A Deuce roadster is a Deuce roadster is a Deuce roadster, right? Maybe, but it's amazing how hot rodders continue to reinvent and reinterpret Ford's venerable two-seat, open-air design. It's not just the variety of build styles--high tech, low tech, retro rod, and so forth--but the notion that each Deuce owner instills a bit of his own personality in his car.
What about pro-built cars, though? You can argue that one highboy Deuce roadster from So-Cal Speed Shop is just like the next. Most are built with So-Cal's signature step-boxed frame; many use steel Brookville bodies; all have a classic look that's easy to spot. The distinctions are in the details--and there are a lot of details. Deuce guys know what we're talking about. Others, well, maybe they just don't get it.
Larry Corn knows the Deuce dilemma well, that of wanting a hot rod with a time-honored design and also of wanting to stand out in a crowd. He shared his concerns with Pete Chapouris and Mick Jenkins when he commissioned So-Cal Speed Shop to craft his highboy roadster. Together, they hatched a plan to meet both those goals and put So-Cal's Pelle Forsberg in charge of seeing the vision through to fruition.
The car's fundamentals are certainly tried and true. It sits on a So-Cal chassis assembled with a dropped beam axle, hairpins, and a Currie 9-inch rearend. Halibrand knock-offs adorn each corner. The Brookville body retains essentially stock dimensions and wears a leather-clad gut. There's a small-block Chevy crate engine beneath the bonnet.
Larry himself is responsible for some of the neatest details. He personally designed the distinctive, curved-shape front and rear spreader bars on an AutoCad program and had Texas Tool Works whittle them from aluminum. He used the same process (and machinist) on the custom gas cap, taillight bezels, license frame, horn button, and bezels for the shifter and emergency brake. All the machined parts were carefully designed with rounded corners so they'd look more like cast pieces. How 'bout that--billet parts that look right at home a traditionally styled ride!
Look closer, though, and you'll make some cool discoveries. For instance, there's a Richmond five-speed backing up that small-block. The grille shell and louvered one-piece hood top are perfectly peaked, with side panels meticulously made to accommodate the lakes-style headers. The So-Cal windshield now has a custom "square corner" top instead of the standard rounded shape.
Of course, the most distinctive details aren't really details. They're those bright-orange Dennis Rickleffs licks that assault your eyes when you glance anywhere near the roadster's general direction. Mick Jenkins gets credit for the idea of cloning what are probably the most famous flames in street rodding. Rickleffs used some artistic license on color, but there's no mistaking The Kid's lineage.
Studying the intricacies could take hours, but the true measure of a successful design is how well the details work together. You don't need us to tell you how good they look here. For Larry, though, there's one significant detail distinguishing his Deuce roadster from the rest: he holds the pink slip. That makes all the difference in the world.
'32 Ford Roadster
DRIVETRAIN: Larry's "crate" expectations are met with a '02 Chevy FastBurn 350 painted and detailed by Street & Performance. A Holley carb keeps it fed, and cool stuff from Moon makes it pretty. Rod Sexton crafted the custom headers, which connect to a Jimmy Shine-built exhaust with Hooker mufflers. Here's the cool part: Behind the McLeod clutch you'll find a Richmond five-speed gearbox. Larry rows it using a Long shifter with a custom handle.
CHASSIS: When your car comes from So-Cal Speed Shop, so does your chassis. The So-Cal frame has a 9.25:1-geared Currie 9-inch swinging on a leaf spring and Pete & Jake's ladder bars out back, as well as a 4-inch dropped So-Cal beam axle, hairpin radius rods, and spring up front. A Flaming River steering box and column keep the roadster on the straight and narrow. So-Cal's clever disc-in-Buick-drum brakes handle stopping up front, aided by drums out back.
WHEELS & TIRES: Genuine 16-inch Halibrand knock-offs are the only wheels of choice for this topless Texas two-seater. They're wrapped in Dunlop vintage road race tires, size 5.00x16 and 7.00x16.
BODY & PAINT: The Brookville body is essentially stock, but the So-Cal crew has many hours invested in structural support, minor tweaking (modified firewall, raised trunk pan, etc.), and the first-rate fit and finish. GMT Quality Metalwork (Huntington Beach, CA) gets credit for the peaked three-piece hood and grille shell, which features a Dale's insert. So-Cal's Juan Carrillo sprayed the flawless black PPG finish that covers Paco Castell's excellent bodywork. The Kid-copy flames are by Dennis Rickleffs, and everything shines thanks to color-sanding and buffing by Paco, Juan, and Luis Ramirez. Headlights are repro King Bees, taillights are '50 Pontiac lenses in custom-machined bezels (by Isaac Rodriguez at Texas Tool Makers in San Antonio), and the So-Cal windshield has custom square corners.
INTERIOR: Larry cruises in comfort on a Glide seat covered in black leather by Gabe Lopez. Stewart-Warner dials in a So-Cal panel keep him informed as he steers the Budnik wheel with custom horn button. Wiring is by So-Cal's Scott Howard.
My Day With The Kid
The call came early--earlier than I expect calls, far earlier than I leave for work, well before noon. Tech Editor Dan Kahn's voice sounded like 40-grit sandpaper crammed through a phone line. "Damon, I need a favor," he croaked. "I'm supposed to go to So-Cal Speed Shop today to get driving impressions of The California Kid, but I'm sick as a dog. Can you cover for me?"
I had my wife kick me to be sure I wasn't dreaming. Then I tumbled out of bed, groped around for the phone, and muttered as calmly as possible, "Um, I suppose, if you can't find anyone else." Sometimes I love my job.
To truly grasp my excitement and The Kid's significance, you need to consider the context in which Pete Chapouris built his famous '34 Ford 31 years ago. It was a two-tone brown, resto rod world back then, and this hammered, flamed, 'n' louvered coupe was a slap in the face of the era's cowl-light conventions. It caused quite a stir when it appeared in the November '73 ROD & CUSTOM, paired with Jim Jacobs' equally in-your-face yellow '34 highboy for a cover shot and a thorough "coupe-arison" road test by "Ol' Dad" Baskerville. A year later the car earned further fame--and its moniker--starring with Martin Sheen in the made-for-TV movie The California Kid. Simply put, The Kid helped re-launch, or at the very least re-invigorate, hot rodding in the '70s and '80s, influencing countless enthusiasts and rods like the ZZ Top "Eliminator" coupe. Growing up in that era, I learned about The Kid long before discovering other classic hot rods like Doane Spencer's roadster and the Pierson Brothers' coupe. It was an introduction to traditional rodding for those too young to remember the '50s.
My day with The Kid wasn't exactly a repeat of Baskerville's '73 road test. A full-scale performance flogging just wasn't in the cards. Instead, So-Cal's Ron Read and I spent time photographing the famous coupe alongside Larry Corn's "kissin' cousin" roadster, then headed out in The Kid for a few hours of cruisin' and shootin' the bull (and a few photos, too). One thing's for sure, this car hasn't lost its touch. Peering through the 8 3/4-inch-tall windshield across a hood full of flames, louvers, and pinstripes is still a thrill, one that makes you want to hunker down, turn up your collar, and go search for a crooked cop in a Plymouth patrol car. You're an instant rebel, provided you can stop giggling with glee long enough to form the requisite scowl.
Then there are the noises--oh, what glorious noises! The small-block Ford cackling through twin pipes! The singing gears in the Halibrand quick-change! (Oh wait, I must've imagined that last part--there's a 9-inch back there now.) Even the occasional squeak and rattle fail to annoy; they're just reminders that The Kid is older, but he's still not afraid to come out and play.
Car show judges could have a field day docking points for the coupe's chipped paint, well-worn leather, and other signs of use. To me they're badges of honor. I can't help but recall Gray Baskerville's road test wisdom: "How a car looks as it moves down a street or over the highway is, perhaps, its most stimulating facet." The Kid has obviously seen many road miles, and I'm sure most were stimulating.
The next day The California Kid went back home to Pete & Jake's in Missouri, and I returned to the office with a grin on my chin and tales of a day I won't soon forget. Long live The Kid.