“I always wanted an old hot rod,” says Dan Nitcher. But he wasn’t sure he was ready to trade his customized Chevy Suburban for one.
A friend put him on the trail of a black primered 1930 Ford Tudor in Wichita that he said the owner might be willing to swap for his finished Suburban. But before he could get there to look at the car, another friend bought it and took it to Chanute, where he planned to finish the project car.
“For the next six months, I kidded him about when he was going to start working on that car,” Nitcher recalled. Finally, the owner of the old Ford decided to trade it to Nitcher for (you guessed it) his Suburban. He wasted no time starting the project. This was in 2013.
“It was a rough hot rod. The rear fenders had been chopped off in the back and it had these big fat tires and Cragars on it. But it had a neat style to it,” Nitcher said. The top had already been chopped 4 1/2” when he took possession.
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A new set of fenders was located and installed, and excess body filler was sanded out so the body panels could be straightened. Nitcher worked closely with Paul Drake on the body work before turning over the paint job to Drake.
But picking a color was up to the owner.
“Orange is not a favorite color of mine. But when I saw this color in the paint book, it just stuck with me,” Nitcher said. The chosen hue was House of Kolor’s Tangelo, which subtly shifts shades in bright sunlight. The paint job would play a big role in giving the car its nickname, the “Eye Katcher.”
Nitcher drove the car with a spartan interior for about a year, attending car shows and planning to finish it out in current street rod style. But when he attended the Starliner car show in Wichita, he knew the direction he needed to go.
“The going trend was toward the ’60s hot rods,” he said. “So I got rid of the Cragars and went to steel wheels with spider caps and trim rings.” The wheels were Lincoln Continental 5-on-5 bolt and came off the same donor car that contributed the 4-wheel disc brakes and the 9-inch rear end.
Tires are wide whitewall Cokers, 235/75/15 tucked under the rear fenders and 165/15 up front, where a straight axle is used.
Nitcher had decided at the outset to keep the power plant that came in the car, a big 460 Ford V-8, also probably out of the donor Lincoln Continental. It got an Edelbrock intake and a Holley double-pumper 750 cfm carburetor. Power is transmitted rearward by a heavy duty Ford C6 automatic transmission.
The existing custom headers were removed and ceramic coated before being reinstalled, with the collectors routed through the running boards, back to a set of Magnaflow mufflers, ending in custom rectangular exhaust tips.
Inside, Nitcher decided to dispense with the rear seat to allow extra leg room since the big engine had been set back about 6 inches. He built a custom box to cover the gas tank and provide storage. The Speedway lowback bucket seats were reupholstered by Joe’s Upholstery in Cottonwood Falls, which also did the headliner and door panels in high-end pearl white vinyl. An orange horizontal stripe brings the outside color into the interior.
Gauges are TPI-Tech instruments set in the middle of the dash. A 3-spoke steering wheel outfitted with simulated .50 caliber bullets and a Hurst T-handle shifter are the main driver controls, but the car does have power windows.
“A lot of what I did was basically tweaking it,” Nitcher explains.
Morphing from clean street rod to a ’60s custom hot rod required a bit more. So he contacted noted drag racing artist Ben Mitchell in Nowata, Okla., to create a Big Daddy Roth-style caricature of the “Eye Katcher.” Mitchell produced a classic poster but was originally reluctant to apply it to the hood of the Tudor, noting that he doesn’t “draw on cars.”
It turned out great, though, complemented by Shane Zimmerman’s pin-striping, Moon Eyes logos and Von Dutch-style flying eyeballs that pop up in various spots around the car.
All in all, Nitcher has taken an 87-year-old car and rolled the calendar back more than a half century in an automotive exercise that he wasn’t even sure he wanted to undertake four short years ago.
Mike Berry: firstname.lastname@example.org