By definition, every hot rod is unique, configured and constructed to the ideas and ideals of an individual owner. At the same time, hot rods are tightly constrained by a set of not-quite-rigid rules tacitly agreed on by participants. The car featured here is a Platonic ideal of a hot-rodded 1932 Ford roadster. It’s not real-not an authentic Southern California car from the immediate post-World War II period when old Ford roadsters were still being used as daily drivers, changing hands for a hundred bucks or so. Rather, this is a surrealistic evocation of all that was considered cool in 1945-54, i.e., before the small-block Chevrolet V-8 changed everything forever.
Noted car guy Ken Gross built this gem specifically to respect all the unwritten rules of rodding in effect when, as a fifteen-year-old high-school student in 1956, he started imagining what “his” Deuce highboy roadster should be. The flathead Ford V-8 was just about the only affordable performance engine available then, used by almost everyone worldwide who wanted to go fast cheaply. Sydney Allard used flatheads. Zora Arkus-Duntov did, too, although he and brother Yura concocted Talbot-inspired overhead-valve cylinder heads for the Ford block. Ettore Bugatti was reported to have used four Ford V-8s in a personally designed yacht, just to prove that his plan to run the crankshafts vertically did not require a purpose-designed engine. It took four decades before Gross acquired all the pieces needed to achieve his dream roadster, but he did it.
In the original period, there were essentially no alloy wheels, no low-profile tires, no radials (outside France, anyway), no halogen lamps, no fuel injection, no alternators, no electronics, and few “spot” disc brakes. Gross used a racing-type magneto because it was cool but added hidden electronics and a manual spark advance to make his engine livable on the street. The block is not the classic 59A but the military 59Z version, reputed to be made of better iron. Aftermarket superchargers for Fords existed, and Gross’s is an Italian S.Co.T. (for Supercharger Company of Torino), destined only for very bucks-up rodders.
It would cost well into six figures to construct this car today, were anyone so inclined and so purist in intention as to avoid anything post-dating the ubiquitous small-block Chevy. Only an automotive aesthete like Gross would bother, so most hot rods today have real or reproduction Ford bodies (some of the latter are fiberglass instead of steel) but use Chevy engines because they’re so reliable and so cheap to make astonishingly powerful. Gross drives this car, not worried about a few stone chips on the multicoat, highly polished, black lacquer finish. He wants it to attain a gentle patina to make clear that it’s not a trailer-queen showpiece.
When the pollution police finally shut down the freedom that hot-rodders have enjoyed for a century or so, I hope Gross’s roadster finally does become a museum piece. It’s the icon of an age now gone.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1. The late Bob Gregorie, longtime chief designer at Ford, once reminisced that he believed the beloved ’32 Ford grille, last of the vertical designs, was created by the engineer who designed the Model T transmission. Masterpieces, both of them.
2. What you see below this curving longitudinal line is the actual frame, altered at both ends to achieve a lower stance for the vehicle. A lot of rework has considerably stiffened this chassis.
3. The cut-down windshield adds to the aura of sportiness and provides an adequate view because of thin pillars that barely exceed the average human interpupillary dimensions, rendering them virtually invisible.
4. This is a “Carson top.” Real ones were made in Amos Carson’s shop in Los Angeles from 1935. They were padded and did not fold but could be lifted off, and more than 5000 were allegedly produced before the last was made for George Barris in 1965. Like Kleenex and Xerox, Carson is now a generic term.
5. This mirror may look like an aftermarket addition, but it was standard on all Deluxe ’32 Fords. A good thing, because you surely can’t see much with the center mirror.
6. Gross matched the shape of the standard Ford hood side vents to create these custom top-of-hood louvers.
7. These Guide 682-C sealed-beam lamps come from a General Motors subsidiary and were common to many cars of the ’20s and ’30s. Today the fashion is to use genuine ’32 Ford lamps, but that was never part of the canon in this car’s reference time.
8. No disc brakes in the reference period? This car has them, the ultrarare Kinmont disc brake assemblies, of which fewer than 300 sets were reputedly made.
9. Gross says the slight vee in the headlamp support bar is elegant, matching the slight vee of the grille. He’s right.
10. But maybe not in bending a vee into the tube between the frame horns. An old California hot-rodder I know, a member of the Road Runners in the 1940s, thinks it’s “a little too cute-it should be straight.” He’s right, too.
11. The polished aluminum blower evokes the look of grand prix Alfa Romeos, not surprising given the Italian origin of this S.Co.T. unit.
12. A much-prized accessory, the Filcoolator oil-filter housing contains a modern filter element to keep the new/old engine in fine fettle.
13. Good old-fashioned vee-belts drive all the accessories, adding to the authenticity-and doing their job very nicely, thank you.
14. Ah, the finned cylinder heads that are so much a part of the charm of flathead Ford racing and sports engines. The Ford iron units were, if not ugly, simply ordinary. All the many aftermarket heads were charming and beautiful, like these polished Eddie Meyer pieces.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
15. The wheels are just wheels-steel production units (’40 Ford in front, ’39 Lincoln in back) fitted with trim rings and button hubcaps. Nothing fancy, but are they ever nice. Disparate rubber sizes set the stance.
16. More like a tank’s viewing slit than a real backlight, this “mail slot” was very much a desired element of Carson tops and had been a feature of limousines for decades, a curious sociological juxtaposition.
17. ’39 Ford teardrop taillights were de rigueur for rodders in the 1940s. Deciding exactly where to place them on the turtledeck required hours of reflection. These are right.
18. Yes, that’s the actual fuel tank, about as well protected as those on early Ford Pintos.
19. The push-bar bumper is simple, straightforward, and-ultimately-quite elegant.
20. The high vulnerability of the fuel filler is authentic, but were I doing a ’32 hot rod, it would be placed well forward, with a relocated tank. But it wouldn’t be a museum-piece solution, as this whole car is.
21. Ford’s center-pivot wishbones were good for the Model T in 1908, but by the ’40s rodders liked to separate the radius rods and attach them to the frame rails, allowing much lower chassis and ride heights.