Santa Pod is the home of drag racing in Europe. It’s also the birthplace of Peter Finch’s itch for speed.
After years of suffering Hot Rod Fever, Peter caved-in to the lunchtime daydreaming and thumb twiddling. The spanners were out once more.
We don’t have cars like this in Britain. Maybe a Renault Wind gets you going, but a proper smoking, fire-spitting Hot Rod is the only real way to electrocute your senses. “When there’s a short stretch of clear flat road, you give it a poke and it just lights up and goes.”
The Hot Rod is distilled classic motoring. It offers, as some might say: freshly browned trousers. The whole thing is an event. A special occasion. You open the door, you climb up onto the floor, hold onto the handle and lower yourself into the seat. You have to pre-set the length of the seat belt - little things I know, but those little procedures all add to the experience. If the weather is cold, you freeze your fingers off. If the roads are muddy, you get covered in it. Put your foot on the throttle and the car furrows it’s brow and throws you onward. Look at the open wheels though whilst you’re going and they aren’t just turning, they’re wobbling left and right. The cross-plys have no grip, they’re always the first element to give out - so you’re not going around corners quickly in everyday driving. Keeping the car straight is a proactive effort that needs to be made - for fear of meeting a hedgerow.
This Rod isn’t Peter’s first. He started with a home-built fibreglass bodied 1927 Model T on a home built chassis. More like a kit-car; Peter was able to later swap the body for a 1928 Model A Pickup shape, with an aim to avoid the rain and the cold. “I didn’t really do anything with it so when I was at a car show one day and someone said ‘do you want to sell it?’ I said ‘go on then, off you go and enjoy!’ and he threw me some money.” Seeing the back of that first car made Peter think he’d satisfied the Hot Rod urge. He hadn’t. “About 2 or 3 years later I got an itch, and I had to scratch it.”
To your average punter it seems as long as you build something a bit bonkers, you’ve got yourself a Hot Rod. Maybe: but if you want the true experience you’ve got to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
“It’s my interpretation of a bloke in his garage in 1950 who built himself a sports car. When I built it, I tried to make as much of it as I could, I didn’t buy anything from a catalogue, I thought: ‘what can I find lying around that fits’.”
Based on an Austin 12, Peter’s Special takes the original chassis, planted with a V8 from a Rover SD1. It’s pokey and suits the car’s British origins. The body is built as an ash frame with custom aluminium panels bonded and riveted to the wood. The boat tail offers enough room to go camping, and with that WW2 fighter-styled yellow strip on the tail, makes for a great rear view. “It just makes it look cool. I thought: ‘I’m gonna have some of that!” Peter designed the shape, forms and profiles of the panels with technical drawings. Working with a company called Historic Metal Works, the design resulted in a kit of parts to apply to the car bit by bit.
With these cars, purity doesn’t come from the parts that went into making it. It’s not like your typical classic that needs to remain original to keep it’s value. It’s about the approach, about the spirit of the build that goes into the car along with the fascination for speed that starts everything off. “It wasn’t about aiming for the end result, it was about the process of assembling, fabricating, fashioning and making fit.” Peter’s Hot Rod isn’t just any Hod Rod. It’s a homage to the principals that have inspired him for decades, “I didn’t build it for other people, I built it for me which is why there are lots of unconventional bits on it. It’s an English-built Special but with the American influence.”
This car is a lesson in what you benefit from not having to preserve originality. It teaches you about real authenticity: where the approach to building a car, just like someone back in the 1950s, is more important than the individual parts.