If you keep your old car parts long enough, one day they will become valuable. Just ask Tom Leonardo, who's been building hot rods from discarded parts since he first started driving. If you're keeping score, that was shortly before OPEC figured out the law of supply and demand.
Among those donor rods is this '32 Ford five-window. "I paid about 40 bucks for the body," says Tom, who cinched the deal after completing a side job for a friend who wanted a roadster rather than a coupe, so Tom switched the bodies for him in the driveway. In the end, the guy didn't want the old coupe body, offering it to Tom. That was in 1974, and the body sat in Tom's backyard until a few years ago. During the 30-year interim Tom built quite a few other hot rods from his spare-parts pile.
"I finally got around to the coupe," he says, "So I decided to make a hot rod the way we used to build 'em back in the '60s." The heart of this '60s rod is found in the engine: a 327 Chevy that-you guessed it-Tom had lying around in his private boneyard. American National Crank machined the block and heads, and Tom assembled the engine in his garage. The white paint is a '60s trick, and the only induction system worthy was the Offenhauser three-pot manifold topped with a trio of Stromberg 97s. Tom and his son Nicholas searched high and low for the authentic clear spark plug leads, finally locating them at a shop "back East somewhere," as Tom puts it.
It is frequently noted that he runs an alternator. "I drove it to a cruise night a while ago, and some young kid came up to me, spotted the alternator and asked why I had that instead of a generator on it. So I told him that's what we used to put on-alternators-when we could afford 'em back in the old days."
The small-block Chevy links to a mini-museum of early-style hot rod ware underneath the body. Start with the Muncie four-speed tranny he plucked from his stash, then work your way back to the '57 Ford 9-inch rearend hung on '32 Ford suspension. The front is based on Henry's original '32 also-the 3-inch dropped I-beam is drilled and plated, and the eyes are reversed to keep the frontend nice and low. Juice brakes and wheels are Ford items, and if you don't remember cheater slicks, then you don't remember the '60s either.
Tom did all the bodywork himself, too. That meant chopping the top 2 1/2 inches, filling the insert before scrounging through Tito Carrasco's special pile of dated fabric for the authentic elephant skin vinyl to create the false top, and painting the body in his garage. About the false insert, Tom says, "I didn't want to mess with it leaking or anything." To quote Tex Smith from the '60s, "'Nuff said."
There's enough to be said about the interior, too. Tom constructed the bench seat from a Model A back section and retained the original '32 lower. He says this looks cleaner than the stock seat assembly. Tom fell from grace when it was time for the dash insert, though. "I had the original one, but it just looked too beat up," he says, so he opted to buy a new one from Haneline. Someday it will also be worth more than Tom paid for it. Ditto for the Grant steering wheel.
The car was finished only a few days before the 2006 Grand National Roadster Show where it made its debut. Even though the blue coupe didn't cop any major awards, you have to give it, and Tom, credit for the amount of money that wasn't invested in this show-stopper. Just because it's built cheap doesn't mean it has to look cheap. Just ask Tom.