Dwarf replicas as classic as originals

When Ernie Adams set out to hand build his first car 35 years ago, he lived in a trailer park and did not have a garage.

The heavy-duty truck mechanic had the urge to own a classic car but he neither had the money to buy one nor the space to restore a car. So, he built a ‘dwarf’ car -an 11/16th replica of a 1928 Chevrolet two-door sedan, authentic right down to the small size spare tire and jack. A two-cylinder Onan motor powers it and it is made from discarded refrigerators.

Today, space isn’t a problem and Ernie Adams has a garage full of miniature cars alongside his full size customized 1939 Chevrolet Master Deluxe coach. You can usually find the master mechanic and fabricator in his shop, on his 10-acre property among the horse ranches of Maricopa, about an hour south of Phoenix, Ariz. When I visited, he was just changing the rear axle ratio in a perfectly-scaled 1949 Mercury coupe which was parked alongside the 1928 Chevrolet, a 1929 Ford Model A coach ‘rat rod’ and his 1942 Ford convertible. He is helping a friend build a 1954 Chevrolet BelAir two-door hardtop. All the vehicles are ‘dwarf’ cars.

The most striking image is Adams standing between his full sized 1939 Chevrolet and his 11/16th replica of the same car, which is authentic right down to a working radio, cowl vent, heater, defroster, wipers and glovebox. The mini-Chev is powered by a 65 horsepower Toyota engine. He has driven the 1939 Chev replica 57,000 miles since completing the car in 1999.

“I drove it to Des Moines, Iowa on a round trip and it was trouble free,” says the six-foot-plus builder.

The 1942 Ford convertible is a work of art. He built virtually everything for the car including a hydraulically operated folding convertible top and it too is Toyota-powered. He has driven the replica convertible on trips to attend car show tours as far away as Chicago.

A 1949 Mercury coupe is the latest creation. Adams uses an English wheel to make the compound curves in the sheet metal to hand build the body, which is mounted on an 80-inch tubular chassis. This ‘dwarf’ Mercury is a dead ringer for the original much larger car.

Adams uses photographs to copy every part. Visitors marvel at his ability to manufacture the entire car including the grille, bumpers, dashboard, steering wheel, door panels, ashtrays, gauges and even miniature radios that work.

“I use sheet metal from refrigerators, old washers and dryers and other appliances that people give me,” Adams says.

“I make a mould for the steering wheels and use liquid resin which I hand sand for the final form.” He uses a hand-built extruder to form the stainless steel mouldings, which he pulls through the device with a winch.

The replica 1929 Ford Model A ‘rat rod’ is like its own comedy act. The car has no paint and no fabric in the interior. Adams built it in three months using sheet metal from old refrigerators, washers and dryers.

“I made the trunk out of an old freezer chest, the top is an old sign and the running boards are made out eight foot fluorescent light fixtures,” Adams grins. For car buffs, this is recycling at its best.

All his cars are properly registered and insured as motor vehicles. The latest car is insured as a 1949 Mercury.

The next ‘dwarf car’ miniature creation will be a 1934 Ford two-door coach ‘rat rod’. So why not get a real car and just turn that into what you want, is the obvious question. Well, lots of people could do that.

Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouverbased public relations company.

Photo credit: Alyn Edwards, Canwest News Service