I’ve loved hot rods for just about as long as I can remember.
When I was a kid, Dad’s cousin Tom had space at the family’s restoration shop, and using whatever was at hand, he would build some down and dirty hot rods. My friend Tommy and I thought they were so cool. We’d spend hours and hours hanging out in the shop just watching these basic machines take shape.
For most of my adult life, I’ve been involved with cars that are more or less stock. That’s particularly true when it comes to Ferraris, where every nut and bolt is documented and originality is so important. You learn quickly there are certain cars that are OK to customize and others that you absolutely cannot touch.
As a result, I’ve always wrestled with the dilemma of whether to hot rod or not. While still in high school, for instance, I hot-rodded my 1967 Mini Cooper with flared fenders, 13-inch wheels, and a hole in the dash to accommodate a Weber carburetor. Now, I regret having made those changes. The modified car isn’t worth as much as it would be in stock condition, and it’s going to take a lot of time and money to remove the fender flares and repair the firewall and dashboard to put the car back to stock.
Unlike cousin Tom, I’ve never had time to build my own hot rod from scratch, but I’ve always appreciated them. That’s why I bought the Louis Special back in 2013. Built as a hot-rod/road-race car and based on a 1933 Ford with modified Auburn bodywork, it is a veteran of all seven Pebble Beach road races through the Del Monte Forest in the 1950s. That’s fantastic provenance you could never re-create. A few years after I bought the Louis Special, I worked with custom builder Steve Moal on the flathead–powered Moal Speedway Special, which is essentially a new car built from the ground up and inspired by classic track roadsters.
I could have been perfectly content with that pair, but recently I found an unpolished gem: a rust-free, dent-free, unrestored ’32 Ford V-8 roadster. It had been parked since 1957, with just 27,000 miles on the odometer. If dedicated hot-rodders got their hands on this original, all-steel Deuce, you can bet that the fenders would be off in a flash and the next day they’d be yanking out the flathead and dropping in a small-block Chevy.
Before the car was parked, the owner had planned a complete restoration, which was the norm for the period, even though this ’32 was still a nice original car. He’d already removed the headlights and then, because he didn’t like the look of the rear-mounted spare, had cut into the fenders and welded in wells to accommodate dual side-mount spares. The full scope of the restoration never happened, and the car sat for 60 years. The challenge for me was what to do with the partially disassembled ’32 sitting in my shop.
After a lot of internal back-and-forth, I’ve decided to resist the urge to hot-rod it. I’ve also decided not to fully restore it. Instead, I’ll cut out the spare tire wells and repair and paint the new metal, but not the entire fenders. As for the holes drilled into the cowl during the side-mount modification, I’m just going to fill them with bolts and paint them body color. The only other changes I’ll make will be to leave off the spare and install a shorter windshield and a Sid Chavers Bop Top convertible top frame that slopes down toward the front. Except for that rakish top, the car will look stock.
With fewer than 7500 Ford roadsters built in 1932, and many of those already turned into hot rods, I’m comfortable with my decision to only make a few minor changes that I can do with a wrench. Should I ever change my mind and want to reverse these modifications, all I have to do is grab the original windshield and top assembly, which I’ll keep tucked away safely in my barn. Years ago, I learned an important lesson with the hard-to-fix modifications to the Mini Cooper. I won’t have the same regrets with my ’32.