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David Martin’s AMBR-winning 1931 Ford has been through a lot. Martin said he drove it cross country “three or four times” before entering it in the Silver State Classic Challenge, a high-speed road race across Nevada where he hit “probably 120 mph” before slowing down to keep it within the 100 mph average speed class for which he was entered. Imagine any other show car, either for this or Pebble or any other high-dollar concours competition, doing that.

“It is so much fun to drive,” Martin said with a grin wider than the increased track width on his ‘31.

The car had a long and eventful life that brought it to the Grand National Roadster Show, hot rodding’s highest honor, held last weekend at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif. There is some photographic evidence that the car ran on the dry lakes long before Martin acquired it in 1982. Since he got it, the car has had three builds, the latest being the one that got it the AMBR. Just before this one it was a bare-metal racer/cruiser, running across Nevada with a full roll cage. To make that iteration both fast and safe, Martin and builder Scott Bonowski of Hot Rods & Hobbies in Signal Hill, Calif. studied the cars of Frank Kurtis.

“Scott had a Kurtis book and I had a Kurtis book,” Martin said.

They both looked at the build style of Kurtis IndyCars of the 1950s to get ideas for this car.

“They ran a lot of torsion bars,” said Martin, which is what they wanted to do with this car. “Anybody can put an F1 suspension on an old car, we wanted to emulate the original.” 

They had help, of course. They talked to a number of other builders about how to do it. They got help with the torsion bar setup from Oakland builder Steve Moal. The 500 hp, 493 lb-ft 401 cubic-inch small block was built by Tom Malloy of Ed Pink Racing Engines. It also has Brodix aluminum heads, Edelbrock intake and a Borla Eight Stack EFI.

That was how it ran cross country three or four times and across Nevada once. Then, according to Bonowski, “He said, ‘You wanna work on the car again?”

Bonowski and crew had four months to get the race car into show shape and enter it in the AMBR class at Pomona.

They were entered in the biggest AMBR class the show has ever seen. Normally the AMBR is open to 12 entries, and some years organizers have had to scratch around to get 12. This year there were 16 cars entered, with one dropping out at the last minute because of a gauge cluster not arriving in time. So there were 15 entries in all, and a good 15. 

Collector Bruce Meyer entered his Doane Spencer tribute car, The Nickel Roadster, a deep black ’32 with unique nickel trim. The Eddie Dye Roadster, originally built for Dye by the Ayala brothers, Gil and Al, was on the cover of Hop Up magazine in 1952. It had been taken apart years before with the parts sold off, but it was reassembled for the Grand National Roadster Show under the guidance of current owner Jim Bobowski. And there was the Elrod Roadster, a 1936 Ford owned by Dana Elrod and built by Dale Boesch of Humphrey, Nebraska.

We got to speak to the Elrod crew, including Elrod and Boesch. They’d been working on the Chrysler Fire Powered roadster for 11 and a half years, according to Boesch.

“We broke for a couple years in ’08 when no one had any money,” Elrod said.

But the rest of the time they worked on the car. There are intricate details throughout, including an air bag suspension that jumps from a low parked ride height to a slightly higher driving ride height when you start the car. The trunk lid opens slowly via electric power, and the interior is festooned with subtle details all working splendidly together.

“We wanted it to scream, ‘Hot Rod!’” said Elrod.

And it did. But the Martin Roadster screamed IndyCar suspension, and a few other things really loud, too. Perhaps a little louder. So the glory went to the Martin car. Martin, an architect (look at the L.A. skyline and you’ll see numerous examples of his work), bought his first car, a Model A, when he was 15 years old. It cost him $25. You could say he’s had a thing for Model As since. Last night, that thing lead to the most coveted award in hot rodding. Congratulations.