There are those who believe they could improve on the world's masterpieces if they had a chance. But what if you had only 40 percent of a work of art, and had detailed knowledge on how to finish it? Though 16th century master sculptor Michelangelo is well known for his statues and other works of fine art, many do not know he also left behind half-finished statues when he died-huge blocks of marble with only a portion of a torso revealed amid the rough chisel marks.
Now it would take someone with either a huge ego or enormous talent to think they could step up and fill Michelangelo's sandals and complete his masterwork. However, that has already happened with other works of art, and folks are just now finding out about it.
Doane Spencer was a man of many talents, and, quite frankly, he excelled at all of them. He was among the first Southern California residents to take up hot rodding, purchasing a '32 roadster (to which he will be forever linked) just before WWII broke out. After the war, he began tuning and tweaking it as only he knew how and eventually visited every state in the Union with it. But in the '50s he began to tear it apart so he could compete in a new international race: the La Carrera Panamericana-or, as it is sometimes referred, the Mexican Road Race.
Needing extra clearance for the rocky roads he was to race over, Doane designed the exhaust system to run through the framerails instead of under the car. By the mid-'50s he began to lose interest in his highboy and gain an interest in the new Ford Thunderbird. After the Panamericana was cancelled in 1955 (due to fatalities), Doane sold the roadster to Lynn Wineland (another T-bird owner and then-editor of Rod & Custom) and went on to race V-8 Sunbeam Tigers with the SCCA and be a crew chief on a team that raced a Ferrari at LeMans.
The '32, stuffed with a Y-block, sat in Lynn's garage for years and was never driven, though it did make it on the cover of the December 1960 issue of Rod & Custom showing Doane fabbing up some nerf bars for it. Ownership of the car was transferred to Neal East in 1969, who added a Flathead motor and a gas tank, and then drove the wheels off the car for the next three decades. Hot rod collector Bruce Meyers convinced Neal to sell him the car in the early '90s, and Bruce, recognizing the historical value of the highboy, took it to Pete Chapouris' PC3g hot rod shop (a precursor to the SO-CAL Speed Shop) to be restored.
Not long after Pete got the car in 1995, Doane passed away, but the work continued and Pete and his talented crew blew the roadster apart, and as meticulous as Doane had been when he first built the car, they followed suit and went about restoring the car to concours standards. When the work was done, Bruce entered it in the high-end Pebble Beach show in 1997 and won his class.
Nowadays, Doane's roadster, lofted into rarified air by being listed as one of the 75 Most Influential '32 Hot Rods, always seems to easily place in the Top 5 of any hot rodder's list of "cars I'd like to own." The roadster has an everyman's appeal, probably because it reflects so much of its original builder's personality.
But besides the roadster, Doane had also completed his exceptional '55 T-bird (a low-slung black number now owned by the Petersen Automotive Museum). He'd also begun work on an updated version of his famous roadster for his friend, Darrell Brunn, only this one would benefit from 40 more years of innovative thinking and design from Doane.