There are but a handful of hot rodded Deuce roadsters among the some 15,119 which Ford produced (Note: this total production figure is for both Model Bs and 18s produced worldwide, even the 641 cars Ford shipped in KD form.) that can claim legitimate status as milestone cars of our hobby. Some "experts" may quibble that Jerry Kugel's roadster isn't old enough to be included as one of this elite grouping which includes Deuces like Doane Spencer's and Tom McMullen's, to name but a couple of seminal hot rods, but we disagree. We're here to tell you that Jerry's full-fendered version does indeed deserve to be included in such prestigious company, even if it's a "late bloomer."
Since the late '60s (and, lest we forget, that was over 30 years ago) the Kugel family's roadster has not only been on the road as a regular participant in our hobby of choice, but most importantly, it's been a test bed for the products that many have used in building their own street rods. Jerry's roaster wasn't the first with a Jaguar independent rearend (although it most likely was the first with full Jag suspension), but it was the instrument that made such installations possible for the average rodder. Jerry went on to create many mechanical improvements and products for the street rod enthusiast, always trying and perfecting them on his car first, so that the end user would have not only a trouble-free experience installing them, but thousands of trouble-free cruisin' miles ahead of him when his car was finished.
We think this makes the Kugel roadster very special indeed, and with this in mind, Senior Editor Jerry Weesner sat down for a Jerry on Jerry interview to learn a bit about this roadster's history--read on.
SRM: Well, to start, let's go back to the beginning. When did you first acquire your roadster, and was it already a street rod?
KUGEL: Well, it was a basket case when I bought it. It had been in this fella's garage in Van Nuys out in the Valley. This would have been in '68.
SRM: And just what condition was your basket case in when you found it?
KUGEL: Originally the frame had been under a three-window coupe. What had happened was the fella wanted a roadster, so he sold the coupe body and bought a roadster body. This was all done when he was in high school. He got as far as placing the body on the frame, and then it just set in the garage in this semi-assembled condition for about 12 years.
SRM: So I guess this wasn't any known street rodder that we'd be aware of?
KUGEL: Right. He was just an unknown fella who had always wanted a Deuce roadster, but for some reason, just never got around to building his dream.
SRM: So, besides a roadster body and a frame, did you get any other usable parts?
KUGEL: Oh, yes, he had kept all the parts from the three-window--the grille shell, hood, fenders--everything. The coupe had been a complete, nice car, and the roadster body was a cherry pie--just beautiful!
SRM: What did you have to pay for such a treasure back in '68?
KUGEL: I paid a thousand bucks for everything! I drove my truck and trailer over to his place and we literally filled them with '32 Ford. He had lots of stuff; extra parts like a couple of extra fenders, and everything was in good shape. You'll have to remember that this was '68, and 12 years earlier when he'd acquired all this Deuce stuff the pickings were pretty good. The car would have only been about 25 years old when he bought it--not like they are now. Heck, they were throwing away parts back then, because they weren't quite perfect, that we would just love to have now. Basically, it was a pretty straight old car!
SRM: How long did it take you to jump on the project?
KUGEL: was just going into business on my own. I had just quit my job at Ak Miller's, where I had worked for 10 years, and rented a little industrial building. I needed something to do, as I didn't have many customers as yet--just fill-in work mostly.
SRM: Had the former owner ever got around to any modifications?
KUGEL: It had a flathead V-8 in it with a double or triple carb manifold, I can't remember which, and a set of finned aluminum heads. I immediately pulled the engine and transmission, and had them sitting on my shop floor. Jim "Jake" Jacobs dropped by one day and was eyeing the flattie, and as it was in my way, I told him he could have it--gratis! He said, "Oh, God, that'd be great!" And you know, he still has that engine and trans, in the same condition it was in when I gave it to him--he never put it in a car. That was over 30 years ago, and every once in a while, I'll see him and ask, "How's that flathead doing?" I'd like to have it back, as it's probably a bitchin' motor (laugh). Anyway, the roadster became pretty much the genesis of the company you see here today.
SRM: Did you have a street rod before the roadster?
KUGEL: Well, I'd been a mechanic, and worked for Ak Miller for years, and kinda liked old cars. I had a '40 Ford coupe that was my daily driver, but I like the even older cars better. And, I'd always been interested in the suspension angle of building cars, always trying to figure out ways to improve their ride.
SRM: So the roadster became your independent suspension test mule?
KUGEL: Exactly! It got me into doing the work that I do today--it's always been my test car. Every part that I've ever made to sell has gone on that car first, and then I'd drive it for a year or two to make sure I was on the right track.
SRM: Yet, the car retains its classic good looks. It doesn't look like it's been molested in any way.
KUGEL: About 10 or 12 years ago, I completely redid the car in a body-off restoration. I completely scrapped the framerails down, because there's only so many times you can take things off and put things on. After 10 to 20 years of that the frame was looking pretty worn.
SRM: And the frame was basically where all the innovations had taken place.
KUGEL: Right! They're still the original rails, but I put all new crossmembers in, and started over again. And now, 10 or 12 years later, it's due again. I've had a couple of different rearends in it, and a couple of different style frontends. But yet, the car still looks like it did when I put it on the road back in '69.
SRM: So, it only took a year for you to build it the first time around. Was this a buggy-sprung car, or did you go directly to independent suspension? And were you the first to use Jaguar components?
KUGEL: I went directly to a full Jaguar suspension, both front and rear, but I wasn't the first with the rearend. An innovative street rodder up in Northern California, Joe Cardoza, had a '29 roadster that he had installed a Jaguar rearend in. When I heard about it--man, I got so excited! I went to the closest wrecking yard and bought both a rearend and a frontend to make the Deuce completely independent. Those parts cost $250--$125 for each end. And there it was, all greasy, and I made up a kit with all the brackets to put it in, keeping the patterns, thinking someone else might be interested in doing one as well. Boy, did they ever!
SRM: Was your rearend caged or un-caged on the first go-around?
KUGEL: It was caged, but later on I took it out to clean it up, as I wanted to change out the brakes and do a few other changes. But when I first installed it, I rubber-mounted it into the chassis and it was beautiful--it worked slick! And the frontend worked well, too. I drove it this way for years, up until I developed my new frontend, which was in the early '80s.
SRM: The Jag frontend was left pretty much alone, as opposed to the rearend where you made refinements?
KUGEL: Yes, there really isn't much you could do to the frontend, and they weren't very good looking, either--not very pretty. They looked decent enough under a fendered car like mine, but under a highboy they looked simply terrible!
SRM: So that's the reason you developed your frontend?
KUGEL: Yes--that would have been in '82. I wanted to do a frontend that was easy to install, because the Jag was such a bear to work with. I wanted to put everything on one crossmember for ease of installation. You've always got to think of the end user when developing a product such as IFS. It was necessary; unless you were really on your game, putting in a Jag frontend wasn't an easy thing to accomplish. But, you know, there are still a lot of them out there in use under rods today.
SRM: What else have you prototyped on the roadster--I'm assuming your latest rearend was developed on it?
KUGEL: Oh, yes! I started development on the new rearend around six years ago. The one on my roadster was the very first one. I just got a big chunk of aluminum and started hogging it out to make the housing, then put in a 9-inch rearend. Then I got some regular Ford axles and cut 'em off and re-splined them, to test it out--this was before I made my new axles. It went under the car around '95, then I test drove it quite a while before going into production. I've had the all new rearend available for sale around three years now.
SRM: Have you developed any more products on the roadster, such as your new V'd windshield for the "Muroc" cars?
KUGEL: Well, the new windshield came about with my new '32-style roadsters. It's a new DuVall-style that uses curved safety glass made especially for it. But it won't work with an original Deuce body, so I had to prototype it on the new body. But, I am prototyping a similar windshield right now that will work on a regular '32 roadster. You do, however, have to massage the stock cowl reveal on the corners to make it fit. It's at the foundry right now, so we should have the first batch of windshields for original-style bodies any time now. And, again, I used my original roadster for the shape, as it's such a perfect car. But, when I get my first shipment of new windshields for original bodies, I'm not about to massage my perfect cowl to make one fit. I've tried my pattern on a Wescott's, a Rod Bods, and a Brookville, and all four are slightly different. So, all one can expect to do is come close. It will just take a little massaging to make it fit a specific brand of Deuce body--sometimes a well-placed blow with a rubber mallet is all it should take. I've talked to guys who experienced the original DuValls firsthand, and they tell me that they never fit perfectly, either.
SRM: Has your Deuce always been a daily driver?
KUGEL: My old car has been a good one, and of course, was my only car from '70 to around '76. I drove it every day to work.
SRM: So, whatever modifications you made to it at the shop, it had to be ready to drive home by quitting time.
KUGEL: Absolutely or I'd have been walking! About 15 years ago the speedometer got just shy of turning 100,000 miles and stopped. So I installed a new speedometer and kept on going. That car's got a lot of miles on it.
SRM: How many paint jobs has it had?
KUGEL: It's had two. The body was in excellent shape--it's never been wrecked--ever! I also put the second upholstery job and top on it when I tore it down that last time. Now, it's starting to show wear again--things like rock chips. I haven't been driving it much lately, however, as it's tired and needs another engine. It's still the same 289-cid Ford and automatic trans that came out of a '65 Fairlane, that I originally installed--a boneyard motor that was donated to the project.
SRM: It's probably hard for you to believe that your roadster is now a vehicle of historical significance than can be mentioned with but a handful of others, like the McMullen and Spencer roadsters.
KUGEL: Well, yes it is, and there have been offers to buy it, too, but I've managed to refuse them. This was a family car for Judy and I and our four kids. When the kids were little, we'd have one between us and three in the rumble seat. We even brought Jeff, our youngest, home from the hospital in the roadster. Of course I had the top up and side curtains in place. You just can't put a value on things like this--how could I ever think of selling it?
SRM: Of the new series of "Muroc" roadsters--the 10 fendered cars and 10 highboys--are you going to keep one for yourself?
KUGEL: I'm going to do one of the fendered cars for myself. And it will most likely go on the rear-engined Olds Aurora-powered tubular-chassied project car, which is stored upstairs. I might even build another Bonneville car with the 'glass body I cobbled up as a pattern for Marcel to use for the new steel-bodied cars.
SRM: So, what's next?
KUGEL: I'm thinking of doing a series of contemporary-styled, steel-bodied three-window coupes. Real coupes with roll-up windows, not merely lift-off tops on roadster bodies. At least that's what is in the back of my mind.
SRM: Will the old roadster be used for any more prototyping?
KUGEL: Probably not, as I've done just about all that can be done product-wise from it already. Future new products will be developed on Muroc highboy No.1. Which, by the way, is sold, as are eight other highboys. It will also be the only roadster in the series I build complete as a turnkey car. The others are being done as "rollers" only--ready for drivelines, finish, and upholstery of their owner's discretion. I've already developed a floorpan, fuel tank, and radiator, specifically for this series off of highboy No.1.
SRM: So, I guess the original Deuce roadster will always be a part of the Kugel family?
KUGEL: Yes, the boys can use it anytime they want, and will eventually inherit it. I've even loaned it out on occasion for a customer to check out the ride on my chassis and suspension. We've had it for so many years that I don't even think about it. I probably should worry about leaving it in parking lots, and the possibility of door dings, or worse, but I don't. So far it's never been hurt--never even had a bump, which you can't say for many cars. Sometimes my brother even borrows it for a couple of months at a time, but when he brings it back it always looks better than ever because he details it first. To the Kugel family our Deuce roadster has always been, and always will be, JUST A GOOD OLD CAR!
Jerry Kugel today, as dapper as ever. Jerry isn't about to ever sell the Deuce, as his '32
The second interior Jerry's had stitched for his roadster still looks amazingly good after
Some of the most beautiful '32 sheetmetal you'll ever see, and it's never been hurt. This
Just a look at how really original Jerry's roadster is. Though parts such as windshield po
The roadster has always been a test bed for Kugel-designed suspension products. Here we se
The one tired item on the roadster is this small-block Ford motor that was installed in th
On that fateful day in '68, Bud Bryan captured Jerry shaking hands with the roadster's car
A youngish Jerry Kugel is all smiles in this vintage Steward and East photo, and who would