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Hot-rod builder saves biggest V-8 challenge for last

Published on -7/26/2014, 4:35 PM

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SALINA (MCT) — Dick Spracklin is an old hand at building hot rods. Over the years, he figures he's put together no fewer than a dozen early 1930s coupes and sedans with souped up V-8 engines.
"This is the last one. It was in pretty rough shape. This was the worst of the bunch. I kept it back for last," said the retired Salina firefighter.
"A buddy and I were driving around one day and we saw a bunch of old cars sitting there (in the Sylvan Grove area). One of them was this '31 Model A 5-window coupe. It was pretty well all there, but really rusty and rough."
But having built all those early hot rods, he knew he could bring this one back, too. So he hauled the coupe home and put the hulk in storage. Eventually, with the help of his son, Tom, he got to work on the project.
"He's a certified welder. We designed the chassis toward the Model A frame, but we added a few extras," Spracklin said. Extras like 4-bar front and rear suspensions that mount to custom fabricated brackets that blend seamlessly into the boxed metal frame rails.
The choice for a rear end was simple: a sturdy 9-inch Ford unit that uses coil-over-shock components to transmit power to the pavement. Spracklin likes the "highboy look," which involves removing the original fenders and running boards and substituting cut-down cycle-type fenders, with the body mounted atop the exposed chassis rails.
The bobbed rear fenders are the only fiberglass pieces on the coupe, with the sliced front fenders being metal trailer fenders sourced from Tractor Supply Co. and fitted to custom-made brackets.
Coker steel wheels were chosen for the vintage look, with ribbed beauty rings and late 1940s button-style hubcaps. BF Goodrich T/A tires, fat 275/60/15s in the rear, and diminutive 175/65/14s up front, comprise the rolling stock. Wilwood disc brakes were fitted at all four corners of the car.
Spracklin took the completed chassis to Grain Belt Supply in Salina and had it powder-coated in Safety Yellow, a color that would prove hard to match when it came time to paint the rest of the coupe.
He makes no bones about the inspiration for the look of the car.
"I was really enthused about that movie, 'American Graffiti,' " Spracklin admits. "The difference is, the car in the movie was a '32 and this is a '31."
To achieve the same profile, Spracklin decided to take a full three inches out of the top of the car. It proved to be a surprisingly easy task.
"These things are square. It was very easy. You just cut it off and drop it down," he said. The bulk of the body modifications were done at Calp Customs and Hot Rod Repair in Salina, where Rodney Geist finally matched the chassis color with a custom blend of R-N paint that is now known as "Spracklin Yellow."
Spracklin's powerplant of choice was a Chevy 350 crate engine mated to a 350 Turbo Hydramatic transmission built by Allen Cope of Tink's Auto Repair in Salina.
"I ordered the engine from Scholfield in Wichita. I called at 4 p.m. one day and the next morning at 8 a.m., it was on my driveway," Spracklin said. The engine was fitted with an Edelbrock intake and 4-barrel carb, along with Speedway Motors ram's horn exhaust headers, which are matched up to a full-length 2 1/2-inch stainless steel exhaust system built by son Tom, using Speedway "Smitty" stainless steel mufflers.
Spracklin chose a 1932-style grille shell and insert, but retained the 1931 hood top and sides. A flush-mount gas cap and thin third brake light round out the rear body work, which features 1939 Ford teardrop tail lights.
Inside, a pair of late model Pontiac Sunfire bucket seats were used, with pleats matched to the remaining custom upholstery stitched by Bev Crawford of Salina and installed by the owner. A tall Genie shifter topped by a helmet-clad skull shift knob give the snug interior some hot rod ambience, as do the twin sets of Dolphin gauges mounted in a flying wing dashboard insert.
Spracklin's coupe features an ididit tilt steering column topped by a Lecarra leather-wrapped wheel, cruise control, air conditioning, power steering, power windows and power door locks.
After he accidentally locked himself inside the car when the electrical system failed, he did, however, mount a set of Toyota pickup manual door releases inside, just in case.
"That's never going to happen to me again," he chuckled.
With more than 300 horsepower on tap, Spracklin says, "This thing just goes right on down the road."
He and his wife, Alma, have racked up a little less than 4,400 miles since the yellow highboy coupe was finished about three years ago, with most of those miles incurred on road trips to National Street Rod Association regional shows in Oklahoma City; Springfield, Mo.; and Louisville, Ky.
"It's a driver, not a trailer queen," Spracklin says. He plans to have the '31 on display at this week's Leadsled Spectacular in Salina.
Reach Mike Berry at mberry@wichitaeagle.com.
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(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)
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