It doesn’t happen every day, but sometimes you just fall into something really, really good. That’s how it was with me when I was researching an upcoming article on pre-muscle speed parts and my friend Kevin Carlson told me about the existence of an exceedingly scarce original Roof overhead-valve conversion for Ford Model A’s. And it’s what happened to Brandon Fish of South Kingstown, Rhode Island, when he answered a Worcester, Massachusetts, classified ad for a couple of Winfield SR carburetors, a homemade intake and what turned out to be that rare Roof OHV.
“I drove up, and it was a blizzard,” Brandon remembers. “It took me two and a half hours to go maybe 70 miles.”
And, truth be told, when Brandon saw the OHV conversion, he wasn’t quite sure what he was looking at, but the price for the assortment of parts was too good to pass up. “I knew what the carburetors were worth, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong, and when I saw it [the OHV conversion], it was clean. It was a raced head, back in the day, because the water pump—the fan—was cut off, so it had external cooling. There was no scale. I’d say it was maybe used minimally. Minimally. It was mint.”
Brandon had been very close to missing out on the historic purchase because, like himself, a lot of other hot rodders had noticed the listing—planning, building and bench racing is what we do during the long winters up here in the frozen North. “They all had seen it,” Brandon says of some of his comrades, “and they laughed because they all tried to get it that same night. It was first-come, first-served.”
But, while Brandon had been considering an overhead-valve conversion for the engine in his Model A he was reworking for the 2014 Race of Gentlemen, a Roof hadn’t been on his radar. “We’ve done The Race of Gentlemen for two years now, and you don’t like to keep the same car … I had pretty much a stock B motor in my coupe. It was nothing flashy, but it was kind of a hopped-up B motor,” Brandon explains. “I was going to go overhead valve… I was leaning more toward a Riley.”
It took several months and some conversations with Charlie Yapp, of the banger-focused Secrets of Speed Society and Scalded Dog Speed Parts, before Brandon changed his plans to include the Roof. Charlie “…was the only person I knew who was knowledgeable,” says Brandon. After their chats, Brandon was hooked: “I thought, ‘Oh, I gotta build this, just to have this huge piece of history’
Image from the Roof family collection, shared by Jim Roof and the Secrets of Speed Society.
What, exactly makes the Roof head so special? Roof patented an OHV conversion for the Model T in 1919, and according to Charlie Yapp, while “Morton & Brett was the first speed parts company to advertise an overhead conversion for Model A Fords … Roof, of Anderson, Indiana, was the first to have actual product and 101-MPH race results for his promotions.”
With a four-cylinder L-head engine displacing 200.5 cubic inches and rated at 40 hp, a stock Ford Model A engine could turn between 60 and 70 MPH, given enough smooth surface to travel over, but Roof was claiming that his “Cyclone” OHV conversion could increase this figure by around 34 percent.
Charlie explains, however, that, while almost any OHV conversion would improve the airflow and increase the horsepower of a Model A engine, the original Roof castings would be considered rough by the standards of today, and the 101 MPH claim was likely possible only because of “having a longer run than the other guy.”
Nevertheless, along with the premium componentry—Winfield carburetion, Packard sparking, etc—that accompanied the Roof Cyclone, its F-head, two-port architecture utilizing 2-inch intake valves, resulted in a smoother, more powerful engine not unlike those then distinguishing themselves in professional racing automobiles.
But their enhancement to four-banger performance isn’t what makes them so desirable, especially when they are compared to the more powerful Riley, Cragar and Miller conversions that would soon become available. It’s that the Roofs were the first and that they are rare—”rarer than hen’s teeth” was a phrase I encountered a lot when talking with people about them.
Charlie doesn’t have any definitive production records, but “I’m pretty sure,” he asserts, “that only about 10 of these heads still exist, and only four or five are in a condition to run”—a fact that makes Brandon Fish’s find even more exceptional.