It seems unlikely he would...
It seems unlikely he would ever subject a car of this caliber to inclement weather, but then again you don’t know Paul Gommi. It may look fancy but it’s quite utilitarian as witnessed by the rubber floors, absence of excessive brightwork, and the side curtains he and Sammy Head devised. To date he’s driven the car in the rain and even the snow on Angeles Crest Highway.
When we saw this phaeton we knew we were onto something special. There are many definitions for a hot rod but one universal saying gives us the need for speed. In the early days hot rods were built for speed—that was the point. Knowing this we asked Paul Gommi of Southern California to give us a tour of his ’32 Ford phaeton and introduce us to the early days of hot rodding.
Paul Gommi’s philosophy in building a hot rod is: “The car’s appearance is the result of making improvements to the car’s performance. You can’t move forward until you know the past. A hot rod is supposed to be an improvement in performance over stock. There are only three things you can do: increase power, reduce weight, and streamline the vehicle.”
Hot rods are defined by their modifications that individualize the vehicle. The modifications include accessories, speed equipment, and body and/or chassis modifications. To simply build a car requires a great deal of mechanical knowledge and ability, which Paul has. A veteran Top Fuel drag racer who won more than 30 meets from 1963-74, he also built engines for Carroll Shelby’s race cars and Keith Black. His innovations include the first bottom oiler, the three-disc clutch, the first Top Fuel rear wing, and the first successful West Coast rear engine dragster (track records at Lions, Seattle, Irwindale, and Orange County). From 1974-86, he owned an advertising agency, handling accounts like COMP Cams, TCI Automotive, NOS, Venolia, Bill Miller, and Simpson. From 1988-93 he campaigned a Nostalgia Top Fuel dragster until a broken pinion shaft caused a spectacular crash at Bakersfield, ending his career.
Phaetons came carpeted but...
Phaetons came carpeted but Paul hand-cut mats from black rubber matting for a look more befitting of a hot rod. He made the heel pads from ’41 Harley-Davidson floor board inserts. The knob atop the shifter and the accessory handbrake extension came from a ’32 Chrysler. Paul sectioned the ’37 Lincoln Zephyr steering wheel and adapted it to the smaller ’32 Ford shaft. He also used the ’32 light-switch rod and horn button, a task that required an adapter to make it fit the larger horn-button hole.
His latest creation is this original American ’32 Ford DeLuxe V-8 phaeton (only 974 produced). He set about improving its performance exactly like he would have in 1955, using all pre-’55 parts, materials, machinery, tools, and even methods.
According to Paul, “A hot rod is all about the engine. Modifying the engine is the greatest improvement you can make in performance.” He chose a ’37 Ford 221ci 21-stud Flathead engine. For performance, he took a ’49 S.Co.T. supercharger and adapted the 21 studder by designing and making all the pulleys, drive, and modifying the manifold with the help of his friend Tom Taros.
Paul chose a cam design so radical, he knew it couldn’t perform without the supercharger. He added ’55 Chevy valves, Lincoln valvesprings, and his own five-angle valve job. He even designed and built his own full flow oil system. He built the Stromberg 97 carbs and even the filter elements for the ’50 accessory air cleaners. Making all these modifications to improve the horsepower create the outrageous appearance of his engine; it truly is a case of “form follows function.”
Next up was the chassis. Again according to Paul, “The stance is determined by trying to get the highest gear ratio possible so the car can go fast. The highest ratio for a ’32 Ford rearend was a 3:54. With a 7.50x16-inch tire, it’s 2,700 rpm at 70 mph, but with 7.00x18s it’s 2,400 rpm at 70. That’s why the phaeton has ’40 18-inch Ford accessory wheels that create a rake, or stance.”
Paul adapted ’55 Ford axles to a machined ’32 differential for strength. To save weight, he removed the fenders, running boards, cowllights, framehorn covers, bumpers, irons, spare tire, saving hundreds of pounds. He further improved performance with real ’39 Lincoln brakes he lightened by drilling 420 holes in each drum and radially slotting the backing plates front and rear. A super-rare ’50 Bell tube axle further saves weight along with drilled shock arms and pedals.
Inside, Paul cut down an Auburn panel to fit the ’32 dash, adding ’40s Stewart-Warner gauges and a ’36 Philco radio hooked to Drive-In Movie speakers to overcome wind noise with the top down.
The engine is the soul. It...
The engine is the soul. It has a ’37 21-stud block and heads (the heads plunge cut for valve clearance and chambers domed), forged pistons, cam ground by the late Bill Jenks Potvin, ’36 Ford generator with handmade aluminum housing, and ’32 Packard scoop. Allegedly a dozen of those filter housings were cast in 1953 in the image of ’50 Ferrari filters. Four appeared on Andy Kassa’s Deuce three-window. Here’s another pair that Gommi cut for hood clearance. He made the screen filters and hardware.
To mount an Auburn panel requires...
To mount an Auburn panel requires extending a Deuce dash downward, so Paul cut the switch panel off, and to great effect. He replaced the back-mount gauges with early 2-5/8-inch front-mount units, including the elusive fuel gauge. The Philco head is the tip to a very big iceberg of a ’55 Chevrolet truck radio. Paul made its knobs in the image of the ’49 Ford dash knobs above it.
Twin wide belts and bearings...
Twin wide belts and bearings rather than bushings in ’37-41 Ford commercial-truck pumps make this blower drive possible. The early engine’s shorter crank snout meant Paul Gommi had to make the pulleys and idler. Note that the fan mounts to the blower pulley. Stuffed down in there is a ’54-era Mallory distributor.