Housley refreshed the car and applied a new coat of gray primer before selling it to Gilligan. A broken cluster gear in the ’39 transmission inspired him to dismantle the car for something it hadn’t enjoyed for probably more than half a century: shiny paint. “I took the car apart, pulled the motor and trans, and did the bodywork and painted the car myself, with some help from my dad,” he says. They applied Centauri acrylic enamel, a fleet color Ford-coded M3059 and called Royal Maroon from 1968-76.
We saw the car soon after at the 2010 HotRod-A-Rama. In fact, so fresh was that paint that the car still reeked. It was at that point that the red, Chevy-powered Deuce angle dawned on us.
The angle struck us because of a curiously similar but different car going together about the same time. Pat Swanson, like Gilligan, is both passionate and knowledgeable of his car’s history. “Before I got it, it was a street rod,” he reveals. Ironically enough, a bright-red, Chevy-powered street rod—at least it was until a rollover crash in the late ’90s took it out of commission.
His historical insight into the car’s history is admittedly thin but not so about its engine’s cylinder head. It’s one of the estimated 200 produced that endowed GMC and Chevrolet six-cylinder engines with independent intake and exhaust ports for each cylinder (each cylinder shared an intake port with another and the center four cylinders shared two exhaust ports in both designs).
Though several manufacturers produced 12-port heads, this one was cast by the company who pioneered the design in the late ’40s and ’50s, Wayne Manufacturing Co. This particular example was one of about 125 cast for Chevrolet engines (the GMC was an entirely different design). What makes it a true rarity is its design: it’s one of an estimated 10 cast for the later 18-bolt blocks. This one’s racing history is fairly well documented, at least through the late ’60s when Doug Pringle used it in a ’34 Ford coupe in Jalopy racing.
Swanson commissioned Renton, Washington’s Cal Stewart to prep the head and build the engine for it. He began with a ’54 vintage 261ci example from a heavy truck. He had it bored to 278 ci and adapted GMC connecting rods to its crankshaft. Forged Ross pistons combined with the head’s smaller, more efficient chambers yield a snappy 10.5:1 compression ratio. A genuine Spalding camshaft makes the engine behave appropriately for ’50s-era race technology.
Flanking that head are Wayne manifolds. Given the intake’s potential to grossly outflow the engine, Swanson gathered smaller Stromberg 81 carburetors. An early Vertex magneto both fires the engine and drives the tachometer. The GM T-5 five-speed transmission may be historically incorrect, however, its ability to accelerate with deep gears yet cruise at high speeds justifies the indiscretion.
Butch Bowers basically built the car for the engine. He began with a genuine ’32 frame, complete to its K-member, which he modified for the longer five-speed transmission. He also swapped the compound-curve rear crossmember for one from a Model A.
The crossmember accommodates the Model A spring, a necessity to clear the Halibrand quick-change centersection. Bolted to that are ’37-41 axle bells. Bowers converted its input to open driveline to match the transmission’s output. In the absence of the torque tube to locate the suspension, he split the radius rods, slugged them for tie-rod ends, and attached their studs to tabs welded to the chassis.
He split a Deuce wishbone for the front suspension. Pinned to it is a ’32 axle dropped decades ago by the late Okie Adams. Bowers also modified a ’32 pedal assembly for hydraulic brakes. He adapted a smoother, tighter F-1 steering box to the frame by grafting a Deuce steering-box snout to it.
The damage the body suffered in the rollover collision required a great deal of Bowers’ labor to repair. Inspired by the color on Jim Shelton’s Deuce roadster (Mar. ’06 R&C), Swanson duplicated the formula by having his supplier remove the pearl and metallic elements from Wildberry Pearl, a regrettably named color applied to equally regrettable ’90s Chrysler products.