but Andy admitted he couldn’t get the surface finish he was after between the hand-welded fins. Instead, heavy metal flake gunmetal paint with a satin clear was sprayed after chroming to give the negative surfaces a cast look, while the raised faces of the fins were polished to expose the chrome, creating a deeper, more complex shape than if your eyes were flooded in reflective plating.
That restraint was carried into the interior, where Andy and his team had a hand on every detail, from the art deco vacuum-inspired transmission tunnel to the CNC-cut headliner bows. “There’s tons of stuff going on in there, but visually you can trick everybody’s eyes by taming it down on different colors and materials, so that’s basically what we did.” The one-off banjo steering wheel is complemented by a modified 1957 Olds cluster, with the exterior’s pinstripe-like ribbing applied throughout the painted and chromed surfaces.
While the body color dominates the dash, it’s broken up by the Recovery Room distressed leather, subtle EVOD-cut brightwork, and rubber floor mats. Too often, these details feel like loose ends, but CAL Auto managed to tie them together with the right balance between luxury and exposed machinery. The massive, bomber-style bench seat was another leap of faith that the project took: “It was power-hammered in pieces along with the side fins, again to keep that fin theme throughout. Ted always wanted a bomber seat, but everybody does a bomber seat. So we wanted a different approach, more like a bench seat like you’d find in a Cadillac. Brian Stupski of Problem Child Kustoms gets credit for that, he came up with that idea.
“When you’re fortunate enough to have a client who believes in you and lets you go wild, that’s where it really becomes fun,” Andy said. “I don’t want any one piece on the car to stand out, I just want it to draw people in, and the more they start looking, the more they realize. That’s really what we try to do with all our carsâ to build an elegant hot rod.”