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Ben Smithson's 1932 Chevy Coupe

3/17/2021
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When a cool, freshly built hot rod hits the shows, everyone clammers to see it. Photographs are shot, social media lights up, and magazine features are written to tell the story. And then what happens? Often, once the newness has worn off, the car is sold to fund the builder’s next creation. Sometimes the owner keeps the car, but it’s relegated to the back corner of the garage while the next build takes the spotlight. But every once in a while, the builder will hold on to the car and make it a member of the family. We love those stories.

Such is the case with Ben Smithson’s ’32 Chevy. You’ve seen this car before. It was on the cover of our catalog several years ago. It was even in some magazines, including the coveted cover of Street Rodder. So it would seem that this car’s story has been told. Why are we bringing it back to the top now? Well, for one thing, it’s a great car that we never get tired of looking at. And not only is it a great car, it also has some new stories to tell since the lights went out on the first fifteen minutes of fame.

In case you missed this one the first time around, its origin story is also pretty great. Ben’s grandpa had acquired this ’32 Chevy coupe body ages ago. It had been a stock car, so “rough” was a generous adjective. The doors were welded shut and one quarter was caved in. Once Ben’s dad acquired the car, it became yard art. That’s probably where most people would have left it, but not Ben. While he was in college, he started shopping for an early car to build a hot rod from. College students usually don’t have a ton of money, and he soon figured out that early sheet metal wasn’t cheap. That’s when the dilapidated pile of a Chevy coupe out in the yard started to look appealing.

He dragged the remains into the shop at got to work. His vision for a streamlined, chopped and channeled hot rod was a far cry from the broken down shell that was there in front of him. Don’t forget that Ben is still in college at this point, so his progress is being made in short bursts while home on weekends and vacations. He built a chassis from scratch, poked it full of lightening holes, added a dropped I-beam in the front (also full of holes) and a Speedway Motors 9-inch in the rear.

A 327 was built up with Power-Pack heads, a 2x4 intake, and dressed with finned valve covers and OTB air cleaners from Speedway Motors. Ben was adamant that the car have a stick, so the old school small block is backed up to a T56 transmission, which makes the 4.56 gears tolerable on the highway.

The green paint was sprayed by Ben's dad, and it's so nice that it may come as a surprise to learn that it was a bit of an accident. Ben had envisioned a car with flat paint that he could guiltlessly beat on, but when he and his dad added flattener to the paint on the floor of the car, it came out shiny. This small push tipped the project over and raised the bar on the rest of the paintwork. We’re glad it did because the shimmering green is one of the things that makes this car stand out.

When the original builder hangs on to a car, they can tell all the little stories about the pain, frustration, and glory that went into the build. That intake manifold may look like a run of the mill repop, but Ben knows better. In fact, it’s a vintage Offy piece that was gifted to the project by a friend of the family after the 3x2 setup started fighting Ben before the car’s maiden voyage. Ben knows all the sweat and blood that went into straightening out that ragged old body, and he knows where all the rest of the parts came from that combine to equal one cool hot rod.

And that’s where the happily ever after part begins. Yes, Ben has some magazine covers to hang on his garage wall. But he also has a bunch of stories about a life well-lived with his coupe after the camera crew went home. The coupe was there on his wedding day, and was even the winner of a few impromptu drag races with the groomsmen (though Ben suspects they were going easy on him because of the special occasion). The coupe was also there when Ben left his engineering job to open his hot rod shop, Smithson Speed and Engineering.

But like any good family member, the coupe has not only been there for the big events. It’s also there for the humdrum business of life in general. At the end of the day when Ben needs to blow off some steam, the coupe is ready to be beat on. It’s there to go to the drive-through for lunch. We even saw some pictures that Ben posted to Instagram during a winter storm of the coupe out in snow up to the axles. This car is far from a fair-weather trailer queen.

Life with hot rods should be about more than rubbing on the paint before the next car show. It should be about memories, friends, and family. And sometimes, the hot rod itself will become a member of the family. Ben Smithson knows that, and that’s why we love his little green hot rod Chevy.

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