From the time I first saw "American Graffiti" as a kid I knew I would be driving hot rods when I grew up. I followed through on my plan and built my first hot rod, a '40 Chevy coupe, back in 1979 when I was a senior in high school. I sold the Chevy, bought a chopped '40 Pontiac sedan, and then in 1984 I built the '39 Ford Deluxe coupe that I still own today.

Just like everyone else who watched that movie, I knew I would have to have a chopped '32 five-window. In 1988, I was working part-time for Rodder's Digest magazine and found a half-completed five-window project that I ended up building as the "Graffiti Ghost" project car through several articles.

I drove it for a couple of years, and then when I got married we decided to build a new house, so I sold the coupe to finance building a detached garage/shop. It wasn't long after I sold it that I began to miss it. I still had the '39 coupe I had built in '84, and it was always fun to drive, but I really wanted another highboy.

I started looking for another five-window to build a '60s-style hot rod my own way. My original plan called for a primer finish, but it kind of snowballed. I looked around for quite a while, and I finally saw an ad in Streetscene magazine for a complete, near running '32 highboy in Tennessee. I called and got some photos, and the car looked pretty good.

The price was $10,000, which was a little on the high side in 1996 for a non-running car. I rationalized the purchase, figuring it was not too far away from being a running, driving, rough, old hot rod. I had just sold my pickup so I had no way to pull a trailer and get it. I ended up buying the car and having it shipped home--big mistake. When the car arrived, I couldn't believe how bad it was. The engine was junk (three cylinders with zero compression), the Turbo 350 transmission had water in it, and the 9-inch rearend had a Lincoln third-member that would lock up when tightened into the housing.

I was just sick; I couldn't believe someone would lie this badly about a car to a fellow hot rodder. I started to clean up the car and straighten out some of the worst areas with the intention of selling it again to look for a better one. After looking at several other cars, I realized that I would probably be just as well off to build this one. It did have an original frame, and the majority of the body could be saved. I also discovered that the car had been built as an unchopped, channeled hot rod some time ago. There were no pictures of it in that state, but scars on the body told the story. It had been channeled the width of the frame and the framehorns had been bobbed.

A previous owner cut it loose and raised it back on top of the frame, but when he tried to install a floor he didn't square the body properly. The doors just didn't fit correctly, and the quarters and wheelwells were packed with body filler to cover all the old welding damage. It's amazing what a little black DP-90 will cover in a photograph. The body had been gas welded to the frame when it was channeled. There are still marks on the inside of the doorposts and trunk braces where the welds were, and holes drilled in the doorjambs for bolts. We ended up replacing the wheelwells, the rear panel, and quarter-panel patch panels to clean it all up. The rest of the body was excellent. All of the original wood was intact, and none needed to be replaced. The quarter windows still had the original glass in them. Raymond Sanchez performed all of the metalwork, including the patch panels, new flat floor, and firewall, and the 3 1/2-inch top chop. We leaned the windshield posts back on the body instead of stretching the roof to give the car a real hot rod feel. I really like the look the leaned posts give a chopped top. Raymond also spent a lot of time chopping and metal-finishing the garnish moldings so they could be chrome plated.

The build was a slow process. The basic metalwork on the body was complete in early 1998, so I started working on the frame. We pulled the body again, and Paul Giffin helped me fabricate the brackets and crossmembers for the frame. We replaced the ancient coilover springs with a new buggy spring, strengthened the boxing plates, and replaced the rear framehorns. My welding skills are fair at best, so I did the cutting, fitting, and tacking while Paul handled the final welds. We assembled most of the car to fit everything up, then I tore everything down for paint, and work kind of slowed to a crawl for a while.

Between the full-time position I accepted at Vintage Air in 1999 and raising my growing son, I didn't have a huge amount of time to devote to the coupe. I kept collecting parts and fine-tuning my idea for the way I wanted the car to look. My old faithful flamed '39 kept me going down the road in a finished hot rod, but with more than 125,000 miles, it was getting more tired by the year. Then George Packard came back to work for us at Vintage Air, and moved close to me. He started doing the metalwork on the frame, and got things going again. After my buddy, Danny Zoeller, painted the frame and we re-assembled it, I took it back home to my own garage in the spring of 2004. At that point, I could go out and work on it every night, even if it was just for an hour or so.

The car came with an original dropped '32 axle, which we drilled and chromed. I really wanted Buick drum brakes, but I had them before, and I wanted self-energizing brakes. I looked for '41 Lincoln brakes without success, then found out Wilson Welding was reproducing them. I got a set and they look and work great! I bought a rough '57 Ford station wagon to get the smooth back rearend, and threw the rest of the car away. The '32 also had a set of really cool old ladder bars from its early hot rod days, which I cleaned up and modified to accept new style bushings, then had them chromed. Gary Mussman at Cornhusker Street Rods was invaluable in helping me set up the rear buggy spring.

I set a goal of driving it to the Goodguys Lonestar Nationals in October 2005, so we set up a weekly work schedule to meet that deadline. It was a group effort, with George and Danny providing a lot of hours of help. I had paid a couple of shops to do the basic finish work on the body through the years as I could afford it, and I thought the body was pretty close to being ready for paint. As we were wet sanding it for the last time prior to paint, we noticed a whole bunch of hairline cracks in the primer. It turned out that the primer had not been mixed properly somewhere along the way. We ended up completely stripping the body down to bare metal for a second time and starting over. It was more than a little depressing to take a grinder and DA to $4,000 worth of work. The good news is the work that Danny, George, and I did is much better than the first time. There is very little filler in the car, and the bodylines are all very sharp and crisp.

We got paint on it just in time for the 2005 San Antonio Autorama in February, and put the car in the Vintage Air booth as a painted body on a finished chassis. After the car show, the thrash really began. We stuck to a weekly schedule, and I took some time off from work a few times to work on the car for a week at a time.

The original "American Graffiti" coupe had Ansen pedals. It took me two years of calls to get Ansen Industries to find enough parts to build me a set of their original swing pedals, but I really wanted that look. Combined with the Chevy truck master cylinder on the firewall, they just scream '60s hot rod to me. I found a restored Sun Green Line tachometer on eBay, and Classic Instruments made me a set of gauges that have the '60s look with modern electronic convenience, reliability, and accuracy. I looked through a ton of old Rod & Custom magazines to get the upholstery design and look that would fit. I used a Custom Autosound Hidden Audio head unit with an amp, sub woofer, and speakers from Kicker. I tested several different shifters trying for the right look, and at the 2005 Street Rod Nationals, I saw Lokar's new line of shift handles. I think they look like the original GTO type, and the angle was perfect.

We "finished" the car just in time to drive it to the All Deuce Reunion in my hometown of New Braunfels. We had a couple of minor bugs to work out, but all in all, the coupe worked well. The next week we headed to Fort Worth for the Goodguys event and it made the 700-mile roundtrip without incident.

One of my favorite things about this car is that, with the exception of the interior, it was basically built in my garage and Danny's home shop. A lot of the parts on it were obtained through friends or were parts I had been collecting for a long time. It is an example of what goes on throughout our hobby--a bunch of good friends getting together to help on a hot rod. Whenever I drive the car, I look at a collection of parts and think about the good times we had making them all fit together. I think it is a fairly good interpretation of a mid-'60s hot rod, although I did give in to radial tires, and of course, air conditioning. I'm thrilled with the way it looks, and best of all, it is a blast to drive.

Rick Love
New Braunfels, Texas
1932 Ford Five-Window Coupe

Drivetrain
The motor is a fairly stock rebuilt '72 350 with an Offenhauser Tri-power intake. I was looking for a good 327 or 283, but I just couldn't find one. A Zip's water pump riser raises the fan on the radiator and gave me a clean mount for the alternator and A/C compressor. I found a good set of original Cal Custom valve covers at a swap meet, and they work well with the finned Mooneyes air cleaner that Ricky Brown modified to work with the Tri-power. I used a '62 Chevy pickup bellhousing with a passenger-side integral slave cylinder for the hydraulic clutch. Sanderson headers and Flowmaster Hushpower mufflers provide a mellow tone. I originally set the car up with a Muncie four-speed, but I drive my cars a lot, so I decided to get a Borg-Warner five-speed from an '89 Camaro, with an S-10 pickup tailhousing (which moves the shifter closer to the bellhousing).

Chassis
I kept the original 'rails that came with the coupe and cleaned up the boxing plates that looked like they had been done some time in the '60s. We installed a Model A front crossmember and a Cornhusker rear crossmember. An original Ford axle had been dropped 4 inches and was drilled for the hot rod look. Wilson Welding reproduction Lincoln brakes make everything stop, while Buick drums continue the theme, and a Mullins Vega-style box and Bilstein shocks add just enough modern safety. At the back, a POSIES '40 Ford leaf spring, Bilstein shocks, and a pair of homebuilt ladder bars hang the '57 Ford 9-inch.

Exterior
With the help of my friends, the beat-up ex-channeled coupe was straightened and the top was chopped 3 1/2 inches with the posts leaned back. The cowl vent was filled and a flat firewall was built. The Rootlieb hood was sent to Eric Vaughn for some hot rod louvers and I ordered a new gas tank from Tanks Inc. and a filled Brookville grille shell. I found a set of late-'50s BLC headlights and a pair of '66 Datsun 1600 Roadster taillights. After lots of work, the body was ready for Danny to spray the PPG Mandarin Copper. A little pinstriping by Mike Hartman was the finishing touch.

Wheels & Tires
I've always liked Halibrands and they fit the coupe's theme so I mounted some BFG rubber (155/70R15s and 285/70R15s) to the 15x4 1/2 and 15x8 Sprints.

Interior
After months of research I knew the only thing that would give me the look I wanted was a white and black '60s-style interior. Interior Supply and Services built the seat and provided the material for Gabriel & Son in San Marcos, Texas, to stitch the custom panels. The stock dash was filled and an early Stewart Warner panel with Classic Instruments gauges was added. The ididit tilt column was topped with a Budnik early Corvette-style wheel.

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