It seems unlikely he would ever subject a car of this caliber to inclement weather, but th
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 Paul hand-cut mats from black rubber matting for a look more be
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 has a ’37 21-stud block and heads (the heads plunge cut for val
To mount an Auburn panel requires extending a Deuce dash downward, so Paul cut the switch
Twin wide belts and bearings rather than bushings in ’37-41 Ford commercial-truck pumps ma
Electroline Manufacturing Company made a lot of lighting products but Paul maintains that
To save more weight, Paul eliminated all carpeting from the floor and front seat back. “Carpeting is for your grandmother’s floors,” he says. He hand-cut black rubber floormats to fit, adding ’41 Harley footrests for protection. To help streamline the car, he laid back the windshield bases and chopped the stanchions, the windshield frame, the top irons, and bows, still providing a folding top. The interior, top, and side curtains were all done in Paul’s garage with the help of Sammy Head.
The tail is brought up with Chrysler AirStream lenses on Packard buckets and ’31 Ford reworked arms. Hanging below are ’50 Triumph motorcycle mufflers. Out front are streamlined ’40 American La France fire engine headlights, a ’37 Indian motorcycle horn, and a Pines Winterfront grille.
What Paul’s car represents should be clear by now. He set out to increase the performance of his tub in the three ways possible. Each step he took created the appearance you see—form following function.
He ended up with a really “hot tub.” On one hand Paul Gommi’s phaeton is a shrine to the most desirable obsolete parts in the world. On the other hand, he put those parts together in a way our forebears never thought to. The result changes our notions of tradition and progress.
It’s unlikely anyone else will focus so many rare and desirable parts in one place in such an original package. At the very least, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could top it. For more photos of Paul’s tub, visit www.streetrodder.com.
The taillights are aggregates of ’37 Chrysler Airflow/Airstream lenses, bezels, and webs;
Pines made these thermostatically shuttered Winterfront inserts as early as the ’20s. If t
Paul employed two sets of mufflers in this exhaust system: one pair of glass-packed muffle
The story describes how Paul fit the ’39 Lincoln brakes but that wasn’t the extent. He als