9 flavors of prewar hot rod at Mecum’s 2021 Indy sale


If you’re in the market for a prewar hot rod, Mecum’s Indianapolis auction running May 14–22 has something from just about every era you could desire. While the cars themselves were built before WWII, the different eras of customization really kicked off after the war. If you prefer your ’32 Fords and Model A coupes, roadsters, cabriolets, and sedans more in the factory flavor, Mecum has those as well. For now, let’s take a look at 9 varieties of custom builds that trace a timeline of hot rod design.

Perhaps you’re looking for something simple with a unique pedigree. In that case, this 1927 Ford Model T track roadster might suit you. This racing roadster was built in the vein of the ’40s and ’50s racers that plied dirt tracks all over Southern California and comes from the collection of road-racing phenom Parnelli Jones. It’s powered by a 304-cubic-inch Ford flathead V-8 wearing a set of aluminum heads. It tuns on alcohol and turns the tires by way of a three-speed manual trans.

For those who would like a leg up on their hot-rod build but still want some say in the final product, this handsome, black 1932 Ford roadster has much of the hardest work already done. The subtle modifications and vintage speed parts give it a traditional 1950s hot-rod look. The Ford flathead has a 4 inch-stroke crank, likely compliments of a Mercury. It’s topped by a set of Smith heads and uses an Isky cam to breathe through a twin-carb Eddie Meyer intake and gorgeous Eddie Meyer air cleaner. Inside, the dash is filled with a full complement of Stewart Warner gauges. It doesn’t get much more iconic in the world of hot rods than a ’32 Roadster, and this one is built with a fantastic collection of vintage components.

In case your hot-rodding tendencies favor a ’50s-style build that flaunts an even more race-inspired look and performance, how about this 1932 Ford five-window coupe? Chopped, fenderless, perfectly pinstriped, and sitting on wire wheels, this coupe looks like it’s ready to prowl the streets—or even the dragstrip. It’s powered by a 322-cu-in Buick nailhead V-8 that was available from 1953–56 and was one of the first widely available OHV V-8s hot-rodders could obtain. This fine specimen was on the cover of Rod & Custom magazine and sold earlier this year for $49,500.

Nailhead-powered 1932 Ford Five-Window Coupe

El Matador is a great example of the customs turned out in the late ’50s and early ’60s that took factory bodywork to the next level and wowed show-goers who were expecting ever-wilder creations. While this coupe started as a 1940 Ford, legendary car-customizer Bill Cushenbery incorporated parts from at least two Chevy models and the windshield from a 1950 Rambler to bring designer Don Vamer’s dream to reality. An OHV Oldsmobile V-8 replaced the Ford’s flathead. Inside, a twin-cockpit dash layout features a center-mounted speedometer and a steering yoke. In that configuration, El Matador was the November 1961 cover car for Rod & Custom magazine.

Shortly after, the car was sold and toured the nation’s car shows, eventually losing the Olds in favor of a Ford small-block. A fire in 1993 seriously damaged the car and, during its restoration, the small-block was updated to a 5.0-liter from a Saleen Mustang and the interior received a newer column and steering wheel. Since then, the interior has been mostly returned to its original, Bill Cushenbery state.

If a wild custom is too flashy, how about a low-key, full-fendered 1930 Ford Model A Coupe on Torque Thrust wheels? At first, this subtle street rod looks as though it could be from almost any era, as its swooping fenders cover the more modern independent front suspension. Inside, a wood dash and steering wheel suggest an ’80s-style street-rod build, but the whole thing looks like it’s in fantastic shape, from the maroon paint to the nicely detailed small-block Chevy powerplant.

1930 Ford Model A Street Rod

Step a bit further along in the street-rod modification timeline and you’ll find examples like this 1930 Ford Model A hi-boy. Dropping a small Model A body on top of a ’32 Ford frame is a time-honored racing tradition and a quick way to get V-8 power in a lighter package. This car’s twin snorkel and billet engine and interior dress-up pieces, however, suggest a much more contemporary build that hints at 1990s style.

Like the 1930 coupe we just highlighted, this 1929 Model A town sedan hides its independent front suspension by retaining its fenders. However, the billet-aluminum wheels bolted to the Mustang II-style suspension are a giveaway that this classic sedan is a much more modern build. Inside, an aluminum tilt column and Lokar billet accessories also point to a ’90s-style build. This one’s powered by a 410-hp Chevy 350 and features all the creature comforts afforded by a coilover TCI chassis (plus air conditioning!).

1930 Model A Sedan
Nick Russo

You couldn’t go to a car show in the late ’80s or early ’90s without seeing a Chevrolet TPI small-block in some sort of custom car. The alien-looking intake manifolds with their long runners were originally installed in Corvettes, Camaros, and Firebirds, and are great for low-speed torque. They certainly made for an interesting sight when they wound up under the hoods of street rods like this 1941 Mercury Club Coupe. The major modifications on this Mercury, aside from the engine and four-speed automatic transmission are a tilt steering column, Mustang-II-style IFS, and air conditioning, Seemingly original from the exterior, but with a modern drivetrain and a more comfortable interior, this coupe is a great representative of an early ’90s restomod.

Owned by Gene Hetland and built by Cass Nawrocki, the Triple Nickel roadster is a homage to the iconic Doane Spencer roadster and the Nickel Coupe that itself is a homage to the aforementioned roadster. While it captures the spirit of that legendary car quite nicely, it also features several small modifications that are easy to miss and other, like its stainless-steel removable top, that are hard to ignore. Under the hood is a wild engine: a Ford small-block featuring experimental four-valve pushrod heads that Ford contemplated before adopting the Modular OHC engine family. It’s tough to meld traditional customization techniques and magnesium wheels with a freakishly rare engine and Hilborn fuel-injection, yet the results speak for themselves. This kind of all-out build is a great representative of the kinds of cars that compete for elite car-show honors in the 21st century.

These 9 are merely a sampling of the wide variety of hot rods and customs available at Mecum’s Indianapolis sale. Whether you want a pickup, a Vicky, or a cabriolet, there is something available for just about every early Ford lover. If you’re more of a Chevy, Buick, Olds, or Willys fan, there are also hot rods to suit your tastes as well, but know that you’ll have to wade through a lot of beautiful Blue Ovals like these.

Read next Up next: Smithology: Boom, bust, and the roar of the crowd

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *