As a kid growing up in a Rod & Custom household during the 1970s, it was only natural that these influences would become a part of my adult life. I can remember sneaking a copy of the '73 R&C "Chop Top" issue into my elementary school classes. I read that magazine 'til the ink wore off the pages, but I still have it.
My dad (the late Ron Karls) was very active in the hobby and helped me build my first car, a magazine-featured '39 Chevy coupe known as Lunch Money, while I was still in high school. In 1986, when I was 18, my dad passed away while he was still in the process of building a '34 Chevy town. I sold my '39 to finish the '34 and I still have it today. My dad had also introduced me to drag racing and I eventually converted my college transportation (a Chevy Nova) into a drag car. After 10 years of full-time racing, I decided I would be happier with a hot rod with both looks and power.
The car forever stuck in my mind was Gary Kessler's yellow '32 Ford highboy roadster. Something about the bright yellow paint, five-spoke mags, rumbling small-block, and big racing slicks just did it for me. I needed to build a highboy of my own, so I set out looking for a project. Soon I came across an ad in the paper for a '32 roadster body and frame. When I called, I realized I was talking to Gary Mussmann, owner and operator of Cornhusker Rod & Custom. He had picked up the Wescott body through some horse-trading and had put it on one of his well-constructed frames. A deal was eventually made and I was soon on my way home with my new project.
It didn't take me long to realize I had a lot to learn about '32 Fords, like how expensive they are to build! I completely blew my original budget in just a few months. From then on it was a slow process of working on other people's cars to save enough money to buy a few more precious pieces needed to finish mine. It didn't help when there were several things I ended up buying twice, like the two different centersections for the rearend. One is a 3.0:1/open carrier for highway use and the other is a 3.89:1/Trac-Lok for playing around when the slicks are bolted on. Maybe I should have just stepped up for the quick-change?
The drivetrain was built with performance and durability in mind, but I wanted a hot rod with some "hot" under the hood. However, it still had to be durable enough to drive across the country or be idle at the fairgrounds. Ironically, I found this to be fairly easy by simply using some restraint when selecting components like the camshaft.
All the planning and long hours in the garage paid off when my family set off on the '32's maiden voyage to the Midwest Street Rod Association's Rod Run in Columbus, Nebraska, and then we just continued on to different events for the next three consecutive weeks! In its first month on the road, the '32 logged over 3,000 trouble-free miles, and by the end of the summer of '04, the odometer was showing well over 6,000 miles. The next year we ventured out to the L.A. Roadsters' Show and had a blast. The '32 has more than 12,500 reliable and trouble-free miles on the clock now. The next trip planned is to L.A. again in '07 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Deuce. I can't wait until we pull out on the highway, point the car west, and put the hammer down again!
A note from the R&C staff: We would like to sincerely thank Jim and Kelly Karls for coming out to the Americruise and showing all in attendance how it's done by taking First Place in each performance category, and eventually winning the R&C Rod of the Year award. The spirit shown by the owner and the permanent smile on his face as he put his hot rod through the paces made it memorable for all of us, and we hope others will continue to compete with the heartfelt enthusiasm Jim showed.
Jim and Kelly Karls
1932 Ford Roadster
Jim assembled the seasoned '70 Chevy LT1 block with a set of factory "Pink" rods, 11:1 slugs, and a forged crank. A Crane Energizer cam opens the valves in a set of factory 2.02 cast-iron heads. On the outside, an Edelbrock intake and carburetor sit on the top, with a pair of Speedway block-hugger headers attached on both sides. A rebuilt TH350 trans was fitted with a heavy-duty shift kit and clutches and is controlled by a 23ft Lokar Nostalgia shifter. Finishing off the sturdy driveline is a 9-inch Ford fitted with big bearing ends and 28-spline axles.
A big selling point to Jim when he first located his '32 was that it was already fitted with a Cornhusker chassis. Attached to the front is a Chassis Engineering dropped I-beam fitted an inch forward of the stock location via a pair of SO-CAL hairpins, flanked on both ends by a pair of Super Bell disc brakes. A pair of Pete & Jake's ladder bars and coilovers locates the rearend. Vega steering and Ford rear drums finish up the package.
Wheels & Tires
Jim went right back to his childhood inspiration and copied the rolling stock on Gary Kessler's historic '32. Up front, reproduction ET Team III 15x4 five-spokes run Firestone 145/R15 radials, and in back, original ET five-spokes mount a pair of 31x10.5 Hurst pie-crust slicks.
Body & Paint
Once Jim had the initial work on the car under control, he turned the project over to Chris Hunke at Cars-R-Us Auto Body in Omaha, Nebraska. Chris massaged the Wescott body, paying careful attention to the body lines to make them look as authentic as possible. The hood is a special unit made by Rootlieb an inch longer to match the stretched chassis, and a 26th louver was added to each side to keep the hood looking right. Chris sprayed on the DuPont Solar Yellow paint and Jim Curran accented it with some 'striping. Exterior details include a pair of '33 Ford commercial headlights, '50 Pontiac taillights, and Bob Drake stainless spreader bars.
The cockpit is all business with tan Ultraleather covering the Glide Engineering seat and interior panels stitched up by D&J Auto Trim in Blair, Nebraska. Stewart Warner Wings gauges are set in an owner-built elliptical panel. A smoothed Camaro tilt column is hung by an aluminum connecting rod and topped by a Bell-style four-spoke steering wheel. Creature comforts include a Pioneer sound system and air conditioning "when Mother Nature provides it."