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						Hirsch Roadster A1

Ford V8-powered Hirsch Roadster

As Told by Tom Pawlak

Photos by Steve Temple

Life is full of surprises, like that box of chocolates in Forrest Gump: you never know what you’re gonna get. In June 2007, I went to look at an Austin-Healey Replica that I was considering purchasing. After evaluating the car, I realized that it was not as expected, and was about to leave when the owner said he had another car for sale. When he pulled it out of storage, I was instantly taken with the shape of the body.

Called a Hirsch, I felt it had potential, and would be worth my effort in time and money. That I work on my own cars, and the fact that the Hirsch was constructed with parts from a vintage era when things were not complicated by electronic black boxes, made it a good candidate.

After two years of earnest effort, the Hirsch was at a point were it was very roadworthy. I had replaced the distributor with an MSD unit, plus installed a new radiator, water pump, alternator, shift linkage, brakes, gauges, Alden coilovers, and exhaust system. That is when I could really enjoy driving it and attending car shows. The car has been driven as far away as 300 miles with no issues.

Even though I wanted to retain as much originality as possible, there were some areas I felt compelled to change for drivability reasons, and personal design preferences. The wheel company PS Engineering made me a set of vintage rims, and Finish Line supplied the side mirrors and deck hinges. I replaced many items under the hood to dress up that area. Fortunately, the body, paint and interior were in fairly good condition, and were brought back fairly easily.

One thing was still missing, though. The person who sold me the car knew little about the Hirsch’s history. Showing at car shows put me in contact with people with suggestions on how to find out more about the car. Ron Biggerstaff of the Association of Handcrafted Automobiles spread the word to other members, and they provided some photos of the car being shown at a car show at Knott's Berry Farm in the 1980s (with the license plate “carmaker”).

Another lead involved contacting Geoffrey Hacker, who runs a website called Forgotten Fiberglass. He ran an article in his Mysterions category, and Hemmings Sports & Exotic ran an article in their December 2008 issue under “Lost & Found.” No immediate responses to those articles, however, until some time later, yielding yet another surprise.

In the meantime, during the first years of restoring the Hirsch, I was able to determine the following: the frame was custom built, and the front suspension was Fiero, with a rear suspension from a Datsun 280ZX. The engine is a Ford 289 rebuilt with a 302 crank and mild cam, and backed by a BorgWarner T5 transmission. With four-wheel independent suspension, disc brakes on all four wheels, the Hirsch handles and stops great. Weighing just 2,100 pounds, it’s fast and a blast to drive.

I have been fortunate enough to show the Hirsch at many car events, but no more historical info surfaced at them. These included the Petersen Automotive Museum Fiberglass Day, Palos Verdes Concours, Fabulous Fifties, Del Mar Concours, Estrella Wings & Wheels at Paso Robles Airport, Driving Museum, Coffee & Cars, parades, and numerous other car shows.

Several years after Forgotten Fiberglass ran the article, however, out of the blue I received a call from the car’s designer and builder, Jeff Hirsch! We have had many wonderful conversations over the years, and I have learned much about the Hirsch from him.

Jeff started construction in 1989 and completed the car in 1999, after overcoming a number of technical hurdles and making several changes in the body. The Hirsch receives compliments wherever it is shown. One of my most memorable occurrences was when a young couple approached the car at a Concours event. Their differences in viewpoints were amusing. He had an “attitude,” while she was saying how graceful the lines were, just how plain good-looking it was. Then she asked him what it was. He replied, “Well that is a, um, ah — hell I don’t know!” She then laughed, saying, “And you’re ‘Mister Know-It-All.’”

Well, as Forrest Gump discovered in that box of chocolates, life (and cars) can be really sweet even when you don’t know what you’re getting.

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