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'Rat rod' is more than the sum of its parts

‘Rat rod’ is more than the sum of its parts

Staff writer

Lane Sutterby’s 1949 Crosley rat rod is so beastly it’s beautiful.

Its station wagon body mounted on a 1-ton Dodge frame looks rusted through, but a 375-horsepower Cadillac engine roars under its hood.

“It doesn’t look like it should really be on the road,” Sutterby said after unveiling his beast at Saturday’s Hillsboro cruise. “But the engine is fresh and the transmission is ready to race.”

Like the builder of any rat rod — a custom car pieced together from different makes and models — Sutterby sees the vehicle as more than the sum of its parts.

It’s the first car the graduate of McPherson College’s auto restoration program built himself. He hopes there will be many more in his future.

Sutterby is happy as a technical support specialist at Agco in Hesston, but his passion is building cars.

“I would have someone come to me with a color, body type and engine and say ‘I want these and the rest is up to you, go hog wild, do it,” he said.

The modified station wagon made its debut Saturday at Hillsboro’s Downtown Cruise.

Sutterby waved to the crowd lining Main St., rumbling the street rod past candy-coated classics.

Then he hit the Main St. intersection, and the gas, and smiled as the big block engine’s roar drew cheers and the station wagon took off — well, almost.

Sutterby had a Hillsboro city police officer behind him.

The rat rod still was the center of attention and that has always been the point.

Hot rods are the pristine, pretty cars ready for any show room. Then there are the rat rods — the Frankenstein monsters of customs that are cobbled together from spare parts of different makes and models.

Sutterby found the Crosley body in Michigan.

His girlfriend’s family was a fan of the wagons and bought several in a package deal. They ended up with one that looked past help.

Its engine was locked, its frame was shot, and the floorboards were long gone.

Sutterby, then a freshman at McPherson, thought he could do something cool with it.

He already had class projects, but Sutterby wanted to build a car on his own.

He had his work cut out for him. The station wagon was in such bad shape he pulled the body off the frame.

Sutterby was given a new frame by a friend who sold a 1-ton Dodge pickup for scrap parts. He cut it in half, shortened it by several feet and built a custom suspension underneath it.

After months hunting for biggest engine he could buy for less than $400, he finally scored a 472-cubic-inch motor from an old Cadillac.

He remodeled it during an advanced engines class with the guidance of his professor.

“I didn’t go too radical on it,” he said. “Basically I just tore it down, made sure everything looked good, cleaned it out, and put it back together with a different camshaft.”

A co-worker gave him the transmission he used, but putting it together was rather tricky. The college’s drive train class at that time didn’t have equipment to repair automatic transmissions.

So, Sutterby had to teach himself to rebuild it.

“I laid it out on a table and a tarp in the storage unit and went to town on it,” he said. “And I’m not 100% percent positive I got it put together back right.”

He got the car running, briefly, in 2019, but he couldn’t get the brakes to work.

Sutterby finally got the Crosley fired up three days before the cruise-in.

“This was its first official outing,” he said.

Like most car enthusiasts, Sutterby has several other project cars he is itching to remodel.

He already has rebuild the engine and brake system of a 1965 Coupe Deville, but has his eye on a 1979 Chevy Malibu four-door he has seen sitting neglected in a yard.

“I would like to take that car and bring it back to life,” he said.

Now that his Crosley runs, Sutterby plans to get it registered and insured so it will be street legal.

“I’ll have to figure out the title paperwork and I have some metal work to finish up the floors,” he said. “After that, it will be pretty much done, but no project car ever truly is.”

Last modified April 29, 2021

 

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