Way too much is just about right, or so the old hot rod adage goes. Cast your eyes on Cliff Hix’s scratch-built hot rod, with a V-12 Allison engine from a P-38 fighter plane, and you get a good idea of what way too much looks like.
“I saw one a car with an airplane engine in 1950 when I was 16 years old,” he said, “and I told myself that someday I would have one.
“This is the most beautiful, perfectly proportioned thing I’ve ever seen.”
Hix, 76, owns First Edition Screenprinting and Cliff Hix Engineering, Inc., in this small Kansas college town, and I think he’s an engineering genius, although he certainly would never use words like that. He’s way too quiet. He has designed and manufactured several machines for his screen-printing business, and they are marvels of creative engineering.
Hix gets a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he describes his flat-black, airplane-powered roadster. Walking under the car as it sits on a lift is the perfect way to see Hix’s handiwork up close. He designed and built the four-bar, coil-over suspension, as well as most all of the ancillary pieces of the chassis. He constructed the massive frame, with a 123-inch wheelbase, from raw steel.
The Allison aircraft engine delivers a whopping 1840 horsepower at 3,000 rpm. Wind it up to 4,000 rpm, Hix says, and then it makes some “serious power.” How much? Two of these engines pushed the P-38 to more than 400 mph. Just imagine what one can do in Hix’s 3,200-pound car.
When you build a car with an airplane engine, most everything has to be modified, or made from scratch. Hix replaced the original dual magnetos with twin distributors that he designed himself. There are two, 12-cylinder distributors because the engine has two spark plugs per cylinder. Each cylinder is 5.5 inches wide.
Sending fighter-plane power to the rear wheels is a sketchy proposition at best. Hix adapted a Richmond Super Street five-speed overdrive transmission, and the rear axle is a Currie nine-inch Ford with a 2:47 ratio. Hix would like a higher ratio but none is available.
Stopping a car with this much power requires big brakes. Hix modified Buick drums for the front and Ford drums for the back.
The body started as a fiberglass, ’27 T bucket, but Hix and his younger brother, Dan, from Arkansas, stretched it to accommodate the rear-mounted radiator. Going fast is nothing new to these guys. They drag raced for years, and set an A Gas Supercharged speed record of 124 miles per hour in the quarter mile in 1958.
The widened body has been reinforced with steel tubing. Hix made door latches that are simple, stout and clever.
Hix explained that when he first got it running, he took it out on the road near his shop alongside the Pittsburg airport. The engine was just idling, and when it seemed as if it might die, he dabbed the throttle. With a sudden roar, the engine spun the 14-inch wide Mickey Thompson tires so quickly that the car shot sideways in the road and nearly pitched Hix into the ditch.
“That’s when I discovered that way too much is, well, way too much,” he said with a mile-wide grin.