LAKELAND, Fla. — As a child growing up in Muncie, Ind., Curtis Hutchison said he never had a red Radio Flyer wagon to pull around the neighborhood and take his friends for a spin.
Now, about 65 years later and 1,000 miles from his hometown, Hutchison doesn’t have to fantasize about pulling a toy wagon around his neighborhood; he and his wife and friends can just sit in one and drive it around town via a 350 Chevrolet engine with a 350 turbo transmission.
Parked in the garage of his home off Bristol Oaks Drive in south Lakeland, Hutchison’s12 feet by 6 feet adult “toy car” sits ready to roar.
The wagon actually is a functional dragster with a body on it.
What makes the car even more unique, said Hutchison, 74, is that it’s totally custom, licensed and street legal. He said it’s the only personally fabricated, built from the ground up to scale Radio Flyer wagon car in the world; other Radio Wagon flyer cars were built using another car and just changing out the bodies, he said.
“I love driving it; it’s all manual and it’s something I built myself.”
Hutchison enlisted the help of Larry Jacklin of Lakeland’s Crystal Lake Body Works and Derek “Turbo” Spires of Lakeland’s PSI Customs vehicle customizing shop.
About three years ago, Hutchison and Jacklin bought 2-by-4, 2-by-2 and 1-by-1 foot steel, welded it together and installed a 1932 Ford front end, a late-model Ford rear end and made a rolling chassis.
It then went to PSI Customs for body fabrication. Over the next six months, Spires designed the wagon car’s interior, including a custom drive shaft and a Ford rear end, brake system, steering and wiring to make a drivable chassis.
“This is the first (Radio Flyer car) built from scratch and it’s kind of off the wall,” Spires said “It was a long process, but when it was done, it’s nice to see it around town and people talking about it.”
Over the next eight to nine months, Hutchison worked in his garage to finish the body, paint it, put in the floor and finish the car.
Around May, he took the big red wagon for its maiden voyage and since then, he confesses, he’s gotten the car up to 90 mph in an eighth of a mile.
Hutchison, a real estate broker for CH Realty, estimates he put about $30,000 into the car.
It definitely makes for a conversation piece.
“I get people giving me thumbs-up, taking pictures,” said Hutchison, who’s regularly accompanied on drives by his wife, Cathy. “I can stop in the middle of an in intersection, hold up traffic for picture taking and no one even gets mad.”
Hutchison said he’s always had a love for customizing classic cars. As a teenager in Indiana in the 1950s, he and his friends would find junk cars, take the bodies and rework them into their own cars.
“It has always been having something you built yourself and knowing no one else will have one like it,” he said.
That most certainly is the case as far as the Lakeland Cruisers car club is concerned. Secretary-treasurer Charla Hartman said although there are other customized, unique cars among the club’s 83 members, Hutchison’s stands out at weekly Friday club meetings.
“It’s quite unusual; everyone talks about it whenever he drives it down the road,” said Hartman.
Information from: The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.), http://www.theledger.com