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1934 Ford Hot Rod - First In Fiberglass

The Original Flopper Was a '34 Ford Hot Rod

By Dave Wallace Jr., Photography by Don Hale, Petersen Publishing Co. Archives, Roy Robinson

Hearing John Force talk about his "ol ' hot rod" makes us wonder whether the mighty Force appreciates the close connection between his 21st-century flopper and a chopped '34 Ford built by a young hot rodder half a century earlier. Actually, Jim Lytle built his hot rod twice, using the same frame and powertrain. The only difference was its second body—and what a difference that body was destined to make, eventually. Working alone in his garage, Jim invented the one-piece, lift-off, fiberglass body in late 1963. Nobody seemed to notice until Lincoln-Mercury unleashed the controversial fleet of '66 Comet Calientes usually credited, erroneously, as the first fiberglass floppers.

Lytle 's two-stage project dates back to 1961, when a San Antonio buddy 's dad mentioned that the local airport had a couple of WWII-era Allison war bird engines. One turned out to be the rare, left-rotating Model 113 that briefly found favor with dragster racers and fans in the '50s, before NHRA outlawed aircraft motors. Offered a complete P-38 powerplant—for which GM charged the government $16,500 in 1940 dollars—for 100 bucks, the kid dropped plans to install a hot Buick V8 in his chopped sedan and determined, instead, to drop in the Allison V12.

He got it running just in time for AHRA 's '62 Nationals near Dallas. Geezers who were at Green Valley that weekend will remember the loud, all-steel sedan that filled up with death smoke mid-track, frying its single-disc truck clutch en route to a laughable 77-mph top speed. Undeterred, Jim studied the two- and three-disc systems bolted behind aircraft engines by the Arfons brothers and mentor Lee Pendleton. Then he went them all one better by building what 's believed to be drag racing 's first four-disc clutch, encased in a 14-inch-diameter torque tube that also contained the flywheel, throwout bearing, and pinion gear. The new combination ultimately rewarded its builder with a 10.56-second, 147-mph Lions Drag Strip timeslip in September 1963. Later that same day, a chance encounter with a pit vendor convinced him to park the world 's fastest sedan.

"At those speeds, the volume of air compressed inside the body was tearing it up," Jim recalled in a 2006 interview. "I lost the hood once, and the right door came open twice, at about 145. I got tired of fixing it. I 've always hated doing bodywork. I felt that the car had just about reached its potential, anyway."

Noticing a display of Fibercraft fenders in the pits, Jim asked owner Fred Karow whether it was possible to create an entire '34 sedan out of fiberglass. Fred assured him that it was, offering to sell the cocky kid materials at cost and answer any questions. "I retired the steel car that same night so I could make a mold out of it," Jim said. "I really had no choice; a draftsman making 120 bucks a week couldn 't afford to buy another '34, even at 1963 prices. Besides, the top was already chopped [6 inches]. I decided later to cut the other 6 inches so I could lower wind resistance and pop my head out the roof, where I could see."

By Dave Wallace Jr.
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