When it comes to famous race cars or well-known hot rods, say the Pierson Brothers’ coupe, it’s easy to trace the car’s history through its various owners and accomplishments. But when the car in question is "just an old ’32," then it gets a little trickier. And even though there has always been, after all, a finite number of them out there, you might think finding the history on any particular Deuce wouldn’t be that hard. But that isn’t always the case.
When Tommy Grimes was told about a black ’32 Ford five-window for sale at the 1996 Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, he had to take a look. Just a day earlier he had sold a ’32 Chevy five-window at the show--a car he’d spent five years building into a primered rod--but someone wanted it and Tommy sold it. Back in 1975 when he was in the Air Force, he’d bought a ’34 Chevy and fixed it up but getting married and having two kids meant the coupe had to go. He went through a 16-year dry spell of not owning a hot rod before building his ’32 Chevy, and he didn’t think he’d let that amount of time pass between cars this time around. As a kid he always liked little Deuce coupes, so when he approached the seller of the Ford, he couldn’t pass it up, and soon he drove it all 450 miles home.
Hard to go wrong with a 327....
Hard to go wrong with a 327. Through the decades, several motor and trans combos have been in the car, but this V-8 (out of a ’67 Camaro) went in around the late ’80s. Tommy added the Offenhauser manifold and topped it with a trio of Rochesters, and also installed the Jet-Hot–coated Sanderson headers with stainless steel exhaust and mufflers (welded up at Tony’s Custom Exhaust in Glen Burnie, MD). The heads are the ’66 Chevy 2.02 hi-po “camel hump” heads. Other recent additions include a Griffin radiator, a Mallory/Taylor-based ignition, and Cal Custom six-fin valve covers.
Tommy knew the car had a history of being a race car, but he had to dig to get a better picture of its lineage. One of the people he hooked up with was Ron Roberson, the author of the book Middletown Pacemakers: The Story of an Ohio Hot Rod Club
. Roberson found some early history on the car, and believes it was built and raced back in the ’50s by Bill Burton. Though Burton has since passed away, Roberson was able to contact one of the original Middletown club members, Roy Palmer, who told him Burton had built the car for the dragstrip in his grandmother’s small garage in Middletown, Ohio, and raced it from 1957-61.
It ran at Thorn Hill, Stout Field, and Beechmont Drag Strip in Cincinnati, and also at the Nationals in Detroit in 1959 (and possibly 1960) under the name Lightning Rod. Though the car had started out with a Flathead, Burton told Palmer a few years back the car had a top speed of 111 mph in the quarter with an Olds V-8.
Burton sold the car around 1961 to another Middletown resident who raced it up into the mid-’60s, after which the car sat for several years. Harold Keister, also from Middletown, bought the car in the late ’70s, and made it street legal.
After a few years on the street, Keister took it apart (around 1981), channeled it 6 inches, added a chromed suicide-mount front axle, replaced the floor and firewall with stainless steel pieces, and louvered the decklid. Another big change was painting the car PPG black, as well as adding a 327 engine that had come out of a ’67 Camaro. At this time the car also had Ansen kidney bean wheels wrapped in big ’n’ little rubber.
In 1993 Keister sold the car to Carl Stevens from Pennsylvania who, in turn, sold it to Tommy Grimes three years later at the Nationals. Over the first few years, Tommy made some minor changes with the wheels, gauges, carbs, and shifter, but, in 2005, decided to make some major changes to it.
Tommy turned the project over to the best fabricator he knows: Roy it ain’t a problem Jordon from Glen Burnie, Maryland. The old stainless firewall was replaced with a repro stocker from Brookville Roadsters, and framehorns were added where they’d been sliced off decades earlier.
When the recessed stainless...
When the recessed stainless steel firewall was removed in favor of an unaltered one from Brookville Roadsters, it changed the layout of the interior a little, and Shoreline Upholstery (Glen Burnie, MD) fixed it up with some marine carpet.
A Banjo steering wheel is...
A Banjo steering wheel is fixed to a Limefire column, and the stock bench seat was used, although a couple of the springs have been removed. Ron Francis supplied the wiring while five Moon/Stewart-Warner gauges fill the stock ’32 dash. Gordy Ford pinstriped the dash, and the tall shifter came from Gennie.
Yes, it’s a driver. Tommy...
Yes, it’s a driver. Tommy has driven the 1,200-mile round-trip from his home in Maryland to the Louisville Nats nine or ten times, and made the trek to an event in Pigeon Forge once. Lotta miles on this car’s odometer over the years
The engine was moved forward, too, and a complete Pete & Jakes frontend (Super Bell dropped I-beam axle, Pete & Jake hairpins, Posies Super Slider spring, chromed front shocks, Ford spindles, Vega box) went in. Chevy 15x5 and 7 chrome reverse wheels (with spyder caps) wrapped in Coker Classic rubber (L78-15 and 560-15) are used for rollers. A custom Griffin radiator was also installed, as was a LimeWorks steering column. The rear suspension uses a transverse-mounted spring connected to a ’55 Chevy rear (3.55:1). The dash was repainted, though the coupe’s exterior paint (now 18 years old) was left alone. Shoreline Upholstery in Pasadena, Maryland, stitched up a red and black roll ’n’ pleat Ultraleather interior, which matches the theme set down by the red carpet.
Just because there aren’t that many around anymore, any real ’32 Ford five-window can be considered a survivor, as it was probably dumb luck it wasn’t salvaged during World War II or used as an erosion embankment on the edge of some river back in the ’50s. But as long as there are enthusiasts out there like Tommy Grimes, who can recognize a good thing when it’s in front of him, there will always be great examples of hot rods for future generations!
Tommy Grimes believes this...
Tommy Grimes believes this Ray Palmer photo of Bill Burton’s Deuce coupe racing at Beechmont Drag Strip in Cincinnati in 1959 or 1960 is the same car out in his garage. Ron Roberson, who wrote Middletown Pacemakers: The Story of an Ohio Hot Rod Club, says this photo shows Burton’s ’32 when it was Midnight Blue and with cycle fenders on each corner. He thinks it ran B/Altered powered by a Flathead, then changed to an Olds 345 and, as a kicker, he believes it ran at the Nationals in Detroit in 1959 (and maybe 1960 too) under the name “Lightning Rod.”
The decklid has seven rows...
The decklid has seven rows of 27 louvers each (that’s a total of 189 for those doing math in their head right now) and the paint on the car is almost 20 years old. The 6-inch channel job was done in the early ’80s.