You Can't Mistake A Rolling Bones Hot Rod
By Ken Gross
Photography by Brian Brennan
Dennis Varni's heavily hammered '32 Ford Tudor could have rolled out of L.A. back in the '40s-or maybe just out of somebody's garage after a 50-year slumber. Like all the hot rods from the Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop in Ballston Spa, New York, it just oozes attitude. As this car proves, Ken Schmidt and Keith Cornell keep turning out one great car after another.
After Dennis met Ken Schmidt and Keith Cornell at Bonneville, he called and asked them to build this Tudor. Naturally, it has the patented Rolling Bones severe chop-5 1/2 inches in the front, 5 inches in the rear-Z'd frame, and bulldog front end, with a heavy '32 front axle modeled after the Doane Spencer '32.
The sedan's artfully weathered black finish and red scallops are a throwback, and the 241-cid, Dodge Little Red Ram Hemi is the perfect old-style powerplant, with its three-carb Offenhauser manifold and Scintilla Vertex magneto ignition. It puts out about 250 bhp and sounds great with the Bones-required straight pipes. "I sent them the solid lifter and Isky-cammed engine done by Zauda Motors in Santa Rosa," Dennis said. "They installed a T5 from a Chevy S10, so you can cruise all day in Fifth.
"They put the gas tank in the back seat," he continued. "You access it through the window. We used old blankets for the seats, and I had [Rolling Bones] put the mohair back in the doors and the chicken wire back in the roof. The chop creates a blind spot. They don't use mirrors, but I put a Ford commercial mirror on the driver side."
There is a feast of vintage detail everywhere you look. That includes a speedboat panel with vintage Stewart Warner gauges, the old-style generator (there's a Chrysler badge on it, but it's actually from a Case tractor) with an integral tach drive, and a highly ventilated top insert (from a 1950 Jeep wagon) with 243 (count 'em!) louvers.
The slightly wedged, armored-car chop, very aggressive stance, low-mounted Guide lights, and severe rubber rake make this sedan look as though it's going downhill-fast. All the Bones touches are there: Schroeder race car steering with a prominent draglink, a Bell wheel, old chrome (if there is any plating), finned brake drums, a Model T spring over a quick-change rear, a khaki blanket interior, an art-deco '40 Ford Deluxe wheel, and, of course, the much-coveted Rolling Bones smirking skull radiator cap.
"I've always been a roadster guy," said Dennis, "but when I saw those two coupes at Bonneville, I thought they really had the look. Then I rode in one of them, and that's all it took. Ken and Keith had been gathering parts for the Tudor project. I bought a V-8 quick-change and told 'em, 'Take this back to New York. If we do a car, we've already got the rearend. If we don't, then there's no hard feelings.'
"I wanted a set of old Halibrand Indy wheels on the car, with Dunlop racing tires," Dennis went on. "Ken and Keith were skeptical, so they sent me pictures of that setup. Once I saw it, I didn't like it, so on went the steel wheels with Firestone blackwalls. I learned you can't force things on this car."
"As soon as it was finished, I decided to drive it home (to California)," Dennis said. "We hadn't gone too far when we had an incident where the fan 'walked' right into the radiator. We fixed that overnight, leaving the dents, and I found an old radiator repair tag that we hung on it. Next, one of the restored instruments broke-the oil temperature gauge-so I decided to head for Walnut, Arkansas, where the instruments were restored. ("It's right next to Deliverance," he quipped), and we fixed that in an afternoon too."
Since Dennis likes to "look for junk," they decided to take the scenic route to California. The rear seat area was soon filled "with antiques and stuff as we went, shipping things home when we got too full," he said. "After Oklahoma, all the good places were gone, so we made a beeline for home. The only changes we've made were to substitute adjustable (and stiffer) '36 lever-action shocks for the '33s."
With 18,000 miles and one worn-out set of tires behind him, Dennis plans even more "chingos" (trips) to far-flung billet proof-style events. "It's that kind of ride," he said. As for the Rolling Bones team, Dennis had nothing but positive things to say. "These guys are genuinely honest," he said. "They just want to build their style of car. People think it's an old hot rod. If you like it, and I do, nobody does it better." Confession time: SRM Editor Brian Brennan wanted me to write this piece as a semi-tech feature, so readers could build a hot rod like this. Sorry, the ocean doesn't give up her secrets, and neither do Ken and Keith. Ken is clear on one thing: "Anybody can make something look dirty. It takes an artist to make something look old.
"Great hot rods are works of art," Ken told me at York last year. "Just like a painting, when you look at it, a great hot rod will tell you enough if its story to grab your emotions, and let your imagination take you as far and as fast as you want to go. We build stories, in the Rolling Bones hot rod style, one at a time."
Rolling Bones' latest project is a seriously whacked '33 three-window with a track nose for George Poteet. We've seen this car, and it takes up where the Pierson Bros. coupe left off. It's being built in a barn that resembles the interior of an old hot rod shop out of the late '40s. There are stacks of '32 frames, grille shells, gennie firewalls, springs, and wishbones just waiting for someone else who wants a no-excuses, bare-bones, time-warp kind of car.
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