Imagine a scene from American Graffiti. John Milner is waiting at a traffic light in his yellow '32 five-window coupe. Imagine a black '32 five-window creeping up alongside him, its lakes pipes letting out a couple of quick provoking blurts. Then what happens?
That didn't happen in the movie, but a scene exactly like that may have played a few times in Johnny Urias' imagination. Johnny has been involved with hot rods since he was big enough to pick up a wrench, and grew up working on them with his father, Raul, his brother, Eddie, and their friend, Mark Hernandez. As a child, he would watch American Graffiti and dream about driving a '32 coupe from that era.
It was years later when Johnny got a call from his brother. Eddie and their cousin, Hector, were racing at nearby Irwindale Speedway where they met a guy with a '32 coupe for sale. He went right over. The car was in good condition and Johnny offered the owner cash as soon as he saw it. "He looked at me as if I were crazy," Johnny says. He told Johnny he would think about it and get back to him. It took about a month of thinking before the guy made up his mind, called Johnny, and told him they had a deal. "So I sold my custom '40 Merc and my '27 roadster and bought my dream car."
It took a lot of work and a couple of years to get his dream car to look and sound exactly the way he wanted it. As always, his brother, dad, and Hernandez were there to help.
The coupe's personality is firmly planted in the late '50s/early '60s, when the chopped top, small-block, paint and pinstriping, and tire/wheel combination would've looked familiar to West Coast hot rodders. The body is original steel, with the top chopped 3-1/2 inches by members of the Lifters Car Club. Hernandez performed much of the rest of the bodywork. The cowl vent was filled and the Deuce grille shell was filled with a custom steel insert. Guide headlights were mounted on the framehorns and a pair of custom taillights have been frenched into the lower deck. The door and decklid handles are stock. All other exterior bright stuff has been removed. San Luis Auto Glass in Los Angeles provided the new glass. When Hernandez had the sheetmetal ready, he painted the car using PPG products. Well-known Los Angeles area pinstriper Manuel Cisneros added the finishing touches; the design on the grille shell is just a preview of the elaborate work on the decklid.
Stockton Wheel supplied the '40 Ford-style 16-inch steelies, painted tomato red to fit the time period and dressed up with rings and caps. Tires are a classic big 'n' little combo, accomplished with 8.20-16 and 4.50-16 pie-crust bias-plies from Firestone.
Like Milner's coupe and a lot of hot rods of the early '60s, Johnny's '32 goes hoodless to show off the hopped-up small-block engine. In the day, it might have been a 283 or a new 327. Here it's a '69 350, dressed up with vintage Cal Custom finned valve covers and 40-40 air cleaners. Raul assembled the engine with 10.5:1 compression JE pistons and a COMP Cams 284H street/strip camshaft. A couple of Weber four-barrel carbs bolt to an Edelbrock tunnel ram intake. Lakes-style headers are loaded with custom baffles to reduce noise just enough.
Heavy-duty clutch plates and a shift kit beef up the B&M-shifted TH350 transmission built by Art Carr. The Converter Shop provided the 11-inch 3,200-rpm stall speed torque converter. In the back, Johnny runs a '57 Chevy rearend with 4.11 limited-slip gears.
The body sits on the factory steel frame. The 'rails have been boxed and the rear has been bobbed. The I-beam axle, dropped 3 inches between '46 Ford spindles, and split wishbones and transverse leafs (Posies Super Sliders), contribute to the traditionally inspired frontend, with SO-CAL gas shocks to soften the ride, and a Crosley box for steering. The rear four-bar suspension includes Alden coilovers and a 3/4-inch panhard bar. The drum's brakes were retained from the Chevy rearend; 11-inch discs were installed in front for confident stopping in L.A. traffic.
The interior was kept hot rod simple and functional-no tunes, no air, and no custom-fabricated console. The most eye-catching elements are the red metalflake slotted-spoke steering wheel from Mooneyes and the grinning skull shifter knob topping the handle of a B&M MegaShifter. The seat was replaced by a bench from Glide Engineering. Tony Santoval at Romans Custom Upholstery in La Puente, California, took care of the upholstery, covering the seat, doors, and kick panels with black vinyl rolls 'n' pleats. The stock dash is filled with Dolphin gauges. Hernandez wired the car using a package from Painless Performance.
"I still can't believe I own it," Johnny says. He spends as much time as he can driving the car, and taking it to car shows and shop open houses around Los Angeles. His favorite event: a get-together at his cousin Hector's auto shop when the '32 was just finished. As he arrived with his young son, Zachary, and Eddie, the crowd moved aside for the coupe. Hector directed him to a parking spot right in front, where everyone could see the car. Hector died about two years ago and the shop is closed now, but Johnny remembers that movie-scene moment whenever he drives the coupe. "He used to tell me to call him when the car was featured in a magazine. Hector, this one is for you."