The Hot Roddin' Truck - 1938 Ford COE
- 1938 Ford COE (cab over engine)
- Chevy 350 bored and stroked to 383 cubic inches
- 500 cfm carburetor
The Trailer - Featuring Real Brick Oven!
- Giant brick oven, gas assisted pizza oven
- Built-in serving stations
- Self sufficient
- Sleeping area
Hot Rod Magazine
Larry Wood's 1938 Ford COE and Vintage 1951 Spartan Trailer
Written by Eric Geisert on April 10, 2015
It's been a dilemma that has befuddled anyone who has taken any amount of time to try and figure out. Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Arguments for each side of the case reach back 2,300 years, as even Aristotle took a crack at solving the conundrum.
But Larry Wood, a retired designer living with his wife, Shirley, in Redondo Beach, California, might have worked out the answer to a similar question though, at the time, he wasn't really trying to.
Calling Larry Wood a "designer" is like calling da Vinci a sketch artist. The 71-year-old read Hot Rod magazine in high school and drew cars whenever he could instead of studying math. Drawing cars turned out to be a good thing for Wood, as he went on to graduate from the renowned Southern California–based Art Center (before they added "College of Design" to their name in 1965).
From there, he went to work at Ford Motor Company, but moved back to California to work for a toy and doll company, but not just any toy and doll company. Mattel was still riding high on its success of its Barbie doll line dreamt up by the wife of founder Elliot Handler, and he had just started up a new toy division called Hot Wheels, with its head of design being famed automotive designer Harry Bentley Bradley. Bradley soon quit Mattel after Hot Wheels launched, and a friend of Larry's (who had worked with him at Ford) recommended that he come in and design the 1:64-scale die-cast cars. It was a dream job for Larry and something he would continue to do for the next four decades, which is why he's widely known as "Mr. Hot Wheels".
During his 40 years at Hot Wheels, and among the hundreds of cars he designed, Larry penned a miniature COE (cab over engine) truck and trailer, and thought to himself that it would be a cool project to see in 1:1 scale someday. By the time he retired in 2009, someday had arrived, and he began looking for the components for the project.
The big question for Larry (his own chicken or the egg quandary) was what to get first: the truck or trailer? As fate would have it, Wood located a spectacular 35-foot-long '51 Spartan Royal Manor trailer in Michigan. He spotted a picture of it on the Internet, and found someone had converted it to a fifth wheel configuration back in the '70s.
Figuring that some of the hard work was already done, Larry had a friend tow it from Michigan to Larry's shop in SoCal so he could begin some design work. Spartan Aircraft Company, founded in 1928 by William Skelly (of the Skelly Oil Company), eventually expanded into the trailercoach business after J. Paul Getty bought the company in the late '30s.
After World War II, Spartan used its expertise in crafting aluminum skins for their airplanes to create opulent travel trailers, a unique sight in its day as the country's Interstate highway system was just being developed. Spartan trailers had many of the same appointments of a house and, in later years, the company would eventually develop a line of mobile homes, too.
Not really a fabricator, Larry nonetheless dove into repairing and hot-rodding the behemoth. New dropped trailer axles were added (along with new electric brakes) and a set of 15-inch steel wheels (covered with Moon discs) replaced the vintage split rims. Learning how to rivet, Larry replaced some of the exterior panels found below the rub rail, and created a bellypan that would help hide the new water and sewer tanks. Also found under the trailer are twin 6V batteries, as well as two propane tanks, though the 110 and 12V inverter and charger are located under the seat.
The interior was gutted (much of the original wood had been painted over), though some of the original floor remains while other areas were recovered with linoleum. Wood reconstructed the cabinets out of birch, custom cutting and milling each piece. The only original interior piece reused is the sink. Toward the front of the trailer the bed frame will lift for access to storage.
Larry also added an overhead television and an entertainment center, which houses all the usual suspects (DVD player, hookup for cable, and so on), and a new stainless steel handrail was added to aid access to the elevated bedroom. Also on the back wall is the stereo, which puts the sound out through six speakers located throughout the trailer. New front windows, made from Lexan, are highlighted by new curtains (something you won't find in too many hot rods).
While the work on the trailer continued, Larry started looking for the other part of the equation: the truck. He was able to track down a likely candidate, a '38 Ford COE, in Placerville, right off Highway 41. He had the bed cut off, then the truck delivered, and soon more designs were put to paper.
Larry used a P-30 Stepvan chassis for the truck, and its engine location moved back and then down before the frame was powdercoated. A Dana 80 rear (4.11:1) was narrowed for the chassis, and the 10-lug brakes were adapted along the way. The P-30's front suspension was lowered, and two power boosters work with a handmade pedal assembly.
Though the exterior fuel tanks that are seen on the truck (under the sleeper) are just for decoration, four other hidden tanks provide a 100-gallon fuel capacity. Polished Alcoa 19.5-inch aluminum wheels are located on each corner and wrapped with 31-inch-tall 225/70 rubber up front and 32-inch 8R tires in the rear.
Motorvation comes in the form of a Chevy 350 bored and stroked to 383 cubes, with parts partially consisting of a SCAT crank and an RV cam. Two electric fans cool the custom radiator, and an Edelbrock Performer manifold is home to a 500-cfm carb that Larry feeds with regular gas.
MSD ignition is also used on the engine, and Larry fab'd custom brackets in order to keep the accessories under the narrow engine cover. A 4L80 transmission bolts to the back of the engine, and an emergency brake is located off the back of the trans rather than at the rear of the drivetrain. A controller for the CompuShift aids in automatically shifting the gears, and the Lokar shifter arm is located above the engine's air cleaner, with 5 feet of cable running down to the transmission.
After he designed what the truck would look like, Larry tack-welded the pieces he wanted together, and then brought in Scott Tupper of Wicked Concepts, who was a designer for Hot Wheels for eight years. Tupper has hands-on experience fabricating parts and building cars, which was needed on this project as the body was lengthened 6 inches by using two cabs and two sets of doors. The sleeper section was narrowed 12 inches to fit the cab better, and a custom rear window was also installed.
Larry used sheetmetal to create the truck's bed, adding storage above the rear wheels for a generator, an E-Z Up, a barbecue, tools, and a jack. Larry also made the rear bumper from stainless before adding the LED-type '39 Ford taillights, and a '49 Chevy bumper (with hidden bolts) was used up front.
He then moved to the cab's interior where he made a new dash and console out of aluminum, with the dash being filled later with Classic Instruments gauges and an Alpine stereo with Kenwood amplifiers and 6-, 8-, and 10-inch speakers. Once Tupper finished up the custom metalwork and bodywork, Gardena Auto Body painted the truck with PPG paints following Larry's design.
On top of the cab is the air conditioning and heating unit, and all of the truck's wiring was done by the owner. Wood also designed the interior of the truck, and covered most of it with heavy tweed, as he felt it would be best suited for heavy use, and the cab's carpet is outdoor-style from Home Depot. Seating was derived from a pair of buckets seats from a Toyota Camry, and a Lecarra steering wheel tops a tilting column from Flaming River.
Since the truck was finished and hooked up to a restored trailer, Larry has taken the combo to a handful of small events around Southern California, and he reports, "At 70 you don't even know the trailer is there." He's also found he'd like to have a few more horsepower, so a turbo may be it the COE's future because, at a combined truck-and-trailer weight of 13,000 pounds, any extra power would be a good thing! And, as Larry eventually found out, it isn't really a question of which came first. The answer is: When you have both, a trailer and something to haul it with, you have the best of both worlds.