We all wish we'd kept our high school rides, and this '32 Ford five-window coupe, built by George Veracka of Stow, Massachusetts, and co-owned now with his son, Scott, is exactly that ... a beautifully preserved peek into the past, with its faded and cracked red paint, and an authentic button-tufted white Naugahyde interior. Still running sweetly, it's been in the Veracka family since 1957, and that's where it will stay. Channeled 8 inches, chopped 4 inches, with a radically Z'd frame and a sectioned grille to match, it's powered by a bored and stroked, six-carb, Isky-cammed 425-cid early Cadillac V-8 with a rare Sky (Gardena, California) racing cam and a coveted Spalding Flamethrower distributor hitched to a '40 Ford three-speed with a Zephyr cluster, backed by a Columbia two-speed. This Chrysler Carnation Red beauty is an object lesson in "the way we were."

Brothers Bill and Don Leslie built their '31 Ford Starlite coupe to win the Buffalo Autorama in 1964. Already chopped 4 inches, the car was channeled and a unique steel nose with floating grille tubes was constructed. A full-width rear taillight, hooded rear license plate, sectioned '33 Ford dash and twin frenched antennas are just a few period features. Points were awarded for as many modifications as possible, so the Leslie brothers piled on the features, like '57 Buick Starlite blue lacquer, a woodgrain veneer-trimmed console, a T-bird steering wheel and matching chromed column, a plethora of Stewart-Warner gauges ... even a tinted glass roof insert so occupants could see the night sky (hence the show name). The Starlite coupe's engine is classic: a 303-cid Olds V-8 with a three-carb manifold, Mallory ignition, clear red plug wires, and Offenhauser valve covers. A '37 Buick three-speed floor shift is coupled to a torque tube and banjo-style Ford rear. Custom-made lake-style headers are capped at the doors and run through Smithy mufflers and exit ahead of the rear wheels. Like many elements on this car, the chromed steel firewall was built to win more show points. The Starlite coupe won Best of Show in its first event, competed just one more time, and then was stored for decades until Gerry Christensen, owner of the Bill Kelly coupe in this exhibit, was able to buy it. Complete with the show programs and the original 4-foot-high Autorama trophy, Gerard Christensen owns this one too.

The late-Joaquin Arnett, of Bean Bandits fame, a skilled metalman in his youth, chopped and sectioned a pristine '34 Ford coupe in 1950 without removing the body from the frame. Arnett, who worked for Burner's, a San Diego company that built funeral car bodies, expertly jigged the coupe's shell and then painstakingly "cut and pasted" the metal so beautifully-it's impossible to see where any surgery was performed. Andy Granatelli saw the car on display at Bob Petersen's Second Annual L.A. Motorama in 1951, bought it from Arnett, and installed a full-race, 276-cid GranCor-equipped (Granatelli Corporation) Flathead V-8. After spotting the coupe for sale on a used car lot in Chicago, 16-year-old Bill Couch talked his father into letting him buy it, and he's owned it ever since. He taught his wife, Ellie, to drive in this car, cruised Woodward Avenue back in the day, drag raced the daylights out of it, and since he lived on a Washington, Michigan, farm and had a barn in which to store it, he kept the coupe salted away until 1996 when he had it fully restored just in time for a special appearance at the 1998 Detroit Autorama. Bill Couch visited Andy Granatelli in San Clemente, California, a few years ago. Granatelli noted, "he'd like to have the car back," but Couch, who's held onto it for over half a century, isn't selling. You can't blame him.

It's hard to know who's more of a fixture in New England, the late-Sebastian "Sabie" Rubbo, whose seminal '36 Ford roadster was (and still is) a permanent part of the Bay Area hot rod landscape, or the car's present owner and caretaker, Lenny Biondi. After buying a wrecked '36 Ford roadster, Sabie discarded the front fenders and channeled the body over a '40 Mercury frame, installed a healthy 286-cid Flathead, then made the car into one of the more unusual '36s ever by skirting the rear fenders and altering the front end with a beautifully fitted '37 Ford truck grille, fabricating a custom hood with lunch box latches and creating a pair of front cycle fenders out of a '36 Ford tire cover. A trio of transit bus seats helps make the interior as unusual as the exterior. Sabie drove this car everywhere, rolling up over 400,000 miles, including a historic trip to the first NSRA Nationals. Whether this iconic roadster is defined as a rod or a custom doesn't matter, and it never did. Lenny Biondi owns Biondi's Service Center in Quincy, Massachusetts. After Sabie died, his old friend, Biondi, and his shop metal wizard, Bobby Fuller, performed a ground-up restoration, and Biondi drives the gleaming black '36 to many events-just the way Sabie did.