True Blue | George Kotevich's Ford Model A Roadster Hot Rod
Words Karlee Sangster Photography Luke Ray.
[ This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 22. ]
George Kotevich is true old school. The 69-year-old has been living and breathing hot rods since his youth in Mosman, NSW. “I have always had an interest in cars. My dad had a 1955 Chevy that he severely customised in 1958 when I was only a kid. I got hooked on hot rods when I saw a channelled Model A Ford roadster parked in George Street, Sydney one Sunday night when I was in the city with my parents, I was about 12 or 13 at the time,” he recalls.
The Highboy you see here has been many, many years in the making.
“I bought it from a friend of mine, Bill McNamara from Avalon, NSW as a stock Model A roadster. That was in 2002, but I stored it for a while as I had already started on a T Roadster build, but after a while I shelved the T and decided to build the Model A,” says George. “I think the condition of the car was the deciding factor in me buying it from Bill, it was almost mint for such an old body. It was a complete car in every way and after selling every part of it that I did not need I actually came out in front!”
Now here’s where the story gets complicated. Rewind nearly four decades. When George was 17, he met Gary Wright, a well known hot rodder from Brisbane. George explains: “I met him at a car show in Balgowlah, NSW in 1965 where he was cleaning his car out in the street in preparation for the show. I was able to get a real good look at it. It was a well-known show and go car at the time, a ‘32 Roadster. Two years later it came up for sale and I was able to buy it. After about a year of ownership I had a bad accident in it and when I rebuilt it I put in a 289 Ford small block and automatic gearbox. I had it for a few more years and then moved on to my ‘32 Ford coupe. That was about 1971 and I was in a hot rod club called the Ramrods.”
George continues: “I was at a swap meet at Heathcote, NSW that the Shifters hot rod club put on every April and this truck came in with a 1932 Ford chassis on the back of it. I immediately recognised it as my old chassis and bought it back. Why? I don’t know! That was in the early ‘80s. I put it in the garage figuring I may use it one day.” Turns out he was right. The original chassis from 19 year old George’s Roadster now sits under his highboy.
“The Model A Roadster I got off Bill had a perfect, rust free, straight body and as I had a good original 1932 Ford chassis, I decided to build a very low Model A highboy. I had accumulated most of the parts over the years so the build started,” he says. “A good friend, Geoff Brown, did all the chassis work, steeled out the body and much of the fabrication. Just the original chassis rails were used, but to get the car to sit so low without channeling the body, the frame was kicked three inches in the rear and two inches in the front, as well as being pinched and pie cut in the front so as to follow the contours of the Model A cowl. The body was in excellent condition, but we totally steeled it out as all Australian built early Fords had wooden frames and were very flimsy,” George explains.
“Another friend, Al Fountain, helped out making the radiator, engine hood and various other parts. The windshield is a Hallock inspired design bought at a swap meet in Seattle, Washington in a rough cast two piece state and was a feature that the car was built around. I rebuilt the engine; it runs a 351 Cleveland, five speed Getrag gearbox with a nine inch rear. The car took about seven years to build and sat as a finished car, but not painted, detailed or upholstered for five years. Then a friend of mine my age died suddenly and I thought time was not on my side, so I took it to Warren and Jarrod at the Toowoomba Hot Rod Shop to finish it off. I am pretty hands on, but am of the firm belief that there is a man for every job. I am a self taught welder, proficient with a spray gun, mechanical work is not a problem at all but body work and general panel work is beyond me.”
Being involved in the hot rodding scene for nearly fifty years has given George a realistic perspective of his passion. His attitude is a combination of practicality and romance, and he isn’t one to argue staunchly for the “good old days”.
“Most car guys are collectors and innovators and improvisers, “ he says. “They can make this fit that and come up with what they want, and that is what it's all about, they are artists in their own way. They all have a parts collection that’s taken years to accumulate that they can call on when an idea for something comes up. I think building cars today can be expensive, doesn't matter how hands on you are. Of course it depends on what you want, how much you do (and can do) yourself, and the quality of the finished product. Materials are far more expensive, but everything is so readily available because of the Internet.
Having a hot rod on the road and being in a club enabled me to form many lifelong friendships with like-minded people both in Australia and overseas. Because it was a relatively small scene, everyone involved knew each other and distance was no boundary, as weekend runs to Victoria and Queensland to see mates and go on rod runs and go to shows were very commonplace. It was a very social scene, probably a bit tighter back then as numbers were smaller than now, but the scene today is really great with something going on every weekend almost all year round.
“I was also very fortunate in the fact that I worked for Ansett Airlines as a Traffic Officer from 1972 until 1984 and this allowed me to travel extensively to the US many times a year. I formed many friendships with older US hot rodders and was able to get access to all the parts and cars I needed. I still have and value these friendships and contacts today.”
The car is registered for everyday use, has been driven to Victoria on three occasions, “A 1500 mile round trip, and it drives very well on the open road,” says George proudly. “I really like the car the way it is. I do have two other sets of wheels that totally change the car's’ appearance and I switch them over occasionally. One set are genuine magnesium Halibrand wheels and the other set are grey powder coated wire wheels with Veda Spec Hubcaps in keeping with the early theme.”
The highboy story is one of absolute luck and coincidence. What are the odds that George would rediscover the chassis from a car he sold almost fifty years ago? If that’s not enough, George has another tale for you: “When I was 17 I used to live in Inverell, a country town in north west NSW, and in a town nearby was a school teacher named Miss Jean Scott who drove a model A Ford Roadster,” recalls George. “When I bought the car from Bill, I was pulling it apart and under the seat was a receipt from the Currabubula General Store for some butter and other groceries in the name of Miss Jean Scott, all neatly handwritten and the amount in pounds shillings and pence and dated in the early sixties. That confirmed it was the same car I knew about all those years ago!”
It seems that George’s highboy was simply meant to be.
Mono leaf front spring, hairpin radius rods. Front brakes are JFZ 4 spot calipers and 11in discs concealed behind ‘48 Ford backing plates so as to appear like drum brakes. Rear end is Ford 9 inch 3.5 LSD Finned Drums, 4 bar, Aldan coil over shocks, home built exhaust system. Has Mitsubishi Galant steering box, Mazda 323 steering column, Stewart Warner Gauges, 80 litre fuel tank.