Article and photography by Richard Butschi
Sometimes you catch a glimpse of something that draws you closer to it, like bees to honey. Such is the case for Roger Johnson, of Cedar Rapids. Ten years ago at a bike rally in Conesville, he spotted a 3-wheeler powered not by the usual Harley V-Twin or a VW motor, but by a Chevy V8 small block. The image stayed with him and after retiring from Crandic Railway Co. on January 1st of this year, he now has the time to feed his hunger for “big boy toys.” His inventory currently includes a 2012 HD Street Glide 2-wheeled motorcycle, a recently finished ‘32 Ford highboy roadster hot rod and a ‘30 Ford 5-window coupe, now under construction. He also recently purchased a new 2017 Dodge Ram diesel pickup and is looking for 5th-wheel trailer to haul two or three toys to the long-distance shows.
After being bitten by the V8 trike bug, Roger ran across the website of Mac’s Hot Rod & Trike Shop located in Adel, IA. He called and then visited their booth at The GoodGuys Show, in Des Moines in 2014. Mac’s offers a variety of start-up packages for those wanting to build their own, or one can opt for the completed trike - all steel and hand-built to the owner’s specs. All kits are set up for V8s and start with a chassis with rails resembling a ‘32 hot rod. Shop owner, Rick McManis designed the stretched frame to get the V8 out and away from the body with a shroud that directs the engine heat under the body away from the driver. To aid in this effort, McManis put the radiator with electric fans at the rear of the trike with a rear-facing grill from a ‘32 Ford. This adds to the desired hot rod look and probably confuses would-be tailgaters.
Johnson chose some higher-end options, like the three 2-barrel Rochester carbs (by Vintage Speed located in Florida) sitting atop the V8. The Rockford stereo speakers, made from vintage Cadillac headlamps, along with 6 iconic ‘59 Cadillac taillights. These features can be credited to the folks at Mac’s and add to the trike’s overall theme. The engine horsepower is in the 350 to 380 range and power transfers through a TH 350 3-speed transmission to an 8” Ford rearend. Geared at 2.73:1, it makes for a very smooth and economical ride. The raked chopper springer front suspension and angled handlebars make for easy turning and good control. The wheels are “one-offs” made by Colorado Customs. Wiring was done by ReRods, with the engine built by Casey Wilson, both businesses are in Des Moines. Ace Upholstery, of Illinois, did the seats. Mac’s gold metalflake paint also aids in turning heads, as if the neck-snapping trike needed help with that.
After a two-year build, Johnson took delivery of the trike in March of this year. In May, he set off on his first long trip with McManis to Daytona Bike Week, where Roger picked up the first-place trophy in a highly competitive Trike Class. Later that month, it was noticed at a local car show and garnered an invitation to be a featured vehicle at the Cedar Rapids Corvette Club’s annual charity car show held at Hawkeye Downs in June. There it took the top custom motorcycle trophy. In August, Johnson and McManis headed north for the big bike rally in Sturgis, SD, where it drew a lot of attention. It also showed well at the Cruisin’ For The Kids Car Show held at Kinnick Stadium, even attracting the attention of Herky the Hawk.
All these miles and shows have been logged in just the past four months! When Roger gets all of his toys finished, ready for the road and finds just the right trailer with bed, shower, small kitchen area and adequate “toy closet,” who knows where he and Max, his loyal German-Pinscher, will end up. But you can bet he’ll have just the right vehicle for the occasion.