People often invoke the red, Chevy-powered Deuce as an indictment of conformity. And for good reason, really; it’s so common you can’t swing a cat at a rod run for fear of striking such a car. Even that has its reasons: the Deuce is a sure bet, Chevy power is easy, and red makes anything stand out as a wolf among sheep.
But typical of most generalizations, the one who lumps all red, Chevy-powered Deuces in one group is flawed. Pat Swanson and Steve Gilligan’s cars could hardly be any different from each other. One’s body maintains its original proportions; the other has been chopped and channeled. One has fenders; the other is a highboy. Both ride on 16-inch wheels, but one set was stamped from steel for production cars, the other cast from magnesium for race cars. Even the tires—rags on one, radials on the other—are unique to each car.
And at the heart of the matter—the engines—well, you’d have to be blind to not see the difference. And at that you’d certainly hear it. Chevrolet arranged the six-cylinders in Swanson’s Stovebolt in a row. The bent eight in Gilligan’s is functionally identical to the seemingly infinite number of engines that gave wings to the idea that all red, Chevy-powered Deuces are the same.
Though both cars are the same age we’ll give deference to Gilligan’s simply for the fact that it’s been a hot rod nearly as long as the term existed. He’s also owned it the longest—in fact he’s known about it for two-thirds of his life. “I saw this car for the first time that I remember when I was 10 years old,” he recalls.
Typical for passion-driven people, he knows the car’s story. In fact, he knows it to the beginning. “This car was purchased new in 1932 in Estacada, Oregon,” he reveals. As the story goes, the original owner gave the car to his grandson in the early ’50s. Soon after that, Doug Sukau channeled the body 4 inches and sectioned its grille 5. Presumably it was around that time when the owner had the axle stretched and swapped the transmission for a ’39, the rear axle for a ’40, and the mechanical brakes for hydraulics.
The car was disassembled in the early ’60s and stayed that way until 1979 when Northwest drag-racing pioneer Earl Rowland reassembled it and built its hood sides. Though Karl Pasero saw the car in a garage as early as 1965, its purchase eluded him until 1980. In 1988 he had the top chopped 3 inches by Loran Heisman and the rear fenders bobbed by John Scheewe.
The following year Pasero sold the car to Damascus, Oregon’s Stan Ochs. Ochs swapped the Flathead for the 301 Chevy (a bored 283) in the car to this day. Among other places the car appeared on the Bonneville Salt Flats (as a spectator of course) and in Bob Drake’s column in the Oct. ’91 Street Rod Action.
A few years later Ochs sold the car to the aptly named Ed Cole (another Ed Cole oversaw the design of Chevrolet’s V-8 engine). Cole in turn sold the car to Mike Gregg. Gregg had Mike Geiszler louver the hood in 1994. Gregg refreshed the car’s black primer and had the body flamed before selling it to Brent Housley in 1995. Housley had the trunk lid louvered by Paul Harper in 1997.
To say Housley drove the car is an understatement. In the dozen or so years he owned it he took it to an equal amount of events in at least five states. Interestingly enough, though it traveled as much as 1,300 miles on any one given jaunt, the car’s ownership has never left a 100-mile radius of its original purchase location.
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.
Paul Reichlin at Cedardale Upholstery in Mt. Vernon modified the original seat and trimmed it and the interior panels in tobacco-colored leather pleats. Roger Domini, prior owner of Jack Calori’s hallmark ’36 coupe, filled the dash. If Swanson’s 12-port fetish has a rival, it’s Stewart-Warner gauges like the ones in the ’32 Auburn panel he fit to that dash.
Dave Secrist cut all new windows and John Byers (Byers Custom and Restoration in Auburn) wood-grained the garnish moldings around them and the insert at the top of the dash. Geoff Skene gave Swanson the ’37 Lincoln Zephyr steering wheel. Don Meth at Show Quality Metal Finishing in Seattle plated everything bright, including the Deuce mast jacket under that wheel.
To be honest neither words nor pictures do the differences justice. Gilligan’s car has an earthy, organic feeling a hot rod can acquire only by evolving over decades; Swanson’s looks and feels simply exquisite. On paper the two are practically the same but in the flesh the two could hardly be any different and still resemble five-window Ford coupes.
That’s refreshing if you think of it. How many ideas have been explored since the birth of the hot rod? You’d think by now we would’ve exhausted them. Ironic, isn’t it, that a pair of red, Chevy-powered Deuces could make the case we haven’t done it all yet.
1932 Ford Five-Window Coupe
1932 Ford Five-Window Coupe