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.
When he began the project, Doane envisioned what his first roadster would have been like if he'd started it in the '90s rather than the '40s. Some of the original's styling cues would be there (notably the exhaust through the frame design and the engine-turned dash), but nearly every other part would profit from Doane's lifelong passion for fabrication-plus a stash of parts he'd saved from his T-bird project.
Known to his friends as "Mr. Bracket," Doane would design a piece not purely for function, though it would always work as it was supposed to, but aesthetics as well. It is well documented that he also distrusted most off-the-shelf parts and pieces, so Doane naturally built everything himself. A self-taught mechanic, he could perform every aspect needed to finish out a car, from engine and chassis building to paint and body.
But the Spencer2, as it would come to be known, was only partially finished at the time of Doane's death. So now the big question: Who could possibly pick up Michelangelo's tools and start chipping away at what was left? Darrell took the project home, where it was stored for 10 years until collector Kirk White purchased the car in 2005. Kirk in turn sold the car in the same condition he found it to Dennis Higgingbotham, who picked up the phone and contracted the SO-CAL Speed Shop in Pomona, California, to finish the car in the spirit of Doane. Since the company had already restored Doane's first roadster, it seemed logical SO-CAL was in the unique position to instinctively know how he would have wanted this one done too.
When SO-CAL received the car in boxes from the owner, Pete took all the parts to a back room, told everyone to leave him alone, and spent three days mocking up the car to see what he had to work with and what still needed to be done.
Though it was evident Doane had thought out every aspect of his car, only some of the components had been finished. Only one wheel knock-off had been made, and the one-off magnesium centers to the wheels had been cast but not assembled. The steering box wasn't set in place, nor was the aluminum radiator. The idea was there, but you had to have a good imagination to see what the artist had intended to do with his work.
The actual process of building a car hadn't begun, as Doane was still making the pieces when he passed away. But by doing a quick build with the parts, Pete was able to rough out the concept, then stand back and see the entire car as only Doane had dreamed it.
The body Doane had planned to use was fiberglass, but Pete felt Doane would have built the car using an original steel Ford body if he had been given the chance, so Pete located one for the project. From there, Pete put SO-CAL's Monty "Moose" Hutchison and Robin "Silky" Silk in charge of the build. The duo worked full-time under the watchful eye of shop foreman Ryan Reed for the next 15 months, finishing Doane's last masterpiece along with the rest of the SO-CAL team.
SO-CAL is well-adept at building hot rods using parts from the "usual" sources, but nearly every part on this ride was handmade by Doane, right down to the castings he'd created for the rearend housing and other parts. The frame is a '32 Ford, with the wheelbase lengthened to 111 inches, outfitted with Doane's handmade IFS (with inboard shocks mounted behind the grille) and IRS systems, both of which utilize antiroll bars. The four-way disc brakes use Doane's own calipers with Wilwood 12-inch rotors (a custom CNC'd master cylinder is also used) and Koni shocks are found on each corner.
The pedal assembly is a story unto itself. When SO-CAL received all the car parts, there were three different pedal assemblies-Doane hadn't figured out which design to go with. SO-CAL's Silky combined the best of the designs and devised a system that hangs from above, rather than coming up through the floor. Steering is handled via a Schroeder rack. The brake lines, 15-gallon gas tank, and all fasteners throughout the car are made from stainless steel. The knock-off wheels are 16x8 and 17x9 and are of Doane's design, cast by his friend, Gary Brown. The one-offs are wrapped in Goodyear RSA rubber (205/55-16 and 255/60-17).
Even with the longer 111-inch wheelbase, Doane intended to have the motor sit farther back in the chassis than what you might find on a "normal" hot rod, and its relocation provides a better center of gravity for the car-something Doane was all about when it came to high-speed cruising. And for safety, there is also an internal four-point rollbar (as all race cars need rollbars) that is well hidden under the roadster's skin. And, since it needed a longer hood, SO-CAL fabbed up a new one from aluminum. Dennis, the roadster's current owner, stands at 6 feet 3 inches, and Pete believes he would have never fit in a standard '32 cockpit, so it was lengthened 2 inches to allow a little more legroom.
The engine is a special Roush 289, built by Heath Lockard using a billet crankshaft, Crower titanium rods, custom Wiseco aluminum pistons, a COMP Cams bumpstick, and cast-iron World Products heads (ported, of course) set up with Scorpion roller rockers and hydraulic lifters.
Custom aluminum valve covers, milled with the Spencer2 logo, were also made for the small-block, and a dual-plane aluminum manifold helps the twin Holley 4160 carbs feed the beast. Spark comes from an early Mallory ignition (with a mechanical tach drive) and Taylor wires, while exhaust exits through custom stainless headers (stepped from 1 5/8- to 1 3/4-inch), 3-inch stainless tubing, and a pair of Magnaflow mufflers.
Though Doane had intended the exhaust to exit through the frame as his first roadster did, Pete knew the engine wouldn't work at its true potential without a proper exhaust and muffler system with tips out the rear, so he combined both setups. Under the floor and next to the trans, the exhaust comes to a "Y," where it can either flow through the mufflers and out the back, or get rowdy by exiting through the frame pipes. Each frame pipe is corked with a small cap, which is actually a '34 Cadillac gas cap fitted with a butterfly lock that holds it in place-very trick.
The motor was dyno'd before it left Lockard and produced 405 hp at 5,500 rpm, with 403 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm. Doane did have a chance to work on the '68 Ford four-speed Toploader, and went as far as to fabricate a special external pump to deliver oil to the transmission as well as rifle-drill all of the trans' internal shafts. A larger gearset was also installed, and the custom rearend Doane had cast uses a Dana 44, 3.5 ratio with a Detroit Locker, and the half-shafts and CV joints come from a late-model Porsche.
SO-CAL's bodyman, Jesus Salas, and painter, Mick Jenkins, then started receiving the parts and pieces and began to meticulously perfect and prepare them all before the PPG black paint was applied. As with most vehicles, the interior is about the last part to be finished, so much of what is seen came from Pete's thoughts on how he believed Doane would have finished his car.
The cockpit still had to have Doane's signature, so the basic design (engine-turned dash, saddle-colored leather, etc.) came from the original roadster. But from there, Gabe's Custom Auto Interior combined the look of an early Ferrari with traditional hot rod style to complete the picture. You don't immediately notice the flip lids in each door used to gain access to a small pouch for papers or the flip-down armrest tucked into the bucket/bench seat, but that's the idea: subtle and clean. The DJ safety belts hint at a road-racing heritage, while the slight curve to the custom shifter allows a little extra room for the driver's leg to mash down on the accelerator. Gabe's also laid out the light brown square-weave carpet, finishing its edges with the same leather used in the seat and door panels.
The stainless, engine-turned dash panel is simple in its presentation-just four SO-CAL speed knobs (two located to the far left, the others on the far right) enhanced with the S2 logo plus four large-face gauges. But these aren't just any gauges. As far as Pete has found, they're the only set like them. Restored by Terry Seaholm, Pete believes the Stewart Warner script gauges are of a commercial variety, and feature a 120-mph speedo and an 8,000-rpm tach. The other two gauges are split gauges, with one function on top with another below (oil and amps in one, water temp and fuel in the other).
What looks like a simple '40s-era steering column is actually a spring-and-lever-operated tilt column, with a four-spoke aluminum wheel from Mike Lempert that features bubinga and ebony wood trim. The DuVall windshield is a signature Spencer item (he reportedly had the second one ever made on his first roadster), and it was chromed by Sherm's Plating-the same company that did all of the roadster's chrome work.
Before his death in 1995, Doane asked Darrell that the roadster be shown at the Grand National Roadster Show-and his wish was granted, as Dennis and SO-CAL displayed the car in all its glory at the 2007 GNRS, completely disassembled so folks could view each piece of the masterpiece. Four weeks later, the car had been assembled and was shown at the Petersen Automotive Museum's Deuce Day event in Los Angeles.
A month after, Pete got the chance to take the Spencer2 out on its initial shakedown runs, and came back amazed-and that's saying something for a guy with Pete's history to come back stunned. He reports he's "never driven a car like this. It's 180-degrees different from anything else I've driven. It's so comfortable and so quick in the steering. It's not for drag racing, but more for cruising at 140 mph. The old man really had something going on."
Pete is convinced if Doane hadn't sold his first roadster in the '50s, it would have eventually turned out like the Spencer2 car. Doane died at 73 from cancer, and he knew his time was limited-and it's one of the reasons he worked so hard on getting what he could done on the roadster. But faced with the same destiny, we wonder who among us would take up building a hot rod knowing full well it would be the last thing worked on. But masterpieces are defined by their ability to stand the test of time, and the Spencer2 roadster is a work of art that will always be a fitting legacy to the brilliance of its creator.