WWII vet put a Hemi in a ’30s Dodge before V-8 swaps were cool

Courtesy Scott Bullis

If they had met sooner, Bob Taylor and Scott Bullis would have undoubtedly been friends a lot longer than the two-and-a-half years they knew each other. Taylor was into cars, became a fighter pilot, and customized his own Dodge in Germany while serving in the U.S. Air Force. Bullis was also an airman, served in Afghanistan, and pursued a career in automotive restoration following his retirement from the USAF.

For years the two men lived as complete strangers, separated by decades and thousands of miles. Then one car changed everything.

Robert H. Taylor Sr. grew up in Albany, New York, and entered the Army Air Corps shortly after graduating from high school. He served as a flight instructor from 1942–45, flying BT-14, T-6, P-40, and P-47 aircraft, and he was assigned to a combat-ready P-47 unit. But the hostilities ended before he could be sent overseas. Following WWII, Taylor entered the New Jersey Air National Guard while earning a living in his family’s cabinetry shop. In the National Guard he transitioned to flying the P-51 Mustang (redesignated as F-51 in 1947) and reentered the active-duty Air Force for the Korean War.

Taylor flew 85 combat missions in Korea and was awarded the Bronze Star for volunteering to take on the additional duty of Group Gunnery Officer, in which he “devised and standardized methods to greatly improve the accuracy of the [18th Fighter Bomber] Group’s striking power.” After the war ended, Taylor remained on active duty and maintained flight status in the T-33 and T-39 Sabreliner.

As any Air Force officer does, Taylor and his family moved on a regular basis, and he served assignments in various locations, including Colorado Springs, Ramstein Air Base Germany, and The Pentagon. While stationed in Colorado Springs in March 1962, then-Major Taylor bought a 1932 Dodge Brothers DK8 Victoria Coupe. When he took it on a duck hunt, the car burned oil so badly that he began looking for a replacement engine. Within months, he purchased a 1953 Dodge Coronet that was powered by a 241-cubic-inch Red Ram Hemi—Dodge’s first V-8 with those famous hemispherical cylinder heads—and decided to swap the engine into the DK8 as part of an overall restoration.

USAF Dodge Bullis birds break
Courtesy Scott Bullis

There was just one problem. In April 1963, Taylor was transferred to Ramstein. Not wanting to halt his plans, he had the cars shipped to Germany. During Taylor’s off-duty hours he went to work on his old-made-new-again (“restomod,” in car lingo) project, using the shop facilities and equipment on the air base. Taylor rented garage space nearby, and his then-college-age son, Bob Jr., flew to Germany to help his father work on the car.

After communicating with Chrysler’s history department and design studio and working with it to create the paint scheme, Taylor repainted the fenders chocolate brown, the body light tan with pink pinstriping, and the wheels cream. The chrome and the upholstery were completed by local artisans in and around Ramstein.

“Bob designed the car himself and did most of the engineering, fabrication, machine work, sheetmetal, paint, electrical, and final assembly,” Bullis says. “I have the notebook that he used to create fabrication drawings for the mechanical and electrical systems, document build schedules, and keep other project research and design documentation like upholstery, body, and paint. He was exceptionally detail-oriented.”

The most noteworthy aspect of Taylor’s work was the reengineering he did to transplant the ’53 Coronet’s Hemi engine into the DK8 and add a three-speed gearbox with overdrive. He was so meticulous that the project took two years to complete, but the results were obviously worth the wait.

Chrysler got wind of the Dodge and asked if it could exhibit the car at the 1965 Frankfurt Motor Show. The Taylors—Bob Sr., his wife Val, daughter Susan, and Bob Jr.—and the DK8 made quite an impression.

“The car was greatly admired by all,” Chrysler International district manager Gerald O. Willis wrote to Major Taylor afterward, “and it certainly enhanced the display of more recent Chrysler products shown in the plaza.”

Taylor and Kay used the Dodge as their daily driver and enjoyed it on the autobahn while Bob was stationed in Europe, and it came home with them when Bob accepted a post at The Pentagon. In 1968, now a Lieutenant Colonel, Robert Taylor retired from the USAF and made Colorado Springs his home. He drove the Dodge regularly until about 2008, when it was placed in storage.

Eleven years later, he would bring the car out of storage and back to life … thanks to another Air Force vet.

Scott Bullis was born in Brandon, South Dakota, just outside Sioux Falls, a year after Taylor retired. He too grew up with a love for cars and airplanes, joined the USAF in August 1994, and eventually became an officer. Bullis suffered combat wounds in Afghanistan in September 2011 and retired from the military three years later. Although he had earned a master’s degree in IT, the injuries he received in the 2011 blast made it difficult for him to work with computers, so—through a grant from the Veterans Administration—he was offered an opportunity to go back to school. He knew exactly what he wanted to do.

USAF Dodge Bullis in uniform
Scott Bullis. Courtesy Scott Bullis

Having a life-long interest in antique and classic cars, Bullis decided to attend Kansas’ McPherson College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in Antique Automobile Restoration Technology. While at McPherson, Bullis interned with the prestigious Collier and Cunningham Collections at the Revs Institute for Automotive Research in Naples, Florida, as well as for a Porsche shop in Denver. He graduated Summa Cum Laude in December 2016.

“While I enjoyed working with the top tier of collector cars,” Bullis says, “I decided to open my own shop and focus on preserving cars that average people own, keeping them safe and reliable to use, while maintaining their history.”

Bullis’ Golden Age Preservation and Restoration, LLC, opened in August 2018 in Colorado Springs—the same city in which Taylor had settled. Less than a year later, the two would meet.

Bob Taylor in his later years
Courtesy Scott Bullis

“I was first introduced to Bob Taylor Sr. around April 2019,” Bullis says. “The ’32 Dodge Brothers DK8 Victoria restomod had been out of service and in storage in Colorado Springs for years. With Bob getting older [approaching 95] and still loving the car, the family decided to investigate what it would take to return it to running condition so he could ride in it again—maybe even attempt to drive it.

“His son, Bob Jr., lives in Wichita, Kansas, and he was aware of the automobile restoration program at McPherson College. On one of his many trips from Wichita to Colorado Springs, he stopped in to see if the school had any recommendations for how to return it to running condition. Luckily for me, he talked with my former advisor, Garrick Greene, who recommended the family contact me.”

USAF Dodge Bullis
Courtesy Scott Bullis

The Dodge hadn’t moved from Bob Sr.’s garage since the engine had been accidentally overfilled with oil over a decade earlier, and Bullis was curious about the vehicle’s condition. Since he likes to meet any potential new customer and see how and where their car is being stored, he agreed to meet the family at Bob’s house. After the two chatted for a few minutes and discussed their mutual Air Force histories, Bob Sr. agreed to let Scott see his car.

“It initially appeared as a dusty, preserved, factory-stock 1932 Dodge Brothers DK8 Victoria Coupe, just one of the roughly 1320 built in 1931 and ’32,” Bullis says. “Then Bob Jr. opened the hood to reveal the 1953 Dodge Red Ram Hemi. After a little more talking about the car and its history, I was convinced I wanted to work with them, but Bob Sr. needed more convincing before letting his car go to another garage.”

They made arrangements for both Bobs to visit Bullis’ shop.

“Our facility isn’t huge, but it’s usually clean and bright, and since I fly radio-controlled airplanes for a hobby, it’s decorated in planes and car memorabilia,” Bullis explains. “My preferred airplanes to fly are the kind from WWII, and at any one time several are usually visible hanging on walls and sitting on shelves. Bob Sr. walked in and saw two P-47s and two P-51 models, along with several others, and decided it was the right place to work on his car. He thought I was probably OK too.”

Golden Age Preservation and Restoration spent the next two and a half years working not only to return the Dodge to driving condition but also to store it, preserve it, and keep it ready for events and rides.

USAF Dodge Bullis tan
Courtesy Scott Bullis
USAF Dodge Bullis
Courtesy Scott Bullis

“Bob got an opportunity to drive it again in late summer 2019, but COVID limited the amount of time we could spend driving it most of 2020 and ’21,” Bullis remembers. “We were able to take him on several rides, and we were preparing for him to drive it again for his 97th birthday in October 2021 when he became ill.”

Robert H. Taylor Sr. died on November 13, 2021. Amazingly, he left the car to Bullis.

“During the time Bob was with us and I was working with the car, we repeatedly discussed what the future held for it,” Bullis says. “He was really concerned that somebody would buy it and try to ‘improve’ it with new paint, new interior, or updated powertrain, or strip it for the engine. Through our discussions, I think he recognized the respect I had for his history, and that I also recognized the place his car holds in the history of post-WWII American car culture.

“While it’s not based on what many consider a traditional hot-rod platform that was used by many returning lower-ranked WWII and Korean War vets—like the Ford Model T, Ford Model A, and ’32 Ford V-8 coupe—it’s consistent with what you’d expect a fighter pilot and senior military officer of the time to build and drive. The use of a Gen I Dodge Hemi seems to be the first thing that gets people’s attention, followed by the realization of the engineering and design skill it took to make [the ’50s V-8] fit in an early-1930s platform designed for a straight-eight. It really is a 1960s-era restomod.”

Bullis appreciates that the DK8 Victoria Coupe isn’t perfect, “but it’s in great condition for a 91-year-old car and a nearly 60-year-old build. It’s amazing.” The fact that a fellow USAF veteran—a war hero, no less—left it in his care also makes its presence humbling.

“We just connected,” Bullis says. And he isn’t talking about the car.

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    There are times when a car becomes greater than the sum of its parts. With LTC Taylor’s vision of the build and his meticulous attention and engineering the “restomod” as we’d now call it, this is one of those cars. A delightful story, a delightful and beautifully done car.

    My first car at age 16 was a ‘53 Dodge with the same 241 cu in hemi with a 3 speed and overdrive. It was great to see the whole car and the great resto job, but the pic of the engine brought a flood of memories, especially seeing the original 2 barrel carb. I eventually swapped out the engine with a ‘55 Dodge 270 cu in engine with a 4 barrel. Still having the original 4.10 rear end, end was pretty snappy.

    Wonderful story. Reminds me of a similar local story. A couple of teens had a ’32 Packard 900 convertible coupe. Their dad had a new ’54 Chrysler with the hemi engine. The boys blew the Packard’s engine and retired it to the back yard. Not long after, the dad rolled the Chrysler and parked it beside the Packard. You guessed it. The hemi ended up in the Packard. A friend owned and drove it for many years before selling it to a young couple who at last report are restoring the car back to original.

    Thank you Jeff for coming across this touching story. I’m happy that Bob and Scott’s lives managed to cross paths. Bob’s decision to leave this beautiful Dodge in the caring hands of Scott was, without doubt, a most comforting decision for all members of the Taylor family. There’s no guarantee as to the future of a person’s beloved vehicle when it’s time to leave this world but I’m convinced Bob was at peace with his choice of caretaker.

    Thanks Hagerty for a beautiful story. Great to read nice things like this, and a reminder of a kinder past that I think, most of us miss greatly.

    This is what the car hobby is all about. This story is perfect proof that cars bring people together on so many levels. Thank you for sharing!

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