Ron Hartwell has been a lifelong car enthusiast. He bought his first car in 1953 when he was 13 years old-a drivable '37 Ford two-door that cost him a whopping $15. He immediately discarded the fenders and running boards, aiming for the proper hot rod look. That was the first in a long line of cool rides, a line approximately 45 vehicles long. When marriage, children, and career reorganized his priorities, hot rodding was relegated to the back burner. Now that he has retired and relocated from Massachusetts to Florida, he's back into it.
This '32 Ford roadster is Ron's current car, but one that has been on his mind since 1960. It began when he saw a beautifully channeled Deuce roadster, painted a distinctive shade of purple. That car was owned by Fred Steel, one of the founding members of the Ty Rods Club in Massachusetts. It was love at first sight for Ron and the object of his dreams ever since. After arriving in Florida, he acquired a '32 Ford sedan and decided to use the chassis as the basis for his own project car, ordering an all-steel roadster body from Brookville. Longley Restorations in DeLand, Florida, handled the assembly process, and Chuck and Mike Longley began by reinforcing the '32 frame. The Longleys channeled the body 9 inches over the frame, while Ron took on some of the chassis, engine, and transmission upgrades.
With the custom side panels removed, it's easy to see the nicely detailed 260ci '51 Mercury Flathead V-8, equipped with Hymax 9:1 pistons, Isky cam, a traditional set of twin Strombergs, and Fenton headers connected to straight pipes. A U.S. Radiator and electric fan keep temperatures in the green.
Big steering wheels were the power steering option in the Fifties. Ron sourced this one from a '51 Dodge. What looks like a three-on-the-tree shifter is really the selector for the C4 automatic transmission. The twin pedals continue the illusion, but both pedals now operate the brakes. The N.O.S. 1950 Hollywood gauge cluster from Stewart-Warner keeps track of all the underhood activities.
The upholstered and carpeted trunk accommodates a traditional fuel tank and battery, with plenty of room left over for a picnic basket or a cooler. Who says hot rods can't be functional?!
It's the exterior, however, that really captures your attention. The car maintains a level stance-a look that Ron remembers from the Fifties. Ron plans to keep the open-fender look for the time being but has located a set of Packard side-mount tire covers that may be adapted into a set of cycle fenders all around.
The entire process took 18 months. When it was done, Ron was thrilled with the results. The roadster is now on the road, and Ron is actively engaged in working out any bugs. Future plans call for enjoying the car thoroughly-a process that will be doubly sweet since the roadster that has been in his mind for more than 46 years has finally become reality. Ron and his wife, Sammie, are planning to travel with the car, hooking it up behind their motorhome for trips to events on the Southeast car show circuit.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
New Smyrna, Florida
1932 Ford Roadster
Ron's roadster rides on '32 Ford 'rails with a Model A front crossmember. Adding a 2-inch Z in the rear and flattening the '32 rear crossmember drops everything a couple inches. The original front axle was dropped 4 inches by So-Cal Speed Shop and equipped with '40 Ford spindles, wishbones, tubular shocks, and brakes cooled via '39 Lincoln air scoops. All the original '32 steering components were retained. The suspension includes tubular aircraft-style shocks, with front upper shock mounts from a '49 F-1 pickup; tubular rear shocks are from a '40 Ford, and '40 drums are used at all wheels-with '39 Lincoln air scoops in the front. Springs are chrome '32 leafs in front and '40 Ford leafs (with two removed) in the rear. The '40 rearend is fitted with 3.78:1 gears.
Under the hood rests a '51 Mercury Flathead, machined by D&H Enterprises in DeLand, Florida, and hot rodded with a 4-inch crank, Isky 3/4 cam, vintage Edmunds dual carb manifold, and a pair of Stromberg 97s running Edmunds air cleaners. Fenton headers flow into straight pipes. The engine is connected to a Flat-O-Matic kit adapting the Flattie to a modern Ford C4 automatic with a shift kit. The column shifted transmission was built at Phil's Garage in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. The stock generator was converted to 12-volt.
Wheels & Tires
Open wheels, big 'n' littles, and a level stance is just the way they did it back when Ron was a young guy. Tires are 15-inch big-and-little steelies with Firestone 700-15s in the rear and 670-15s in the front. Wide whitewalls, 3.25 inches across, maintain the nostalgic look, as do the custom hubcaps from a '55 Packard Caribbean.
Body & Paint
The Brookville steel body received a 9-inch channel over the frame at Longley Restorations, and the steel grille and insert were chopped to fit. The authentic-looking canvas top is actually a custom-made, canvas Carson-style top that removes with four bolts. The engine side panels, accented with '37 Ford trim pieces and '55 Pontiac stars, can be removed to show off the Flathead. Tom Johnson from Johnson Interiors in Longwood, Florida, stretched the top over Longley Restorations' wood bow frame. The top was patterned after a '32 once owned by Pete Henderson and now owned by Chuck Longley.
The functioning, foldout windshield was chopped 3 inches and, for a nostalgic touch, the car was ordered from Brookville with a "poor man's air conditioner," a functioning cowl vent. Bell Auto aluminum headlight stanchions are N.O.S. items, found at the Daytona Turkey Run and drilled to fit the framerails. The '41 Chevrolet truck headlights feature an art deco turn signal lens mounted on top. The '53 Pontiac Star Chief taillights were a one-year-only item and feature the genuine glass bezels in the center with handmade chrome rings around the outside of the lights. The exhaust tips protrude through the body and are surrounded by the custom-made Nerf bar. The front bar was fitted with Ron's initials-the way they did it back in the Fifties.
Ron found this shade of lilac lacquer, used originally on '56 Lincolns. Ben's Paints in DeLand worked with Ron, adding pearls and metallics to get the desired shade. Longley's sprayed the custom color and enough clearcoat to protect it from the Florida sun. The body lines are highlighted by some fine line 'striping and Von Dutch-style additions to the trunk and hood, applied by Tom Johnson.
The interior uses a chromed '40 Ford steering column, column shifter, and oversized steering wheel from a '51 Dodge. A set of '55 Mercury swing pedals fit the tight confines of the channeled roadster. With the automatic transmission, both the clutch and brake pedals activate the brakes. The dashboard features a N.O.S. '50 Hollywood gauge cluster from Stewart-Warner. In order to make it fit, Longley's extended the bottom of the dash 2 inches. The rearview mirror comes from a '40 Ford. Tom Johnson from Johnson Interiors in Longwood, Florida, also did the stitch work on the lilac and white Naugahyde interior covering the custom seats. Black carpeting accents the dual shades. The trunk was upholstered to match-and contains the spun-aluminum 10-gallon fuel cell and a 12-volt battery.