Feature Article, Street Rods — April 7, 2015 at 4:47 am

Sonny Wisner (Issue 108)


IT-108 Sonny Wisner Boattail Chevy

By Steve Heeb

Sonny Wisner’s first car was a ’37 Nash Lafayette coupe back in 1953.

“I was just a kid when I got that,” he laughs. “I’ve had a lot of cars over the years.”

His boyhood passion led to a career in cars as owner of AAA Automotive in Seattle.

“I’ve had hot rods all my life,” he smiles. “And everything I own has a Cadillac in it.”

One such project is his Cadillac-powered ’55 Studebaker.

“That’s been popular around the Northwest for years,” he says. “I also have a ’56 Dodge pickup I’ve had for 45 years that also has all Cadillac El Dorado front-wheel drive, but I’ve never had a four-cylinder before.”

That changed about six years ago, when he and some Mount Vernon-area friends stumbled on his latest street rod, a 1928 Chevy Boattail, about six years ago.

“It was just sitting in a barn,” Sonny recalls of finding the idle street rod. “There was a whole group of them.”

He says the car hadn’t been run for a couple years.

“When I got it, I went through the brakes, transmission and overhauled the carburetor,” he says of getting the project underway.

Behind the 1918-23 vintage grill shell rests a ’28 Chevy with’23 Oldsmobile three-port heads and a homemade intake for the two-barrel Rochester carburetor. A distributor from a ’72 Pinto keeps the four cylinders firing and the four-speed transmission out of a ’80 Chevy pickup helps move the vintage boattail down the freeway at 70 mph.

The frame and the shocks are all 1928 vintage, but he did install modern hydraulic brakes.

“They make it legal,” he grins. “Well, they make it safe.”

The 20-gauge hand-laid steel body crafted by Art and Frank Reichlin received a finish of six coats of Ford Orange Crush Effect.

“For being painted in the garage it looks pretty good,” he laughs.

Sonny doesn’t belong to any car clubs, but often rubs elbows with several groups like the Northwest Vintage Speedster Club based out of Portland, Ore., dedicated to four-cylinder speedsters of all types from 1934 and earlier.

“We just take ’em out and drive ’em,” Sonny says. “We have a lot of fun.”

Scenic trips include cruises to Mt. Baker or Mt. Rainier.

Sonny also brought his boattail to Boise, Idaho, for the Four Banger 400 put on by the Treasure Valley A’s Model A Club.

In 2013, Sonny and his speedster made the trek to Nebraska for a show hosted by the Bill Smith Museum of American Speed.

“There were 60 speedsters in Lincoln,” Sonny recalls. “But only two of them were Chevies.”

The speedster movement originated in the 1930s as car buffs cut up and customized Model T and Model A Fords in a quest for improved performance. Fine-tuned examples of these early hot rods dominated auto races like the Indianapolis 500, and the Fords were the most available vehicles to start from.

Today’s speedsters stand out even in a sea of street rods at car shows like the Goodguys Pacific Northwest Nationals, and Sonny’s boattail is no exception.

“I get out as much as I can,” he says of driving to events around the region. “When it’s not raining.”

Even the rain doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm as he encourages others to take on customization projects while they can.

One special feature he installed on his boattail Chevy is a keyless ignition.

“The push-button starter works the first time, every time,” he smiles as the vintage motor roars to life. “For an 80-year-old car, that’s pretty good.”

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