1932 Ford Phantom Highboy Phaeton- Back In Black
From the February, 2009 issue of Street Rodder
By Chris Shelton
Building your own dream is hard enough, but building someone else's is something altogether. It's even tougher when all that remains of their dream is a basket of parts atop a car hauler at a swap meet.
But, when Bob Smith bought this Deuce tub in Pomona, California, that's all he got. Its fiberglass body ruled out a decades-long pedigree; however, what it lacked in history it certainly made up for in personal significance. It's because the skeleton of a tub Bob bought that day was the remnants of the last car Creighton Hunter built.
If you don't recognize his name, it doesn't mean you shouldn't know who Creighton Hunter was. A Santa Ana local, he was a drag-racing pioneer in more ways than one. When drag racing was young, he had an interest in the Hunter Oil Special, a cut-down T, presumably a former dirt-track car. When others were setting precedent with dragsters made from production car frames with engines in their conventional places up front, Creighton set his with a rear-engined aluminum-framed job with a wedge-like proportion that earned it the name Slice o' Pie. But, his biggest contribution came when drag racing wasn't yet considered legitimate. It's because he and a guy named CJ "Pappy" Hart operated what many consider the first professional drag-racing venture. While we know it nowadays as John Wayne Airport, the Santa Ana Airport became the Santa Ana Drags every weekend for nine years between 1950 and 1959. And, for the first five years, Creighton was there, often running against his paid entrants.
It's a bit more than coincidence...
It's a bit more than coincidence that Bob chose heads and a manifold that bear the name of Fred Offenhauser; as an employee of Harry Miller, Offenhauser designed what's considered the most enduring purpose-built racing engines of all time. Alan Hail assembled this more domesticated 59A series engine, but legendary drag racer Art Chrisman and his son, Mike, tuned it.
While there are a few generations between Creighton's Slice O' Pie and this pie-sectioned tub, there was enough there for Bob to recognize it was a bite worth taking. "It was a car that just had to be finished," he said.
This much we don't know: The Deuce frame is of unknown origins, built by some nameless fabricator. Whether or not Creighton set up the front suspension himself, its design is clever. For example, in place of the framehorns are conventional semi-elliptic leaf springs that have been cut to quarter-elliptics and mounted longitudinal to the frame. The legs kept their spring perches during the wishbone-splitting process, although now those perches twist back around themselves to meet the springs. Though largely intact, Bob had to find replacements for a few of the pieces robbed from the car during its owner-to-owner migration.
With longitudinal torsion bars in lieu of conventional leaf springs, the rear suspension was as equally inventive-and equally incomplete-as the front. Among the things Bob did have was a Holy Grail of hot-rod history: a Culver City-vintage Halibrand quick-change center section.
The early fiberglass body's origins are unknown, but its brand is unimportant, anyway, since Creighton carved away at it. He took a slice out of the body that tapers from 4 inches at the cowl to nothing at the bustle. He also relocated the seat back and B-pillar rearward, lengthening the front doors and eliminating the rear ones in the process.
Make no mistake, this car...
Make no mistake, this car is all hot rod; however, it has some old Indy-racing cues as well. Harry Miller used this clamshell-style grille so extensively that it's now a Miller race car hallmark. Presumably, Creighton made the shell, but we know for sure that Dan Fink Metalworks made its insert.
Alan Hail built the 59A-series Flathead, equipping it with Offy heads and a two-pot manifold. Art Chrisman, another Santa Ana drag-racing legend, and his son, Mike, tuned it; street rod pioneer Richard Graves equipped the '39 Ford gearbox that bolts behind it with a Lincoln gearset.
Though Creighton finished a considerable amount of the technical and fabrication work on the car by the time he parted with it, the car required just about an equal amount more. For that, Bob commissioned West Coast Street Rods' Roy Fjastad Jr. and Wood N' Carr's Doug Carr to finish the car to contemporary specs. Pan at Pan's Coach Craft painted it in a DuPont single-stage acrylic enamel; Whitey Morgan trimmed it in a wine-colored leather.
Though Creighton now runs that big dragstrip in the sky, he actually got to see the finished version of the car he reluctantly parted with decades before. In fact, just before he passed away, "We were able to get some pictures of him in the car diggin' it," Bob noted. "It would've been great to have purchased the car directly from him, although I'm grateful I was able to finish his dream."
Harry also employed quarter-elliptic...
Harry also employed quarter-elliptic springs extensively in his cars, like the famed front-drive Indy racers. While he used them in a linkage arrangement much like the four-bar suspension we know today, these springs work with a more conventional split wishbone. The damper is a copy of the old Hartford friction dampers.
Though they're new, they look...
Though they're new, they look eerily similar to the Rudge-splined wheels that Halibrand made for '50s race cars. Chip Foose made these, and like Halibrand, he's a creative machinist; like Halibrand's wheels, these are real knockoffs (the center caps come off to reveal a fastener).
Wood N' Carr's Doug Carr built...
Wood N' Carr's Doug Carr built the plywood seat base, but Whitey Morgan clad it in wine-colored leather. The dash is basically a flat Deuce, but the insert is a genuine Stewart Warner Ensign. While Schroeder steering boxes typically don't have mast jackets, the one this Wheel Shoppe banjo bolts to does.
Halibrand is still around...
Halibrand is still around making these quick-change rearends, but this is one of the prized articles made by Ted himself. Though he later made them in Torrance, this one is of the earlier, more revered center sections on account of two words: Culver City. Flanking it are '37-41 bells and later Buick aluminum drums. The absence of visible springs is on account of longitudinal torsion bars.
Tubs, tourings, phaetons ......
Tubs, tourings, phaetons ... call 'em what you like, but they typically seat four people. Since the relocated seat back and B-pillar disposed of whatever legroom the rear passengers would've had, this particular tub makes use of the rear cockpit as a storage area and fuel tank home.
|F A C T S & F I G U R E S |
|Bob and Sharon Smith |
|Wickford, Rhode Island |
|1932 Ford phantom highboy |
|(two-door) phaeton |
|Frame / Manufacturer ||’32 Ford / unknown |
|Chassis plumbing ||steel Bundy line & rubber hose |
|Rearend ||’37-40 axles and bells & vintage Culver City Halibrand quick-change center section |
|Rear suspension ||’37-40 radius rods, Hartford-style friction dampers & torsion bars |
|Rear brakes ||’66-70 Buick aluminum drums (90-fin) & ’40-48 Ford backing plates |
|Front suspension ||’37-41 Ford spindles & wishbone (split), longitudinal quarter-elliptic springs & Hartford-style friction dampers |
|Front brakes ||’58-65 Buick aluminum drums (45-fin) & ’40-48 Ford backing plates |
|Master cylinder ||unknown dual-circuit |
|Steering box ||Schroeder Racing Products (Burbank, CA) Sprint/Midget |
|Wheels ||Chip Foose one-off, knockoff hubs |
|Size ||16x6 & 16x8 |
|Front tire make, size ||Firestone dirt track (rib), 5.50-16 |
|Rear tire make, size ||Firestone dirt track (diamond) 8.90-16 |
|Gas tank ||Moon (Norwalk, CA) spun aluminum |
|Make ||Ford |
|Displacement ||239 ci |
|Machining / Assembly ||by Alan Hail |
|Water pumps ||Ford industrial |
|Cooling fan ||idler-style Ford truck |
|Radiator ||Mattson’s Radiator (Stanton, CA) copper/brass |
|Generator ||stock, upgraded w/ ’56 (12V) internals |
|Heads ||Offenhauser |
|Manifold / Induction ||Offenhauser 2x2 / Stromberg 97 |
|Exhaust ||headers, 2” exhaust; Smithy mufflers by Mike Maris (Post Falls, ID) |
|Make ||’39 Ford |
|Builder ||Richard Graves, Richard’s Wheel & Chassis (Long Beach, CA) |
|Shifter ||’39 Ford, bent |
|Trans mods ||Lincoln gear set |
|Body style / Material ||phaeton / fiberglass |
|Body mods ||pie-cut lengthwise (4” at cowl to nothing in rear); shaved cowl & door handles; B-pillar & seat back moved rearward; rear doors shaved |
|Windshield ||Du Vall |
|Grille ||custom Harry Miller–style, fiberglass, w/ Dan Fink Metalworks (Huntington Beach, CA) insert |
|Bodywork ||Pan, Pan’s Coach Craft (Long Beach, CA) |
|Paint type / Color ||DuPont acrylic enamel / black |
|Painter ||Pan, Pan’s Coach Craft |
|Headlights / Taillights ||Dietz sealed-beam conversion / ’38-39 |
|Insert / Gauges ||vintage Stewart Warner (Lancaster, PA) Ensign / Mooneyes (Santa Fe Springs, CA) |
|Wiring ||custom, Mike Maris |
|Steering wheel ||banjo, Wheel Shoppe (Portland, OR) |
|Seats ||plywood by Doug Carr, Wood N' Carr (Signal Hill, CA) |
|Upholsterer ||Darryl "Whitey" Morgan (Signal Hill, CA) |
|Material / Color ||leather / wine || |
|Carpet ||cut-loop wool |