In 1954, a young kid behind the wheel of a channeled '32 Ford Tudor came storming down Mt. Vernon Avenue in Wichita, Kansas. As the Ford passed the train tracks it slowed and made its way up to the doors of the Star Kustom Shop. The shop proprietor, Darryl Starbird, noticed the channeled Ford from the corner of his eye and made his way out to greet what he thought would be just another run of the mill customer. As the kid climbed out from the car Darryl hollered, "What can I do for ya?" The kid replied, "My name's Dave Stuckey and I'm here to see about a job." Dave had moderate skills with welding, bodywork and customizing, but his eagerness and enthusiasm to craft his talent was immeasurable. It didn't take long for Starbird to notice, so he decided to give the kid a chance, and gave Dave a part time job, which he worked after school got out.
Over the next few years Dave soaked up all that the Star Kustom Shop had to offer and perfected his skills. It wasn't too long before Dave was working side-by-side with Starbird as his right-hand man. Although he punched a clock on customer cars, building his '32 was always at the back of his mind. During downtime Darryl would lend a helping hand and help Dave work on the '32. Eager to see his dream unfold, Dave would burn the midnight oil after the shop closed, striving to give his Deuce that perfect look. Over the next few years the once fenderlesss, channeled and Flathead-powered Tudor would receive custom rear fenders with dual '53 Studebaker pans, Model A front fenders, custom running boards, a one-off Ala Kart-styled grille shell with chrome bullets, '40 Ford dash, a Buick Titan Red paint job with gold scallops, and of course, that classic DeSoto 331ci Hemi.
Another key element the sedan sported was the white and maroon Matlasha (a fabric imported from Belgium) interior, which a female onlooker said made the car look like a little coffin. The phrase seemed to strike the right chord, and the once car-with-no-name was dubbed, Li'l Coffin. The finished product then appeared on the cover of the November 1960 issue of Car Craft, and was also featured in Cars magazine's spread on the Star Kustom Shop's Best of '59.
In 1960, Dave parted ways with Star Kustom Shop to open the doors of Stuckey Kustoms in Wichita, Kansas. With him he brought his '32, and began what has become known as the "Wildest Deuce Ever Shown." The first order of business was to section the body and bring the beltline down to just above the rear wheel wells. Next, Dave reworked the cowl with '58 Merc headlight bezels frenched in with bullet accents. The DeSoto engine, mated to a '39 Ford transmission, received two more Stromberg carbs and was sucked up into the cowl to make way for a new one-off sleek nose decorated with six streamline tubes. Under the nose sat a '37 Ford tube axle with custom spring pockets. The most notable change, and defining touch, was when Dave reshaped and altered the roof to a unique cantilever-style top with a mid-mounted chrome roll bar for support. Inside, the car received a new dash with floating gauges, a custom steering wheel and four bucket seats (the bucket seats were later replaced with the bench style seat with tonneau cover). The car was well on its way to wowing the show circuit; only problem was Stuckey had run out of money to finish it. At this point Larry Farber enters the story. Larry purchased the car from Dave, but part of the arrangement was that Dave would finish the car for Larry to show. True to his word, Stuckey completed the '32 and Larry set out to show it to the world. From here the car went on to grace the cover of Rod & Custom in November of '62, and be featured in countless other publications.
In the early Sixties Darryl Starbird was head custom consultant at Monogram Model Company. During Darryl's tenure with Monogram they turned six of Darryl's full-size cars into models and contracted him to build one-off creations of his design for the company, lend his designing hand to a number of kits, and of course, act as a consultant. Monogram president Jack Besser told Starbird they were in the market to bring out a knockout kit based around a rod. Before the last word rolled off Besser's tongue, Starbird knew just the car that would stir a craze in households near and far: Stuckey's Li'l Coffin. Following the lead of their head custom consultant, Monogram purchased the car, and had Darryl freshen things up after the show circuit had taken its toll on the Deuce (on an ironic note, Stuckey was once again working for Starbird when Monogram dropped the car off for a little lipstick and rouge).
In 1967, muscle cars were in full swing and custom one-off creations, like the Li'l Coffin, were considered yesterday's news. The Li'l Coffin was of no use for Monogram, being that the public was after factory-styled model kits, so they gave Starbird a call and offered him the chance to buy it. Because these "nostalgic" rods had little to no value at the time, Starbird couldn't refuse the bottom dollar offer. Not only did the cars of this style have no dollar value, they didn't have much of a shelf life with the general public either, therefore the Li'l Coffin fell to the wayside like so many other rods and customs, and was restyled into something completely different. Darryl's first of many reincarnations of the Li'l Coffin was dubbed The Monkey Ward Delivery. The car was outfitted with an all-new nose, GMC 8/71 blower and a sedan delivery-styled upper deck. In 1980, Starbird went on to restyle the car once again, this time as a dual-cowl phaeton with a Jag IFS, Corvette IRS, dual-carbureted Chevy 350 and lift-off Carson-style top. Tragically, this version was short lived due to the fact it caught fire while unloading. The car, with Darryl in it, nearly burnt to the ground. Like a broken record, the car was once again resurrected in the early Nineties with, yes, you guessed it, a new look. This time the car received a full-bodied tilt nose with an aluminum grille nestled up front. Also new to the scene was a lift-off hardtop with a full-framed windshield.
A young Dave Stuckey has just...
A young Dave Stuckey has just finished installing the dual '53 Stude pans; it's now time to blend the characteristic touch into the body of the '32.
The rear fenders were entirely...
The rear fenders were entirely scratch built from steel tubing and sheetmetal. Here you can see Star Kustom Shop's own Darryl Starbird working the passenger side fender to perfection.
Although he may not be the...
Although he may not be the kid he once was, Darryl still hacks away in the shop six days a week with a steady 8-to-5 regiment. Here he's hard at work re-styling the Li'l Coffin (for the last time!) per Stuckey's design.
Jump ahead to 2007 when nostalgic rods and customs are no longer outcasts in the hot rod world. Seeing where the movement is headed, Darryl once again decided to break out the torch and re-work the Li'l Coffin, only this time, put it back to Stuckey's original model car design. First up, the updated chassis needed to take a trip back in time. The original pickup points for the Deuce's underpinnings were still traceable, therefore Darryl was able to place a new '37 Ford axle and split wishbones in the appropriate position and maintain the original wheelbase. Once in position, Darryl crafted the custom spring pockets with coil springs and shock mounts. At the center of the Deuce 'rails lies a custom-fabbed stabilizer bar, which connects to the '37 axle keeping the frontend assembly centered. A '48 Ford quick-change rearend, converted to open drive, was relocated under the rear with split wishbones.
Next up came the daunting task of locating a DeSoto 331ci Hemi. Once one turned up, United Motors, in Wichita, Kansas, and Darryl's son, Cliff Starbird, overhauled it and topped it with six Stromberg 97s, just like Stuckey intended. Starbird was only able to scour up one of the original intake manifolds; therefore he turned to Eelco to duplicate a set of new manifolds. Stuckey had the original headers for the car and was glad to send them off to their rightful place. However, the exhaust pipes that flow so fluidly with the running boards needed to be recreated. Backing the Hemi is a Ford three-speed tranny with a Hot Heads adapter plate.
It was then time to put things back to the iconic look of the Li'l Coffin. From the beltline down, the car maintained its original persona, but from there things needed to be re-worked. A good starting position was the cowl. Starbird had to make the oval opening with handmade bezels, in the vein of the Merc bezels, and decorative bullets. Although the front fenders were left intact over the years the nose was long gone. Therefore, Starbird constructed a replica of the nose out of 1/2-inch steel conduit and sheetmetal. Inside the concaved nose rests six streamline tubes, and directly behind that is a custom-made radiator, by US Radiator.
The rear fenders were also intact, but the distinctive look of the dual '53 Studebaker pans were out of sight. Being that Stude pans aren't a readily available commodity like yesteryear, Starbird mimicked the Stude look using steel tubing and sheetmetal. Inside the newly-fabbed pan rests streamline tubing. Behind the tubing is an oval piece of Plexiglas painted translucent candy red, which acts as signals and taillights.
The heaviest task at hand was the cantilever-style roof. Being that the last form of the Li'l Coffin had a lift-off top, Starbird had to once again make pieces of the car from thin air. After sifting through piles of old car parts, Darryl stumbled across the original roll bar. The roll bar was installed and the roof was built accordingly. The outer portion of the roof is all metal, while the inset is a steel tube skeleton with Carson-style padding. With things back to Sixties status quo, Darryl sprayed the car in a patented Starbird House Of Kolor custom mixed Candy Apple Red over gold. Lastly, the American Racing 15-inch Torq Thrust rims wrapped with Coker whitewalls and cheater slicks were thrown in the mix to set things off just as the picture on the model's box depicted.
Under the cantilever-style roof rests a new bench seat, once again crafted by Starbird, outfitted in pearl white Naugahyde with gold Frieze by Walt's Upholstery in Mulvane, Kansas. Gracing the dash is a one-off replica steering wheel and floating gauge pods housing Stewart Warner Lifelines. The tonneau cover out back is upholstered to match the seats, and the entire underside of the roof is masked with tuck-n-roll pearl white Naugahyde.
Still something was missing. The car was never intended to have a skeleton stand next to it, but when Monogram threw the skeleton in the model it immediately immortalized the Li'l Coffin. One such fellow who stills remembers his first kit, is Jerry Glenzinski. To show his appreciation he finished off the look of the car creating a life-size skeleton to lean against the car, just like on the model's box.
Who would have thought what seemed to be an ordinary encounter between two hot rod enthusiasts 55 years ago would turn out to be the starting point in a long winded history of just another '32 Ford Model B. But then again, when you add ingredients like Stuckey, Starbird and Wichita into the mix, nothing is ever a "just another" custom car or hot rod!
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Li'lCoffin- 1932 Ford Sedan