1951 Mechanix Illustrated Roadster


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It’s unlikely that any modern magazine would run an article about building your own 100mph sports car for $500, but in 1951 Mechanix Illustrated ran one about how to do just that. The article covered the process of converting a 1932 Ford into this lightweight roadster. The reports of how many were built vary, but the seller of this one suspects it is one of the 17 originals built by the magazine. Reader David C. found it here on Craigslist with an asking price of $8,900.


The eleven page article covered much of the process, but if you wanted more detailed instructions and diagrams you could order the complete plans for five dollars. Digital scans of the article can be found on Hemmings Blog, but we probably wouldn’t recommend building one of these yourself without the plans. Even with plans, we wouldn’t recommend it for those concerned with safety.


While much of this one is original, the engine and much of the drivetrain has been upgraded. It currently is powered by a small block Chevy engine, which is mated to a Muncie 4-speed and a twelve bolt rear end. With a curb weight around a thousand pounds, there is no doubt this would be both a fun and terrifying roadster to drive. We aren’t sure whether this is a bargain or not, but it would be tough to build one for less and what other V8 powered roadsters can you get for $9k?

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  1. joe

    I think the Peterson Museum in Cal. has a car just like this in the lobby..

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  2. Mark E

    Aw crumbs! If it had NOT been updated, it would be MUCH more interesting. As it is, I would expect the owner to have updated to hydraulic disc brakes…

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    • Jesse JesseStaff

      My thoughts exactly. This could be a fun car though and if it were priced a bit lower it could make a perfect BF project car. Perhaps we should just order up those plans and build our own. It’s going to cost a whole lot more to do today though…

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  3. z1rider

    Wow what a face. I have vague memories of cartoon characters based on machines, with human features added. I can see that one sucking up the carpet and everything in a room through that lower mouth.

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  4. Jesse JesseStaff

    According to an online inflation calculator, $500 in 1951 is equivalent to about $4.6k today.

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  5. Guggie13

    I had a friend who started to build one like this , his plan was to put a wisconson air cooled v4 into it , A family came along and he never finished the car sold it 4 parts .he got as far as putting the engine on a rolling frame and was in the process of adapting a 3 speed tranny to the engine ( not sure what make trans was ) .

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  6. DolphinMember

    It’s definitely interesting as an early…..I say this with respect….rat rod, since it’s not just a stripped-down Deuce, and it has simple panels and looks a bit crude.

    The Mechanix Illustrated projects like this were some of the earliest material on rods, along with Road & Track and Motor Trend, which also featured completed home-builts like this sometimes.

    The seller claims that this is one of 17 cars that were built from the magazine’s plans. Maybe so, but for me the important thing would be to get the history of this car, which the seller implies that he has, and if it’s interesting and verifiable, then this could be a good car to own for someone who wants an early California rod. But then you would want to get rid of the SBC and ’70s drag stuff and install a genuine Ford or Merc flathead with dual carbs and finned aluminium heads, like the one shown in the M I article, which most rods had back then. Then you’d have something real interesting to visit the Dairy Queen and bring to the next Show ‘N Shine.

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    • scot

      ~ yea buddy,
      with complete paperwork; shipping ticket, invoice, instructions, etc, it would bring a mint at B-J in January

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  7. bdk

    The SBC is over 600# alone. My guess is that this weighs closer to 1800-2000#.

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    • Horse Radish

      my guess as well. 1ton (metric) is 1000 kilos, not pounds

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  8. Paul

    Yeah looking at this no way it can weigh 1000 lbs…a face only a mother could love.

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  9. J. Pickett

    Even if it ways over a ton, with those skinny tires you can scare yourself or kill yourself easily if you are not careful but it would be a hoot to drive.

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    • Michael

      In the 50,s, 60,s race cars ran those type of tires! Recall the MG-T’series, the Healys, The Allards the Corvettes, According to the SCCA rules, you could only go 1-2/3″ wider than the stock rims–usually 4.5–5.5″ look at the Grand Prix cars!

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  10. ChrisMember

    Love that the original magazine prices the Ford donor car at $45

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  11. Horse Radish

    there is no mention of title or registration,but….
    …on a 1931 chassis, if the DMV would take it as such and not bark, you could just tag it and use it as a cool grocery getter anywhere So Cal, ’til somebody offers you a boatload of money.
    I am sure you’ll get offers anytime you take it out!

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  12. Michael Rogers

    I’ve seen a few of these, one in Santa Barbara, one in the 50’s had a 270 GMC with 5 carbs on a McGurk manifold etc. Needless to say it went like a rocket–then,

    The suspension, rims and tires were typical of hot rods of that era up to the 60’s. There are restored hot rods from the 50’s running the same set up that run at Laguna Seca and other vintage races.

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    • scot

      ~ wow ! that seems incredible !
      i had to goog ‘270 GMC with 5 carbs on a McGurk manifold’. the search returned only one image that i thought pertained to the subject.
      . this car must have been a great accomplishment to build and an absolute thrill to drive. we don’t seem to understand any longer, the depth of passion belonging to those post war home-builders.

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    • DolphinMember

      I was going to comment above that some people might have chosen a GM 270 straight-six or even a Chevy stovebolt six (235 CI) for their Mechanix Illustrated homebuilt, but I didn’t know that anyone had done that. It’s interesting to hear that someone actually did.

      OHV V8s were pretty new in 1951, and mostly mostly still in the expensive cars they were born in like Cadillacs, so if you wanted an OHV mill your easiest and most affordable choice was probably something from GM. Some of the early post-WW2 hot rod catalogs that I have seen offer speed equipment for GM sixes, altho the McGurk 5-carb manifold is a new one on me.

      I think that as soon as the early OHV V8 cars started to accumulate in wrecking yards in the mid-’50s demand for GM sixes in hot rods pretty much ended.

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  13. John Knecht

    I have one for sale. A real barn find. Located in Central New York state. $4,200.00 obo.

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    • gord

      do you still have it? email address, pix, phone number?

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