Few are so lucky to have a hot rod handed down from one generation to the next. David Wehrly is one of the rare individuals to be bequeathed a true piece of hot rod history. The Wehrly legacy began way back in 1952 when twin brothers Dan and Don purchased a forlorn '32 Ford three-window coupe from Gavin's Auto Wrecking in Long Beach, California, for the pricey sum of $5. The young Wehrly brothers built the coupe in their Long Beach garage, and it was not long before they were tearing up the streets and local dragstrips with their Cadillac-powered coupe.The bright orange '32 was raced extensively from 1956 to 1960 at Lions Drag Strip and then as the factory built machines began to show their dominance on the quarter-mile, the old hot rod was put away for an extended slumber. Periodically the old car was awoken and one of David Wehrly's earliest and most vivid memories goes way back to when he was just 5 years old and his father, Dan, stirred the coupe from its hibernation. David reminisces, "As my dad laid the lead on the throttle, all I can remember is the noise and dust coming through the plywood floorboards and the rearend starting to pass the frontend as we got sideways." He also fondly remembers his father's colorful tales of dragging the coupe home from the wrecking yard, and later cruising with his brother, Don.
The next big chapter of the Wehrly tale came with the premature passing of David's father in 1996. Just as his father had done before him, David dusted off the '32 and took his own boys for a spin, literally--the rear tires would again try to outrun the fronts. At the first stop, David's sons, Christian and Spencer, fell out of the car because they were nearly overcome by the poisonous fumes pumped into the car via the deteriorated exhaust pipes. After that adventurous road trip, David decided it was time to restore the coupe to its former glory with the same soul his father and uncle had built it with left intact. David did his research and was most impressed with the quality, thoroughness, and correctness of the hot rod restorations performed by SO-CAL Speed Shop.
After dragging the well-worn warrior to Pomona, it was obvious it would take all the best talents from SO-CAL to get the Wehrly coupe back into shape, but it was a challenge SO-CAL was more than willing to undertake. The road to recovery began with a full disassembly to evaluate all of the coupe's original components. David made it clear he wanted the rebuild to retain as many of the original pieces as possible, but all agreed the original chassis had seen far too many early modifications and dragstrip action to be a good candidate for regular street duty. A new SO-CAL chassis would take its place with the same modifications, like bobbed rear horns and Model A crossmembers on both ends just like the original. More recycled hardware includes the 331ci 1950 Cadillac engine topped with an original intake and factory dual carbs flanked by a pair of Offenhauser valve covers and the restored pair of handbuilt headers found on the car. A new exhaust system to keep those annoying fumes out of the cockpit was built by Fernando Bobeda of SO-CAL.
When it came to restoring the exterior, everyone agreed the car needed to look as close as possible to the faded pictures in the Wehrly family albums. The original modifications like the channeled floor left much to be desired and, combined with its fair share of rust, the entire lower half of the body would need to be rebuilt. Bobby Walden tackled the tin work and, while he was at it, he also built a new pair of bobbed rear fenders to replace the too-far-gone originals and made the necessary repairs to the original front fenders. Many hours of priming and sanding by Abe Rodriguez from SO-CAL were required before he laid down the final coats of custom-mixed PPG bright orange paint color-matched to the original hue. After a dip in the tank at Sherm's Plating, the Wehrly modified headlight bar and original '50 Pontiac taillights were returned fore and aft.
Inside, like the outside, is much nicer today with a full black Naugahyde stitch job by Gabe's Auto Interior that still maintains the original flavor of the coupe. A modified original '40 Ford dash was part of the original build; today it's slicker than ever and filled with a trio of Moon gauges with a matching column-mounted Moon tach behind an original Covico steering wheel.
After a whirlwind rebuild under the supervision of SO-CAL shop foreman Ryan Reed and the talents of Aaron Broughton and Sean Dooley (final assembly) and Scott Howard (final assembly and wiring), a completely reborn Wehrly coupe debuted at the L.A. Roadster show in 2005, much to the delight of hot rod heritage from around the world. Now it's just a matter of time before another generation of Wehrly men pass on the tradition of a sideways-first ride the youngsters will never forget.
David and Lisa Wehrly
Manhattan Beach, California
1932 Ford Coupe
The Wehrly boys built their '32 Ford right over 50 years ago, and the 1950 Cadillac 331ci mill that served them so well back then was lovingly rebuilt to original specs by Ray Zeller (Whittier, California). Early performance goodies include original factory dual carbs rebuilt by Chuck Smith (Valley Center, California), a Du-Coil ignition, and vintage handbuilt headers. Backing the Caddy mill is a TH350 auto trans converted to hook right up to the Cad bellhousing by Dave Smith Engineering (Exeter, California).
Since the original chassis had paid its dues and seen more dragstrip duty than most, it was permanently retired in favor of a fresh step-boxed unit from SO-CAL. Modifications to replicate the originals were made and components including a Magnum 4-inch dropped axle, SO-CAL hairpins and Buick-style drums concealing disc brakes, Pete & Jake's shocks, and a Vega steering box handle the front end of the chassis. Under the rear a Model A spring suspends the same Halibrand quick-change-equipped rearend the twins installed decades ago, but it has been updated by the Hot Rod Works for open drive and use of late-model 9-inch axles and brakes. A driveshaft from Inland Driveline transmits the power from the Caddy to the quickie.
The stunning good looks the Wehrly coupe displays today are the direct result of amazing tin repair by Bobby Walden and mirror-smooth, custom-mixed PPG orange paint laid on by Abe Rodriguez. The proportions unique to the Wehrly coupe come from the body channeled the width of the frame mated with full fenders (bobbed in the rear) and the unchopped and unfilled top. A 3-inch shortened grille shell and insert finishes the look.
Wheels & Tires
The four corners are supported by the same set of "no-hole" Halibrands first bolted to the coupe nearly 50 years ago. Now fully polished to an amazing shine, the 15x6- and 15x8-inch magnesium rims require almost constant upkeep to maintain that glow. Coker 5.60x15 tires are mounted up front with the original 8.90x15 Goodyear "Blue Streak" Indy rain tires still running in the rear.
The interior had seen its best days decades ago, so a completely new black Naugahyde upholstery job by Gabe's Auto Interior was a welcome addition, completing the restoration. Held over from the original build is the modified '40 Ford dash and Covico steering wheel with new Moon gauges added to keep track of the important vital statistics.