Melbourne to Motor City: Craig Metros' Model A Hot Rod

Photography: Luke Ray.

As I write this article, my 1931 Model A is on a boat somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean along with everything else I possess in the world. After more than eight years of living and working in Melbourne, my wife and I have returned home to the Motor City.

I think about the satin black traditional hot rod sitting in its container aboard that ship and I’m happy to know I’m bringing a three-dimensional slice of my life in Melbourne to my home, Detroit.

It’s the memories that it triggers, a reminder of the people I met, became friends with, and their help and talent that went into that car that eases the sadness of leaving.

In September of 2005, I was asked if I would be interested in moving to Australia for two to three years. I accepted immediately and was based in Melbourne by early 2006. Besides having crossed paths with a couple of Melbourne colleges in the past, I didn’t know anyone and really felt the extreme distance from my family during my first few months.

The one thing you do gain when you leave friends and family behind is that precious commodity; time. I chose to use that extra time to exercise and create more art. The one thing I never anticipated while in Australia was to purchase an early style hot rod.

I grew up around hot rods and it was always on the list under, “some day”. In early 2008, I decided to get serious regarding a purchase after I received news from home; a former classmate of mine died suddenly of a heart attack. It was one of those ‘life is short’ moments. I guess it was a combination of that news, the people I was surrounding myself with in Melbourne and a healthy car culture in Victoria that turned the, “some day” into, “right now.”

I started browsing early Ford open wheeled hot rods online. Originally, l was looking for 1932 coupes and roadsters until I realised Model As better suited my budget. Balanced proportions, Henry Ford sheet metal, and a Ford Flathead were elements for which I held out. Not long after the sad news, I found a chopped and channelled , Flathead powered ’31 Model A coupe on the HAMB web forum. Its proportions caught my eye along with the other specifics I was looking for. Not only was it my first time buying a hot rod, it was the first time I purchased a car from images online. I had no idea how the motor ran, how the car drove or if it could even stop. I figured if the proportions were nailed, all the other problems could be fixed.

I purchased the car from Washington State at a time when I wasn’t sure if or when I would be returning to Detroit. My thinking was if I needed to suddenly return to my home town, I could easily sell the Model A in Australia. Maybe even make a few bucks.

Once I received the car, I realised the proportions actually looked better in person. It did, however, have other issues. Essentially, the car was incomplete and missing half of the floorpan. Given the strict Victorian Vehicle standards compared to the US, my car was never going to see a Victorian registration. It was much easier to purchase permits one month at a time.  

Allen Stewart was a huge help with some of the initial issues including finishing the floorpan and fabricating lake pipes to replace the 400mm short straight pipes. He also custom built the new lower seat structure to compensate for the five inch chopped top. Ben Thomas from Rancho Deluxe dropped the motor and trans back in the car after the gearbox was rebuilt. He also reconfigured the front suspension and steering, custom made the side exhaust and put the car back on the road. Inside the cabin, he painted the ’36 dash panel, installed a vintage Stewart Warner tach, and installed a ’32 Ford handbrake. The original A Model cowl panel looked like swiss cheese before Nick Eterovic began welding countless random holes. He also handmade the sheet metal glove box door. Shayne Stewart was always a motivator and helping hand from pulling the gearbox when it needed rebuilding to fabricating the stainless steel radiator sleeves. Shayne and Mike Mills taught me how to weld. Mike was also my 5am swap meet wing man.

Without these guys, the car wouldn’t look and function as it does today. Nor would I have had the memories, the laughs, and the camaraderie.

While, I am looking forward to seeing family on a regular basis and catching up with the friends I left almost a decade ago, I find myself struggling to leave Australia and more importantly, the incredible people I met and became close friends with.

Once I received the call regarding my repatriation, my thoughts immediately turned to the car. Making the decision to take the car was an easy one.  

From the initial pick up day at the shipping depot six years ago to the last few weeks leading up to my departure, professionals, non-professionals, colleagues, friends, friends of friends, and people I barely know have lent a hand. The car has become a reflection of my time, experiences and relationships I made in Melbourne. Just as important, I’m looking forward to sharing those experiences and the car with family and friends back in Detroit.

This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 17.

Follow Craig: @craigmetros.