Most show cars lead pampered lives, having been built for the singular purpose of amassing trophies and prize money. Dave Martin’s 1931 Ford, winner of the 2018 America’s Most Beautiful Roadster Award at last weekend’s Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, California, was built to drive. Last September, in bare metal and fitted with a roll cage, Martin ran his car in the 2017 Silver State Classic, averaging 101.5 MPH over the 90 mile course stretching from Lund to Hiko, Nevada.
Martin, an architect by trade, knows a few things about design aesthetics. He also knows a thing or two about hot rods, having been immersed in the culture much of his adult life. Since acquiring this particular ’31 Ford roadster in the early 1980s, it’s gone through a series of revisions – evolutions, perhaps – that brought it to the stage in Pomona last weekend.
Not content to own a hot rod that went fast in a straight line, Martin and Scott Bonowski of builder Hot Rods & Hobbies, in Signal Hill, California, turned to the Indy roadsters of Frank Kurtis for inspiration. The car’s front track was widened for improved handling, and Moal Coachbuilders provided a torsion bar front suspension that fit the hot-rod vibe, yet still delivered excellent handling. Running the Silver State Classic last September was the car’s “proof of concept,” in Martin’s own words.
The annual open-road race (which takes place on a temporarily closed-to-traffic Highway 318) isn’t one to be taken lightly. Since the event began in 1988, there have been five fatalities, the most recent in 2014. Rules have gotten more restrictive over the years, mandating additional safety equipment and driver training, and each contestant runs in a selected or appointed bracket, depending upon vehicle and experience. Course marshals are stationed at checkpoints throughout the course, but the fact remains: Should something go wrong, help isn’t coming quickly.
Tom Malloy at Ed Pink Racing Engines gets credit for building the roadster’s all-aluminum, fuel-injected small-block Chevy V-8, which reportedly makes around 500 horsepower from 401-cu.in. That’s more than enough to put the lightweight car into a faster bracket than the 100-mph class entered, but for Martin, running the Silver State Classic was never about setting a record or even winning the class. Instead, it was about proving that his Martin Special was more than just a show car, and perhaps even more than just a traditional hot rod.
The Mariani brothers’ 1929 Ford Model A, built by Rad Rides, which took home the Al Slonaker Memorial Award.
Per the car’s placard, the chassis features original 1932 rails with a modified center section and the aforementioned Moal torsion bar front suspension. The body is described as “original-ish,” with the current upholstery credited to Elegance Auto Interiors. The visually stunning stainless-steel exhaust was fabricated by Jerome Rodella and Rodella Specialty Fabrication, and the paint was laid down by Bonowski at Hot Rods & Hobbies. In beating out the 14 other finalists, Martin took home a substantial trophy (nearly 10-feet tall) plus a check for $10,000, a sum that’s more than enough to cover entry fees for the 2018 Silver State Classic.
Fred and Diane Bowden’s 1937 Lincoln coupe, winner of the Blackie Gejeian Award.
Mike Garner’s 1950 Mercury, winner of the George Barris Kustom d’Elegance Award.
Other winners of note included the 1929 Ford Model A owned by brothers Mark and Dennis Mariani and built by Rad Rides, which took home the Al Slonaker Memorial Award; the 1937 Lincoln coupe owned by Fred and Diane Bowden, which took home the Blackie Gejeian Award; and the 1950 Mercury owned by Mike Garner, which took home the George Barris Kustom d’Elegance Award.