My Little Deuce Coupe

How I got the car: In the mid 1960s, I answered an ad in the Nickel Classified Ads that said “old, rusty cars for sale – need rent money.” The lady who answered my call said her husband had died in a bar brawl, and she had a “bunch of rusty cars in the barn.”

When I visited her house in Chiloquin, I learned that she was $200 behind on rent and I could have everything in the barn for that amount. In the barn I found four 1932 three-window coupes, a 1932 two-door sedan, 20 grill shells and various other Ford parts. All were formerly Klamath County, Oregon, police cars.

I paid her, then called my friends in Klamath Falls, Oregon, to get out here with their trailers and pick-ups because I’d stumbled on the classic Ford find of the century.

My friends helped me get them to my parents’ farm, where I stored them for several years. I started on my first hot rod from the five in the 1970s, finishing it in 1980 or 1981 . I sold it in 1983. During the 1980s I also sold two as I’d found them for $20,000 each. Selling those, plus the one I hot rodded, gave me the finances I needed to start on the fourth one in the early 1990s.

My goal from the start was to make this 1932 three-window Ford coupe d iffer from what I saw at car shows. It seemed to me that you’d always see a string of them, all fairly similar sitting in a row, and I wanted to be totally different.

The first difference was the engine. At car shows about 90 percent of them sported Chevy engines. so I got a hold of an engine from a 1940s World War II tank – maybe a Sherman – but I’m not positive of that. It was a flathead V-8, manufactured by GM ‘s Cadillac division. lt seemed like a good idea at the time – but l questioned that many times over the four years it took to rebuild it!

The first engine challenge was that I didn’t have all the parts, and they weren’t easy to find. What got me going was pure luck. I was driving i n Arizona on old Route 66 and stopped at an abandoned auto junkyard. In a lean-to under a Chevy hood. I stumbled on a set of Edmond’s aluminum finned heads, a dual carb high rise intake manifold and a Mallory dual point distributor. I was off and running.

But the distributor was broken. I called Mallory, who informed me that they no longer made parts for it. They put me in touch with their engineer, however, who dug through the Mallory blueprint archive, found the blueprints and, based on them, built me a new electronic distributor. Of course, before he did, I wanted to know the price of doing something custom like this. He said that because it was cool and different, he”d do it for the cost of the parts. The distributor cost me just under $200 – less than a new modern one off the shelf.

Meanwhile, I was dealing with the challenge of getting a cam shaft built. It took me a year just to find a company that wouId even talk to me about building a full-race cam. As fortune would have it, the phone at Delta Cams in Seattle, Washington was answered by Delta’s founder, who was actually retired and just visiting (his son now ran the cornpany). The founder said he’d check the facility’s attic and see if he had any blank cams. A call the next day confirmed that they had two. After finding out I wanted full -race grind, he said they’d grind it for me. Bracing for sticker shock, I asked how, much. He said that because I was “rescuing him from boredom,” he’d do it for the freight cost of $35. I said I’d take both.

The engine needed major work for the rebuild – not stuff your local shop does. But I found a machine shop in Springfield, Oregon that specialized in military engine overhauls. They did machining, porting and relieving, and installed Manley sodium-filled valves.

Now I needed custom hydraulic lifters. My search took me to Detroit to an outfit that used to make them years ago. On these, I got no bargain, but I got them. Lastly, I needed to make custom-built exhaust headers to use the dual carbs and redo the engine front to install an alternator. The engine was ready to assemble – about a week’s work – and now I needed a transmission that would go with it.

This turned out lo be a big problem. We had to use the bell housing that came with the engine because the starter mounted to it. That presented another problem – it needed an input shaft 1 7/8 inch longer than the shaft of a standard GM transmission. It turned out that the solution to putting a Cad llac engine in Ford was a Chrysler four speed (rock crusher) transmission that had the required input shaft.

With the engine in shape, the rest of the build was fairly straightforward, though required attention to detail. I left the rear of the body on top of the original frame with the original gas tank. At the firewall, I channeled the body 2.5 inches to give i t a raked look. I chopped the top as well; the rear was 2.5 inches and the front was 2 7/8 inches. It took three days to build the custom flame cut-outs at the front. Because the top of the exhaust system passed so close to the firewall I installed three firewalls with insulation between all of them. Throughout the car there are four types of insulation (two are aircraft insulation) to keep it cool even in the hottest weather – despite a black finish. The body work took about two and a half years.

I finished i n January 2010, about 18 or 19 years after I started. Obviously, some of those years weren’t put into working on the car, but into finding engine parts and fabricators – if I’d had all the parts I needed at once, the actual work would have taken about eight years.

Was i t worth it? Since January 2010, I’ve put my Little Deuce Coupe into four cruise-in type car shows and taken Best of Show at each. I think so, and apparently so do a lot of other people.