Letter from America

This is an article I wrote back in 2001!  But just found a copy on an old backup I made years ago.  So I thought I would add it to my blog.

Letter from America

My name is Jon Stephenson and I’m a Brit living in Southern California.  I get back to the UK about 4 or 5 times a year for business.  Each visit I purchase a copy of your excellent magazine.  I have been meaning to submit my ‘project’ for some months, but you know how it is…..  If you do publish this article, please pick a good charity for the 100 quid, donated by the “frogeye lovers of the world”.

Ever since I purchased my first ‘frogeye’ many years ago while in the RAF I have loved the little car.  Like most classic car owners, I had no plans of buying another one.  BUT, I saw an advert in a local car trader magazine for a sorry looking little white ‘bugeye’.   Who was it said “two countries, separated by a common language”?  $2000 later I was the proud owner of it, that was four years ago.  After getting it home I checked it out, a real Southern California car, NO REAL BAD RUST.  A couple of minor ‘dings’ and about fifteen coats of different colour paint.

So now I’ve got it, what to do with it.  Go for a factory renovation, no, that would be boring.  Go for a fun renovation, yes!  And so the fun began.  The engine needed a re-build, so out it came.  The gearbox was ‘shot’.  Then I remembered about an outfit in Australia that made a conversion kit for ‘moggies’ to allow the A series to mate with a Toyota gearbox.  And after a few fax’s and a couple of phone calls, I ordered the kit.   Five-speed, all synchromesh, but would it fit!  One of the nice things about living in the ‘hotrod’ capital of the world is the number of great engineering shops available.

Good engineering drawings are a must!

And the wonders of the American ‘double’ garage.  ‘Double’ is an American measurement based on the size of a typical ‘yank tank’.  I could fit three frogeye’s in mine.  So the frogeye was stripped down and the cutting began.  I did all the basic fitting then took the car to a friend’s ‘hotrod shop’ for the real welding.  The little frogeye looked quite lost in his shop, surrounded by all the massive ‘hotrods.

Rollbar makes a handy lifting point.  Nice wide rims (Maglite copies)


2×4 was just about right!

With the (1275cc) engine re-build, the Toyota gearbox and the conversion kit altogether the real work of getting it to fit started.  The rear gearbox mounting had to be changed and moved back about 4 inches (yes, we still use them!).  Also, a small notch had to be made for the slave cylinder.  The heater was removed to allow extra height and it’s not like I need one.


Now that’s a great combination.

The engine and gearbox all done, with an alternator, oil cooler/filter, Genuine WEBER 45 DCOE, twist shock to stop the engine from twisting off its mounts and electronic ignition distributor.  A lot of the gear I fitted said “Not Street Legal in California” but the car never goes through any test or inspection, so…


Real shock absorber.

While all this was taking place, I changed the front breaks to disk, added a brake servo and re-built the rear breaks.  Also some better shocks front and rear.  Roll (sway) bars were added front and rear and an electric fuel pump was added.


Ready for the Toyota gearbox.

The prop shaft was a little bit of a problem!

Left frogeye. Right Toyota.


Problem resolved, and balanced.



A cross member was added to provide strength for the hinges and two drain pipes completed the job.  Once all the paint was stripped, a couple of rust stops had to be fixed on the door pillars, then it was time to paint. I picked a nice sensible colour for the heat of California, black!!  Well, maybe not, but it does look good.  You can also see one of the mounts for the rear roll bar.


The handle from the bonnet was perfect for the new boot lid.


Two other major body changes then took place.  One, the front was made to open forward, but as it was a steal bonnet we added some steal to strengthen it.

Welded on places that would not show on the steel bonnet.


Some much easier to work on.

Complete with electric cooling fan, oil cooler and some of the complete wiring harness I made.  The bonnet can be completely removed by disconnecting two cable connectors and sliding out the two quick release pip pins that make the hinges and removing one bolt from the support arm.

I moved all the “stuff” that was mounted on the engine bay area and the brake servo is under the panel where the heater used to be.

Two fuses, what two fuses.  All in the passenger’s footwell plus the coil.

When I made the wiring harness I created two main busses, one direct from the battery and one through the ignition switch.  The two fuses on the left are for the alarm system

All covered with some perspex and marking what each fuse is for.


Then the whole lot is covered with leather-trimmed carpet.


Now for the interior.  One of my best mates just happens to be one of the top upholsters in the area and does a lot of the concourse winners.  So Dan and I selected grey English square weave carpet and grey Mercedes-Benz leather.  Two hides later, seats, door trim, roll bar and trim was covered in leather.


We even got some buy to come to a die the speaker grills grey.


The battery had to go in the new boot.


But then gets nicely covered up.


Leather, leather and even more leather!


With burl veneer dash added.


Dan even made two leather covered aluminium to go onto the chassis beams.


Even the steering wheel got the leather and burl veneer treatment.




Even the petrol pipe to the tank got the leather treatment.









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