1932 Ford Highboy Coupe Pulls 180 After 40 Years Disintegrating in a Barn
This '32 Ford was scavenged until it was a shell, and then scavenged again before a miraculous restoration.
Deuce coupe "barn finds" rarely surface today, but there are still some buried treasures out there. Hot rod builder Jim Siegmund found his 1932 Ford Highboy coupe—pictured above in as-found condition—beneath a heap of, well, we'll let him tell us about that. In Jim's words, "I found this car in Grand Terrace, California, where it had spent 40 years under a pile of carpet remnants and roofing material. It had a tube chassis with cutouts for headers in the cowl. It had been a project of the Sagittarians Car Club in Riverside. It was drag-raced with a flathead; some say a Hemi.
"Everything that could be was cut out of the car, including the top of the cowl—all interior bracing, the floor, the subrails, and everything else imaginable. A banjo rearend was welded solid to the tube frame and parts of the front axle assembly (axle, perches, and radius rods) were welded together. All of the car's cutting and welding was crudely done with oxy-acetylene."
For the coupe of Jim's imagineering, the gutted drag car would only provide a few salvageable body panels. For a solid foundation, Jim was quick to contact Al Simon who had helped him with previous projects—"every one of them," Jim says. Beginning with American Stamping 'rails, a front crossmember from Total Cost Involved, and a rear crossmember from a Model A, Simon fabricated his own tubular center structure to complete the boxed frame.
Up front, underpinnings showcase a dropped 'n' drilled axle from Chassis Engineering. The forged I-beam was ground smooth and chrome plated by MJB Plating with its recesses painted body color to match. Split 'bones and a Posies Super Slide spring are also shiny chrome. Spindles are Speedway Motors items and steering is Vega-type from Classic Performance Products.
Out back underneath, suspended by a Model A spring, that's a genuine Halibrand Culver City quick-change. Equipped with helical gears, it spins Dutchman axles at a final ratio of 3.30:1. The assembly is kept in line by 1935-1936 Ford radius rods with tubular shocks smoothing the bumps at all four corners.
For power Jim's choice is a classic hot rod mill from the '60s: a 401ci Buick. With machine work and assembly handled by Wayne's Engine Rebuilding, the old nailhead received a Schneider cam and an Edelbrock four-barrel carb this time around. Quite properly backed by the Buick's freshened ST400 trans, a balanced driveshaft by Ed Moore makes the quick-change connection via open drive conversion by Hot Rod Works.
Living in the land of stop 'n' go traffic, there's no substitute for adequate binders. For a T-word traditionalist like Jim, however, disc-type brakes would never do. Fitting within the theme, front brakes are reproduction Lincoln-type from MT Car Products. Rear brakes are 9-inch Ford-type from Hot Rod Works. Brake system plumbing is by Jason Oberhelman, and the drum/drum combo takes cues from an unassisted dual master cylinder.
With the better part hidden in the shadows below, this coupe's exhaust system is pure art and pure hot rod, beginning with lakes-type headers from an online auction site. From there, attitude-exuding 2-inch twice-pipes pass the gas through Smithy's mufflers. Since Jim goes with who he knows, Joe St. Louis was once again his muffler man of choice.
Concealed within a Vintique reproduction Deuce shell is a custom aluminum radiator from The Radiator Lady. The Moon tank comes with a story of its own, as it has seen its fair share of landspeed racing. Back when Jim Kitchen (San Berdoo Roadsters) decided to make his Model A roadster a full-time (currently running C/STR) race car, he invited friends over and then gave the order to tear the car all the way down. For Jim, the tank is a souvenir from that day.
Body by Forbes
The old 1932 Ford Highboy's body was far beyond rough, with near all of its supporting structure torched away for lightening. Although it served its purpose in the '50s, the drag car's top chop was what we'd consider botched. With a cutting torch the top came down 3-3/4 inches in front and 3 inches in back, roughly, give or take. The cowl was then pie-sliced to sort of butchered A-pillars. That created severe misalignment of the upper door hinges, which caused the doors to droop. Long story short, the body would be the tough part of Jim's build. That's where metal master, Gordon Forbes, comes in.
Down-to-earth and focused, Forbes doesn't toot his horn. Although he's worked with famous folks, he's not one to seek the spotlight, as he's currently content at his Calimesa, California, homebased shop. That's where the amazing metalwork on Jim's job was done. Regarding the botched chop, Forbes gives credit to the young '50s drag racers—at least for their forward-slanted vision. Their vision wasn't bad. To pull it off properly, however, would require a rather advanced skillset.
To salvage the body's remains, Forbes began his yearlong undertaking with new Brookville subrails. From there with square tubing, he fabricated a stabilizing cross-fixture to squarely secure the body's floppy skins. To make the slanted chop work meant starting over. A-pillars had to be entirely fabricated. Then the roof was lengthened, just slightly as necessary. Forbes also fabricated B-pillars and drip rail sections to fit. For proper fit of door glass channels, the upper doorframes required widening as well. According to Forbes that's an important step that was often ignored back in the day.
Since the roof insert's opening had been enlarged back in the '50s, a new steel insert made sense. Walden Speed Shop's steel inserts come a little oversize. That solved a problem, and Forbes has some nice things to say about the accurate fit of that panel. Just like all the other patch panels the roof insert was grafted by gas-hammer welding.
In his search for tough-to-find parts, Jim was fortunate. A repairable cowl was included when he purchased the car. A set of garnish moldings was found hanging from the rafters of The Early Ford Store, and Forbes' friend, Joe Publicover, had an experienced roll bar and a fairly cherry pair of doors. Tying these things together, of course, took some doin' as the body's metalwork continued. For areas below each quarter window Forbes cut away stress-cracked steel. Then from a cereal box (Cap'n Crunch, as he recalls), Forbes made patterns for patches and then took a drive to access his English wheel, which was sort of loaned out to another shop. According to Jim, Forbes returned with compound-curved patch panels that "fit perfectly."
Among other stress-cracked areas were the T-shaped bodyline reveals, just above the trunklid's upper corners. Forbes made his own dies to press those patches. While in Forbes' care and custody, the body also received new wheelwells, a new rear body panel, and new steel floor panels. Holding steel skins steady is all-new body wood, whittled to fit the slanted chop. With metal-finishing and necessary leadwork completed at Forbes' shop, the body with its pre-fit panels went to Cal-Blast in nearby Upland for soda blasting.
Good Help from Good Neighbors
After blasting, pieces were transported back to Jim's hometown of San Bernardino for paint by Phil Currie of Bionic Auto Body. Jim remembered "Florentine Blue" from some '40s Fords he'd known and recognized its potential as a hot rod hue. Using up-to-date materials, Currie matched the color—from a worn-out picture of a 1941 Ford.
Back at home, assembly chores were shared by Jim and friends. Eager to help, with ability and willingness to take on the dirtiest of dirty work, Jay Fishbeck was there. With able assistance from Howard Holman, Joe Turner, Jim Kitchen, and Bill Carey, the car went together in Jim's own garage. New glass was cut and installed by glazier Mark English, of Oldies Glass. From there interior trim was farmed out to Manny's Upholstery where Bengels seats met black leather tuck 'n' roll with piping in Florentine Blue.
Completing the exterior picture, Jim's rolling stock is period-correct in appearance. With Bob Drake trim rings and 1947-1948 'caps in place, wheel centers are dead ringers for genuine Ford parts. In reality the 16-inch steelie-type wheels are Gennies from Wheel Vintiques. To accommodate big 'n' little Coker Classic Nostalgia radials, wheel hoops are 4 and 6 inches wide. With 'striping by Lil' Louie as the finishing touch, Jim's 5-1/2-year project was finally road-ready; it's been steady on the road since the later part of 2016.
Since completion, Jim has racked up the miles, driving his 1932 Ford Highboy coupe everywhere he goes. With a tough-to-beat fun factor, Jim's gem should be considered an effective home build. To keep that in perspective, let's not forget the rough diamond he started with. Next time we spy a heap of carpet scraps and shingles perhaps we ought to wonder what's beneath it all.