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'32 Ford Hot Rod

2/13/2019
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Subtle it ain't, this little deuce coupe is all hot rod.

Before we get to the story of this wild, flamed '32 3-window, we need to rewind a few decades. In the early 80's, your author was a little kid growing up in Norfolk, Nebraska. I thought a hot rod was a '78 Camaro with Cragars and N-50's. Lucky for me, a friend of the family had a car that was about to change my perspective.

That car was a two-tone gray, full-fendered '34 Ford coupe. It was low, tough looking, and a pretty big deal to an impressionable kid. A short ride around town in the rumble seat was all I needed to realize that this was a real hot rod.

So what does this little trip down memory lane have to do with our burning orange subject here? As you might have guessed, the same guy is responsible for both cars. Jim Gardels has owned a bunch of neat stuff through the years. After the coupe, I remember him driving around in a red Fairlane with a perfect stance. Then came a very low and very red 90's Chevy pickup, then a sinister black '65 Chevelle, and so on. Also, since Jim owned a couple car washes, they were always impeccably clean.

Which brings us to the orange '32. The first time I saw it, it was sitting in the back corner of his home shop. Word was that "Jim just bought a crazy '32 coupe, you need to come see it." And crazy it was. The eye-searing paint, perfect flames, and in the weeds stance combined to make a pretty big impression, just like that gray '34 had years before.

The side view shows off the killer rake, big and little rolling stock, and copious louvers.

The car's origins are a mystery. The previous owner bought it from Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas in 2011. He parked it in a building in Austin, Texas with the rest of his collection, only driving it a few times. Meanwhile, back in Nebraska, Jim was combing the internet looking for another old Ford hot rod. When this one popped up for sale, he was ready to jump. It took his wife's voice of reason to convince him to at least drive to Texas to look at it first.

Once the deal was made and the car was delivered, Jim got to work. It was clear that it was a very high-end build, but it was a little grungy. Owning a car with even the smallest amount of grunge would have been very out of character for a guy as meticulous as Jim. As a result, he started pulling every nut and bolt apart, detailing, and repairing everything on the car.

This car made a 120-mile road trip the day before these shots were taken, and it's still cleaner underneath than the topside of most cars.

It ran bad, all the bolts were mis-matched, the door gaps were off. It looked like someone had run out of time or energy during final assembly and hastily threw it together, and the subsequent miles put on the car hadn't helped. Jim systematically repaired everything, replacing all the suspension bushings, replacing the Rochester carbs, replacing a bad ballast on the distributor, tweaking all the gaps, and generally applying his high-level detailing to everything. The results speak for themselves. This car is just about perfect.

It's also full of neat details that were part of the mystery builder's original design. The nerf bars, right-on chop, and Halibrand wheels mounting huge and tiny rubber are pure hot rod. The body is fiberglass, but the hood and decklid are steel, allowing them to be poked full of louvers. The bobbed rails in the rear allow a clear view of the polished Halibrand 301 quick-change. The front rails are also bobbed, and the low headlights conceal the trick coilover shocks mounted to the chromed, drilled, and filled axle. All together, it looks a bit like an orange Deuce version of Tom Prufer's iconic Cop Shop Coupe.

The missing tank leaves a clear view of the quick change.

The small block that powers this all down the road is also a bit of a mystery. It was advertised as a 406 and it has a lumpy hydraulic cam. It's topped by a polished Edelbrock intake and the aforementioned trio of Rochesters. The mag-look distributor adds even more period hot rod cred to the immaculate engine compartment. Backing this all up, you might be expecting an automatic. Instead, this hot rod has three pedals. A T-56 six speed makes driving around town a blast, and the double overdrive keeps the revs down for highway cruising.

The mystery small block looks the part of 60's hot rod engine. The AC compressor is barely noticeable under all the finned aluminum.

The interior features more hot rod perfect detailing. The Stewart Warner Wings gauges sit in an engine-turned panel in the dash, and the Wings tach lives on the column. The chrome rollbar and drilled shifter, pedals, and sill plates are pure hot rod. Even the seat belt latches were poked full of holes. The Vintage Air a/c is so cleanly installed that you barely notice the two small vents on either side of the dash. The head unit for the full stereo system is overhead, leaving the vintage dash free of modern clutter.

All the hot rod interior elements are here: three pedals, floor shifter, column tach, Chrome roll bar, and holes in everything.

Even though it's ridiculously nice, Jim will not be deterred from driving the wheels off of it. In fact, our photo shoot was a last minute idea, so Jim hopped in the car and made the two-hour trip to Lincoln with only a few hours' notice. Can you do that with your hot rod? Once here, he followed me across town in the dark. I can tell you that this car looks awfully mean driving down Lincoln's main street at night. It reminded me of the villain in an old western movie, walking slowly through town, looking for a fight.

All hot rods look better in motion.

Jim's future plans include trips to Goodguys shows from Des Moines to Colorado, and many local shows in between. Who knows, maybe some impressionable young kid will see this coupe at a show or rolling down the road somewhere and it will forever change their idea of what a hot rod is really all about.

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