How The Grasshopper Was Built...Again
Many of us gearheads can remember building models as kids. When I was growing up, some of the big deal favorites included the Black Widow T and a show car called “The Green Hornet.” Not to be confused with the television show car, this one was based off a Ford Model T show-and-go rod of the famed Geraghty and Crawford. The real car, dubbed “The Grasshopper,” was featured on the cover of Hot Rod magazine in October of 1959 – and my guess is this model changed the name, so as to avoid paying royalties.
Building models is one thing, and for some of us the closest we’ll ever get to our dream cars - but for Dave Shuten of Galpin Auto Sports he gets to bring these long lost icons back to full-scale life! Originally built by John Geraghty and John Crawford, the Grasshopper T was built to showcase Geraghty Automotive in Eagle Rock, CA. When it was all said and done, the car came out a serious showstopper. The 1915 Ford Model T roadster was built with no cost spared in the paint, chrome, fabrication or speed equipment. After the show circuit, the car made appearances in the TV show “The Many Lives of Dobey Gillis” and various car shows before it was parted out to various shops where panels and parts were hung up as collectibles.
When Galpin Auto Sports decided to take on the task of recreating The Grasshopper, Dave Shuten jumped at it. He knew the car well and loved the idea of recreating it. Not only was he going to recreate it, he was going to showcase it at the Grand National Roadster Show (GNRS) and put it in contention for the prestigious Americas Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) award.
Dave is no stranger to car shows and prestigious awards, and he has an arsenal of amazing builds under his own belt, including the "Iron Orchid" and Big Daddy Roth’s “The Mysterion.” It’s a lot to take on a recreation of such an amazing car. When was the last time you saw a fully chromed motor, not to mention a full-race Olds motor with the rarest-of-the-rare speed equipment from the ‘50s? But Dave’s a renaissance man through and through, so before a bolt ever gets turned he goes into full historian mode in order to plan out the build.
This starts with digging through archives and immersing himself in the original build; he finds pictures, any literature and as much info on the car as he can in order to build it as accurately to the original as possible. In The Grasshopper's case, the build was well documented by the story and shoot Hot Rod magazine did in 1959, and luckily, they still had all the photos in their archives. With these in hand, Dave had something to go off of for measurement and accuracy of parts. Dave set up his war board in the shop with reference materials and to-do lists, which help get it all done. (I know that from experience.)
Knowing what the parts are is taking a large step in the right direction, but that’s only a small percentage of the battle. The real hard part is sourcing the rare speed equipment that was used in ‘58-59. Enthusiasts of any genre can relate to this – whether it’s a rare Mugen part from ‘90s tuning days or even waiting for that intake you want to be fabricated for your brand new 2016 Camaro. The further back you go in decades, the harder it is to find that part - some of this stuff just isn’t around anymore and you are up the creek without a paddle.
This brings me to the awkwardly close-knit community of the hot rodding world. Things like the body and motor are easy-as-pie to find, it’s the little things that are the hen’s teeth of it all. Things such as The Grasshopper’s necessary Cadillac Lasalle Hurst bell housing. Once Bob Bleed of Midwest Fabrication found it out in a pile of parts in the snow, it had to be dug out in the dead of winter for Dave – but that’s what friends do. Word of mouth and a few phone calls leading to a good fellow going out of his way for another and finding it.
Other parts that can’t be found easily by the ordinary enthusiast is the Tom Beatty blower intake for a 303 Olds motor. The blowers are easier to find than the items that make them work, as I explained in my earlier Blower article, and all Dave had was the blower. Luckily, a good friend in Massachusetts was willing to part with his intake, along with the snout and a few other odds and ends costing more than their weight in gold.
Some parts had to be fabricated from scratch by Dave because of their scarcity – things like the 8-groove v-belt pulleys are things long gone and had to be made. After the lengthy process of gathering the essential parts together, the build is mocked up. The motor and aluminum parts were sent out for plating and polishing, then shipped to Ross Racing up in Ohio to assemble the full race Olds 303 motor.
This beast of a motor is beyond special, the basics on it are as follows. It’s a 1949 Oldsmobile 303 motor punched out to 461 c.i., balanced & blueprinted, Tom Beatty- equipped 471 blower, dual WCFB carbs, dressed with Weiand valve covers and NOS Vertex magneto. Everything is chromed and polished to the hilt then mated to a 1937 Lasalle transmission, pushing all that love to the rear tire with the help of a real Halibrand “Culver City” quick change. That’s a mouthful!
When the things that shift and bang were away for building, it was finally time for Dave and Manuel Lopez to get back to the body. All metal and chassis work were done to today’s high standard of perfection in order to compete for such a prestigious award as the AMBR. Everything was checked and massaged countless times before spraying primer and working out the final block sanding prior to paint.
John Geraghty laid the original paint for The Grasshopper and the stripes and numbers were laid by the master of the time, the famous Von Dutch. It was only suiting that another paint master pick up the gun and spray the candy green over metallic gold; his name is Daryl Hollenbeck from Vintage Color Studios in Concord, CA. No stranger to show cars, Daryl usually has six or more cars he paints debuted at the Grand National Roadster Show each January. He is a hard worker and a perfectionist to the highest degree. It was a no-brainer for Dave to get Daryl to shoot it after the outstanding job he did on the Iron Orchid ‘34 Ford they did just nine months prior for the Riddler Award.
Once the pallets of parts came back from Advance Plating in Tennessee; the motor and trans came back from Ross Racing; and the body and frame were picked up from paint, it was time for final assembly of the car. The shop looked much like a surgeon’s operating room – no grease-covered tool here, it’s all white gloves and concentration taking the utmost care and love to put the whole car together. Three days before the GNRS and AMBR, the car was finished and fired up. Dave almost didn’t know what to do having the luxury of three more days to sit with and really work the final appearance of the car before getting judged. Usually builds like this will take you up to the wire, this just goes to prove the amount of experience and professionalism Dave has.
Finally on display for the world to see at the Pomona Fairplex, The Grasshopper recreation was very well received by spectators and judges alike. There was always a large crowd around it and it was awarded with best motor in its class. From there, it went on to hit the show circuit and garnered more trophies at Starbird’s show in Oklahoma, the Detroit Autorama, and even appeared at Amelia Island’s Concours.
You can see it now down at the Galpin Auto Sport collection in Van Nuys, CA off Roscoe Blvd. Dave got a special surprise from his friend, Eric Geisert, who found John Geraghty and brought him to see the car. John was amazed in his own way at how correct the car was and told Dave he still had a few parts to the original sitting in his garage… including the pulleys Dave fabricated.
Archive photos courtesy of Galpin and Hotrod Magazine
Motor and trans: Ross Racing Engines
Chrome: Advance Plating
Paint: Vintage Color Studio
Owner Beau Boeckmann, Builder Dave Shuten of Galpin Auto Parts