SALINA — "Every car has a story to tell," says Gary Gibson. And he should know — he and his wife, Di, own four beautiful Hudsons, including a ’54 Hornet that belonged to his dad and a bright yellow Hudson pickup, as well as a ’57 Chevy hardtop.
But the car that stops most car lovers in their tracks is their one-of-a-kind 1930 Ford six-wheeled panel van. That’s right, it’s a stretched tandem woody painted an eye-piercing green.
And this car actually has three stories.
"This is the third time I’ve built this car," said Gibson, a twice-retired pilot (once with 25 years combined service in the U.S. Army and the Army National Guard, and once after 18 years as a corporate pilot).
"The first time took forever and I had no business building a car. We were young and it was when we were first married and we had no money," Gibson said. He bought the car as a well-worn 1930 Tudor sedan in 1965 and built a pretty nifty street rod out of it. He later sold it to his brother, knowing that he might not come back from a tour of duty as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.
But he did buy the Model A sedan back and rebuilt it a second time. "We put a lot of miles on it and it never hiccuped once," Gibson said. But he had a vision one day when he was stationed at Fort Riley.
"I was walking down a hill on base and I looked back and there was a car trailer sitting next to the Model A and from that angle, it looked like it had tandem wheels on it," he recalled. The idea stuck in his head.
So a couple of years ago, he set about building his tandem six-wheeler. "I needed something to work on and the Model A was getting kind of tired.
"I whacked the rear end off of the sedan. I had done a lot of thinking before I made that first cut," he said.
He stretched the frame a full four feet and had a friend turn down a set of Camaro front spindles to fit inside a 3-inch piece of steel tubing he planned to use as a beam rear axle. To mount it, he had to build a second 4-bar rear suspension, which he equipped with air bags so he could adjust the ride as needed.
"I was afraid there was going to be some excess stress on that part of the suspension," Gibson said. But after a test run at various speeds and a series of sharp U-turns, he saw that the extra set of Cragar Star Wire wheels tracked perfectly. After weighing the car, he discovered each of the four Cordovan 235/75R/15 rear tires only supported approximately 425 pounds.
Up front, he uses the same style wheels running 205/75R/15 Dayton tires and Mustang II suspension/steering.
"The number one question everybody asks is, `Are those rear wheels powered?’ ” Gibson said. "That was more engineering than I wanted to get involved with."
So what’s the No. 2 question he is asked? "Did Ford ever build one of these?" he said. And the answer is "No, they did not build a tandem Model A." So the car is what car guys refer to as a "phantom."
Gibson chose birch paneling to cover the sides of his lengthened Model A, using laminated poplar for the supporting trim pieces. He thought about adding some snappy, clever graphics to it, but in the end decided the beautiful grain of the birch wood was too pretty to cover up.
The wild PPG Hot Licks Get-em Green paint scheme evolved from the bright green upholstery on the racing-style seats that Gibson bought from a west coast tuner-car parts supplier. "I saw those seats in green and thought, `Oh, man, those are beautiful,’ ” he said.
He tried to have the vivid green hue matched with a computerized paint analyzer, but it was Di who found the perfect color on a paint chip chart. Gibson shot the paint himself.
So what makes this unusual street rod go?
It’s a "dead stock" 283 Chevy V-8 that uses a 2-barrel carburetor and routes power to the real differential through an unmodified 2-speed Powerglide transmission.
"Every darned part has a story to it," Gibson observed. "I traded a 125cc Suzuki motorcycle for that engine when I was in Fayetteville."
All of the pieces and all of the stories combine into one unforgettable automobile.