Lot 166

Monterey 2011

1927 Paul Sylva Modified Roadster


$55,000 USD | Sold

United States Flag | Monterey, California



Engine No.
Addendum: Please note that this vehicle will be offered on a bill of sale only.

284 cu. in. OHV V-8 engine with Ardun heads and Hilborn fuel injection, three-speed manual gearbox, solid front and rear axles, single transverse semi-elliptic leaf springs front and rear, four-wheel hydraulic brakes.

- Historic hot rod with Bonneville history including such names as Paul Sylva, Weaks & Noble and Von Dutch

- Hot Rod feature in 1953

- Ardun-Mercury OHV V-8 engine

This handsomely patinated, modified roadster represents everything that’s desirable in an historic hot rod: excellent provenance, important competition history, pinstriping by the legendary Kenneth Howard, aka “Von Dutch,” and an Ardun-Mercury OHV V-8 engine.

The project was initially begun by Jim Nairn in 1950-1951 and was completed by Paul Sylva, who ran it at the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) Bonneville Nationals in 1952. Typical of successful modified roadsters in that era, and to achieve the lowest possible wind resistance, an original steel 1927 Ford Model T roadster body was channeled over a much-modified, hand-built chassis. Some 360 lightening holes were drilled in the frame to keep weight down. The racing weight was reportedly 1,600 lbs. Other modifications included Franklin center steering, a war surplus bucket seat upholstered in black “Co-Hide,” a Bell Auto Parts four-spoke steering wheel, a full tonneau cover, a full belly pan with louvered sides and a streamlined ‘track’ nose. Four instruments, mounted on a hand-fabricated steering drop panel, included a 0-8,000 rpm tachometer. A large curved water tank was contoured to clear the deck lid, and it was mounted as far rearward as possible to optimize weight distribution.

The engine was a 1946 Mercury flathead V-8 with Ardun overhead-valve heads, a Harman and Collins magneto and Hilborn fuel injection. To achieve a displacement under the 270-cid class limit, the flathead was bored to 3 5/8 inches and the 3 ¾-inch stroke was left stock. The resulting displacement was 258 cid. “Flex-Pipe” four-into-one headers rounded out the known modifications.

The roadster was featured in the April 1953 issue of Hot Rod magazine in an article simply entitled, “OHV-Merc ‘T’ Roadster,” by W.G. “Racer” Brown. Driven by Ray Beck, the roadster achieved a creditable 157.61-mph speed. During subsequent tuning, it was found that the Ardun V-8 had a bent valve stem, and the car’s fastest run had been made with only seven working cylinders. Racer Brown noted, “Paul plans to guard against the repetition of such an occurrence at this year’s event when the car should really storm.”

Sylva entered the car at Bonneville again in 1954. Running in Class C, the modified roadster turned an impressive 178.30 mph. Next day, on its attempt to set a record, the high-flying Sylva roadster clocked an astonishing 187.79 mph. Unfortunately, on its back-up run, the engine blew a head gasket. In a November 1954 Bonneville coverage story called “Storm on the Salt,” Hot Rod magazine featured a head-on photo of the Sylva car, clearly showing its streamlined front axle fairings. The article reported that one of the Ardun heads was “ruined.” A return run was not made.

The following year, the roadster was repainted then flamed and striped by the irrepressible Kenneth Howard, better known as “Von Dutch.” Paul Sylva loaned it to Carl Weaks and Jim Noble, a well-known drag racing duo who made headlines with it.

Later that year, competing at the San Gabriel drags as the Weaks & Noble entry and painted in a similar fashion as the record setting Weaks & Noble ’32 sedan, the Paul Sylva roadster turned 128.38 mph, with an 11.29-second elapsed time. Records show it was now powered by a fuel-injected De Soto Hemi, running on nitro-methane fuel, very likely the same 400+ bhp, Herbert roller cam equipped engine that had set records earlier in the Weaks & Noble ’32. Hot Rod magazine’s November 1956 coverage of the NHRA Nationals in Kansas City reported a 134.93 mph clocking. Competing as a “B-Modified” roadster, the Weaks & Noble roadster entry ran in the next-to-last runoff in the Final Eliminations against Mel Heath’s Hemi-powered dragster. Although Heath won the race, records show the Weaks & Noble/Paul Sylva car turned a best time of 135.54 mph in 11.32 seconds.

This roadster was drag-raced until 1960, when it was sold to Tommy Traylor, co-founder of Specialized Auto Parts in Houston, Texas. Traylor later sold the roadster to Trip Parr, one of his employees, who in turn sold the roadster in 1961 or 1962, equipped once again with an Ardun V-8, to Don Ferguson Sr. The Ferguson family, well-known Bonneville competitors, kept the roadster for over forty years before selling it to the present owner. Before it changed hands, Don Ferguson, Jr., owner of Ardun Enterprises in Wilmington, California, installed a fresh, bored and stroked, 284-cid, fuel-injected Ardun-Mercury V-8, matching the way the motor had appeared in 1953.

Maintained in original, well-preserved, as-raced condition, the ex-Paul Sylva/Weaks & Noble modified roadster is a time warp – an important historic hot rod that’s eligible for vintage drag racing, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Hot Rod Class and every major hot rod event.