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John Buttera white 29 Model A Hiboy

alan barton

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I have been slowly building up a collection,  a timeline if you like, of significant 1929 Model A Ford roadster hot rods.  The full sized red one in my garage means I am a little biased in this regard.  I have already built the Niekamp roadster, the Tony Nancy Buick roadster, the Bud Bryan flathead roadster and have a bunch of others planned.

This thread is to follow the build of my rendition of the John Buttera white roadster that debuted in 1976, yep, 45 years ago!  It was the car that singlehandedly kicked off the billet smoothy movement, a style often berated by contemporary “old school” rodders.  I get this to some degree because the billet era evolved into some very tacky, tasteless and overdone cars but the one that started it all was in fact, an extremely traditional car!

In the interests of full disclosure, this model has been finished for a few months now.  I started the build at least four years ago but never detailed it on here at the time because I knew it was going to be a very long term model and I have no shortage of stale W.I.P.s on this forum!  In recent years I have spent many weeks away from home working on remote mining sites in the Australian outback.  This is the model I took with me to work on in my mining camp accommodation (usually just room for a bed, a small desk and a bar fridge!)  Because there was a massive amount of fabrication involved before any actual assembly took place, it was the ideal project to travel with. Airport baggage handlers are expert at dismantling any assembly that you might have done!

It was a tough car to research.  There are at least two white John Buttera roadsters plus a red one as best I can tell, built for John Corno, but these cars seemed to have had significant changes to wheels, tyres, upholstery and even frames and suspension at different times in their evolution. There are surprisingly few photos on the net.   I had three magazine articles on the roadsters, but I appear to have accidentally misplaced two of them since I started the build.  The one I still have handy, Rod Action August 76, shows the car when it was brand new and it has some features that you would never associate with a high tech car, especially the huge, overstuffed, maroon velour front seat – I kid you not.  So this is a long winded way of saying that I decided to build a tribute car, embodying the features of all three that particularly appealed to me and adding a few touches of my own.

Here's a few photos I borrowed from the net so you can see what I was aiming for.


rear buttera.png

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The most distinctive feature of the car to my eyes is that the rear wheel arches were moved forward at least four inches. The front axle was pulled forward a similar amount and this gives the car a ready-to-pounce appearance that really appeals to me. I spent a lot of time pontificating on whether to use the AMT or Revell 29 roadsters body.  I finally settled on the AMT but now that it is finished I will say that the Revell might have been the better choice. The body swage marks on the rear quarters are getting very faint on the AMT body and the removable wheel wells of the Revell would have lent themselves to the forward movement of them but at the time I liked the shape better and did not want to ‘waste” the nicely rendered windshield setup on the Revell so the AMT version was chosen.

I measured about six mm ahead of the leading edge of the wheel well and made a vertical cut. I then cut up around yet below the rear swage mark and then straight forward horizontally.to remove the wheel well. I then trimmed 4mm off the front of the removed section of quarter panel and glued to back into the body, reinforcing it with scrap styrene from the rear of the joint.  I also sanded the body moulding that runs down the body on either side of the trunk lid opening – on a real roadster this is a T shaped moulding that can simply be unbolted. Stretched sprue was inserted into all handle holes and glued with superglue. The seat opening was massaged as there are a lot of mould lines and clumsy transition in this area and the nature of my planned interior was going to expose them.

A thin strip of plastic was filed and sanded to shape to represent the trim panel over the top of the dash.  I believe the first car used stock Model A but the Corno roadster used a 34 Plymouth item if I remember correctly so I went with that style for my build.  I also made a dash from a flat piece of styrene with a long, narrow oblong slot cut and filed into it for the planned digital dashboard.

A piece of 1mm styrene was marked out and cut to make a snug fitting floor panel for the roadster body.  At this stage it was the full length but you will see from later photos that I eventually removed the section around the rear axle to allow more clearance of the low riding suspension.

A piece of square styrene had a slot sawed in it to accept the windshield later on and was then glued to the top of the cowl.

I also added a flange to the leading edge of the firewall, filled the tank to cowl seam and removed the door hinges.  Buttera did not remove his but I though it added to the slick white look.









Edited by alan barton
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Now that I had a flat floor surface to work against it was time to build up a frame.  I wanted to use a fabricated style of frame rather than a stock Deuce style as the white car ended up on later in its life. I started with an AMT 32 Vicky/Phaeton frame.  The entire floorboard section was removed, the frame horns were flushed off with the front crossmember and the rear section beyond the frame kickup was removed entirely. I then fabricated two simple square section crossmembers to keep the frame spread apart at the correct width to suit the Model A reoadster bodies – all AMT Deuce frames are narrower than stock anyway.  The car is destined to receive a full bellypan so time was not wasted on details that can not be seen when completed.  Having a strong stable frame was far more important.

I knew from previous experience that with scratchbuilding and extensive modifications, consistency is everything so I drilled three tiny holes through the floor and into the frame. Cut down pins were glued into the frame holes so that the body could be removed and replaced knowing it would go back in the some place every time. This one step saved my bacon countless times during the build!

The next step was to fabricate a rear frame section.  As I had cut the step up from the Revell Model A frame in my pink 30 coupe from last year, I chose to fit this to the Deuce frame, giving me a set of mounts for the coilover shocks as well as a significant Z-ing effect. This was probably the simplest part of the frame fabrication!

Frame before and after.JPG

2018-04-09 20.59.09.jpg







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Your wish is my command, Bill!

The enxt distinctive feature to attend to was the louvered belly pan.  I had this louvered hood in my stash which I have wanted to use for ages. I recently discovered it was off some sort of small car like an Omni or a Chevette or something like that.  The light grey plastic suggests AMT but that's as much as I know.

I placed it against the frame and traced it with a pencil and then cut it to a rough shape with a pair of scissors.  That plastic is soft!  I then spent a long time, one stroke of the file at a time, to get it to be a snug fit inside the frame rails.  In some shots you might see the small blocks of plastic that I glued onto the inside of the frame rails to ensure that the pan always went back into the same spot on the frame.  

I then needed to address the area around the rear axle, or diff as we call it.  I found in my scrap box the corners off the rear of the Revell Attempt 1 kit and set to to graft these into place.  other gaps were filled with scraps of styrene.  This took a silly amount of time to perfect but it was an important feature of the car and I just had to persevere.








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The first car had an open rear end but I am certain that the Corno car had a rollpan.  I had spare rollpans from my Niekamp build from thirty years ago.  One of the really fiddly parts of the car, I had to notch it for both the rear of the quickchange and the coil-overs.  Sand, glue, file, putty, cut off, reglue, file, sand putty - you get the idea.  I also cut out and boxed in a recess for the number plate as well as some slots for the taillights. 




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The rear axle came from a most unlikely source, the Revell 41 Willys Pickup/Henry J/Austin chassis.  I had to fill all the holes form its original application and then manufacture brackets to attach the triangulated four bars and coil-overs.  I chose it because it had a sturdy look to it. Being so embedded in the belly pan and roll pan it didn't need the fine web and bolt detail that appears on other kit quick-changes.  I added some unknown disc brakes and a metal axle through the middle for strength.

The four bars are made from Evergreen plastic rod and tube.  With some careful manipulation I glued them onto the rear axle in such a way that they became a part of the axle assembly but could be gingerly inserted through the holes in the bellly pan.



20191107_120201 (Small) (2).jpg

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Hi Alan!

Great project, and we can see that you paid close attention to the subject even before starting. Mr. Buttera's car were full of clever ideas, yet, so "smooth", you'd tought they were "simple". Quite the contrary. 

Great start, keep on. This thing was an icon. You will nail it, for certain!


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You could knock me over with a feather, Larry, I had no idea the car had featured in a show!

And Claude, you are dead right when you say "simple"!  One of the most complex rods I have built and yet such a simple design.  There lies the genius of Lil John's design.

It turned out that building this car was very sequential, if that makes sense.  Everything affected everything else so a lot of planning took place before anything was made.  The exception to that was the front suspension - I just couldn't find a way to pre-assemble these parts so had to do it as nearly the last step - only the windshield came later because it could have been knocked off while setting up the front end.

The only photos I could find of the interior were of the original car and it just wasn't to my taste at all. The bulky maroon velour bench seemed at odds with the whole concept of the car, as did the Dodge van dash. The much later grey slate square block pattern upholstery didn't do it for me either.

I couldn't find any photos of my construction of the seat but I started with the custom rear seat from the nineties version of the AMT 57 Fairlane.  I took about 6mm out of the middle of the seat then re-joined it and smoothed off the centre section.  The sides also took a lot of trimming - compare the width of a 57 Ford to a 29 ford and you will see what I mean.  I then added a half round strip across the top to build up the height and allow it to be massaged into a very close fit with the edge of the passenger compartment.

For the sides, I started with two black plastic door panels from an unknown Japanese kit. It didn't take a lot of work to get these fitted except where they wrap around the dashboard. I am not wild about the chunky square door handles but the work involved to fix them just wasn't worth it and they seem OK in the finished interior. The main thing is it gave me a simple, sculptured look to the interior and was one of the simplest jobs of the whole build.

The transmission hump came out of an unknown orange interior tub.  It is bulkier than I would have preferred but was the smallest I could get away with and still get the trans to fit.  Thanks for all the great comments so far, I hope you continue to enjoy the instalments.




Interior panels.jpg


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The hood should be easy, right??? Nah, not a chance. The extended length of a Deuce frame gave a nice fit for small block Ford power but meant the hood was short. As the photos show, I added some strip styrene to the front of the hood and then had to laminate extra pieces along the right hand side mostly to get everything fitting as snug as I hoped for.  A lot of filing and sanding went into getting an acceptable finish inside and out.






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Here's a mock-up to check how I was going. I then got some primer on the frame and bellypan and thinks are looking very satisfactory.

The rear end also got painted, with the upper four bar links attached.  As they disappear through a hole in the bellypan, there was no need to add rod ends and they would have simply interfered with final assembly.



2018-04-09 21.25.16.jpg




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You can see from this shot of a later version of the car that Lil John mounted the headlights off the top of the shock mounts.  I had no idea where the shock mounts were going to end up and anyway, I thought they would look cleaner suspended through the side of the grille shell as was common for the era.

I considered three grille shells.  The AMT unit, the red Lindberg one or the odd 29 grille out of the 32 Switchers kit - who would put a 29 grille on a 32?  Anyhow, i decided on the Lindberg grille but it later snapped so a trimmed, sanded and drilled version of an AMT grille ended up on the model.  I used the smallest lights from the Revell 29 Highboy kit with small pins inserted through the grille shell for mounts.







Edited by alan barton
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G'day Mr Barton, fancy meeting you here, anyhoo I like that you modify to copy a real car and not just out of box, /i like to do that too as you may remember from some of my builds that you have seen. My latest creation is a reasonable representation of the '65 Corvette display car for the '65 worlds fair and New York Motor Show, it's a few pages back now but i would really appreciate your opinion.


Michael Pederick                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Perth Western Australia.

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Thanks Bob, Claude and Rodney. your comments mean a lot.  I went to do some additional research and guess what - Lil'John DID mount the headlights through the grille shell!  It was the later update that I found on the internet that showed them mounted off the shock mounts.

The more I look, the more ironies I find.  Considering that this car pretty much single-handedly started the billet, hi-tech movement, there is very little billet on it and very little hi-tech!  Mechanically, the coil sprung front axle is about the only unusual item while the body is so close to stock Model A (except for the wheel arches) it could have been on a traditional black hiboy with red wires and a flathead!  But the way Lil John packaged all these components just set the rodding world on its ear.

The only obvious billet components on the first build were the windshield posts.  I definitely wanted to recreate these in scale but not exactly the way Buttera did it.  On the real car, the top of the door posts were extended up to meet the lower windshield frame and then the posts were perched on top of the bodywork.  Instead, I wanted to create a billet version of the stock post.

I started with a strip of Evergreen rectangular styrene and used a razor saw to cut a slot it  to eventually take the windshield glass.  I then did some carving on the length of plastic while it was still attached.  When it was close to right I then cut it off, made a second one and then spent a night or so finessing the two until they were as identical as I could make them.

I knew they were going to have to take a lot of handling as I glued them onto the car and my skin has the sort of oils in it that can strip paint better than the purple pond!  So I painted the bottom of the post flat black so that I didn't have to paint black right next to white, glued them on the car and then painted the rest of them with a brush when everything was dry - Tamiya flat black acrylic worked perfectly for this step.








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