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."
In the summer of 1959, O'Byrne was approached by The National Film Board of Canada asking to borrow his hot rod for a movie shoot they were doing in London. The Canadian Department of Defense had commissioned The National Film Board of Canada to produce a recruiting movie. The hot rod scene, which was filmed on the street just outside the Wolseley Barracks in London is very short but effective, showing the car, the motor, and the sound of the exhaust. O'Byrne got his car back at the end of the day with a promise that he would receive a copy of the film (though he never did).
Owner number 7 and 24, John Willoughby, took his roadster to the 1964 London Autorama car
One summer day a fellow named Pete Clark from London drove up to the Dorchester Ford dealership looking for O'Byrne and the roadster. Clark had seen the car driving around London and he wondered if it was for sale. Clark was driving a 1955 Ford two-door post car and he was willing to make an even trade for the roadster. O'Byrne had no intention of selling his hot rod, but it was a deal he could not turn down. Clark only kept the roadster for only a few weeks as another London car guy named Ross Moore made an offer to purchase the car and the deal was done.
Moore enjoyed driving the roadster for both pleasure and for work. He was employed with the local radio station, CFPL in London, and driving the car to work on rainy days proved to be not a good idea. This was a great summer car but as fall was approaching Moore needed something he could drive in all kinds of weather. Moore headed back to see O'Byrne at the Ford dealership in Dorchester. That day O'Byrne was working on an Austin Healey and Moore thought that car would suit him much better than the roadster. Again, another even trade was made. Moore drove home in his Austin Healey and O'Byrne had his hot rod back again.
Bob McGregor had seen the roadster and would visit O'Byrne every week to see if he would sell him the car and finally O'Byrne gave in, and the roadsterand new owner moved to Petrolia. McGregor's brother had a 1932 Ford pickup and they cruised together often, but McGregor soon tired of the car and offered it to a sports team to raffle off. The winner was a lady who had no interest in owning a hot rod and decided to take the cash instead, so the car was sold to Alf Kettle and Sid Byrd of Sarnia. Kettle and Byrd owned a car lot and put the car up for sale right away.
In 1963 Willoughby was returning home from a day at the drags, towing his B/SR roadster to
John Willoughby of London was the next owner. Willoughby installed a set of aluminum wheels from Wells Foundry in London, which were very similar to big-window Halibrands. Willoughby entered the car in shows in Toronto, London, Chatham, and Detroit as well as drag racing it at Grand Bend (where he ran a 15.14) and at the Nationals in Indianapolis.
Willoughby says of his time with the car, "I first saw this ‘hot rod' when it was being raffled off. I know I bought tickets hoping to win it, but that did not happen. I never got this car out of my mind. It was just like the hot rods in California we would see in the movies. I knew I had to have this car.
"In 1963 I got word that the car was in Sarnia and it was for sale. We made the deal and I brought the car back to London. It was perfect. It needed nothing; turn the key and go.
In 1969 Jim Price (owner 11) had the car in his garage, and it was equipped with the 312 F
"The 1960s were the best of times and it was all about cars. A bunch of us guys had an unofficial car club called The Pacemakers and our shop was on Talbot Street in London. Everybody there just built, drove, drag-raced, and talked cars. This 1932 Deuce was right at home in our shop. I was in my early twenties and dated my future wife (of 43 years!) when I had this car. We hit all the local drive-in restaurants in London, including the Three Little Pigs and the A&W. By this time the new dragstrip at St. Thomas (Sparta) was up and running as well as Grand Bend. Many summer weekends during 1963, 1964, and 1965 were spent cruising Grand Bend and Ipperwash Beach in this little green 1932 hot rod. It attracted at lot of attention anywhere it went. On Sundays we were at the dragstrip. I did race the car in B/SR class with a limited amount of success.
"I felt the car was a much better street/show car than a drag race car. Collector car and hot rod car shows were just starting in the early 1960s in Ontario and I showed the car in Oshawa, London, Chatham, and Toronto. I did take the car to Cobo Center in Detroit in 1964 and it sure did not look out of place with the ‘big' boys.
Jim Dugal (owner 15) owned the car when it was copper, though it still retained the T-bird
"By this time our drag racing car Willoughby, Hope & Lang—1949 Anglia G/Gas (later to become the Rydell, Hope & Lang car with Wes Rydell taking Willoughby's place) was taking up much more time and I dealt the 1932 to Danny Ritchie for a 1964 Ford XL convertible. Ritchie was a fixture around our Pacemakers shop and the local hot rod scene."
Ritchie also raced the car at Indy with friend Jim Prowse flat towing the car behind his factory dual-quad 1958 Corvette. Ritchie was not physically well and sold the car to Theo Van Vlymen of Wallaceburg, Ontario. Van Vlymen was working in the parts department at Hallmark Motors, the Pontiac dealer in Wallaceburg. He made a few changes to the car, including the addition of the stainless steel firewall. Van Vlymen was about to get married, so he put the car up for sale.
Sim Regnier, another car salesman at Hallmark Motors, became the next owner. Regnier was living in Chatham at the time, but his townhouse did not have a garage. As winter approached, Regnier moved the car to the barn of his good friend Jim Price in Wheatley. Over the winter Regnier and his wife began the search for a home of their own and decided to sell the car. Regnier offered the car to Price and he agreed, having been looking at the car almost daily as it was sitting in his barn. When spring arrived, Price hit the roads in Essex County.
In 1969, John Fletcher saw the car being driven around Windsor and followed it home to Price's house (a distance of approximately 50 miles) so he could talk to Price about the car. Price mentioned that it was for sale so Fletcher told his buddy Richard Cottell about it and Cottell went straight to Price's to buy it.
Cottell put a lot of miles on the car, even though it was virtually unchanged from when O'Byrne built it in 1955. Cottell drove the car to the first Street Rod Nationals in Peoria, but became interested in a Willys coupe and sold the car to Wayne Klokman, also of Windsor.
Owner 16, Frank Wall from Windsor, Ontario, still had the 312/3-carb setup, but changed th
Klokman made the first changes to the car. He installed a set of Cragar mags and big tires, and he also painted the roadster copper. At some point in time, someone removed the 1955 Ford 120-mph speedometer and installed a 150-mph Thunderbird speedo so, due to that and the 312 engine, it became known as "the T-Bird Deuce".
Klokman eventually sold the car to Pat Pillon, who then traded it to Jim Dugal. Dugal painted the car red, and traded it to Frank Wall for a Deuce sedan. Wall used the car sparingly but took his daughters for rides in the rumble seat. He had another hot rod and let his friend Al Rossi drive the car to many shows in the Windsor area as well as to shows in Michigan and Ohio.
Wall then sold the car to Lorne Gawne. Gawne pulled the 312 engine and installed a 351 Windsor as well as cover with a wild faded paint going from red to green. One time, while tuning it, the transmission slipped into reverse and the car took off down the alley, taking out a fence and damaging one rear fender as well. That, of course, led to another paintjob.
Roy Klann (owner 20) did a complete rebuild of the car while it was in Adrian, MI, which i
Al Hebert of Windsor bought the car from Gawne and sold it to Karl Chase of South Lyon, Michigan, and Chase made some more changes to the car. He installed a 1959 Olds rearend with coilover shocks replacing the early banjo housing and transverse spring. Chase kept the car for a few years and sold it to Roy Klann of Adrian, Michigan. Klann installed a Ford 302 and C4 trans, removed the rear fenders, installed a hood, and made many other updates.
He sold the car to Don Roe of Taylor, Michigan, in 1993 or 1994 and then it went to Jim Bachusz in Holly, Michigan, around October 1998.
Bachusz had a few hot rods and decided to downsize so Waterford, Michigan's Roy Breault bought it and painted it black with flames as well as went through the brakes and steering.
Richard Cottell became ill in 2008 and wondered where his old hot rod was, so John Fletcher and Mike Lowden decided to try to find the car, tracing it as far as Roy Klann, but were unable to find him, so the hunt came to an end (sadly Cottell died before the car was rediscovered).
Approximately a year after his death, Lowden received an email from Jim Prowse who had towed the car to Indy many years ago and said his friend, John Willoughby (who had been the seventh owner of this car), was also looking for it. He wanted to find it and buy it back if possible and Prowse knew the car had been in the Windsor area. At this point Fletcher, Willoughby, and Lowden teamed up to locate it. By searching the Internet, visiting many hot rod forums, and by word of mouth, the car was found. Plus, the timing was perfect, as Breault was thinking about selling it because his two custom Mercurys were taking up plenty of his time. Willoughby called Breault, visited him and his old car, and was able to buy it back after selling it 47 years earlier!
Owner Roy Breault (owner 23) replaced the original T-bird gauge dash with a repro 1932 das
The T-bird Deuce was again unveiled in Canada at Steve Plunkett's Fleetwood Country Cruize-In show in June of 2011. Some of the previous owners are in poor health and some have died, but 11 owners (or their family members) were able to attend the reunion and see the car. Built as a hot rod in 1955, it is now 58 years old and has had 24 owners, all of which have been identified. Each one enjoyed the car and added their personal touch, but each respected what the others had done and the car remains today very close to the way Michael O'Byrne built it so many years ago.
And though the recruiting film that was made back in 1959 for the Canadian Department of Defense was never delivered to the car's owner at the time, a copy of the film was located, converted from 16mm to DVD, and is part of Willoughby's memorabilia collection on his roadster.
The current engine is a 302 from a 1974 Maverick, as is the C4 transmission. Owner 20, Roy
Owner Roy Breault (owner 23) replaced the original T-bird gauge dash with a repro 1932 das
The current black ’n’ flame paintjob was done by owner Roy Breault in his home shop; the p