Time Machine – Mike Lopez Fulfills His Teenage Hot Rod Dreams With This ’31 Model A Coupe
“I was born the son of a hot rodder,” says Mike Lopez. “My dad was an auto mechanic and loved to crush Mustangs and ’Vettes with his faded-red ’47 Ford coupe we called the Pink Ford. Under the hood of this old bomber was an Olds Rocket 88 that my dad spent time building up to be a sleeper, a killer. And me, I was a 7-year-old co-pilot. That’s how cars got into my blood.”
“I bought my first car when I was 14,” Mike continues. “It was a bomb ’31 Model A with a ’50 Merc Flathead. Two weeks before I got my driver’s license, the movie ‘American Graffiti’ came out and I was on it. Cruising! Racing! I wanted to be John Milner.”
Mike readily admits that the Model A was a “death trap.” After driving it a couple of years, he tore it down and began collecting parts for a sturdier rebuild. The project came to a grinding halt when Mike rolled his mother’s beloved VW Beetle while speeding down the mountain road near their home. Mike was unhurt, but his mother was livid! He had to divert all of his money into replacing her Beetle, while the Model A, unfortunately, had to be sold. “It broke my heart,” Mike says.
Other cool cars came and went in the years that followed, including some nice ’60s muscle cars, but Mike always had a soft spot for early hot rods. He convinced his father to buy a ’34 Ford three-window coupe in the late-’70s, which was eventually rebuilt and sold to Mike in the late-’80s, shortly before his father’s death. An opportunity to trade that coupe to its previous owner – the guy who had hot rodded it in the mid-’50s – resulted in Mike owning a Hemi-powered, Brizio-built fiberglass ’32 roadster.
The roadster was cool, but it had two strikes against it. First, Mike’s wife, Christine, didn’t like it. And second, it wasn’t a Model A coupe – the car Mike had been pining for since high school. So, Mike pulled the roadster body off the frame and put it up for sale. And as fate would have it, the roadster buyer just happened to have a nice ’31 Model A coupe body sitting in his yard! Mike couldn’t have planned it better if he’d tried.
In another twist of fate, Mike met Matt Seret of Seret Speed and Custom while loading up the Model A. A talented fabricator and metal man, Matt turned out to be the perfect resource for performing the 4-inch top chop, filling the roof, modifying the firewall, and making the necessary modifications and adjustments to fit the body to the ’32 chassis.
The project had a good head start since the chassis came from a running, driving street rod. When originally built by Brizio, the TCI frame was set up with a 4-inch stretched wheelbase, moving the front crossmember forward to better accommodate a vintage Hemi. It also had a dropped beam axle, a four-bar rear suspension locating a 9-inch rearend, Wilwood disc brakes hidden inside Buick-style finned drums, and other choice components. Mike bought a set of Chrysler artillery wheels to give things a more vintage vibe, wrapping them in 5.50×17- and 7.50×17 Firestone bias ply tires.
The 354c.i. Chrysler Hemi was also good to go. A relatively mild build with dual Edelbrock four barrels, electronic ignition, and Sanderson headers, the engine has plenty of grunt for a small Model A and looks great with those wide chrome valve covers and tasteful detailing. A TH350 transmission makes for easy shifting.
When Matt Seret completed the metalwork, Mike took the body and frame over to Thorsen Auto Body for bodywork and paint. He wanted a timeless, traditional look, so color was an easy choice: black. Red pinstriping by Brad Sarganis on the beltline, frame, wheels, and other select areas added just the right amount of accent.
A similar classic approach was taken inside, where Mike’s Auto Upholstery stitched black leather tuck ’n roll upholstery with red piping over the bench seat and door panels. Stewart-Warner gauges were used to fill the engine-turned dash panel, while the Lokar shifter was topped with an 8-ball. The Ididit column was topped with a banjo wheel.
Mike says that finishing the coupe brought a sense of fulfillment to the Model A coupe hot rod visions he’d held onto since he was a teenager. “I was carrying around this dream of how I wanted it to be,” he says. “And now I have that dream.”
An important part of the process for Mike was sharing the car with his mother. Years after her anger about the wrecked Beetle had subsided, she had a much better understanding of the dream Mike was chasing.
“Shortly before my mother passed away at age 79, she wanted a ride in my car,” Mike says. “She wanted to go fast. Mom put her hand on the dash and we’re off! We came down Highway 37 at 100-plus miles per hour! My mom was smiling. Alive! When I slowed down, she said, ‘I’ll never get tired of that!’”
As for Mike, he describes himself as “64 going on 16” whenever he hops in his hot rod. “Every time I get behind the wheel and turn that key, I look out of that windshield through the eyes of a 16-year-old,” he says. “So, in essence, this is my time machine. My fountain of youth.”
Photos by Damon Lee