Rolling Bones Hot Rods: The Exhibit of G.O.W.
Modeled on chopped pre-war coupes and roadsters familiar to followers of speed record racing on the Bonneville, UT salt flats and the El Mirage, CA dry lake, newly built rods from the Rolling Bones shop look like they came right out of a 1950’s Hot Rod Magazine and have spent the decades since in storage.
How it all started for the Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop
Driving up and down South Greenfield Road, not five miles from the Saratoga Automobile Museum, they saw a lady at her mailbox. Stopping, they asked, “Do you know where the Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop is?”
“No, never heard of it, but my brother-in-law and his friend fool around with old cars in that barn over there,” she replied.
The non-descript barn, once a repair shop started by his older brother, sits across from Keith’s house and is now the home to the Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop. Partners Keith Cornell and Ken Schmidt, along with Ken’s son Matt, will tell you, “We wouldn’t trade this old cow barn for a brand new building.”
Passing through the doors, you step back to a time when young men were returning from World War II with newly learned skills and a passion for speed. Money was tight, but old Fords were cheap and plentiful. The passion for the American Hot Rod was about to explode.
It’s those hot rods, built in the post-war era until the late 50s, that are the foundation of what has become the Rolling Bones style. Raw and pure in their quest for speed, “We cut off everything that keeps them from flying,” says Keith.
Ken recalls seeing Keith for the first time at a local car show about 20 years ago. “He had the only real hot rod there, a jet black ’34 roadster powered by a nasty flathead.” A year or two later they started “running” together, Ken with his ’29 roadster and Keith still terrorizing the highways with his ’34.
Keith's brother’s successful auto-repair business was growing, and it was time for a new building. This left the barn vacated, the perfect place for Keith’s hot-rod-building hobby.
It was around 1998 when Ken stopped by to see the deuce three-window Keith was building. Ken was looking for one to build for himself, and with Keith’s help, he found it. Together they built what soon became known as the “wicked sister hot rod coupes.” The right hot rods, at the right time, and they touched a chord with the right people.
“After driving our two coupes to California for the Father’s Day roadster show, we parked in the swap meet area, and this guy with an easy smile walked up. His name was Dennis Varni, and he insisted we build him one of ‘our hot rods.’”
Two weeks later the three of us were standing in the barn looking at a deuce sedan body that Keith had. We shook hands, the deal was made and, just like that, the Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop was born.
1932 Three-Window #575B
On loan courtesy of Ken Schmidt:
It was late on a dark and rainy night when he started to ramble. At first we just took it as another one of the tall tales he spins, usually fueled by that green puss he drinks.
“Chopped the hell outta her, five, maybe six inches, leaned the posts back, too. Stretched her a bit, made her handle better at speed. Had a can of yeller, so I painted her with it. Louvers, yeah, punched her full o’ holes. Made a cool-ass roll pan in the rear, even had a blown 24-stud into her with a five-speed and quickie to boot. Yup, she was one fast little bitch, she was. Boys, when I tell ya she was fast, I ain’t lyin’. Had t’ sell her, though. Yup, damn cops couldn’t catch me, so they hid in my driveway and waited for me t’ come home. Bastards threw me in jail. Sold her to Whitey down at the junkyard t’ make bail. Hell, Whitey’s been gone fer some time now. Yard’s still there, full o’ new shit. All look like half-used bars o’ soap t’ me. Last I heard she was still layin’ there, way down back with a bunch of mid-50s and 60s boats. All growed up back there now, no tellin’ if’in she’s still there or not.”
Every now and then Ol’ Mr. Bones becomes a little confused, and we figured he might be talking about the junkyard owned by Keith’s nephew Casey. We found her there, right where he said she’d be and dragged her back to the barn. The beat-up coupe was in pretty good shape considering, so we just greased her up and threw on a new set of tires.
1932 Tudor #193C
On loan courtesy of Dennis Varni:
We were standing between the two hot rod coupes that we had just driven to California for the second time—we were still surprised at the commotion they had caused—when this guy with an easy smile walked up.
“Just wanted to tell you I bought Peter Vincent’s calendar, just for the cover. Never opened it, just hung it over my desk.”
We had started getting used to our 15 minutes of fame, but when he came back the second time with a quick-change under his arm, he said, “Take this home with you.” We just looked at each other and said, “Damn, these California guys are friendly.”
It wasn’t until the third time we asked his name, while he was setting down another armload of parts, that he answered: “Dennis Varni. You guys are gonna need these to build me a Rolling Bones hot rod.” The Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop was born, it was just that simple.
Three weeks later Dennis was in our shop looking over a 1932 Tudor body and frame that Keith had. Within an hour, we were shaking hands, and he said, “Let’s build this.”
Dennis’ Tudor is powered by a 251 cubic inch, 250 horsepower Baby Hemi. It was hooked to a five-speed transmission and an early V8 quick-change, both of which he supplied along with many great ideas and advice. We had turned down offer after offer to sell our hot rod coupes, and although a few asked if we would build them one, we never really considered it.
That is until Dennis told us we were going to build him a “Rolling Bones Hot Rod,” a term we heard for the first time. Call it “fate,” “the hot rod gods” or just plain “meant to happen.” Dennis was the perfect guy to start this, and without him, we doubt it would have happened.
1932 Roadster #232B
On loan courtesy of Jon Suckling:
Since emerging from the bowels of hot rod hell known as the Rolling Bones Hot Rod shop, she has made numerous trips from one end of the country to the other. Perhaps all of them combined can’t measure up to the seven “inspected“ decals she earned on her frame.
Built to emulate the roadsters that dominated the Bonneville Salt Flats, she also served as daily transportation during the post-war period. She is powered by a 1946 276 cubic inch, 175 horsepower Ford flathead hooked to a five-speed transmission and V8 quick-change. She earned the first of her seven decals in 2004 when we drove her to Bonneville, used the hotel parking lot to set her up to race, made seven passes on the salt and drove her home. Over the next six years she made another 75 or more passes with a best speed of 128.576.
After a complete rebuild her salt-racing career was over, but her exploits on the highways continue. She’s now owned by our English friend Jon Suckling who stole her away during the middle of those seven years of racing. But the best news is that she still lives at the shop.
1932 THree-Window Coupe #78C
On loan courtesy of Tom McIntyre:
“But her spirit was unbroken,” as it says in the Book of Gow by the evil Mr. Bones. She showed up at the door, tied down on an open trailer, as much to keep her from falling apart as from falling off.
A coat of primer hid years of abuse. She was left stripped of her door and deck inner panels. No one seemed to know her history, but signs hinted at the battles fought with the gods of speed. There were rows of louvers punched in her deck and evidence of channeling. There were stubs of a roll bar welded to her subrails, a filled cowl vent and four inches taken from her top, all in the quest for speed.
It took four of us to carry her through the door. Not because she was heavy but rather because she was broken at the base of her B pillars.
The cloud of dust grew with each turn of a page. At last he looked up with an evil grin, “Take the paint off her door, and she will show you the way.” With the faint remains of the number “78C” revealed, her rebirth began. First the gore—the bloodletting, the cutting and chopping—and finally the melding of parts. Most were harvested from unsuspecting old Fords that strayed too close to that old barn, only to be set upon.
She once lay humbled, broken, spent and unwanted, but now she stands strong. With a 240 cubic inch, 250 horsepower Hemi hooked to a five-speed and V8 quick-change, she’s ready to once again terrorize all who challenge her.
1932 three-window coupe #98D
On loan courtesy of Chris Boutilier:
That was the price Chris and his brother Dallas Junior paid for the beat-up 1932 three-window that lay up to her axles in dirt behind the fence at Elmer’s scrapyard. They were covered head to toe with white paint when they finished, but so what? They had a hot rod—well, at least the start of one, anyway.
After tossing a set of wheels and tires into the back of their father’s tow truck, they jumped in and headed for Elmer’s. Dallas was a one-man band at Boots Auto Repair in the middle of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Sure, the boys helped out after school, on weekends and during summer vacation, but they’d much rather work on a hot rod of their own than changing the oil on a 1983 four-door bar of used soap.
“Ya know, boys, it’ll only take a day or two to take your coupe apart. It’s the putting it back together that’s the hard part,” said Dad. His comment was met with the usual, “We know, Dad.”
“Well then, put it over there in the corner next to that 283 block. Oh yeah, there’s a gallon of orange lacquer left over from the school bus job; if you get that far, you can have it.”
Their father was right. Two days later the three-window was completely apart, and work on the frame had begun. The 283 would soon be bored to 301 cubic inches with three two’s putting out about 285 horsepower.
“How about letting us borrow that five-speed transmission out back, Dad?”
“I s’pose you're gonna ask to borrow the V8 quick-change under that old stock car, too,” he said with a wry smile.
1932 THREE-WINDOW COUPE #591
On loan courtesy of Ken Schmidt:
The cat or the mouse? Relentless in purpose, she stalks her prey. Hind legs drawn up, eyes fixed on the target, deadly silence fills the air in that final moment. Which would you rather be? The mouse or the cat?
Attitude, purpose, proportion and line. Strip a 1933-1934 Ford of her fenders and running boards and, as far as we are concerned, you will have exposed several lines that go in the wrong direction, slowing her down visually.
It starts with that “duck-tail” space behind the rear tire that leads your eye backwards. We tucked the tail in about two inches, making the wheelhouse fit the tire. Then we added a rear roll pan that allows your eye to round the corner and flow forward. Of course, we have all seen rear roll pans that remind us of a politician or a baby’s diaper. Ours are sleek and serve as the mount for the taillights, exhaust and push-bar license-plate holder.
The sides of the rails on a ’32 are beautiful but not so much with the ’33s and ’34s. When the frame is exposed, it comes to an ugly point below the cowl; we trim it off but that only solves part of the problem. Aside from the rails hanging out to the side, when they pass by the grill shell (which adds to the cluttered heavy look), they change direction up and down. We step them up one inch at the firewall, straighten, flatten and pinch them so they end at the rear of the grill shell.
Next we get rid of the inner fender bubbles and drop the cowl sides. This allows us to keep the lines flowing forward and run full hood sides. If running a stock grill shell, we take a couple inches out of it, so the line at the top and bottom of the hood will run to the same imaginary vanishing point we use in all of our builds. We make under-the-hood panels and frame covers as part of the belly pan, tucking everything up inside the frame so nothing hangs down.
Finally the chop can make a bold statement, and for us, the more attitude, the better. Certainly we have all seen cars that have become cartoons. The key to making a serious chop look right is as much about how it relates to the proportions of the rest of the car as it is about how deep the cut is.
Backing up the look, this ’33 three-window is powered with a 323 cubic inch, 420 horsepower, 1957 Ford Y-block hooked to a five-speed transmission and V8 quick-change.
1932 Roadster Tribute
On loan courtesy of Mike Rigby:
In our mind and many others, the Doane Spencer roadster is the quintessential hot rod roadster. Beautiful in line, proportion and detail, she was way ahead of her time. Even today she sets a high bar to reach.
It’s no secret that the hot rods we build have been heavily influenced by the Doane Spencer roadster, so when Mike Rigby approached us with the opportunity to build a tribute with a few personal variations, we jumped on it.
She features the signature Doane Spencer roadster exhaust through the frame rails, Duval windshield and door tops rolled up into the dash. She is powered with a 276 cubic inch, 250 horsepower, blown flathead hooked to a five-speed transmission and V-8 quick-change. Complete leather interior is coming.
1932 Three-window #59C and #560C
On loan courtesy of Keith Cornell:
Racing must have been in her blood. It was two weeks before the jalopy races at the county fair, and brothers Billy and Bob decided they could get the old car running that their grandfather had left them. They would paint her up and enter the race.
The brush-painted bright yellow and red “4B” on the doors was still there when Keith brought her home. Before she continued her racing career, he would build the second of the two Rolling Bones foundation hot rods.
As the 59C she would terrorize the highways from coast to coast with her running mate, the 575B. Then Keith caught the “salt fever“ that happens to so many who step foot on the salt flats of Bonneville. After several years of racing the flathead powered 232B roadster, Keith’s need-for-speed fever burned hot. It was time to make a change.
Enter the “beast.”
Keith Cornell’s 560 coupe is chopped six inches in front, 5-1/2 inches in back with the wheelbase stretched to 109.6 inches. She has an old-style dropped front end using a Ford V8 60-tube axle and a full belly pan. The power is supplied by a 1957 Ford 532 cubic inch Y-block with 576 horsepower, four-speed transmission and a V8 quick-change.
As for Keith’s need for speed, the 560 is considered the fastest naturally aspirated Y-block powered car in the world at 188.563 miles per hour.
On loan courtesy of Casey Cornell:
Casey Cornell's 1932 Ford Tudor sedan was powered by a 312 cubic inch, 375 horsepower Ford Y-block with a five-speed transmission and V8 quick-change.
Coated with the stain of weather and time, it hung off-kilter by a single nail but still the message was clear: “Beware of the Dog.” A ring of dirt circled the knob, and the window was spattered with a haze, making it almost impossible to see inside.
Reaching out to knock, Don's hand recoiled with the shock of teeth snarling, eyes burning and the sounds of a possessed creature whose only desire was to kill you. “Down! Down!”
The door opened a crack. “Get down, damn it!” The door opens a little further.
There a man stood, unshaven with tobacco juice stains at the corners of his mouth. He was dressed in clothes that hadn't been washed—maybe never. He was 50 but looked 70. "What-a ya want?" he asked.
“We heard there was an old Ford out back and wondered if it was for sale?”
“’Got one in the back row: Damn good shape, don't ya know. Gotta let Killer get use ta ya first. Half wolf but as long as you're with me, it's safe. ’Named her after my brother Frank. He helped out in the yard before he went to prison.”
There's nothing more disconcerting than a huge black dog emitting a low guttural growl from a drooling mouth full of teeth, running circles around you all the way to the back of the junk yard.
Safely tucked away in the back alley of what would one day become the Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop, she sat waiting. Don had thought it would someday be a father/son project, once Duane was old enough. But interest in the cars of the 50s won out, and the deuce two-door languished year after year.
Taking advantage of that old barn across the road from their farmhouse, Duane lost no time starting an auto repair business the minute he graduated from high school. As the years flew by, his business grew and eventually a new shop was built, leaving empty the one-time cow barn with the sedan still sitting in the very spot his father parked it all those years before.
As with many repair shops, cars and trucks no longer drivable began to pile up, and before long Cornell's Auto Parts was born. With Duane's untimely death, his son Casey, who shared his father's love for old cars, stepped in to take control of the business. About the same time Keith and I were making use of that same cow barn having found ourselves in a business of our own.
Reminiscing one Friday afternoon, Casey retold the story of the Tudor. Beers in hand, we found ourselves at the far end of the back alley leaning on her and making plans.
“She will be a great tribute to your grandfather and father," said Keith. Looking at Keith, Casey replied, “And to your father and older brother."
“What door number do you think you want, Casey?”
Pausing a moment, tears welled up in his eyes, “No number. She's going to be black, and she's going to be meaner than a junk yard dog.”
1932 Three-Window #54
On loan courtesy of Richie Whalen / Toby Middelbrook:
1934 Five-window coupe #606C
On loan courtesy of Dick DeLuna:
She spent 27 years waiting while all the right parts were gathered. She was intended for a “someday” 100-points restoration before she fell under the spell of the evil Mr. Bones and the Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop. Next thing she knew, all her parts were sold off. They cut seven inches out of her neck and laid back the windshield. Then they dropped her cowl, got rid of the inner fender bubbles and tucked her tail in about two inches. Even worse they mounted a Canadian Cockstutt tractor nose where her once beautiful chrome grill had been.
She was fitted with a 276 cubic inch, 175 horsepower 1949 Ford flathead, a five-speed transmission and a V8 quick-change. Owner Dick DeLuna flew in and drove her to Bonneville and then home to northern California, only to ship her back for “The Race of Gentlemen” (TROG) a couple years later.
Drag racing against other V8 flathead-powered vintage hot rods on the beach at Wildwood, New Jersey, she held her own. Now she’s back for more: See her in action this June at TROG.
1932 three-window coupe #199c
On loan courtesy of Tommy Ellis & William Medcalf:
After dragging her home he stepped back and unrolled the sleeve of his tee shirt, pulled out a Lucky cigarette from the pack tucked there, and struck a match. She was complete—well-used but complete—and his father always said, “If they'll turn over, they'll run.”
With the matchbook still in his hand, William popped the cap. Running the striking strip across the points, he could see they might still have some life. He pulled the plugs one at a time, dragging the strip between the tip and the electrode, then using the cover to reset the gap. The gravity-feed tank filled the fuel bowl, and instantly gas poured from the carburetor. Once the gaskets swelled, the flood slowed to a drip. He pulled the six-volt battery from the doodlebug he once learned to drive on. Hitting the starter, the slow "err,err,err,err,err" showed no promise.
Raising a cloud of dust, Billy's ’38 Tudor slid to a stop. He and Joe jumped out with a big smile. They were hanging out at Pop's station when William went by and felt compelled to check out his new hot rod. “Does she run?"
"Don't know yet, how ’bout a tow?"
Grabbing a rope from the shed, William tied one end around the bumper and handed the other end to Billy. "Let’s give it a try."
Starting out under the care of the minister at the Presbyterian church in the center of town, you could say the little Model A led a life of piety and grace before heading down the evil path of hot rodding. That path led to the door of the Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop, where she quickly fell under the spell of the dastardly Mr. Bones and his Book of Gow.
Now she has a 323 cubic inch, 400 horsepower Ford Y-block attached to a five-speed transmission with a V8 quick-change. In the words of the late, great Johnny Cash, she has been transformed “one piece at a time" into what some would consider an abomination: the inconceivable, the resurrection of Dr. Frankenstein's monster. She will now and forever be known as the Rolling Bones/William Medcalf 1929-1930-1932-1933-1934-1936-1946-1948 one-piece-at-a-time Ford Lakes racer.
1932 THREE-WINDOW COUPE
On loan courtesy of Toby Middelbrook:
Dirt poor but dream-rich Elmer and Edna worked from “can’t see” to “can’t see” on the 50 acres that seemed to grow nothing but rocks. Things were about to change.
It was after midnight when the sheriff's knock woke them up. “There’s a two car wreck blocking the road at Porter’s Corners. Any chance you could come over with your tractor?”
Elmer’s towing service was born.
With the accumulation of cars and trucks, it wasn’t long before a burgeoning parts business took hold. Elmer and his young son, Henry, soon took an interest in some of the old Fords they hauled in.
Mabel Smith, the town clerk, was driving home from Sunday church when a doe and two fawns ran in front of her. Standing on the mechanical brakes with no chance of stopping, she turned into the brush lining the road. Mable was unhurt, but her car fared less well. The minute they dragged it back on the road, her 1932 three-window Ford became young Henry’s favorite.
Henry turned 14 during the spring of 1952 and had his pick of any car in the yard. He planned to build himself a hot rod. Two years ago while on a tow call, Henry had a fatal heart attack leaving his widow to liquidate the 50 acres of cars.
You never saw such a sight: Grown men were fighting over cars that seemed melted into the ground with the first foot green with moss and the rest brown with rust. Not to say there weren’t some good parts to be found, but rumors of a few “mint “ cars stored in the old hay barn proved to be untrue.
Sitting back like the cat that swallowed a canary, Toby knew exactly where the treasure was. As the owner of Middlebrook Plumbing and Heating, he had developed a friendship over the years while servicing Henry’s furnace. It was during conversations over coffee after service calls that he learned the story of the faded black three-window Ford. It had 312 Y-block power, a five-speed transmission and V8 quick-change.
And that, my friends, is Toby’s story and he’s sticking to it!
1932 THREE-WINDOW COUPE #43C
On loan courtesy of Larry Carter:
The summer of 1961 was unusually hot in Globe, Arizona, but even that couldn't stifle his excitement. Larry had dragged the old Martin Brothers coupe home with a tractor. His parents just stood there shaking their heads when he came up the driveway. “Don’t stop until it’s behind the garage and out of sight,” his mother said, as his father puffed away on his pipe.
She had gone through the hands of several would-be hot-rodders until the brothers stuffed a Nailhead Buick under her hood, hooking up a five-speed transmission and V8 quick-change. It didn’t take long to strip off the dented fenders, running boards and everything else that wasn’t necessary. Her well-worn black paint with the red flames and Number 43 on her doors had seen better days, but the more he stripped off—and the lower he adjusted the torsion bar suspension to drop her—the better and faster she looked.
Once Larry got the Buick running with his father’s help, it wasn’t hard to imagine the coupe hunting trouble on a Saturday night. All she needed now was a little silver paint where the chrome should be and a seat cover if he could talk Mom into sewing up one.