The way you look at street rods is probably a little different than the way indoor car show judges do. You probably don’t walk around with a clipboard and pen, closely inspecting every corner of a car inside and out before deciding whether or not you like it. You don’t have to. Most of us make our first impressions from a few feet away. If the first impression is good, we’ll take a second look, then a third, and a fourth.
Bruce Albertson got his first look at this 1933 Ford three-window coupe at the L.A. Roadster Show in June 2010, but already knew about the car. A friend told him about the remarkable highboy, owned at the time by Rod Palmer from Arizona Street Rods in Phoenix. “I knew it had to have been well-built because Rod had previously built a ’32 I own, which has won many awards,” Bruce told us. He started inquiring about the coupe and received photographs and detailed descriptions from Palmer—but photos and descriptions were no substitute for the real live look Bruce got at the roadster show. “I immediately fell in love with the car and struck a deal.”
Palmer had discovered the original-steel coupe in the state of Washington several years earlier, and bought it as a personal project and a way to promote his shop. The ’33 was a work in progress, but needed to be finished. We don’t know what the previous owner had planned, but Palmer’s ideas were extensive. Not one part of the car has been untouched and not one part of the car—chassis, body, finish, engine, or interior—is typical.
One look will tell you there is something unusual in the proportions. A new front crossmember was built and moved forward 5-1/2 inches to lengthen the wheelbase and improve the highboy appearance. The framerails were boxed and narrowed at the rear. A Super Bell drilled I-beam axle has a 4-inch drop from TCI Engineering spindles. Hairpins, Durant leaf springs, and Romic shocks improve the ride, with steering handled by a Vega box and Pete & Jakes steering arms. The rear is suspended by Model A buggy springs and Harley-Davidson air shocks, along with ladder bars and a Deuce Factory panhard bar. Wilwood 12-inch disc brakes were added all around, controlled by a Wilwood master cylinder and proportioning valve.
Up above, Palmer chopped 3-1/2 inches of Henry Ford steel out of the top, and added ’38 Chevy headlights and ’37 Ford taillights. A pair of drilled nerf bars take the place of the front bumper and the rear bumper was replaced with a length of round curved stainless. The outside mirrors are from Rock Valley. The top insert is from LeBaron Bonney. Most of the rest of the exterior is factory—door handles, hood, grille, even the original radiator cap. The coupe was finished in black Standox paint at Arizona Street Rods, and Don Tippet came down from Grants Pass, Oregon, to create the convincing patina.
For a vintage racing–inspired highboy, big ’n’ little tires on 15-inch Halibrand Sprints was the perfect choice. The 15x9 and 15x4.5 rims were dressed up with three-piece knockoffs. The tires are BFGoodrich radials for street use, 155/80R15 Radial T/As in front and front and 285/70R15 Silvertowns in the rear (the ’33 is wearing Uniroyal rear meats in these photos).
The wheels were plated with nickel, matching many other components on the car, including the door handles, grille, axle, exhaust, steering wheel and column, and engine accessories. The plating was done at Fernando’s Metal Polishing in Phoenix.
Under the hood lies an engine as untypical as the rest of the rod, but the GM crate 502 engine looks right at home. The engine features aluminum high-performance heads. The valve covers and Edelbrock intake were treated to more nickel plating. The Holley 950-cfm four-barrel is topped by a Street & Performance air cleaner with a K&N filter. A pair of Sanderson headers lead into a 3-inch oval exhaust system from Spin Tech. A Tremec five-speed with an 11-inch clutch and Tremec short shift shifter backs up the big-block. A Driveline Service custom driveshaft connects a Speedway Engineering Super Max quick-change rearend.
The interior is a combination of influences: old-time race car and old-time elegance. Danny Livingston built the woodgrain dash, equipped with Stewart-Warner Wings gauges (a Sun tach was mounted on the column). There’s more of that nickel plating on the ididit steering column and Wheel Shoppe banjo wheel. The underdash pedals are from Kugel. When it was ready for upholstery, the coupe was delivered to George Fimbres in Phoenix, who used wool square weave on the floor, mohair on the headliner, and genuine bison leather to cover the Glide Engineering bench seat. Vintage Air air conditioning was installed at Arizona Street Rods. Wiring was replaced with a Painless Performance kit. All of which made a fantastic first impression on Bruce Albertson two years ago when he got his first look.
“This ’33 has been perfectly built,” he says, “therefore nothing needed to be added to it.” Nothing but miles. Bruce has driven the coupe from his home in Los Angeles to Goodguys shows in Pleasanton and Del Mar, California, to Hot August Nights in Reno, and to as many local events as he can. Wherever it goes, the real steel ’33 is makes an impression.