The Vault

The Imposter

Anne Grinney-Colomban Car Feature Tags: , , , , , ,
The Imposter

By Odgie

So after building the single seater Austin of England, featured in Car Kulture DeLuxe #53, this old head of mine started thinking of new ideas. I tend to follow British rather than American customising history, so my cars end up as specials rather than hot rods, but I figure there are more than enough hot rods to go round, so a bit of good old English tradition can only add variety to the custom car scene. I loved the little single seater, particularly after doing a local vintage car trial in it. That was heaps of fun playing in the mud, but I got special dispensation to have a go. Really, you need two seats and a reverse gear to do trials properly. Hey, must be time for another build then.

The single seater was sold to a good home to fund the new project. I figured I’d recreate its mechanical set-up, though – Honda CX500 motorbike engine, 5.25:1 rear axle, motorbike tyres – since it had worked so well last time. And having pulled styling cues from the Thirties already, I fancied going further back in time and building something Edwardian influenced. I already had a beam front axle, springs, steering column and fuel tank, donated awhile back by a guy I met at the drags one night (cheers, Rob). And I had a 1938 Standard front end I found in a dumpster; it was independent transverse leaf, so not my type of thing, but it did have brakes and hubs, so it was hauled out and hauled home, and had sat alongside the shed for a couple of years. My beam axle didn’t have brakes or hubs, but a bit of machining on the stub axles and re-drilling the backing plates and I made the Standard parts fit on the Austin axle. Then I got four old motorbike wheel rims, hammered all the spoke indents out of them (40 in each rim; my ears were ringing for days), got some steel plate cut into circles, and made my own wheels, 19” so I could use those cheap bike tyres at a measly 60 bucks a time again.

A couple of bits of 4×2 box section made the frame. I cut the fronts at a taper to make them look more like a chassis, then made the bullhorns and spring hangers out of bits of scrap and fitted the front end, along with some riveted plates. An old 1930s Austin Ten rear axle off eBay and some old springs, cut down into quarter elliptics, were fitted to the chassis and axle. The springs locate on the bottom of the axle, then there’s a single fully articulated single link I made up running from the top of the diff to the chassis. I made my own front and rear friction dampers and links from scrap steel, old springs and cheap Austin Seven friction discs.

I bought another Honda CX cheap off eBay and robbed the motor. CXs are a great choice. I got this one for $350 and got $200 back for the rolling chassis. You drop the motor out of the bike and you get a tough, compact engine and gearbox unit, all the necessary electrics, with the radiator already mounted on its own sub-frame attached to the engine, and you just drop it into the chassis rails. Decent torque, 55 horsepower and a 9,500 RPM redline aren’t to be sniffed at in a lightweight chassis, and the V-twin power pulses give much better traction in the mud than a straight four.

To give a reverse this time I used an old Austin Seven gearbox I had lying around and mid-mounted it. It’s another compact lightweight unit, and the two short propshafts I made up connect it between the engine and back axle. I only use it for top (direct drive) and reverse, and use the 5-speed sequential shift on the Honda engine for nice close ratios and quick easy gear changes.

An old Austin cross-steer column fitted a treat when I turned it through 90 degrees, and I made up a drag link and steering arm. I made the braking system using modified Lexus handbrake cables for the front brakes, and my own rod system for the rear, all operated by a cross-shaft and linkage to a homemade pedal. The fronts work on a balance bar and home-made adjuster; the rears adjust individually. I also made and fitted an adjuster on the pedal linkage, so once the brakes are all balanced properly front to rear, it’s just one adjuster to compensate for wear on the linings and set pedal height. Then, you know how it goes, once the main mechanicals are done, you just kinda make the rest of it up as you go along.

I was going upstairs one day and there was a wardrobe on the landing. I asked my landlady about it and it was due to go to the dump. So I took it down the shed and made the front scuttle, floor and seat plinth front out of it. I made the radiator grille out of an old hot water cylinder, and my own two-into-one exhaust system using bits of steel tubing and one of the old Honda silencers. The front lights are old paraffin lamp wick holders (I was lucky to stumble across a matching pair at the swap meet) and bathroom light fittings. The rear light is a cheapo replica oil lamp I got from a junk shop for two bucks, and made a red lens and internal stop/tail light fitting for. I bought some scrap alloy sheets to make up the bodywork (one of which turned out to be Dural, and couldn’t be bloody coerced into any sort of shape). The seats are half-inch steel surrounds covered in alloy. I had the foam cut to size, and got a big length of brown leathercloth for 75 cents at the swap meet to cover them. The seat bases lift off to provide storage underneath – fire extinguisher, inner tubes, tools on my side, flask and sandwiches on me good lady’s.

That’s about it; lots of little stuff like making the brass wheel nuts out of solid hex bar (different internal sizes and threads for front and rear wheel studs), or the rear-view mirror out of an old Indian coffee pot, or making up the switchgear and idiot lights, but that’s the same for every build. Oh, and bashing up some tin covers and brass dome nuts to go over the exposed Honda heads for the genuine fake flathead look.

So me and Miss P entered the next local vintage trial. Hey, let me tell you people, that really is fun! Old cars, crazy folk, muddy hills, the thrill of competition, the buzz of success, the hilarity of failure; what more could you want? We dressed up all British posh from the thrift shops for the occasion and howled laughing all day. We even managed to get up most of the hills. Crikey. And for a first attempt, we didn’t do too badly. First in the Post-War class, and sixth overall out of 24 cars. We even won a bottle of what looked like pink fizz. And in keeping with the ethos, that was an imposter, too – only 5.5% alcohol, a fake plastic wired cover on the screw-on lid, and no bubbles at all. Pretty appropriate really.

There are several web albums of the build process for all Odgie’s projects, including this one. Go to his website,, and use the home page links, or click on Links and Galleries.