A big part of the appeal of show rods like Craig Smith's wild customized '32 roadster is nostalgia for the early Sixties. It was a time before assembly-line musclecars replaced hot rods, before brightly-colored bell bottoms replaced indigo dungarees, and before some British mop tops elbowed out American-born musicians like Elvis and Jerry Lee. Of course, not every music star of the era was playing rock 'n' roll. One wavy-haired young piano man was making the ladies swoon with his showy interpretations of the classics.

How appropriate that Craig Smith's interpretation of a classic show car would share its name with that star. "I call the roadster The Liberace," he explained, "because it's so flamboyant. The story is that I found the car behind a bunch of pianos at a Liberace estate sale. The car was built for the musician by Barris, but never driven-so there's not much documentation. Liberace always said he wouldn't drive the roadster because it messed up his hair and because he had a hard time steering it with all his rings."

"Of course," Craig continued, "that story is BS."

We almost believed him too. As it turns out, the real story is just as interesting, even if it's not quite as crazy.

Craig was looking around on the Internet trying to find a T-bucket, when he saw the Deuce instead and decided he would make it into a simple driver. We're glad his plans went in a completely different direction and he ended up building it as an early Sixties show car.

Working with fiberglass is quite a bit different than working with sheetmetal, but Craig had done some personal water craft repair in the past, and practiced on a friend's T-bucket. That experience paid off during the majority of the work on the body, but didn't prepare him for creating the one-of-a-kind nose. His first attempt, a quad-headlight design, was not a success, and was dubbed "the four-eyed monkey" by his friends. Discouraged, Craig was tempted to go back to the familiar Deuce tombstone grille shell, then decided to try again. This time he went for a nose somewhat in the style of the Ala Kart, but with a personal twist or two.

After the nose, the biggest attention getter is the panel paint. As with the 'glass, Craig had painted cars-and some bike tanks-before, but nothing requiring this level of effort. It took a month to finish, but the results are great, and the white pearl and purple 'flake candy fit the period perfectly. So much so that dozens of people have approached him claiming to remember the car from the R&C "little pages" or from the Oakland Roadster Show in 1962-asking him where he found it and how long it took him to restore it. He takes all the comments as compliments, and as proof that his interpretation of a classic show car is a success.

But we still don't understand why Liberace never drove it.

Rod & Custom Feature Car
Craig Smith
Phoenix, Arizona
1932 Ford Roadster
Owner contact info: smithcraig@peoplepc.com

Craig used 2x4-inch steel to construct the frame for the roadster, pinching the 'rails at the firewall and dropping them over the rear axle with a 12-inch Z in back. The Super Bell dropped I-beam axle on '37 Ford spindles is suicided out in front of the leaf springs and Pro Shocks-sourced tube shocks, and located with hairpins. The rear is set up similarly with a transverse spring and Pro Shocks. The '82 Buick Grand National rearend has 3.73:1 limited slip gears. Braking is handled by stock rear drums and '50 Ford pickup drums in front, with an '80 Ranger master cylinder and a homemade pedal assembly. The steering system uses a late-Sixties Volvo box.

The block and heads on the early Chevy 350 got painted to match the white on the body and frame, but dressed up with polished '60s Corvette valve covers, a polished Pro 1 intake, and chromed accessories. The carb is a 4-barrel Edelbrock topped with a fiberglass dragster-style scoop from the Total Performance catalog, modified by Craig. The owner-built lake pipes feature 2-inch tubes and a 4-inch cone, with VW-application Stinger mufflers for the perfect tone. Reliable Manufacturing in Ontario, Canada, assembled the engine, and Fred Suominen in Scottsdale, Arizona, built the 700-R4 automatic, which runs a 2,500-stall heavy duty converter. Dave's Driveshafts provided the shortened '80s GM driveshaft.

Body & Paint
The fiberglass Deuce roadster body from Rod 'n Race has been channeled six inches over the frame. Craig smoothed the doors shut and frenched '59 Cadillac taillights into the upper rear quarters. He also frenched the license plate into the decklid, and frenched the rear bumper (built from a '56 Chevy front bumper). The fiberglass nose is completely custom and houses a pair of motorcycle spotlights as headlights.

Wayne at Bell Glass in Phoenix provided the windshield and Vintique supplied the side mirror. Craig said it took him a month to paint his most elaborate paint job to date, using Kustom Shop white, Diamond Crystal pearl, and purple metalflake candy. He traded Ron Hernandez a custom neon sign (Craig's a professional glass blower) for the extensive pinstriping.

Wheels & Tires
Craig struck gold when he scored a full set of original, beautiful-condition, Sixties-era Superior rims, never mounted and still in the box. Seller Smokey Fegley, via the HAMB website, reaffirmed Craig's hope for mankind by letting them go for $60 apiece. The rear 15x7s roll on a pair Hurst whitewall slicks, with 15x6s on Coker bias-plies in front.

The custom-built seats look pretty comfortable, especially the purple tuck 'n' roll inserts in the white pearl vinyl, stitched by Glenn Kramer at Hot Rod Interiors in Glendale, Arizona. The seatbelts are from Juliano's. The dash is custom-formed fiberglass; Craig is still trying to identify the frenched dash insert, but the 160mph speedometer is from Stewart Warner and the quad gauge below the dash on the left is from Classic Instruments. A '56 Chevy Bel Air steering wheel mounted on a $10 homebuilt column, 24-inch Lokar shifter, and Mooneyes complete the interior.

Craig did much of the work on the roadster himself, but appreciates the help of everybody who contributed to the car, including Eric Symons and Chip Quinn who encouraged and advised him along the way.

  • «
  • |
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • View Full Article