Talk to most hot rodders and they'll tell you their interest in cool cars goes back to their teenage years. And in many cases, there was one particular car that really inspired them to get into the hobby.
Craig Smith was a high school kid in the mid-'70s, cruising a black '64 Chevelle SS. He still owns that car today, but that's not the one that motivated him to build the traditional, purple '32 roadster you're looking at here. This was inspired by one of the greatest hot rods in history: the Joe Nitti roadster. In the late '40s and early '50s, Nitti's deep purple Deuce was seen on the streets of Los Angeles, racing at the dry lakes, and featured in Hot Rod magazine. But by the time Craig saw that issue of Hot Rod, decades had passed and the Nitti roadster had disappeared, but those photos motivated the teenage enthusiast to start collecting parts to build a similar Deuce roadster of his own.
"I knew what the car was going to look like before I even started," Craig says. "I knew it was going to be Flathead powered. It was going to be purple, and have whitewalls-and the exhaust pipes would have to go down the side of the frame. Pure hot rod."
It wasn't Craig's goal to replicate the Joe Nitti '32, but instead carry over many of the styling elements from that Deuce roadster to his own. He succeeded, but it wasn't an overnight success. For years, progress was limited to parts accumulation. Craig sought as many N.O.S. pieces as he could while waiting for the right roadster to show up. He finally found a decent Deuce near Dayton, Ohio.
The car's roots extended all the way to Southern California, so the sheetmetal was rust-free, but the body and frame were a little worn out. Craig replaced the ailing body parts with repro steel from Brookville, and found a low-mile frame in perfect condition. At the Ionia Hot Rod Shop, Denny Lesky threw the 'rails on his jig to make sure everything was square, and added a Model A crossmember. The rest of the buildup was a family project, with Craig's brother Bryan donating countless hours, and his father Blaine contributing his home shop.
It had to have a Flathead with 97s, of course, and this '40 Ford 296 was built by Motor City Flathead. The radiator pipes are a definite Joe Nitti influence. Other components that reveal Craig's inspiration are the wide whites with caps and rings, the off-white tuck 'n' roll upholstery on the bench and door panels, the Stewart Warner gauges extending the width of the dash, and the previously mentioned exhaust pipes.
As the story goes, Nitti's deep purple paint choice was based on Union Oil Royal Triton motor oil-some say the color of the can, some say the color of the oil itself. Regardless, Craig went for a lighter shade of purple from DuPont that really pops.
The long-lost Deuce that got Craig so excited about building this '32 roadster was rediscovered a few years ago and restored to the way it looked when it appeared in Hot Rod in the '50s. Is there an inspired teenage kid out there right now collecting parts for his own traditional purple-colored roadster? We'll let you know.
Craig SmithCarefree, Arizona'32 Ford RoadsterChassisCraig's objective was to stick to new old stock as much as possible. The frame on the Deuce is original '32 Ford, strengthened with a Model A crossmember from the Ionia Hot Rod Shop. It rides on a POSIES front spring and a custom rear unit, with tube shocks all around. The '56 Ford F-100 steering box was modified at the flange for use with the stock mounting holes on the frame. The stainless spindles came from The Deuce Factory. The front '48 Ford brakes feature N.O.S. Buick drums; rear brakes are from a '71 Lincoln.
DrivetrainMark Kirby at Motor City Flatheads built the 296ci Flathead, and Glen Gibbons from RT Custom Polishing polished the block, Eddie Meyer heads and intake, Stromberg 97s, and other components. Ron Fuller at Stainless Works built the exhaust system. Craig's brother, Bryan Smith, installed the cloth-covered wiring. Fred Fleckenstein upgraded the three-speed with a '75 Ford F-150 pickup three-speed Top Loader, with a Centerforce clutch and '76 Jeep shifter. An adapter was fabricated to bolt the trans onto the stock trans mount holes, without any cutting on the original crossmember. An open driveshaft runs to the Halibrand "no change" rearend, which has a rare magnesium case.
Wheels & TiresThe roadster rides on 16-inch wheels, front and rear. The '40 Ford 3 1/2-inch front steelies roll on 5.00/5.25 rubber from Coker. The rear 5-inch-wide '53 Ford truck rims have 7.50 Coker whitewalls.
Body & PaintThe original steel body was in good shape and didn't require much repair beyond the doors and decklid getting replacement with repro steel from Brookville Roadster. The grille shell is a N.O.S. piece, as are the door handles and the 1951 California tags. Craig built custom stainless mounts for the '34 taillights, and fastened the '32 Ford commercial headlights to mounts from his dad's '62 Meyers snowplow truck. Dave Auton of Custom Rods straightened the sheetmetal, shot the DuPont single-stage enamel, and built the frame for the top.
InteriorAt American Speed Company in Southgate, Michigan, the stock-style bench and door panels were upholstered in white leather, and the top was covered. The N.O.S. '37 banjo-style steering wheel spins on a handbuilt column with a '53 Chevy pickup turn-signal switch. The stainless engine-turned dash is loaded with N.O.S. late-'50s Stewart Warner gauges. A homemade dash extension was built for the '38 Ford clock, rebuilt by Mike Kleeves of Kimball, Michigan.