Where to start?
If you go way back to when Rocinante was at my pal Michael Edick’s shop and we cut the bar under the seat out and put strap in – done because the car sits so low it was impossible to load it on a trailer, or get a jack under it and so forth, that even picking up a couple inches of clearance made a huge difference. Well, making that modification rendered the aluminum bucket useless. At first I cut the bottom out to see if there was a way to just rework it, but that didn’t really work. It was going to be something I had to deal with down the road.
Fast forward a bit and through one of my other hobbies, vintage kart racing, I met Robert Morris III and his life-long buddy Mike Smith. Robert builds hot rods, and a super-bitchin’ repop of the Beebe Bros, Vinson and Sixt mid-60’s fueler for fun, while holding down what seems like 10 other jobs. Meanwhile, Mike owns California Hot Rods and builds cool cars for a living (and V-drive boats for fun) – including the restoration of the 60’s Cracklin Rose jr. fueler of the O’Kane family. Here’s a shot of both cars together at the CHRR:
Robert Morris’ scratchbuilt Beebe Bros, Vinson and Sixt reproduction in the foreground and the O’Kane’s “Cracklin’ Rose” Jr. Fueler that Mike restored in the background.
In short, they possess all the skills that I don’t. While in the things I do, I’m a jack-of all-trades/master of none, from what I can tell these guys are masters-of-all-trades, jacks of none. Whatever that means. But you get the idea. I only half joke that my fabrication skills are probably on par with India circa 1974, and that just won’t do.
There are certain things one attempts that give you the sense that if you worked at it you could get pretty good. But with me and fabrication, anytime I try anything like that I just feel like I’m waging war with multiple generations of my entire gene pool. The struggle is that deep. Wrenching and doing some painting are more my deal.
Anyway, through hanging out at the kart track I got to know them a little better, and thankfully I’ve been able to use my nerd skills to help them out a bit with IDing old karts and sourcing parts and such. I eventually screwed up the courage to ask Mike if he was open to building a new aluminum seat for Rocinante and he was down with that once there was an opening at the shop, and I kinda got my act together a little better.
One thing led to another, and it has gone from just the seat to also fabbing up the cockpit controls.
So the day finally came where the stars align. I finally got a trailer for the dragster, he’s finally got room in the shop. Good buddy Keith CoBen and I head up to other good buddy Don London’s place where the dragster is stored, and we bolt the powerglide in, load her in the trailer and head over the hill from Don’s place to Mike’s shop in Sonora.
Were that it was that easy.
I actually was up working on the dragster the weekend before, swapping out the stock Chevy oil pan for the zooty new cut down jobbie, (see previous post, “Panorama”) and I had intended on putting the powerglide in then, but quickly realized that it was going to be a two person job, and I was only a one person. Anyway, like everything done the first time, it took Keith and I longer than anticipated – thanks partially to some stubborn bell housing guide pins that were being difficult to remove so I could put the longer Moroso items in there to compensate for the thickness of the mid plate and make installing the trans easier.
All the while Mike is patiently waiting for us as we are now running late.
We get there mid afternoon and the shop is a sight to behold. Really, really cool stuff.
Cool stuff going on at California Hot Rods
Mike shows us around, we all take turns gawking at his stuff, and unload the dragster since we have already eaten up half of his day making him wait around for us.
Mike giving his best Mike look.
This is the first time Mike has seen the car in person and he’s impressed with the build quality.
Rocinante tucked into its temporary home.
The only elephant in the room with the car is the seating position. Brian built the chassis the way I wanted it with the roll bar layback the way I wanted, and the low stance. For those that know of such animals, my car could easily have been a legs under car in the 1960’s. For those who don’t know, there was a period of time, where in order to get the cars even lower, the rear end sat up high enough in the chassis that the driver slid his legs under the rear axle, so he basically had the 3rd member in his lap.
I once had the chance to sit in a legs under car, and even just for kicks I sat in Rocinante legs under style – which is actually worked great, and would be easy to hang pedals and controls that way. While sitting there though, it became clear that during this era all those drivers were 21- 22 years old because you needed to feel immortal and have a healthy dose of “what could possibly go wrong?” coursing through your veins in order to strap yourself into that deal.
Me being a dumpy, middle-aged Dad-type, I sat in there and imagined everything that could go wrong. The rear axle seizes up or grenades, you are going to be walking funny for the rest of your life, and if you ever wanted kids you hopefully got that taken care of in advance, because it would be “zing!” and you’re an instant Eunuch. Nevermind if you ended up upside down, or on fire, and needed to make a hasty retreat. Just sliding out of that seating position I’m reminded that I don’t have the legs of a Flamingo.
But to have this period look and have the required 5 point cage in order to pass tech so I can run it, it meant adding extra length of chassis behind the rear axle, which means instead of the rear axle resting under my knees the way it would be in a typical slingshot dragster, my calves rest on the rear end. Coupled with the low seat, it gives a seating position like this:
This isn’t a typical driving position, and they outlawed the legs under deal years ago.
So for the last 5 years, figuring out this deal for pedals and controls and everything has been constantly percolating in the back of my mind. Even when Mark was alive and was head of fabrication on our deal, we talked about this an awful lot.
The original thought when talking to Mike was to just make the seat with more tilt, which would effectively bring the front of the seat (and therefore my butt) closer to the rear end and get my knees where they should be.
But after we roll her out of the trailer, Mike studies the car and hops in to get ideas, and it seems like the reclining seat thing isn’t going to be the best solution. The obvious idea is probably the most direct: move the rear end back rather than the seat forward. It’s not 100% that this is the route that will be taken, because it would involve some re-engineering of things like engine dump, because the rear axle can’t really sit higher in the frame – the bottom rail of the frame already sits so low to the ground that we can’t drop it another inch.
But the goal is to still have the car look the way it does and to not disturb the integrity of Brian’s build. The last thing I would want to do is bum Brian out. But the reality is, I’ve gotta be comfortable when sitting in the car so I can concentrate on driving it. Everything is still in the thought process at this point. But I’m really excited that it is at a turning point, and I know the car is in good hands to do all this work.
A week or so later, Mike posted this photo and it made me super stoked.
Car is now on the jig!