Gas Monkey Garage Teams With Bass Kustom For a Drag-Inspired 1934 Ford
It all started with a tip on a kind of barn find. Richard Rawlings had heard about a car tucked away in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The second owner’s sons had contacted Richard’s Gas Monkey Garage and told their story of a hot rod that hadn’t seen daylight for decades. Richard told us, “We answer every single email, snail mail, tweet, text, you name it.” A lot of the projects they find come from those tips. This prospect seemed almost too good to be true. The car in question was a 1934 Ford three-window coupe, so Richard called Brian Bass—the man behind Bass Kustom in downtown Dallas, just 20 minutes from Gas Monkey Garage—and asked him to come along on the drive and see the car in person. Gas Monkey Garage has built everything from Model A Fords to late-model trucks, but Brian’s forte is 1930s Ford steel—it’s the cornerstone of what he builds in his one-man shop. Richard and Brian met a dozen years ago, and Richard has sent various pinstriping and fabrication jobs Brian’s way over the years, but Richard had a bit more in mind for this coupe, whether Brian knew yet or not.
When the duo arrived to inspect the car, they were greeted with a time capsule straight from 1964, when the car was put into storage. There was plenty of pristine, original Ford sheetmetal, including a complete, uncut frame and fenders that had never been removed from the body. It even had its original interior. Brian noted only a few modifications that had likely been completed in the late-1950s, including bobbed rear fenders, the installation of a roll pan, and a hydraulic brake conversion. Other than that, the body was stock. It was, however, missing a drivetrain. Richard purchased the car and towed it back to Dallas. Once the car was in the Gas Monkey Garage, Richard invited Brian to be a guest builder and lend his skills and knowledge to complete the coupe’s transformation more than 50 years after it was started. For Brian, it would mean putting everything in his shop on hold for a couple weeks, but the opportunity to work with the Gas Monkeys was not one to pass up. He was in.
Because of his extensive knowledge of 1930s Fords, Richard wanted to hear Brian’s thoughts on the direction the car should take. There was one car in particular that stood in Brian’s mind as an icon: the Mooneyham & Sharp 554 fuel coupe. The car represented the end of an era, when nitro-powered vintage Fords battled on the dragstrip in the late-1950s and early-1960s just before Funny Cars hit the scene and took over. With the 554 coupe as a sort of template in mind, the Gas Monkeys stripped the car down to the frame and began the monumental task of completely building the car in less than two months. Luckily for the Gas Monkeys, they had the manpower and skills to make it all happen, and the car was the perfect canvas.
“It was kind of nice to work on one that had never been apart before and never had any real modifications.” — Brian Bass
Because the coupe was so complete, Brian and the Gas Monkeys agreed that they should use as much of the original car as possible, even if it meant polishing and massaging the factory parts rather than visiting the vast aftermarket available for early Fords. For example, the coupe still rides on its original fame and uses the factory front wishbone, although it was split to serve as radius rods before it was drilled, polished, and chromed. However, there were certain things that just had to go. A Model A rear crossmember replaced the factory ’34’s low-hanging crossmember, making room for a quick-change rear axle, a must for an early-1960s-era drag racer. The frame was also straightened, boxed, and its center crossmember was reshaped.
The flathead V8 was missing, but that wouldn’t be a problem as far as the crew was concerned. They already had a vision for the car, and it definitely included pushrods. Like the 554 car, this coupe would use 331 Chrysler Hemi power. The Gas Monkeys found one locally, tore it down, and inspected it before sending it to Eric Carter at Carter Speed & Machine, where the block was bored, decked, and then given new life with fresh bearings and pistons. The assembled heads and short-block were then delivered to the Gas Monkey Garage, where Brian and the crew completed final assembly of the long-block and painted the finished engine. On top is a Weiand 6-71 nostalgic street supercharger with a swing-arm–style front drive and Hilborn two-port fuel injection. Although the Weiand bits are new, they look the part perfectly, and the Hilborn mechanical injection is also not what it appears to be. What appear to be original fuel lines on the engine’s driver side are plumbed to a MAP sensor and a fuel rail with four injectors is on the passenger side. The 554 coupe used an extreme engine setback, but for the sake of streetability, the Monkeys didn’t go quite that far, settling on a 10-inch setback that required a new firewall that was almost flat, a far cry from the factory ’34’s forward-jutting stamping.
Once the car came down from the chassis table and was sitting on the ground with its new firewall and stance, the guys admitted that it looked pretty solid. Still, there was a big hurdle to overcome—and not a lot of time left in their schedule. After not much debating, the crew decided that the roof had to be chopped; it was a major part of what made the 554 coupe. Because this was a curvy 1934 coupe and not a more angular Model A, it involved much more than sectioning the pillars. Instead, Brian and the Gas Monkey crew laid out their plan, made their cuts in the pillars and cowl, laid the windshield back by cutting at the cowl, and got everything welded back together. The resulting chop keeps the roof at the same overall length and gives the windshield a racy rake. Brian was surprised at how quickly it could all get done with a team of talented fabricators, “We got the chop knocked out in about a week. That was hustling.”
A major departure from the fuel coupes of the era, the interior reveals that that coupe isn’t all about speed, as early-1960s style oozes from the pearly white vinyl seats. R&R Upholstery was given a quick sketch of what the guys were hoping to achieve with the coupe’s interior. A few swatches later, the fabrics were set. If the inserts look familiar, that’s probably because they’re from a 1957 Chevy 150. The black loop carpet, peppered with flashy gold strands, is from a 1959 Pontiac and is called Trinidad.
We joined Richard, Brian, and the Gas Monkeys in Texas for the coupe’s reveal and got to see it in action. The EFI Hemi roars to life and is much more even-tempered than a fuel coupe could hope to be when motoring along at city speeds, but you can tell the Hemi wants to race. Brian seemed to agree, “It goes really straight. It doesn’t even want to burn out, it just launches.” Richard was excited with just how much they had all accomplished and had fun romping on the Hemi.
“It was a blast having Brian accompany us on this build, and between him and the Gas Monkey Team, we turned out a first-class car. Thanks to everyone out there that pays attention to what Gas Monkey does. Keep watching, we’re upping our game on every build.”
Even without a blown Hemi, 5¼ inches of chop gave the coupe a look that says race car.
A different iconic drag car inspired the paint color. The “Blue Bird Special,” another Ford coupe, was a much lighter shade of blue than the Mooneyham & Sharp 554. Gas Monkey paint man Mike Coy mixed the right cocktail of metallic and pearl before spraying the body and chassis.
R&R upholstery in Arlington, Texas, built the seat from scratch. It has been moved rearward about 10 inches to reclaim the legroom lost when the engine was set back.
The crew welded up the factory holes in the dash and drilled it for Classic Instruments gauges. Limeworks Speed Shop makes the reproduction 1950 Ford Crestiliner wheel.
The 0.060-over Chrylser 331 now displaces 345 ci and is topped by a Weiand 6-71 that’s underdriven 24 percent, good for 7 pounds of boost and about 450 hp at the crank. It’s bolted to a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed with a Quicktime bellhousing and a Wilcap adapter, and power flows from the flywheel through a McLeod twin-disc clutch.
A Winters V8 quick-change features a Wedgelock limited-slip.
A set of 15×4.4-inch Starburst wheels from American Rebel Manufacturing mount to the spindle but carry brakes, unlike a traditional fuel coupe.
The 16×11 rear wheels are also from American Rebel and use Radir slicks. Bass built the brakes using original Ford backing plates modified for more modern Bendix internals.
The Mooneyham & Sharp car had a Thrush Mr. Horsepower logo on its side, so Brian Bass hand-painted this masked Gas Monkey. The artwork led the team to call this car the “Monkeypecker.”