Sitting in the driveway of a hot rod shop in central Michigan is a car that could just as likely be sitting in a hot rod museum somewhere.
In its 53-year history as a hot rod, this '32 Ford sedan has had at least five owners, at least eight engines, and at least a million adventures-on the dragstrip, on the street, on the interstate, on the back roads of Mexico, at cruise nights, at rod events, in a few accidents, and even on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But a colorful heritage hasn't earned this hot rod any special treatment. It's still the car most likely to be used for a run to the parts store or to the burger joint at lunchtime.
The '32 was perishing in a junkyard when racer Bill Waddill found it in 1954. Vern Abbey chopped the top 3 3/4 inches, the body was painted gray with white flames, and an Olds Rocket engine was bolted in. Later that year, the car went south of the border to haul parts at the La Carrera Panamericana road race.
Here in 1980, the sedan served...
Here in 1980, the sedan served as the Lesky family fun mobile during its early days. As you can see, Dennis has preserved the sedan's appearance for more than a quarter century. Left to right are Matt, Mike, and Dawn.
By 1958, the sedan was racing at the drags, wearing the name and red company color of Kustom Equipment in Flint, Michigan. The engine compartment was loaded with a 392 Hemi, and the rear seat riser and spare tire were loaded with cement for weight. The November '58 issue of R&C reported Waddill's 105.88 mph B/Gas record from the 4th NHRA National Championship in Oklahoma.
A year later, the car changed hands. During the early- and mid-'60s the '32, powered by a Pontiac and later a 370ci GMC truck engine, lived life as a street car and a regular at Sully's Drive-In in Lansing, Michigan. It returned to the strip around 1966, after John Spatrisano and Dallas Jenks bought it minus the engine. A balanced and blueprinted 389 led to the graphics on the hood of the repainted car. The story is that the $7,000 poured into the Poncho mill led to the new nickname. Old-timers in central Michigan will tell you that Regret, the bright red Tudor with green Lexan windows, was turning 10s at Gratton, Onondaga, and McBride.
Until another 389 Pontiac...
Until another 389 Pontiac fills this spot, the '32 will be powered by this Chevy small-block, which Dennis pulled out of a dump truck and built up using performance heads and cam, plus an Edelbrock 4V on a Weiand intake.
When Spatrisano and Jenks started raising families, the '32 went into a garage until it was sold in 1971. The solid steel rollbar and all the cement were removed, and a 300hp 327 small-block was installed, but the sedan didn't see much action throughout the '70s.
Dennis Lesky from Ionia, Michigan, had tried unsuccessfully to buy Regret and finally succeeded in the fall of 1979. When the weather warmed up, he started driving it to local rod runs, where people still recognized it as "Bill Waddill's old car." Dennis started making it his own by lowering it and adding bumpers, '32 taillights, frame horn covers, and splash aprons from a '32 Vicky he'd never finished. A year later, he added a dropped tube axle, four-bar suspension, tube shocks, and '46 Ford brakes with Buick finned drums. Other suspension mods from that time include the ladder bars, Pete & Jake's shocks, front Panhard bar, and rear sway bar.
Throughout the '80s, Regret carried the Lesky family to shows all over the East, including Deuce Doin's in Indianapolis, where participants were allowed to circle the Indy 500 oval.
Dennis installed a new 327 with aluminum rods, 2.02 heads, and a 290 cam, and gave the old racer a few more passes down the dragstrip. In 1990, he built a 350 using the same cam and heads. That engine is still in the car, but plans call for a Pontiac 389 once again. Dennis' early '80s chassis updates will be changed too, starting with the original front axle and some split wishbones.
The next time you drive by the Ionia Hot Rod Shop, look for the legendary red sedan parked out front, waiting for Dennis Lesky to write the next chapter in this story. Considering the chapters already written, maybe Regret does deserve to be in a museum-but then what would Dennis drive to lunch tomorrow?