The long haul Deuce

Old Cars reader talks of his 64 years with a 1932 Ford roadster
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The 1932 Ford roadster in after its first paint job in 1962.

The 1932 Ford roadster in after its first paint job in 1962.

By Eugene Crisman

When I was in high school in 1946, I yearned for a 1932 Ford roadster. A couple of my friends had Model A Ford roadsters, but my dream was a 1932. They were as scarce as hen’s teeth then and the same holds true today. You can find all kinds of “kit car” ’32s, but few real Henry Ford originals. When you do find a real ’32 Ford, they want big bucks for them — if they are even for sale. In my 75 years of looking, I have only seen eight original 1932 Ford roadsters, which is odd as Ford manufactured 9000 of them in 1932.

We moved to Gooding, Idaho, in 1954 and after a couple of years, I found two Ford Model A roadster bodies that I ultimately restored, but they were still not ’32 Fords. Then, in 1956, I was looking around an old scarp yard and came upon 1932 Ford roadster remains buried in the weeds. Closer examination showed a body with both doors, a rumble seat lid and the frame, but nothing else. I tried to buy the body, but it was not for sale. For about six months, I tried and tried to buy the ’32 but to no avail. One day, I went back to try again and the owners of the yard were sitting around a table and about two-thirds drunk with an empty bottle. I hightailed it back to town and bought a bottle of booze, wrapped a $10 bill around the neck with a rubber band and went back to dicker. The end result was I now owned a badly burned-up 1932 Ford roadster frame and body. The was no way for me to get the body home, so I scrounged around some more and finally found a front end, motor, transmission, differential and wheels and tires from other 1932 and ‘33 Fords. I traded my partially built 1929 Ford Model A roadster for all of these parts. The 1929 was driveable but needed lots of work to complete it.

A March 1959 photograph of the 1932 Ford roadster after it was partially assembled after its escape from a salvage yard.

A March 1959 photograph of the 1932 Ford roadster after it was partially assembled after its escape from a salvage yard.

In the dirt and weeds, I finally found all the components and bolted them onto the frame so I could tow the ’32 roadster home. How I did it, I do not remember, but the scrap yard must have had a wrecker that I used to haul the parts around.

When all that was completed, I took Bev with me and went out to bring home the ’32. She drove our Cadillac and I sat on a 5 gallon can for a seat while steering the ’32. The distance was only about four miles so it was not a great feat. When I got the roadster home, I took the first picture of it and this was after countless hours to get it into towable condition. Now I finally had my ’32 after 10 years of searching!

This was in the fall of 1956 and since I was fresh out of money, little was done to the ’32 roadster until we moved to Nampa, Idaho, in the spring of 1959. I still had a 1931 Ford roadster as a second car so there was no big rush. We made quite a caravan moving from Gooding to Nampa. It was only 118 miles, so Bev drove the Cadillac towing the ‘32 and I drove the 1931 Model A roadster towing our Glaspar boat. We made quite a show as we drove down the highway.

Once in Nampa, the first order of business was to get the ’32 roadster body sandblasted as it was severely burned and needed sandblasting inside and out to get rid of the burnt paint and rust. Next stop was a body shop where I had it primered inside and out to stop future rust.

The built flathead that was originally installed in the hot rod.

The built flathead that was originally installed in the hot rod.

The next project was the motor and drivetrain. The transmission was OK and when I checked the differential, I discovered it had a 4.33 gear ratio, so it must have come out of a truck. When I tore the motor down for an overhaul, I found I had a 59Y industrial block instead of a 59AB car block. The 59Y was built stronger than the 59AB so that became a definite plus in the years to come. About this same time, Jim Dillon called and asked if I would like to buy his flathead speed equipment. Jim raced at Meridian Speedway and he was converting to s small-bock Chevrolet V-8 like most of the other racers. He had blown out the bottom of the motor, but the bolt-on parts were all good so I bought everything he had. With speed equipment in hand, I tore down my engine, took it to Wood’s Machine Shop and had them do their magic. I had the block ported and relieved and the ports polished so the motor could breathe easier, and then had the rods, pistons and crank shot-peened and fully balanced. They lightened the flywheel and balanced that, With all that work out of the way, it was now time to assembly my full-race flathead engine.

Here, in a nutshell, is what I ended up with: a standard bore and stroke 239-cid engine with three-ring short skirt racing pistons, Iskenderian 2007 track grind cam, lightened valves with adjustable lifters, Harmon Collins dual coil distributor, Offenhauser 10.5:1 finned aluminum heads, Offenhauser three-carb intake manifold with three Stromberg 97 carburetors. Couple this with the 4.33 differential and I had a real mover.

I put a 5000 rpm tach in the car and found the engine was turning faster than that so I bought a 7500 rpm tach and that was still not enough. Finally, I found a 12,000 rpm tach and learned I could turn 10,000 rpm quite easily. A trip to a dyno showed 350 hp at 10,000 rpm, which was quite a feat then, but not so much now. And actually, I found the motor would turn 12,000 rpm, but each time I tried that, I ended up with disastrous results that were also quite expensive. Thus, it was wise to stop at 10,000 rpm.

Now 10,000 rpm might sound like a lot of fun, but it did present some problems. First off, Ford flathead engines had an inherent heating problem in bone stock form and when you jack up the horsepower as I did, you magnify the heating problem As a result, a 4-in. core radiator was needed to partially solve the heating problem. Cooling fans do not like that kind of engine revolutions and right off the bat, it cost me a new radiator when the fan ate up the old radiator. The solution was an electric fan. 10,000 rpm will also throw the windings out of a generator, so I had to rig up a quick-disconnect on the generator if I was going hot rodding. The water pump pulleys were pressed on and after spinning a couple of them off, I had to spot weld them on. I would also blow off the top radiator hoses so I welded flat washers on the water pump outlets to restrict water flow. Then I was ready to rock ‘n’ roll. It was fun to come up behind someone on the freeway at 70 mph, throw the Ford in second gear, and then blow by the car like it was standing still with the carburetors roaring and the dual pipes bellowing.

About this same time, I received word that the Heap Herders Car Club in Caldwell was stripping down a 1932 Ford five-window coupe to make a hot rod out of it. Since I needed a multitude of body parts to complete my ’32 roadster, I made a deal with the car club to buy all the body parts they were taking off. This included a dash panel with all the instruments, a firewall (mine had large gaping holes cut in it), hood, grille shell, running boards, frame end covers, gas tank, spare tire holder and several other small parts.

With all the motor work done and the body parts from the Heap Herders installed, I upholstered the interior in blue Naugahyde. Since the body was still pretty rough, I painted it white so the roughness would not show so bad.

I had completely rebuilt the mechanical brakes but one trip down Winther Boulevard convinced me that I needed to convert to hydraulic brakes if I wanted to be able to safely stop. I bought a wrecked 1940 Ford and took the brakes off it along with the column shift transmission, steering column and steering wheel and then fit them to the ’32. Now I could go and also stop. Then I tried to sell the motor out of the 1940 Ford but got no buyers as they could not see it run. I pulled the motor out of the ’32 Ford, put the ’40 Ford motor into the roadster and sold the motor to the first man that looked at it. I pulled the motor back out, put my motor back in and all was done. I was pretty fast at putting motors in my ’32 and I and Jerry Labrum had the ’40 Ford motor out and mine back in within an hour.

With the motor work all done and all the body parts installed, it was now time to think about getting the body work completed and the car repainted. I went to Honstead Motors and got a quote to have the body work done and the car repainted. This was in 1962. I selected a 1962 General Motors metallic light blue paint — it came out beautiful. And it lasted until 1976 when the beautiful blue paint deteriorated to a dull gray.

During this time, I once drag raced down Yale Boulevard in Nampa (this was a bout 1963). I tried a full-throttle power shift at 10,000 rpm and the result was a blown clutch, transmission, drive shaft, differential and a broken axle. Witnesses said the front end came off the ground a good 2 feet. Since we were taking my folks to South Dakota in about two weeks, we just towed the Ford home and put it in the garage. When we got home from our trip, I went looking for a replacement parts to put the ’32 back on the road. I found everything I needed except the differential. I could not find a 4.33 ratio so settled for a 3.78, which was not near as exciting.

We moved to Kona, Hawaii, in 1967 where I worked on flood control for four years. One day, in the spring of 1970, I was checking flood damage when I came upon an old 1936 Ford body laying upside down in a kipuka. I checked the numbers on the differential and, joy upon joy, found it was a 4.44-ratio rear end. I recruited the whole family and with the combined efforts of all, we got the rear end over about a quarter mile of rough lava and then down to the highway. I took the differential home, tore it down and found it to be just like new inside so under the Ford it went. Wanting to try it out, Bob, Gary and I went to Kailua, turned around and headed back up Kuakini Highway. This is a steep hill which goes from sea level to 1500-feet elevation in less than seven miles. I punched the throttle and away we went: 50 mph, then 70 mph, then 90 mph. The numbers stopped at 90 mph but the needle kept climbing around back to 0 again, then 10, 20, and finally 30 mph on the second time around. About then I blew the oil dipstick tube out of the motor and had to shut it down. Oil flew everywhere and the smoke was so thick that I thought we were on fire. Never had I traveled so fast in a car and probably never will I do so again, but what a thrill it was that one time. I have been to 120 mph many times but never in anything as small as a 1932 Ford. To this day, our son, Bob, still recounts that experience.

The 1932 Ford roadster in red, as it appears today.

The 1932 Ford roadster in red, as it appears today.

I fought the heating problem with the 1932 until 1974 and finally decided that something different needed to be done. A friend of Bob’s by the name of Johny Azereli rolled his 1955 Chevrolet. He had no title to it, so I bought it for $125, mainly for the engine. Bob says if he had the ’55 Chevy today, he would restore it. The ’55 had an unbuilt 283-cid V-8 so I bought a motor adapter and installed the 283 in my ’32. What a disappointment that was. While I no longer had the heating problem, I had also lost a whole lot of power. It was OK, just not as thrilling as the full-race flathead.

Finally, in 1976, the blue paint that I put on the ’32 back in 1962 had become so ratty looking that I went to Mountain Home Auto Body where my son worked and Bob painted the 1932 a 1976 Ford red, which it still wears today.

Sometime after that I was out to Barger-Mattson wrecking yard and found a blown 350-cid Corvette engine in the inventory. I bought the camshaft, heads, distributor, intake manifold and carburetor and commenced to put them on my engine. What a difference in power that made. It still didn’t match up to the flathead I used to have, but it was about 50 percent better than the stock 283. The only problem was that the carburetor was a 750-cfm Quadrajet and while a 350 might handle that, the 283 would not. I ultimately pulled off the intake manifold and carburetor and put a 4GC Rochester in its place, then everything worked like it was supposed to. Later on, I pulled the manifold off again and put a 2GC Rochester carburetor on it as the 2GC was easier to work on than the 4GC. Since I only drive the ’32 about once a year and I don’t do much hot rodding anymore, that is about all I need. When I put the Chevrolet motor in the ’32, I found that, while the flathead with its high revolutions handled the 4.44 differential OK, the 283 did not so, again, I changed differentials and went back to the 3.78 ratio, which the 283 handles OK.

After all these 64 years, I still have my dream car. Now it’s bright red and powered by a 283 engine built with Corvette parts and coupled to a 1940 Ford drivetrain. It still goes like crazy, but not like the old 239 used to go. At least it does not overheat anymore though.

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