One thing that makes street rods so appealing is the opportunity they afford to travel down a different fork of Memory Lane. For instance, what if Henry Ford had access to a 340-cube Y-block instead of a Flattie for his ’32? Of course this Stock Car engine is not a typical choice for rod, but Mike Richards had pieces available and felt it had been a bit overlooked after the successful 1957 season against the fuel-injected GM products.
Adding to the distinctiveness of this project, he had originally intended to use an earlier McCullough supercharger, but Craig Conley at Paradise Wheels had come into a half-dozen VR-57 units and that sealed the deal. All the guys at Hot Rods & Custom Stuff who built Richards’ rod agree that this is one of the coolest looking motors they’ve ever installed. And we’ll venture to say it’s just about the coolest one we’ve ever seen, too!
The result is not only an unusual mill in the engine bay of a superb ’32, but also a cleverly customized chassis and body. At first glance, the car might look to some as simply a really clean track roadster with an innovative grille, but that hardly does it justice. Randy Clark of Hot Rods & Custom Stuff gave it the full-boat treatment from stem to stern.
“When Mike Richards came to us to build his roadster he had a specific look in mind,” Clark recalls. “That look recalled the post-war era when the founding fathers of hot rodding were tearing up the Dry Lakes at El Mirage. An era when veterans, turned gearhead, were creating roadsters out of drop-tanks, and applying mechanical skills learned on Sherman tanks to the task of turning recycled junkyard Fords into time-setting record breakers. Cars which, years later, would rise Phoenix-like yet again as a new generation of rodders tried to one-up their fathers.”
One-up indeed. Inspired by a Flathead-powered track roadster he had once seen, Richards initially envisioned a nice little car to drive on a nice day. Nice, eh? Yeah, right. Looking back on it now, he says he never expected to experience such a car in his lifetime.
“As I worked with HR&CS, the varying bits and pieces that define a traditional rod came more into focus,” he notes. “This was a great learning experience for me, and Randy’s contribution (‘We used to do it this way’) was invaluable. Through this process, as the car became more defined, we never lost sight of the fact it was built to be driven. Randy brought that home again and again.”
So, when this blue bomber blasts by you like it’s on a strafing run, looking like it should have wings, that’s no accident. The starting point for this project is a Dearborn Deuce Convertible Body. These bodies come with a folding top that hides away behind the seat, since Richards, who hails from the rainy Northwest, wanted a bit more weather protection.
The Dearborn Deuce body rides on a Deuce Steel frame, but with a number of unusual and challenging modifications. The frame is a proprietary design made by HR&CS, consisting primarily of stock ‘32 Ford rails that have been modified forward of the firewall. The new front frame rails are longer and have more arc to them, which lowers the driving stance about three inches and lengthens the frame by the same amount.
In addition, no hood or grille pieces were ordered with the body, since they were all custom built. Also, the Deuce Steel front frame is longer and the rails have more curvature to allow it to sit lower. In addition, Richards wanted the car to be really low, so a channeled car rather than a Hiboy was an initial requirement. Moreover, the use of the Y-Block dictated (at least to him) a traditional look.
The first step in channeling the Dearborn body was to cut out the floors and firewall. If you try this at home, be sure to weld in braces first so the body doesn’t get twisted, Clark advises. Before doing any further modifications, the body was welded onto a jig. That done, the remaining floor braces were cut out. In order for the body to drop down over the frame, the existing door sills had to be cut away and new ones installed at the proper height. In this case the channeling lowered the body height by 2 5/8 inches.
Besides that Loboy look, one of the hallmarks of a “traditional” roadster is a set of big wheels in the back. The problem is that those big wheels hide the neat-looking reveal lines (those raised semi-circular shapes on the sides of wheel wells). Wanting to have his cake and eat it, too, Richards had Clark and crew crafted new reveal lines, visible above the big meats. That required some careful shaping of new panels, and blending them into the existing body at the rear corners to make that bobbed rear end look right.
Bobbing the rear end was another project in itself. “When some people have too much rear end, they get lipo-suction,” Clark notes with a grin. “When we have too much rear end, we cut it off!” He tackled that aspect by chopping off those rear frame horns and kicking them up so that the roadster hugs the ground front and back. The Deuce Steel frame already gives the roadster a lower stance in front, but the goal is to make the front and rear level.
That done, the back end of the body was modified in concert with the modification of the rear wheel wells. It began by cutting out the bottom half of the rear panel. The panel section that was removed was chopped about three inches and re-installed. Then the bottom of the rear panel was rolled under using steel tubing cut in half. Naturally, a new streamlined rear end requires new taillights. The ones used are ‘47-‘48 passenger / ‘42-‘47 Ford truck lights from Bob Drake, recessed into the sheetmetal.
The shorter skirt in the back shows off the Winters Quickchange rearend assembly, (Torino big bearing), with 6-spline gear set (1 3/8, 22/25 teeth), This setup is damped by Bilstein 13 x 2.5-inch aluminum coilovers. The rear brakes are from Winters as well.
As for the front body mods, because of the custom styling desired, it made no sense to try and modify a stock hood set. Instead, Clark built everything forward of the firewall from scratch, starting with a wooden buck and a couple of Styrofoam mock-ups, with a stock grille for comparison.
Cardboard and copper-wire wood mockups were used to determine the desired contour for the grille insert, a dramatically different shape with a convex curve and horizontal bars. During this phase of fabrication, Clark began to question his sanity, and wondered if something off the shelf would have worked just as well. No way. When asked what inspired him to create this rounded shape, he laughed and grabbed his belly, saying he’d been carrying it around for years.
Once the proper forms were determined, shaping of both the hood and grille shell on an English Wheel needed to be done at the same time to make sure that all the lines blended properly. Not only does this hood look different than a stock ‘32 Ford, it opens differently, too, using custom hood hinges on the firewall, along with pneumatic shocks.
In keeping with the original intent to keep the car a real-world driver, some louvering would be needed to vent the hot air under the hood. But how about going one better, and creating some vents that resemble the exhaust ports you'd find on the engine nacelle of a WWII fighter? On the inside, scoops are added to help direct hot air out from under the hood and increase the flow of cool air through the radiator.
For engine fitment, Clark had an old throw-away Y-block to use for mockups and making the custom exhaust, from headers to exhaust tips. The J- & U-bends used in the headers are from Specialty Products Design Inc. The exhaust system includes electric exhaust cutouts from Outlaw Muffler in Rialto, California. The hangers on this roadster are kind of unique, because as the pipes expand from the heat, they push the hanger pins further into the recesses.
Once the guys in Clark’s fabrication shop start cutting sheetmetal, it’s hard to get them to stop. Tim felt left out since he didn't get to take a whack at the body, so he decided to whip out some custom skid panels to cover up all that nifty exhaust work he did (he claimed it had something to do with the aerodynamics). In any case, it saved time detailing the underside later on. Of course, enclosing those exhaust pipes trap heat, so the panels needed to be punched with louvers. Extensive use of lizard skin, Dynamat and other shielding keeps the cockpit cozy and quiet, despite the raucous mill.
As noted at the outset, the engine is a 1956 Ford 312 Y-Block bored to 3.86 inches (.060 over). The crank is the 312, offset ground to 3.64 inches for two-inch rod bearings, so the resulting displacement is 340 cubes. The connecting rods are clearanced for the cams. ARP studs are used in the mains and heads, and ARP bolts in the rods. The pistons are milled flat, giving it an 8.4:1 compression ratio. Heads are 471 castings, ported by John Mummert for supercharged applications. The cam is a Y-284S, with a duration of 284 degrees, actuating 1.54 ratio rockers.
The VR-57 Ford/McCullough supercharger was rebuilt by Pat Fleischman, and the brackets, pulleys, bonnet front cover and water pump by Frank Rice of Rebop Castings. The supercharger is set up for seven pounds of boost at 5000 rpm. Custom machine work was handled by Cal Stewart at Stewart Machine in Renton, Washington, but the engine was assembled by Richards, the car’s owner. To funnel those boosted horses to the rearend, he chose a Tremec 5-speed.
As already noted other areas of the buildup, in order to get achieve the desired look in this custom hot rod, Clark had to get creative with the engineering. Because of the design of the front end, the desire to keep it low, the need for a traditional look, the headlights that had been chosen, and the need for shocks that actually worked, he had to go back to the drawing board. For all the reasons just mentioned, standard shock mounts located outside the frame would not work. So he came up with a way of locating the Bilstein shocks and the mounts inside the frame. But on the outside it looks like an old-style friction shock arm.
Up front, the Deuce Factory stainless steel axles and spindles are suspended by a Durant Enterprises mono-leaf spring. The wishbones are stock ‘32s that have had the front ends cut off and replaced with those from 40 Ford wishbones to fit the thicker axle. The stoppers are a combination of Walden hubs and OEM Buick drums with Wilson Welding & Machine backing plates. Painted blue with the fins polished, they look really sharp. Chrome Rod Wire rims from Wheel Vintiques run on bias-ply blackwalls from Coker Tire.
Typically the headlight mounts on a ’32 are integrated in some fashion with the front suspension, but lights chosen for this roadster were Electro-Line 2200 Series, used on 1930's LaFrance firetrucks. They required custom-fabricated stands made from three pieces of artfully curved steel tubing, with one of them also serving as a wiring conduit.
The cockpit required some re-engineering as well. In addition to getting the car low to the ground, Clark needed to get the driver down as low as he could go. That meant cutting out the floor and rebuilding it from scratch. The seat, too, was scratch built to fit the design of the car. Mike Richards had to come in for a personal “fitting,” as if he were getting a new tux. Not only is the car custom built, it is custom built for this driver. Seating, driving position, steering wheel placement, gearshift, etc., all had to be located in the optimum position for Richards. A wire-form mockup helped the fabricators get the measurements for the seat correct before any cutting and welding.
“The only thing we didn’t do is shoot the cow that provided the leather,” Clark laughs. Distressed Irish Cream leather from Garrett Leather Corporation, and blue velour carpet cover the cockpit.
The first thing that jumps out at you when you peer under the dash is the Mini Electric high-power master-cylinder from ABS Power Brake, Inc. The master cylinder is connected to a Kugel Komponents reverse mount, under-dash, brake & clutch swing-pedal combination. Space is limited under a ‘32 Ford dash, so you have to think through your component options. The Vintage Air unit under the dash is hidden behind a vintage Tropic-Aire vent cover.
The ‘40s style black steering wheel with GM button is from Vintique, and allows unobstructed viewing of the column-mounted tachometer. The antique Motorola tuner (to the right of the Knect dash insert) controls a modern AM/FM stereo designed to hook-up to iPod and/or Bluetooth devices. The steering column is from Flaming River. The 3-inch column drop is a Limeworks Early Style with a 1 3/4-inch diameter. A Wizard Fabrication Steer Clear offset steering coupler made the job of putting together a solid steering system very easy. It keeps things out of the way and reduces the number of U-joints and supports needed.
Rock Valley built a custom stainless steel gas tank which holds about 18 gallons, so this roadster has some pretty long legs compared to a Ford Roadster with a stock tank. (Note Clark’s official disclaimer: “Mileage and stops for gas will vary with your driving habits. Hot rodders may experience lower mileage results than Toyota Prius owners”).
For paint, Richards chose PPG’s Superior Blue. Clark points out that occasionally a nice, solid, primary color matches a cars personality better than all the fancy pearl and metal-flake finishes out there. Simple and traditional is the way to go here. Sometimes it’s better not to try changing history too much.
Hot Rods & Custom Stuff
2324 Vineyard Avenue
Escondido, CA 92029