Butch Latham never had to look at plans to build a classic Ford Hi-boy because he had everything filed away in his own memory banks.
Those memory banks were activated back in the 1950s when Butch first learned how to build a classic street rod as a member of The Igniters, a legendary local car club.
These highboy Fords were the hot-rodders build of choice when a young Chuck Berry did his first “duck walk” guitar show on stage.
This particular ‘29 Ford was Butch’s self-described ” better build another one before I croak” car. He picked it up 8 years ago and mapped out a game plan like a veteran quarterback in a critical playoff game.
The car needed a fair amount of new sheet metal so Butch did what a veteran builder does best – he made the old Ford structurally sound before moving on to another phase in the project. He explained, “ it was pretty rough when I bought it so I boxed the frame before I moved on”.
Lessons learned in the 50s combined with common sense made this project relatively easy on most ways. Bear in mind that “easy” is a relative term in any car project, particularly when Butch brought a high level of talent and experience to the game.
He built this highboy based on years of painful study, so the first thing he settled on was a quick change Ford rear end with a 3:48 rear end. Butch knows how much a 4:11 rear end can make an engine protest on the highway. That, plus ease of installation and removal can make a car much easier to live with in a repair scenario.
Butch continued with his all-Ford theme with a ‘39 Ford top loader because Butch explained, “you get a little more wind out“. He opted for 1935 Ford Kelsey wheels and a ‘36 Ford drive shaft because “back in the 50s anything went. There wasn’t a manual to build these things”.
The grille is Blue Oval as well (32 deuce Ford), and it created a little confusion at the show but again, this is a true-blue anything goes, 50s correct build.
Butch admits that using a small block Chevy “would have cut the cost in half” but back in the 50s the average guy would have used a Ford flathead because there were literally hundreds of thousands available.
In contrast, the small block Chevy was brand new in the mid-50s and it would have been a far more expensive route for an engine.
This ‘29 Ford is barebones just like it would have been in 1957 so the floor is metal and the interior is strictly functional. Butch amitted “the floors are metal but you can still carry a case of beer” The rumble seat is long gone – replaced by a fuel cell.
This old highboy is a throwback to how they were, not how people want them to be in 2012 because it’s a basic, Spartan vehicle designed to wring the best power to weight ratio out of a flathead equipped ride.
Butch is an older guy but he has no plans to change “what was” by adding a permanent roof, sound deadening, air conditioning and comfortable seats. This has tested his marriage because he’s been caught in the rain a few times with his wife and in every case he didn’t have the roof installed.
It’s a 4-bolt quick job, but Butch was pretty optimistic about the weather.
The other issue has been a chronic coil problem and Butch pointed out, “they make them in Mexico” so the flathead has stopped on a few occasions in wet weather.
The only thing that Butch really regrets about his commitment to period correct is the lack of fenders. He admitted, “You get pretty wet when the car kicks up rooster tails in the rain“.
Ultimately, Butch has built a work of art in this ‘29 highboy because the Ford is an original all metal car built by a man who was there twisting wrenches in the classic era of rock and roll and hot rods.
Butch never admitted to any succession plan for the hi-boy. In reality, this car belongs in the Smithsonian Institute as a tribute to the ingenuity, artistry and hard work that went into 50s hotrods.
One problem – they’ll have to pry it out of Butch’s hands.
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