Model Eh – Canadian Builder J.F. Launier Gets Back to Basics with a Hot Rod Model A Roadster
Sometimes it’s good to get back to the basics. In a hot rod landscape increasingly filled with elaborate computer-designed parts, custom-machined wheels, intricate one-off trim pieces, and sophisticated high-tech fuel-injected engines, we can all use a refresher course in our hobby’s simple origins, a reminder of the fun you can have in a fundamental, elemental hot rod.
J.F. Launier can attest to this – he’s having a ball in his latest build, this old-school ’29 Hot Rod Model A roadster. This is a bit of a departure for J.F., a seasoned Canadian builder who’s been crafting high-end award-winning machines in his British Columbia shop, JF Kustoms, for nearly two decades. His builds have included a Ridler Award winner, a Goodguys Custom of the Year, and many other rides that have earned elite-level accolades. This Model A – or “Model Eh,” in Canadian parlance – is his first traditional, bias-ply, pre-’49 hot rod build.
The car was actually built as part of the Netflix TV series Rust Valley Restorers, featuring J.F. and his mentor, Ken Helm. J.F. says he was excited for the opportunity to work with Ken, to finally build a traditional hot rod, and to mentor his son and nephew on the show in the process. They dug a rough and rusty roadster body out of the weeds on Ken’s property to serve as a core of the project.
In classic hot rod fashion, J.F. elected to use ’32 Ford frame rails as the basis of the car’s custom chassis. It was set up with a dropped front axle located by split wishbones in front, with a Vega-style steering box. At the rear, a transverse leaf spring was used to suspend an early Dana 44 rearend – a choice J.F. specifically made to give the car tapered axle shafts with exposed nuts on the ends. The ’40 Ford drum brakes kept things old school, as did the 16-inch ’39 Mercury front wheels and ’40 Ford rears wrapped in big ’n little Firestone rubber.
As a proud Canadian, J.F. wanted something distinctive to power the roadster. He found it in a Pontiac version of the famed 409c.i. W-engine – a rarity available for a few years in Canada, where Pontiacs used Chevrolet engines. This one was built with aluminum heads, a performance camshaft, and dual four-barrel carbs for plenty of grunt. Factory exhaust manifolds and a custom OEM-style air cleaner enhance the vintage appearance, along with custom Pontiac valve covers. A Hurst-shifted T5 five-speed makes this roadster plenty of fun to drive.
The 90-year-old roadster body required the typical rust repair you’d expect, along with custom floors and other mods to mate it to the Deuce rails. J.F. also removed the door handles, shaved the rumble seat lid, and added a chopped windshield, Deuce grille shell, and ’37 Ford taillights. After getting all the pieces and panels finessed and properly fit, he looked for a paint color that would be both vintage appearing and distinctive. He found it with a custom-mixed Matrix hue somewhere between brown, green, and mustard yellow – a color he affectionally calls “Danny’s Dirty Diaper.”
J.F.’s upholstery color choice was equally distinctive. Rather than a common black, tan, or brown leather, J.F. had Lee Baxter Hot Rod Interiors stitch the custom seat in orange Hydes leather with plaid inserts. It was a bold choice that coordinates well with the earthy exterior hue. The rest of the cockpit is hot rod simple, with Stewart Warner gauges in the dash, a ’40 Ford wheel and column, and custom pedals built from Model A bumper separators.
The roadster was finished in time to compete for America’s Most Beautiful Roadster at the 2023 Grand National Roadster Show – and was probably the only contender to do a 120-foot burnout for the TV cameras before entering the show grounds! J.F. enjoyed more fun in the sun as he cruised the Model A around SoCal during the Goodguys 22nd Meguiar’s Del Mar Nationals and caught our attention for the Goodguys Feature Pick. And while the interest at shows is great, J.F. says his broader goal is to capture the imagination of younger gearheads looking for the same simple thrills chased by hot rodding’s forefathers.
“My hope for this car was to introduce a new demographic to our hobby,” J.F. says. “It’s turning into an older person’s tradition, and I want to encourage the next generation to carry on the love of the craft. This car is built inexpensive and simple so that a younger car enthusiast could follow this lead and reproduce it.”
Photos by Michael Christensen