Bill Johnson’s street rod is an example of getting the horsepower before the car.
“My son David found a boat in Arkansas with a 392 Hemi in it,” Johnson said, “so we bought the boat and trailer just to get the engine.”
Bill did not have a car, however, until David found this 1933 Rockne coupe sitting in a lean-to. It would become the home for the Chrysler Hemi, now rebuilt by Bill and David and putting out about 400 horsepower.
What’s a Rockne? Rockne Motors Corp. was a wholly owned subsidiary of Studebaker and it was named for famous Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne, who had been working part-time for Studebaker giving promotional and motivational talks.
The Rockne story has a Kansas City connection. Knute Rockne left Kansas City on March 31, 1931, enroute to Los Angeles via Wichita on a TWA Fokker F.10 trimotor airplane. The plane crashed a few miles southwest of Bazaar, Kan., killing all eight people on board.
The 1933 Rockne Six “10” coupe evolved from the 1931 Studebaker Six Model 54, according to The Antique Studebaker Club website. Studebaker went into receivership with financial trouble in 1933, and Rockne production ceased in July, 1933.
Bill liked the Rockne because it was unusual and because the body and frame were rust-free. He and David stripped the chassis, and Bill’s wife, Bonnie, painted the frame with POR-15 rust preventive coating. The coupe’s firewall was moved back five inches to accommodate the big engine. It is mated to a Chrysler automatic transmission and a Chrysler rear end. The 32-spoke wire wheels were powder coated.
Creative Classics of Independence gave the body its two-tone paint job, and Johnny West redid the interior in material that looks period correct. In a nod to modernity, the car has new gauges, a tilt steering column and an aftermarket steering wheel. Bill and David restored and installed an old heater.
The crowning touch is the unrestored Flying R Rockne hood ornament that Bill found online, and it sits just above a restored Studebaker badge.
“It’s a magnet wherever we go,” Bill said. It won Best of Show at the Lee’s Summit Optimist car show and third place at the Maple Leaf car show in Carthage.