When Deaner Probst built his hot rod in 1957, he had no idea that it would become a NHRA National Champion show car, attract the attention of hot rodding greats and survive long enough to come back in style again. George Barris and Darryl Starbird saw the 1933 Ford at custom car shows, and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth asked if he could copy parts of the suspension. “He said he never saw coil springs with a beam axle,” Probst recalls, “and he asked how it rode.”
The red cabriolet that Probst calls “Little Dough” – the same name he used for years on his auto upholstery business – rode great then and still does. And Deaner hopes that it will someday ride into history. “When I die I want the car to be put into Darryl Starbird’s National Rod & Custom Car Hall of Fame,” he says. “Darryl expressed interest in it at one time, and I’m hoping he’d put it in his museum.”
Deaner found the 1933 Ford cabriolet when he got home from the service in 1957. At that time, the car was sitting in a shed and was half torn apart. Somebody had started an attempt to make a hot rod out of it. Deaner recalls, “The body was all screwed up on it.” He dragged it home anyway and, before too long, his wife was threatening to kick him out of the house for bringing it home. That was plenty of inspiration to work hard on the car all through that winter of 1957, and by 1958 Deaner and his wife were driving it as their second car.
It was in 1959 that Deaner took the Ford to a show in Janesville, Wisconsin, where the car took first place. He was then invited to other events, and that started a series of trips to other car shows. Eventually, the Ford wound up at the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) nationals, where it won a second in class.
After he came home, Deaner noticed that all the publicity generated by that show used pictures of his car. The car’s eye appeal was then further underlined by an experience he had in 1962. After exhibiting his car throughout that show season, Deaner took it back to the nationals and won first place in his class. In those years, Deaner used to take his wife to Milwaukee for Chinese dinners and a movie. It was while they were at the theatre that he got a shock.
“They had these newsreels – I don’t know if they still do – where this rotating camera came on the screen and it said ‘The Eyes and Ears of the World,’” Deaner flashed back. “And all of a sudden, they said that the 1962 National Championship Hot Rod Show had been sponsored in Detroit – or was it Indianapolis? – and they flashed a big picture of my car on the screen. I said, ‘Hey, that’s my car!’ when I saw it and somebody behind me said, ‘Yeah, right!’”
After that, the accolades continued. In 1963, both Deaner and the car appeared on the cover of one of Petersen Publishing Company’s Spotlite Books called Custom Hot Rods, which was put together by the editors of Rod & Custom magazine. Deaner was bending over his car’s Hemi engine, and to the left of him on that cover was a purple T-Bucket driven by Ed Roth! The Ford also made the cover of an issue of Rod & Custom. Little Dough was getting big exposure.
In addition to showing up at the movies, Little Dough was pictured and written up in magazines and newspapers and shown on TV. Racing driver Tony Bettenhausen drove it at the Milwaukee Mile racetrack in 1961, the same year that he died testing a car at Indy. The car was also seen at county fairs. After it won first place at the nationals, Midwest custom car show promoter Ray Farhner rented it for a year to display at his shows. By the time the car was given back to Deaner, it had noticeably deteriorated. He still drove it for a couple of more years before storing it away in a shed, and it stayed there for the next 30 years.
According to Deaner he hadn’t touched Little Dough for a lot of years and then, about 10 years ago, Rod & Custom ran a picture of their old magazine cover showing the 1933 Ford in their nostalgia column. One of Deaner’s friends in Florida saw the item and urged him to write in to say he still had the car. It took some convincing, but he finally contacted the magazine, and the editors ran his letter with a memo saying, “You should quit watching the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin and make the car like it was when it appeared on the magazine.”
Deaner had been through some heart-related medical problems and thought that fixing the car up would be good therapy. Since then, it has been shown alongside Barris and Starbird creations and driven to local cruises. “I show it basically as a feature car,” notes Deaner. “At 77, I’m getting a little too old to drive it too far.” He says that wherever he goes, the car is well received.
“One day, some people came in and said they were from California and had an outfit called ‘Mad Fabricators’ and they wanted to do a video about me and my car,” Deaner recalls. “So, they sat me down and had me tell them all about my cars, starting with the ’40 Ford that I chopped and channeled when I was 16 years old and about many of the other cars I’ve built and the projects I’ve worked on and the people I’ve met.”
To Deaner Probst, the people are more important than the cars. He thinks fondly about the people he met back in the 1960s, the people who wanted to build a car and really didn’t have a lot of money. “None of us had a lot of money back in those days,” he emphasizes. “We would build a car like this one – that was made from all junkyard parts – and we did all of our own work, and if we didn’t know how to do something, we’d go to work for some old guy who did. And those old guys really knew their stuff.”
The 1933 Ford cabriolet is powered by a 1951 Chrysler 331ci “Firepower” Hemi, the second one Deaner installed. He broke the back off the first one when he blew up a clutch. The engine is fitted with four Stromberg 97 carbs and hooked to a 1939 Ford three-speed gearbox with a truck adapter on back for an open drive shaft. Deaner built the intake manifold, the exhaust manifold and the exhaust system. He “zeed” the frame, channeled the body and upholstered the car. The full wheel discs are a Pontiac item with spinners added. “It’s got what I call the three H’s,” says Deaner. “Hubcaps, hinges and handles. I could replace the outside door handles with electric openers, but that would spoil the nostalgia thing for the car. This car is built like we built them in the ’50s.”
The front grille is fabricated of expanded metal with dresser drawer pulls on it. The rear end styling came about as the result of an accident in which Deaner bumped into something while backing the car off a trailer. Since he wanted to go to a show right after that, he and his friend Vern Cletes, who owned a body shop, worked day and night to make repairs. They made the oval rear grille out of a Pontiac bumper valance that’s turned around. “Vern cut things apart, and I tried to weld them back together,” Deaner explains. “Because every time I’d make a mistake, he’d smash it apart and make me start over again.”
Notes on Little Dough’s Upholstery and Little Dough Upholstery
Kustoms & Hot Rods: You said the car had no upholstery at first?
Deaner Probst: No upholstery! It didn’t even have seats. But the first year I drove it, my wife and I upholstered it in some kind of vinyl that we bought from Sears & Roebuck. That actually led to us starting my business, Little Dough Auto Trim. I guess you could say we practiced on that car and we upholstered it just like it is today. However, the upholstery has been changed several times, being as how I’m an upholsterer, but now it’s back to just like it was when I first started showing it.
K&HR: When you first did it, you weren’t an upholsterer? You learned on it?
DP:Well, I worked nights at General Motors in Janesville then. And I got to work in the trim department. I was an “A” Trim Repairman, so I fixed almost everything but paint. But I had painted cars because my dad was an automobile dealer. So I had painted cars and I had put convertible tops on when I was a kid. And I patched some upholstery, but my wife was an expert seamstress, and she helped immensely.
K&HR: If someone wanted to upholster a car like that today, could they?
DP:Well, I wouldn’t do it, but I’m sure somebody could. Well, let me rephrase that…I would probably upholster a car like that, but I wouldn’t copy my own thing. I’d have to do it at least a little bit differently. I’ve done candy stripe interiors and things like that, and they border on what Little Dough has but are not exactly the same.
K&HR: What is the material the car’s upholstery is made of?
DP:It’s marine vinyl, and it’s made like a quilt. Each diamond-shaped piece is cut and stitched to the next one. That red and white pattern is not made from one big piece of material. It’s a lot of little pieces sewn together.
K&HR: Do you think the auto upholstery business is thriving or dying?
DP:I think it’s dying. For one thing, every one who wants their car upholstered wants it done for nothing. And there’s so many people who want tweed interiors that look like something out of the dime store. I don’t like them, and I don’t like to do what I don’t like. When I was young I had to do a lot of things I didn’t like, but now that I’m old, I don’t have to do that.
Deaner Probst has had this car for 53 years and says it’s not for sale.
The chrome fenders, chrome grille shell and alternator are car’s only updates.
Hubcaps, hinges and handles reveal the car’s nostalgic character.
For you primer traditionalists, Deaner says, “Chrome was the thing then.”
The Firepower 331 V-8 is from the very first year of a Chrysler Hemi – 1951.
The red-and-white diamonds are individually cut, then sewn together.
The dashboard is a 1932 Ford item that had to be nice to be chromed like this.
The red-and-white diamond tufted tonneau cover matches the upholstery.
Naturally, the interior door panels are “matching numbers” too.
Deaner fabricated the exhaust manifolds and the complete system.
The custom grille is made of expanded metal, decorated with dresser drawer pulls.
Frame rails, hoses, gas lines and other details are all color coordinated.
The rear styling is the result of a trailering accident early in car’s show career.
The functional trunk does have an electric opener. Trim includes red carpets, white back panel and red-and-white side panels.
Early 1950s Pontiac hubcaps are updated with two-blade spinners.
The Ford “Lifeguard” package deep-dish steering wheel retains the factory logo.