I've always been in love with the early and late vintage Auburn Boattail Speedsters, and on page 49 of the Summer 1998 issue of The RODDERS JOURNAL was a small sketch of an Auburnesque Boattail Speedster. It motivated me to have a buck and molds built for my next project. The body would have to be built from scratch but the front and rear fenders could start life as "bobbed" fiberglass versions of the stock Auburn. For the record, the Deco Rides Boattail Speedster is clearly not an Auburn, it was just influenced by one.
At the time I was eyeball deep in making fiberglass SCRAPE-based Zephyrs so a natural goal of Project Boattail Speedster was from the start destined to end up with another set of molds. To make molds you need a good plug (a.k.a. "buck" or male mold). Where we took glass molds off SCRAPE, I needed to have a full sized Boattail buck built from scratch. Herein lies the challenge. There are modern ways to accomplish this end using models and computer controlled (CNC) 5-axis milling machines, but being bucks limited, I was forced to do it the "old" way. This involves building a buck from scratch by hand using plywood, blocks of foam, many very large buckets of bondo and literally years of rubbing and loving to achieve the desired shape.
I've never been a builder, per se. I consider myself a visionary with an American Express card and a serious addiction problem (building fantasy hot rods that are planets away from the hot rod mainstream). The first team I enlisted to build the buck was Rob Ida and company from Ida Automotive in Morganville, NJ. Three months and $25,000 later I decided to pull the project, a rough plywood buck, out of their shop and find it a different home. I had been investigating 20+ different fiberglass shops around the country in what seemed like a never-ending quest to find a reliable vendor to produce high quality Zephyr bodies. The Zephyr job went elsewhere but I decided to try Mike Ball of Lake Webster, IN, son of Gary Ball of (then) Ball's Rod & Custom fame in Syracuse, IN to carry on with the Boattail. It was good decision.
Mike is to be commended because he kept his word regarding the price he bid on the job and did a decent enough job on quality and symmetry (considering it was a hand/eye job). He also had a good sense, feel and understanding of style, adding his seasoning to the design. The problem was that it took 18 months. By Oct. 2002 when I picked up the molds and first body from Mike I was four plus years into the project and growing impatient. I lost count of the round trips I made driving from NJ to Northeast Indiana to inspect Mike's work. I'd give him a thumbs up or down on the design direction he was heading, tell him what I wanted in design refinements and slip him another check to keep him on the project. After Indiana, I took the molds to Arkansas to have the molds strengthened.
At one point in 2001 we took the buck down off the jig, assembled it, got it rolling on four wheels. I took the bondo, foam and plywood buck in primer to the Louisville NSRA Nationals to sit in the DECO RIDES booth along with a Zephyr sedan delivery buck and a Zephyr convertible roller. That was the first time in a year of work we ever put the car together, rolling on wheels, and we stepped back to see what we had wrought. I also was curious to know what all the "lemmings" with '32 Fords would think of it. With scratch built projects you have to put it down on the ground and step back and walk around it from a distance and photograph it to see where you are. It gave us an opportunity to get the public's reaction and seek out critiques of what we were doing. I was trying to find out specifically if and where the design was bozo or wrong (and how we could fix it). I always say that to make a car beautiful, you just keep rubbing on it until all the ugly spots go away. Hopefully you can see the ugly spots like a flashing red light, but sometimes they like to play tricks on your mind.
During the rolling buck stage I also noticed that the peaks on the rear pontoons were relatively parallel to one another. This is a big mistake as it makes the fenders look like they are splayed out, moving away from one another in perspective. I had Mike rip the pontoons apart and "hook" them toward each other as they swept back. I'm still not totally happy with the rear pontoons, but they are far better than they were.
When the first glass body was out of the molds I took it, the wheels, and a Viper engine and manual transmission to Fat Man Fabrications in Charlotte, NC to have them build the chassis. I selected a Viper because I felt the car needed something flashy, different and noteworthy for motivation. I picked Fat Man because they had been building Zephyr chassis for my customers and had been doing a super job. Where searching for reliable and honest vendors who know what they are doing can be a real challenge, working with the guys at Fat Man was a pure delight. They know what they're doing, and they do what they say they will. Special thanks to Bubba and "the real" Kevin.