Icons of Speed & Style
26 September 2009
1931 Ford Model A Pickup "The Grasshopper"
To be auctioned on Saturday, September 26, 2009
Sold for $143,000
- Chassis no. A484515
Talk about rod and custom builders in the Midwest, and Detroit’s legendary Alexander Brothers top the list. Mike and Larry Alexander, better known as the “A-Brothers,” built a procession of impressive and still-memorable show cars in the 1950s to 1960s, including Chili Catallo’s “Little Deuce Coupe”, the famous Hot Rod magazine and Beach Boys record album cover car, and later, a bevy of memorably-named customs like the Dodge “Deora”, the Ford “Alexis”, “The Adonis”, “The Victorian” and “The Golden Indian”. The shop notched three coveted Detroit Autorama Don Ridler awards.
When the custom car craze waned in the late ‘60s, Mike and Larry closed their shop and moved into the world of production cars. Larry worked on prototypes for Ford Motor Company and Mike initially built show cars for the Big Three, then moved to Car Craft Engineering, where he built even more concept creations, principally for Ford Motor Company. Later, Larry became a VP at American Sunroof Corporation where he worked for 30 years.
Surviving A-Brothers customs are rare. Their signature vehicle was a stunning, metallic green ’31 Model A shop truck that was, not surprisingly, known as “The Grasshopper”. The paint color was from a ’49 Oldsmobile. Started in 1957, purchased by Larry Alexander for just $100, it was completed in 1959, and featured in Hot Rod magazine in August 1961, with photography by none other than George Barris. The smart-looking hauler was replete with subtle custom touches, like a 2½-inch chopped and filled steel roof, earlier ’29 Model A fenders, to better hug the truck’s 15-inch wheels, whitewall tires and Dodge Lancer flipper bar caps, a filled and peaked ’32 Ford grille shell, ’37 Dodge truck headlights painted to match, and a gleaming, heavily varnished, mahogany-planked ’32 Ford pickup bed that would have done justice to a Chris-Craft runabout.
Mike and Larry cut a pair of ’32 Ford passenger car ribbed bumpers in half, then inserted hand-fabricated rectangular license plate brackets. A rear gravel deflector was enhanced with a set of early ‘50s Kaiser parking lights, fitted with custom red plastic lenses. The truck’s fashionably low stance was courtesy of a dropped front axle and a modified rear cross-member, supporting a later Ford leaf spring. Inside, a fine green and white tuck and roll Naugahyde interior coddled occupants. Courtesy lights and a radio under the bench seat completed the interior amenities. Under the hood was a basically stock ’51 Ford flathead V8 with chromed exhaust headers. The transmission was a three-speed ’39 Ford. Plated dual master cylinders on the firewall supported the clutch and brake requirements.
After serving as show truck, rolling shop billboard and parts hauler, the truck was sold in the early ’60s to a man in Ohio, who showed it a bit, then it was purchased by Don Boecke in Dayton, who followed the same path until the flathead V8 expired. Boecke removed the engine, transmission and rear end, intending to fit a more modern driveline, but that never happened. Stripped of its running gear, the little green pickup basically sat in Boecke’s garage for the next 32 years.
Mike Alexander always wanted his old truck back. In 2001, he asked noted Cleveland hot rod builder, Barry Lobeck, to see if Don Boecke still had the truck and would sell it. According to Joe Kress, writing in The Rodder’s Journal, Boecke replied that the only way he’d consider selling the truck was to one of the Alexander Brothers. Luckily, Mike Alexander was able to buy his old truck back, but three decades of disuse had taken their toll. When the the Gaffoglio family, owners of Metalcrafters, Inc, in Fountain Valley, CA, a skilled auto industry supplier with whom Mike frequently worked, asked Alexander to do some consulting work for them, he agreed, subject to his bringing along “The Grasshopper”.
The Metalcrafters shop skillfully restored the pickup truck’s body. Its sheet metal was relatively well-preserved, including the original, beautifully peaked ‘32 grille shell, but the frame was not usable, so it was replaced with custom Model A rails. The chromed Bell tubular front axle remains, but the Ford brake drums were replaced by modern disc brakes, and new tubular front shocks were installed. Hairpin radius rods were fitted, along with a monoleaf front spring, for a much-improved ride. There’s a new Vega steering box in place of the venerable Ford unit. In back, Aldan coilover shocks and a late-model 8-inch Ford rear keep the power firmly planted.
The new engine is a bored-out ’48 Ford flathead that’s been ported and relieved, with later style, front water outlet, Offenhauser finned high-compression heads, an Edmunds high-rise intake manifold mounting a pair of Stromberg 97 carburetors, exhaust headers, a modern alternator and electronic ignition. The transmission is a Ford C4 automatic, and the gas and brake pedals are contemporary Lokar accessory items.
Painted with Sikkens Emerald Green enamel, the pickup appears much as it did in 1959. The Dodge headlights are still there, now fitted with Lucas tri-bar sealed beams. Inside, the seatbacks have been rounded for easier entry; there’s a new ididit steering column and complementary ‘banjo style’ steering wheel, and the original Chrysler gauges from the ’50s have been inset into a new stainless steel panel. The wheels are chromed 15-inch rims, reversed in the rear, with baby Moon caps, and whitewall tires. The bed is lined with oak that’s been refinished to a fare-thee-well, and topped with a white tonneau cover, just as it was half a century ago. The restored Alexander Brothers ’31 Model A pickup truck appeared at the 50th Anniversary of the Detroit Autorama, and was a big hit, just as it was back in the day.
The opportunity to buy a rolling icon like this one is a rare happening, indeed. Instantly recognizable from its many previous show appearances, the Alexander Brothers’ “Grasshopper” is a unique example of creative custom work from the golden era of restyling. Subtly updated, in perfect condition, it can be shown or driven anywhere fine custom work is appreciated.
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