5000 miles, six friends, three cars, and one clutch swap make for an epic Bonneville road trip
The Iron Lords car club is a tight-knit group that favors traditional hot rods. Their idea of a good time is joining a convoy of cars and making the yearly pilgrimage to the racing holy land that is Bonneville Speed Week. This group of six friends from the club have known each other since about 2016 when they met at the Old North State Invitational car show. Sharing a love for vintage race cars, they set out from Concord, North Carolina, and fell in along the way with fellow car nuts from Rolling Bones to create a 20-car caravan of hot rods that look as though they rumbled in straight from 1960.
Of course, making a huge road trip to spectate at one of the greatest racing venues in the world is reason enough to hit the road, but these folks are also competitors. One of the Iron Lords got time behind the wheel of a flathead-powered roadster and is taking on the XF/GR record set by the Jewell Group in 2020.
1932 Ford three-window (Ben Haag and Holly Orel)
This is the second iteration of the car that Haag has built. The first time around was in 2017, when Haag built the car, headed from his home in Concord, North Carolina, to Pennsylvania, and then drove all the way to Bonneville, El Mirage, and back to North Carolina, a 7000-mile christening for the car. Shortly after that trip, Haag rolled the car and smashed just about every panel.
Haag bought a car to replace the coupe but wasn’t sure he’d have it in him to do it all of the work over again on a different car. Then his plans went entirely off the rails amid a cancer diagnosis that landed in the hospital for months. Thankfully Haag had friends, family, and doctors that rallied behind him and he was able to get healthy, get out of the hospital, and return to his beloved pastime of building vintage hot rods.
Haag focused on getting his beloved coupe back on the road. He cut it apart a spent about a year pushing and pulling the metal back into shape on top of a new chassis.
A 292-cubic-inch Y-block was pillaged from a ’59 Ford pickup, given a slight overbore, and put back together with an Isky 505 camshaft, Edelbrock three-deuce intake, and a Mallory ignition. Haag had planned on running a flathead, but ‘50s and ‘60s racers at El Mirage and Bonneville used Ford’s early overhead-valve V-8 as soon as they could get their hands on it, so the latter was perfectly appropriate given the theme of the build. “I was going for a late ‘50s dry lakes car, like the Rolling Bones style,” Haag told us. There was a catch though, Haag had to stretch the hood by about an inch to keep the larger engine from intruding into the firewall.
The plan was to bring the car to the salt in bare metal and then paint the coupe brown afterward. After some consideration, Haag decided to at least spray it in epoxy primer to preserve the body from the harsh Bonneville salt. After spending some time with the car in its flat white state, Haag has a different plan, “I fell in love with it. I’ll never change it now,” he said.
After Haag’s return from the hospital, he opened up Bluefield Vintage Engine Works, a shop that focuses on rebuilding vintage hot rod engines and building traditional-style cars. After spending some time chasing the XF/GR record with Keith Cornell from Rolling Bones, it probably won’t be long before he churns out a race car of his own.
1939 Ford Sedan (Jason and Jake Jacobs)
Jason Jacobs purchased his ’39 Ford sedan in 2016. As best he can tell it had been somebody’s attempt at a hot rod that was built in 1965 or 1966. Unfortunately, the modifications meant to improve the Ford hadn’t been all that successful, but it all worked out for Jacobs in the end. “I pulled the car out of a shed in Mechanicsville, [Virginia]” Jacobs told us. The car’s inspection tags told the tale. It appeared that the car had been parked in 1977. “There was only about 15 miles put on it each year. I figured that was driving to the inspection station and back.” Jacobs deduced.
The car had been stored pretty well, so Jacobs was able to save most of the original paint. The patina tells the tale, as the hood, fenders, and doors still have the original Ford black paint, although the roof has been repainted.
Jacobs is currently a computer network engineer. Prior to that, he was a GM tech and has years under his belt repairing vehicles. He spent about three years rebuilding the car with his sons Aiden and Jake. The trio welded in new floors, rebuilt the suspension, and swapped in a whole new drivetrain. The original three-speed transmission and banjo rear and were swapped for a 1963 Ford Fairlane four-speed and an early Bronco nine-inch axle. The Bronco axle was about an inch narrower than the original piece and had the same 5-on-5.5-inch bolt pattern as the ’39 Ford.
Under the hood, a Chevy 283 small-block was rebuilt to similar specs as a 1961–1962 Corvette. It also dressed the part.
“We did everything ourselves with the exception of the nine-inch third-member,” Jacobs told us. He farmed that bit out to a friend as the trip to The Race of Gentlemen in 2020 was fast approaching. For the latest trip, he and his son, Jake, left their home in Virginia and met up with his fellow Iron Lords car club members in Concord, North Carolina. “It was great until we got to around Missouri and the throwout bearing starting to go bad.” Undeterred, Jacobs pressed on. “By the time we got to Nebraska, it was really bad. I kinda had to Powershift it.” You know it’s a long trip when your markers are entire states. Still, Jacobs carried on with the convoy, which by that point had met up with a huge contingent of Rolling Bones members who had their own traditional hot rods.
When Jacobs and the crew made it to Bonneville Speedway to set up their pit alongside Keith Cornell from Rolling Bones, he finally had time to address the clutch issue and removed the transmission right there on the salt. What better place to work on an old Ford hot rod? “I’ve never been so happy to pull a transmission in my life,” Jacobs told us.
We can report that the trip back to Virginia was less eventful for Jason and his son. They now have more than 10,000 miles on the car, including a trip to The Race of Gentlemen, a trip they plan to repeat in 2021, and are definitely helping the car make up for all the time it spent in that dusty old shed in Mechanicsville.
1932 Ford five-window (Delton and Kelly Russell)
Last November, Delton Russell heard that a friend’s ’32 Ford five-window was hitting the market. The car was just a roller, although it had made slow and steady progress over the past ten or so years. However, the owner’s other projects were getting more of his attention. Due to its condition, Russell almost wrote it off as too nice. “The price tag was higher than what I thought I could afford,” Russell told us. On the other hand, Russell himself had a couple more projects than he didn’t have time for, so he sold two of his own to make room for this coupe in his garage and his budget. He bid farewell to a vintage custom ’56 Chevy convertible and a disassembled ’32 Ford five-window to take on this one.
It was a thrash getting this car ready for its maiden voyage to Bonneville. A new front suspension was installed and the rear suspension was rebuilt. It also got a whole new rear axle.
In true hot-rodding fashion, the car is a conglomeration of parts that help it outmuscle and outdrive an original ’32 coupe. Like the ’39, this Ford is also powered by a Chevy small-block, this time a slightly older vintage. It’s a 1956 Chevy 265 with a later Corvette-spec cam. It’s topped with a Carter four-barrel and mated to a 1939 Ford trans using a ’50 Mercury clutch. From there, power is routed through a shortened torque tube to a 1940 Ford banjo rear axle with 3.25:1 gears.
The parts-swapping doesn’t stop there. The coupe uses ’41 Lincoln brakes, a ’37 Hudson steering box, 682 BLC headlights, and ’39 Ford taillights.
Hudson Joe from the Hornets SCTA car club made the shift knob from a backgammon doubling cube and auctioned it off to help Haag during his cancer treatment. The winning bidder gave it to Haag, who passed it on to Russell as thanks for the help on the coupe.
Even with Speed Week 2021 barely in the rearview, the Iron Lords car club is already looking forward to another pilgrimage to the salt. There are lots of highway miles to cover and there’s always a record that’s waiting to be broken.