Once a Hot Rod...

I wonder how it feels to not only have a righteous hot rod in your garage, but to also realize that you are the caretaker of a piece of hot rod history? David Kelley must know, as he is the owner of this 32 Ford five-window coupe that has Memphis roots that go back to the 1940's.

This is the same 32 that original Memphis Rodders club member Jimmy Fulghum had owned since he traded away a 1940 Ford convertible for it the late 40's. Jimmy must have been satisfied with his then new rod, since he kept this car for the remainder of his life. If you haven't already seen the
1952 Commercial Appeal photo of this car that was in a previous post, make sure to click the link and take a look as it's simply a time warp experience. Properly executed changes were made to the car as time moved forward, and while it's timeless looks never changed significantly, Jimmy did adapt the car to changing technology as he deemed appropriate.

Among those changes, Jimmy chose to replace the original 24 stud flathead V8 with a then newfangled small block Chevy V8 once he began to drag race the car at the Halls TN airstrip just north of Memphis. He also set the engine and firewall back for a weight distribution advantage as his coupe began to morph into a competition oriented car. Somewhere along the way to today, the coupe received a 2.5 inch chopped top. It looks so right, I could barely tell it had been done. Later, after returning the car to more regular street use, Jimmy added modern touches like a Corvette independent rear suspension, and chrome wire wheels. Oyster colored leather covered Recaro bucket seats found their way into the interior. It became a rather slick car by anyone's standards that belied it's vintage origins. During the 1970's, the car was given a fresh coat of the green hue that Jimmy gave it in the 1950's, but that was the last time the car received a complete paint job.

After Jimmy passed away, David Kelley acquired the car fully aware of it's long history as a Memphis area hot rod. David has spent the last several years giving the car some needed attention, and simultaneously has been returning much of it to be more period correct and true to it's roots.

David has gone the extra mile to insure this car is a driver with a pedigree, without sacrificing essential aspects of it's patina, acquired through years of use as a fully functional street driven hot rod.

For starters, this deuce has received a new chassis. Seventy plus years of use and abuse virtually dictated this upgrade if the car were to remain capable of daily driving chores. Also, a 9" Ford rearend with a transverse 'buggy' spring now holds up the hind quarters in place of the Corvette rear suspension. This was not an easy decision to make, as the Corvette rear worked real well and gave the car and very agreeable ride, but it was too new for the direction David was taking the car.

Thankfully, Ron Keller of Cape Girardeau Missouri performed an expert installation of a ladder bar arrangement, and has maintained the cars quality road manners. In front, a new dropped I-Beam axle with hairpin radius rods was installed and helps to give the car it's almost perfect stance. 'Rods by Ron' has been a big asset to David in returning this coupe to it's more traditional form. As work progressed, the wire wheels were deemed a bit 70's, and were replaced with time honored chrome solids with baby moon hubcaps. A fresh gas tank, and a new Brookville firewall were also installed, and the paint color matched to the existing green. David has no plans of replacing the small block Chevy engine. After all, this car has spent most of it's life with a bent Chevy between it's frame rails. It provides plenty of go power with it's 4-barrell carburetor, and stainless rams horn exhaust manifolds. An added benefit is the heater and air conditioning that are an integral part of modern motoring, and make this one capable of providing long range drivability in comfort.

One of the highlights of the entire car is the freshly stitched green & white pleated interior by Billy Tunnel. Tastefully augmented with Mercedes carpeting, a new bench seat, a
damascened instrument panel, a Gennie shifter, a LimeWorks steering column, and topped off with a 40 Ford steering wheel, the interior is functional and traditional all in one feel swoop.

The trunk has received the same treatment, and is flawless. The battery now resides in the vintage style cooler, while David's sock monkey has fire extinguisher duty. Tunnel also installed a perfect white roof insert while he was stitching the new threads.

Of course, these updates are gradual and more refinements may be realized in due time. In fact, David was wondering aloud about adding a chrome windshield frame while I was making these photos.

Note the tattered NHRA window decal on the windscreen. Not only is it the original old style "roadster" version of the logo designed for drag racing's most influential governing organization, it also denotes that whomever affixed this decal was a "charter member" of the NHRA. Think about that... this car, and it's owner, were part of hot rodding lore before the NHRA had legs, from a time when Wally Parks enlisted the aid of organized car clubs nationwide to give his vision of making hot rodding a legitimate pastime a reality. Naturally, the Memphis Rodders were an integral part of that effort.

Another scared up memory that must never be peeled away is the participants decal from the 1958 edition of the NHRA National Championship Drag Races. A testimony to authenticity.

So as if you can't tell, I think this car car is simply top drawer. It's a real 32 Ford, even though you can build one from reproduction parts in this modern age. It has the history, and the pedigree. It's simple, but timeless all at once. If you need a textbook example of a hot rod coupe you might as well refer to this one. It's an icon. A rolling piece of Americana. It's not a perfectly polished, rarely driven show winner, but neither should it be given it's history. In short, this one is the real deal.

BTW: I tried to talk my way into being the third owner of this car since it became a hot rod, but David didn't want to hear it, and I don't think I'm included in his will. So take my word for it, you're going to have to build your own. Just try to make it half as cool as this one is, and you'll be on the right track.