Flathead V8

A Sweet Sickness: The Flathead Movie Is Some Old School Gearhead Fun

Hot rod builder and award-winning filmmaker Brian Darwas talks with the world’s top engine builders and fabricators in A Sweet Sickness: The Flathead Movie. In a relatively short film, Darwas introduces us to Ryan Cochran of the Jalopy Journal, along with Vern Hammond and Jack Carroll of The Burbank Choppers.

A Sweet Sickness The Flathead Movie Cover
release date
September 9 2011
Brian Darwas
Vern Tardel
Mike Herman
Verne Hamond

Don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t judge a movie just by its title. Most of the time, these are words of wisdom, but occasionally, the title is all you need. When I came across the title of this movie, that was all I needed: A Sweet Sickness: The Flathead Movie.

“What the . . . ” I literally said out loud when I saw the title. It was one of those suggestions that Amazon Prime makes; “more titles you might like” sort of thing. I was digging around for car movies, and up popped A Sweet Sickness: The Flathead Movie

Subject Matter

I didn’t even have to wonder what the movie was about. However, just in case you’re still up in the air, it’s a documentary about Ford’s iconic flathead V8. Arguably the very first hot rod motor. Not only did it have enough power when it came out, but it was also easy to modify and easy to bolt-on aftermarket equipment. 

There is the horrible possibility that not every gearhead knows about the flathead V8. If that’s the case, A Sweet Sickness: The Flathead Movie might be the right place to start. Clocking in at only 57 minutes, it’s an easy movie to digest, like a burger and fries at the drive-in. 

But there are some problems.

A Sweet Sickness: The Flathead Movie Overview

If you are not a gearhead, this movie is not going to make much sense to you. Even if you are a gearhead, and even if you know a fair amount about flathead V8s (like me), the movie is somewhat disjointed. Most stories have a beginning, middle, and end. A Sweet Sickness: The Flathead Movie is mainly a big middle with a one-sentence ending.

It just sort of starts when you hit play. There’s no background information, and there’s no explanation as to why Ford made the engine. The film wanders from engine builder to hot rodder to machinist to a different engine builder to the next guy who is seriously into flatheads.

YouTube video

Hanging With The Guys

On the other hand, this is a very personable way to go. A lot of  A Sweet Sickness: The Flathead Movie plays out like you just stepped into a shop in the middle of the day. There are no introductions, no overall schemes; just here’s the next guy. Personally, I find documentaries like this very soothing. 

I love “reality” TV car shows, especially ones where people are working on cars. It reminds me of being a kid, growing up, and hanging out in the garage with my dad and uncles. I would watch as they would disassemble this or that, or fit a new such and such into its rightful home. 

A Sweet Sickness: The Flathead Movie is just like that, only with less explanation. You get to see inside one of history’s great engines. You get to find out the differences between variations of flatheads. You get to watch all these old school assembly techniques. You get to see some very cool hot rods. Apart from technical stuff, though, the movie doesn’t tell you much of anything new.

This is what a typical Southern California ’32 Ford hot rod looked like back in the day. This one was photographed in 1962 at fifth-mile drags in Virginia Beach, Virginia, running 79.53 miles per hour in the 14s. Owned by Joe Montgomery, its power came from a 100-horsepower, 292-inch flathead with a single carb. From the book Ford Total Performance by Martyn L. Schorr, published by Motorbooks.

An Interesting Mix

The other strange thing about this movie is the soundtrack. There are two kinds of songs used: straight up, old school roots rock, or hardcore punk. Both of these work (they are fine genres), but there’s no real rhyme or reason, just boom, here’s another song. The roots stuff sounds like Drive-By Truckers, and the punk stuff sounds like 80s vintage SoCal hardcore, but it’s not. It’s good, but it’s puzzling.

Still a Pretty Good Flick

Is A Sweet Sickness: The Flathead Movie fantastic? No. Is it even a good movie? Probably not, but it’s not exactly bad either. And since it’s on Amazon Prime, what have you got to lose? It’s only an hour, and you’re already a subscriber, so why not give it a go? It’s a good flick for some old school gearhead fun.

Flathead V8
A Sweet Sickness: The Flathead Movie
Where to Watch

Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz