An exceptional high school auto shop program paved the way for both Butch Karcher’s career and his passion. Karcher, now 63, has not one but two masterpiece 1930 Ford Model A hot rods and he has enjoyed a truly hands-on build process for each.
Based on the Minnesota side of a town bordering Wisconsin, Karcher got his first car, a ’65 Chevy Impala, when he was 16. In the late 1980s, he built another ’65 Impala and added a hefty dose of nitrous, and then narrowed and tubbed it for Pro Street duty. He went on to own a custom paint and body shop from 1987 through 1992 and spent a lot of time working his magic on race cars and hot rods. He eventually transitioned into running group homes for adults with disabilities for nearly 30 years before retiring in January of 2021.
“Once my children had gotten a little older, my now ex-wife wanted me to teach them some of what I know, so she gave me permission and I went out and bought this hot rod,” laughs Karcher of how he acquired his green 1930 Ford Model A five-window coupe after finding it for sale on eBay in Pennsylvania back in 2007. “It was a rat rod with zoomies and big fat tires. I brought it home, did one burnout, and all the bars bent.”
Karcher quickly tore the car apart and used the process to teach his three sons the difference between a street rod and a hot rod. “I wanted something we would be able to put the coals to every time we drove it, not just something that looked cool,” he says in favor of his preference for the latter type of build. “I liked the look of it originally but wanted to make it safer and got a little carried away.”
Karcher and his children built the entire frame and chassis at home together, and also narrowed and tubbed the car. “It’s been chopped 4-inches, and we channeled it over a ’32 frame and added a ’32 grill,” he elaborates of the painstaking process.
The Karcher crew also managed all of the sheetmetal work and bodywork on the vintage Ford. “When I ran the body shop, there was a young kid that came by all the time. Years later, I let him paint this one,” the big-hearted Karcher shared of how the bright green machine got its gorgeous hue.
The all-steel Model A’s front end, though, is where the real action is. Karcher updated the coupe to run a 540 cubic-inch engine comprised of an aluminum Dart block with Air Flow Research cylinder heads, and Isky Red Zone roller lifters. Built by Tim Huttner of Huttner Enterprises, the engine is topped with a killer, custom-made Kinsler intake manifold and is symmetrically flanked by a wild set of exhaust manifolds from C&F Race Cars’ Bob Fuller.
Karcher also set up his Kinsler fuel injection system to work via a Holley Dominator EFI engine management setup, configured by Russ Lupinek. “I’ve won a few awards for ‘best engine compartment,’” notes Karcher of how his street car’s unusual aluminum block catches the eyes of onlookers. “The fuel injection, too, gets a lot of attention.”
To back the engine, Karcher selected a reverse manual valvebody Turbo 400 transmission, and coupled it with an Ultimate Converter Concepts torque converter. Equipped with both a line-lock and a transbrake, burnouts and launches are easy peasy.
Karcher does drive his Model A coupe on the street quite a bit to get groceries, catch a drive-in movie, cruise to car shows, and tears it up at sanctioned street race events held on Garfield Avenue in Duluth, Minnesota. And so he upgraded its suspension to more modern standards, with the same eye for perfection that he used to piece together the showpiece engine.
'30 Ford Specs
Car: 1930 Ford Model A Five-Window Coupe (Green)
Chassis: Butch Karcher
Engine: Huttner Enterprises 540″
Block: Dart Aluminum
Heads: Air Flow Research
Power Adder: Nitrous Oxide
Transmission: Turbo 400
Converter: Ultimate Converter Concepts
Fuel Management: Holley Dominator EFI
Rearend: Ford 9-inch
Suspension: Four-Link, Viking Shocks
Quickest E.T.: 5.23-Seconds (1/8-Mile)
“I’ve run a best of 5.23-seconds in the 1/8-mile on nitrous at Brainerd Motorsports Park,” states Karcher, who knows the Model A’s roll cage wasn’t certified for the 135-plus mph speeds he was trapping. “They let me run it without the nitrous after that, and it went 6.10. It’s not aerodynamic at all, so even at that speed, it’s pretty wild. I hope Henry Ford designed the front end to go above 30 mph, because I’ve sure exceeded that!”
Having one nearly-hundred-year-old vehicle is surely something to be proud of, especially when it’s fully functional as a street car and a drag car, but Karcher wasn’t happy with just one…so, in 2015, he purchased his second 1930 Model A.
The second, a silver sedan, was acquired from a friend of a friend who got the Ford from the original owner. Along the way, the car had been torn apart and transformed into a hot rod but never fully finished. “I completely disassembled it when I got it,” recalls Karcher, who took the shell and the parts and put the Model A back together according to his own vision.
At first, Karcher was going to build a gasser-style car and spent a few nights in the garage mocking things up with some 20-foot sections of tubing. “As it turns out, I didn’t like the gasser look, but realized I had never seen a Model A dragster before,” adds the jovial man of his unexpected change in plans. “The wheelbase ended up being equivalent to a Chevrolet one-ton dually, around 141- or 142-inches, whereas Camaros are usually in the 105- to 110-inch range.”
The elongated Model A sedan quickly progressed from there, as Karcher built the entire tube chassis in his home garage, as well. The body was stretched 4-inches in the doors and the roof was chopped and put back together as a truly unique dragster-style masterpiece.
Karcher encountered a bit of a challenge fitting the rear wheels and 18×31.5-inch Hoosier tires, but found a solution to make it work. “The rear wheel wells on the sedan don’t have much clearance because the back of the car has an extended fender, so we fabricated it to be able to sink the tire right into the rear quarter panel,” he details of his custom handiwork, which also included the installation of a Ford 9-inch rear with 4.33 gears.
Karcher also custom-fabricated the front end of the Model A dragster, and eliminated some bad shaking issues by adding a set of Koni coilover shocks, along with an unconventional wishbone-type suspension on a straight axle.
Originally, the Ford aficionado planned on powering his silver Model A with an old school 409-inch Chevrolet engine, but due to expense and rarity, he selected a supercharged 548 cubic-inch big-block Chevrolet engine instead. “It’s got a Dart Machinery Big M block, Brodix BB-3 Xtra cylinder heads, and a custom exhaust from Bob Fuller at C&F Race Cars,” Karcher proudly details of the specs.
Wanting to stick with the nostalgia look, he chose a retro screw blower from Dyer’s Blowers and, although he had a bug catcher fuel injection kit on it at first, upgraded to a Holley Dominator not long after for advanced fuel and spark management.
The 1930 Ford’s incredible aircraft-themed paint is often mistaken for a wrap. The silver paint – sprayed by Nick Pirkola of Pirk’s Place Auto Body – was further enhanced by custom airbrushing by Duluth, Minnesota’s Anderson Signs and Pinstriping owner Bruce Anderson. Several thousand rivets, all done by hand, along with old school logos and bullet holes, give Karcher’s Model A dragster a truly one-of-a-kind look.
Unfortunately, Karcher sacrificed his engine in to win a $1 grudge race against a friend from Australia who had come over to Minnesota to visit in 2018. He wasn’t upset, though, and enjoyed the outing regardless of the resulting destruction. True to form, Karcher saw the positive in the situation and used the downtime to his advantage.
Karcher spent two years reworking the silver Model A and installed a new roll cage that would enable him to run as quick as 8.50-seconds in the 1/4-mile. He also took the time to change over the drivetrain, as well as a few other odds and ends.
Inside, the sparse yet utilitarian cabin is intentionally accented with rust and dominated by the iconic levers of a Lenco ST1200 four-speed gearbox. “We’re running a Ram slipper clutch with a Browell Pro Stock bellhousing, and it’s an absolute riot…a ton of fun to drive,” sas the owner excitedly. “It used to have the big, long levers, but we switched to an air shifter. It still has the 8-inch levers.”
The revised Model A made its maiden voyage down the track at Duck X Productions’ Lights Out 13 race at South Georgia Motorsports Park in February of 2022. “I ran 5.49-seconds in the eighth, but on my fifth or sixth run, the pins fell out of the rotors on the blower and we had a fuel pressure drop. The engine bent a rod and really messed things up,” Karcher explains of the perfect storm of catastrophe he encountered. “I’m going to put a 632 tall deck in it and will do the same fuel injection that’s on the green car. I’m moving away from the blower to try and make it more streetable, and hope to have it back up by the fall.”
Now retired and happily married to his second wife, Sara, Karcher and his blended family love spending time together and enjoying their pair of Model As. Not one to ever sit around, though, Karcher’s 30-year-old son, Alex, has followed in his footsteps, as the two purchased a 6,000-horsepower-capable Mainline hub dyno to start their newest entrepreneurial venture, The Hub Dyno Garage in Taylors Falls, Minnesota.
Whether it’s his coupe or sedan and whether he’s out for a leisurely cruise or an all-out blast down the track, Karcher absolutely crushed it with his twin 1930 Ford Model A hot rods. Both cars helped him to make priceless memories with his loved ones along the way, and Karcher has created the ultimate in family heirlooms that will certainly be appreciated by his future generations.
'30 Ford Five-Window Specs
Car: 1930 Ford Model A Five-Window Sedan (Silver)
Chassis: Butch Karcher
Engine: 548″ Big-Block Chevy
Block: Dart Big M
Heads: Brodix Bb-3 Xtra
Power Adder: Dyer’s Blowers Screw Supercharger
Transmission: Lenco Four-Speed
Fuel Management: Holley Dominator EFI
Rearend: Ford 9”
Suspension: Koni Coilovers
Quickest E.T.: 5.49-Seconds (1/8-Mile)