“Build ‘em! Drive ‘em!” That’s the approach Mike Maddock takes with his Blue Collar Hot Rods.
I’m very excited that GHR caught up with Mike at the “Build ’em” stage of his latest project – a 1923 Model T Roadster. In this article, Mike talks about building the Roadster’s chassis.
“I’ve always been crazy about cars, since I was a kid,” Mike told me. “I grew up building hundreds of model cars, then tinkering on cars in the garage.” He spent a few summers in high school working in a paint and body shop. Eight years in the Army further developed his mechanical and welding skills.
Mike got involved with street rods and hot rods in the 80s, then moved into riding and building Harleys, but a couple of years ago got back to building hot rods.
Although he’s got a high level of expertise now, Mike pointed out that it wasn’t always that way. “I started by trial and error building these things,” he said. Mike’s doing his best to inspire others to do the same. The Blue Collar Hot Rod Instagram bio says “This is proof that you can build cool, budget friendly, fun to drive Hot Rods in your own garage.”
He’s building this Roadster for his son and 12-year old grandson, who spent his spring break with Mike working on the car. As you can guess, Mike’s grandson is pretty stoked about the project. “Every once in a while he’ll text me pictures of a different paint color or different wheel and say ‘Grandpa how about this?’”
In keeping with his Blue Collar Hot Rods motto, Mike’s building it all. He’s fabricating the frame from scratch, designing unique front and rear suspensions, building the engine, doing the body work, and applying the paint.
To build the frame, he started by constructing a steel table, approximately 10 feet long and 4 feet wide. The goal was to have a sturdy, level surface to make sure the frame came out as straight and square as possible.
“I figured out what I wanted my wheelbase to be,” Mike said, “and where my suspension mount points would be.” From those dimensions, Mike determined the overall length of the Roadster’s frame and started placing the 2 x 4 inch rectangular tubing for the car’s chassis. The chassis is 24” wide in front, then widens to 30” at the rear.
Obviously, straight and square are critical characteristics of a good chassis. I asked Mike how he made sure everything was where it should be. “You’ve heard the expression ‘Measure twice, cut once’” Mike replied. “This is measure 3, 4, 5 times before you weld.”
Mike clamped the chassis down to his table using C-clamps, and then check and recheck his measurements, including the corner to corner measurements.
And the welding process itself was designed to maintain the chassis geometry. “Once I got the frame rails straight,” he explained, “I tack welded them to the table before I welded any chassis joints.” Mike also followed a welding tip he heard on a TV show featuring the Ekstensive Metal Works shop. They explained that you should weld the top and bottom beads of a joint first, as the side welds were more likely to cause warping. And of course, he kept checking the dimensions throughout the welding process.
Mike wanted something unique for his suspension on his Roadster. He’s using Speedway Motors’ quarter elliptical leaf springs both front and rear, with the fixed end of the springs mounted inside the frame rails. “The challenge with wanting something different,” Mike said, “is it’s not off the shelf. You have to create it.”
And there’s a lot to consider when creating suspensions. The mounting points were determined by the dimensions of the springs. Mike had to figure out how far in the frame rails to put the springs to allow for the proper travel. That necessitated mocking up the front and rear axles.
Even though he hasn’t purchased the wheels and tires he’s going to use on the Roadster, those dimensions are important for the ride height and wheelbase. Knowing he wanted bigger tires in the back, Mike estimated 30” diameter for the rear and 24” up front.
Mike is using a 4” dropped front axle up front, which is located by Model A split wishbones he found at a swap meet. To get the camber where he wanted it, he had to cut off and re-weld the wishbone ends at the proper angle.
As if leaf springs mounted inside frame rails weren’t unique enough, Mike went even further with the rear suspension. He built the chassis to stop at the back of the body, so as he describes it, “it looks like the rear axle is floating behind it.” To prevent side to side movement of the rear end, Mike fabricated a V-shaped track upper control arm. It was a challenge to make sure the rear end could travel vertically without binding, but not move laterally.
All the suspension fabrication had to take into account the weight of a full ten gallon gas tank, and the weight of the complete engine and transmission. Mike’s going to use a cylindrical aluminum gas tank mounted to the back of the body, and a small block Chevy engine.
To properly locate and fabricate the engine and transmission mounts, Mike used a plastic mock-up engine. “It’s the exact dimensions and has all the accessory mount holes,” Mike explained. “You can mount a water pump, headers, intake, all the accessories to it. Once I had the frame welded up, I took the mock-up engine and set it inside the frame. I got the intake angle at zero degrees, the tailshaft and transmission at three degrees, and then fabricated the mounts and transmission crossmember.”
Mike’s Roadster is based on a stretched fiberglass T-Bucket body from Ron Pope Motorsports in East Tennessee. I’ll The body was just a shell, so Mike fiberglassed in a floor and transmission tunnel made out of ¾” marine grade plywood. He then located four holes in the floor and the frame to attach the body with rubber bushing mounts.
It didn’t all go perfectly. “There’s been plenty of times when I got done with a weld,” he said, “and I thought to myself ‘That looks a little sketchy’ and I got the grinding wheel out and started over.” Mike also told me about the time he tack welded a pair of headlight mounts on the car. He sat back and thought they looked good, but then he realized the mounts would interfere with the front friction shocks. He had to cut off the headlight mounts and, once again, start over.
The status of the build right now is that Mike has a rolling chassis for the Roadster with the engine and transmission mounted in it. His next step is completely disassemble everything so he can finish some of the welds that are just tacked in place now, and smooth out and prime the frame, to get it ready to paint. He’s also going to start the body work, with the goal of painting the car by the end of the summer, and re-assembling and completing the car over the winter.
Mike’s agreed to let GHR check in with him as the build progresses. We’re looking forward to it.
You can learn more about Mike’s Blue Collar Hot Rods through his Instagram account @BlueCollarHotRods, and at his website, BlueCollarHotRods.com.
All photos courtesy of Mike Maddock. Click to enlarge.