One of the special awards handed out at the Detroit Autorama is the Driven Award. Sponsored by Lokar Performance Products, the trophy goes to an individual who not only has built a nice car, but one who regularly uses it—logging miles on the odometer by driving to various events around the country or just cruising through the countryside. It is not a trophy for trailer queens. At the Detroit Autorama this year, STREET RODDER's Eric Geisert and Brian Brennan came across John Willoughby, who certainly qualifies as a driver of hot rods. His 1932 roadster was first built in the mid 1950s and then subsequently sold to 23 other gentlemen through the years. In fact, Willoughby was the seventh owner of the car as well as the 24th. During the last buildup, he thought it would be great to track down all of the owners of the car, and it turned out to be a huge undertaking, but one that he was able to complete. His friend, Mike Lowden, was able to document the history lesson, and his story on Willoughby and his 1932 follows.
On display at a car show in March 1957.
In 1955 Michael O'Byrne, of Dorchester, Ontario, Canada, was a big stock car fan and Karlo and Hugo Rossini, of Rossini's Speed Shop in Chatham, had a Chrysler-powered 1932 Ford Cabriolet that they used to pace the races at Delaware Speedway. Inspired by that car, O'Byrne decided to look for a 1932 Ford roadster. O'Byrne's friend Jack Watters found one in Port Burwell full of pine needles and delivered it to the Ford dealership O'Byrne's dad had for $35.
O'Byrne started to build his hot rod, thinking he'd use a 1947 Ford frontend to get hydraulic brakes. He moved the crossmember forward 2 inches to make up for the spring being ahead of the axle. His dad interfered though, and insisted he use a 1932-style axle with the spring on top, so O'Byrne bought a new chrome-plated dropped axle from Rossini's for $20 and picked up a pair of aluminum headlight brackets while he was there.
Michael O’Byrne, the car’s original builder.
On Christmas morning, O'Byrne's dad took him to the dealership where a 272 Y-block engine, an automatic transmission, and many other parts he'd need were hanging from a chain hoist. His dad had purchased all of this from a 1,300-mile wrecked 1955 Ford for O'Byrne's Christmas gift.
O'Byrne got working right away, Z-ing the frame, rebuilding and installing a 1953 Ford pickup steering box. Stock car racer Al Mitchell supplied a three-deuce setup for the Y-block, and O'Byrne bought a pair of leaky aluminum T-bird valve covers from Shaw's Auto in London. Zip Cole welded and leaded in the rear fenders and charged $35 for the task, exactly what O'Byrne had paid for the car itself. O'Byrne finished the car in Sherwood green metallic with a black interior and a custom white top.
After driving and drag racing the car for a short while, O'Byrne decided it wasn't fast enough and ordered a new 312ci Thunderbird engine through the dealership (an early crate motor). O'Byrne had a great time with the car and says, "There were no cruise nights like today. The only cruise we knew was to do the drag on Dundas Street in London. This happened a lot, like every night if we could. There were a few others who did the drag, too, looking for whatever we were looking for: girls, cars, cops on motorcycles, and so on.
The orginal car in 1957.
"Drag racing was always on Sundays or holidays at Cayuga or the St. Thomas airport. We always drove our cars to the drags and just took off the chrome wheel covers when we got there and some guy would write B/SR on each side and on the windshield. I always seemed to beat the guy beside me and when the races were over we drove the car back home, put the wheel covers back on, and removed the shoe polish."