A lot of rodders wonder what it takes to get their rides featured in a magazine like Street Rod Milestones. The ways and means are varied, but like being asked out on a date for Saturday night, there’s no sure, single method. It’s about timing, luck and looking good, all converging together.
In the case of Santoro’s ’32 Ford, this pretty piece just kept showing up, giving us “come hither” looks. If you’re a close reader, you might remember it from our previous coverage of Blackie’s exclusive, invitation-only car show in Fresno, California. We noted the car’s stellar display, but didn’t have her number. So, no “big night out” back then.
About a year later, though, we noticed those same alluring lines and sweet color scheme at the Goodguys show in Del Mar. This time, the number was left on the seat, and we just had to call. “Hey, would you like to get together?” we asked, trying to sound cool and casual on the phone. (Even though this is one hot machine, we didn’t want to seem over eager.)
With an answer in the affirmative from the rod’s owner and builder, Danny Santoro, we showed up in our best Sunday jeans and copy of the previous issue in hand. He was surprised to find his ’32 Ford had been included in the Blackie’s coverage, and was thrilled that his baby was going to get some extra attention. While certainly no wallflower, this enticing street rod had never been featured anywhere, so her dance card was open.
We allowed how impressed we were by the car’s clean lines and subtle details, which Santoro took the time to point out. (Of course, we were already in love with this rod by this point, but tried to restrain our enthusiasm.) As with so many first impressions, it takes awhile to spot the little things that really make a difference.
Look closely at the photos, and you’ll notice special features in the bodywork such as pinched frame rails, a dropped cowl and custom hood sides. Look even closer at the suspension, and notice the blind fasteners and how the custom-fabricated headlight brackets integrate with the uprights. Overall, the effect is one of pure, elegant simplicity, from the chromed fronts to the detailed Ford 9-inch, from the dressed 350 Chevy to the alligator-hide trim in the customized cockpit.
As we admired his meticulous handiwork, Santoro opened up, proudly sharing his personal experiences about transforming a plain Jane into a prom queen. Coming from a family of fellow car builders, Santoro had done several previous projects. About eight years ago after completing a custom 1964 El Camino, he decided it was time to build a benchmark rod, a 1932 Ford Roadster, but one with his own personal treatment. He sold the El Camino for $14,000 and used that as seed money to begin gathering parts for the roadster.
With a clear mental image of how he wanted his ’32 Ford to look and the disappointment of not finding it available, Santoro had to figure out a way to make it work. After researching many manufacturers of bodies and chassis, he began his project with a Wescott body and frame by Frames n' Thangs.
But this was no simple bolt-on deal. Each week’s paycheck brought another opportunity to purchase another item needed. After many months of late nights in the garage and many paychecks cashed for parts, the car was ready to roll—barely.
The ‘32 Caliber, as Santoro dubbed her, began
life as the proverbial ugly duckling and took many years to grow into the beauty she is today. Originally in black primer and with a worn seat borrowed from an upholstery shop, ‘32 Caliber and Santoro enjoyed many Sunday drives and local car shows. Some 3,000 miles and four years later, it was time to begin again.
In late 2004, Santoro decided to finish what he had started nearly six years ago. His goal was to get his debutante ready for a coming-out party at the January 2006 Grand National Roadster Show, the rodding social event of the year. Santoro had always wanted to attend the show in Oakland, California, but never found the time. But now that this soiree had moved to Southern California, a mere 15 minutes from his home, how could he not show up?
Santoro then made a deal with my wife that the next year and a half had to be dedicated to the car. With working long hours and making a home to complete the ‘32 Caliber was going to be a true commitment. Every spare minute, including many of which should have been spent sleeping, were spent in his backyard garage. Each portion of the overall project completed brought many more wild ideas that led to more and more projects.
Along the way, Santoro had no doubt who he wanted to complete the upholstery in my rod, having worked previously with Ron Mangus. The paint however was a different story.
After a brief stint at a paint shop in Arizona that didn't work out, he needed to find another painter. Through Mangus, Santoro heard about a talented painter in Houston, Texas. That's right—a mere 48-hour round-trip drive from his house in Glendora, California. But after a meeting with Randy Borcherding, owner of the Painthouse in Texas, Santoro knew that he had made the right choice.
In October 2005, he trailered his rod to Houston to be painted. After only a few weeks there, Hurricane Rita decided to pay a visit to the Texas
coastline. Santoro received a call from Randy that the tempest was heading toward his area and that everybody was evacuating. He assured Santoro that his rod was safely tucked away in a boarded-up shop and that he would call as soon as they were allowed back into the area.
Needless to say there were a long few days of monitoring the news reports and wondering if Santoro’s Deuce would survive the storm. Thankfully everyone, including his rod, survived. Another 48-hour drive to pick her up and it was time for upholstery and some remaining details.
At this point there was only a month to go before the big show. Time was tight and nothing seemed to be going right. January brought a big push to get all the details completed. And as experienced rod builders know, having to rush when working on such a project is never a good thing. By Wednesday, January 18, the final touches were done, just in time to move into a spot at the Fairplex that evening.
The car was received with overwhelming praise at the show and it garnered six awards: 1st in Class (1932 rods), and Outstanding trophies in classes for Rod, Under Carriage, Detail Car/Truck, Paint (Rod) and Engine (Custom).
Needless to say, Santoro couldn't have been much happier. His girl was the belle of the ball, and she went on to garner even more Best of Show trophies on the circuit throughout 2006. And in 2007 they returned to the Grand National Show in Pomona and once again received First in class (For more details, check out www.32caliber.com).
Okay Santoro, now that she’s so popular, can’t we still get together for a root beer float sometime?