It’s not very hard to improve old Fords. As economy cars they were built for price and durability and not extreme performance. On the other hand it’s intensely difficult to improve them as elegantly and economically as Ford’s engineers created them. At the very least it’s wishful thinking to expect any valid improvements to simply bolt on.

But Steve Szymanski at Industrial Chassis just may have done the impossible with three kits for the ’32 Ford. One endows the frame with the rigidity that the ’33-and-later chassis enjoy. Another adds a master cylinder to the crossmember. The third one makes the ’32 pedal assembly operate like the one in the ’39 Ford. And more than transform the car, these kits do so without any cutting, welding, or drilling. They all bolt in through existing holes.

The frame kit transforms the ’32 Ford’s noteworthy K-member into a modified X-member. The X-member stands as one of the strongest, most economical designs in perimeter-frame technology. It derives respectable strength from a minimum amount of material by orienting shapes by their strongest dimensions and by distributing load over a greater area. Ford adopted it in 1933 and, as testimony to the idea, stuck with the same basic design until 1948. Actually that’s not entirely true; Ford (and other manufacturers) fortified topless cars’ frames with X-members for generations thereafter.

The X-member kit consists of three parts: two diagonal legs and a center support that ties their lower edges into the existing crossmember’s bottom flange. Industrial Chassis offers the legs in two flavors: straight for cars with flat floors (roadsters, standard coupes, and most sedans) and offset for cars with dropped floors (DeLuxe coupes and Victorias, among others).

It offers two center-support variations: plain and “winged”. The plain variation suits cars that use the stock, un-split wishbone in the stock socket (the kit doesn’t interfere with the stock mount) or cars that have existing split-wishbone conversions.

The party piece, however, is the winged variation. It features a thicker vertical plate that descends below the crossmember and bends forward as two “ears” on either side of the transmission. Those ears serve as split-wishbone mounts; Industrial Chassis drills and reams each one to accept a conventional Ford tie-rod end. Splitting the wishbone with conventional bungs and using early Ford tie-rod ends lands the studs right at the tapered holes. The modest split spreads the wishbone legs wide enough to accommodate most non-Flathead oil pans (this car boasts a Hemi) yet not enough to cause the suspension to bind excessively.

To test the kit’s effectiveness Szymanski devised a rig that measures how much the frame deflects under a given load. The rig supported the bottom of the frame at four points: at the cowl and at the rear-fender mounting holes. He clamped the frame to the rig then hung a 50-pound weight from a 6-foot-long tube that he projected from one of the front framehorns.

He used a conventional boxed chassis with a tubular crossmember as his baseline. “The frame deflected about a 1/2 inch,” he notes. He performed the same test with a completely stock (un-boxed) frame that he modified with only his X-member kit. “It deflected about 5/8-inch,” he observes.

Yes, that’s 1/8-inch more than what the conventional frame flexed but bear something in mind: the baseline was a chassis boxed from stem to stern and augmented with a complex tubular center crossmember ala contemporary street rod practice. His design, on the other hand, is nothing more than two channels, a bent plate, and a handful of bolts that fasten to existing holes. What’s more, his kit looks the part of an old Ford design, adds a fraction of the weight of the boxing plates and tubes, and installs in a matter of hours with the most basic hand tools. In fact this kit could be added to a completely intact car.

“I’m not going to say that the stock frame doesn’t flex at all up ahead of the K-member but it’s not as bad as people think,” Szymanski clarifies. “What really flexes is the area between the K-member and the rear-fender mounting holes. It’s an S-shape so it bends really easily. This makes a big difference, though.”

Granted the utility of this specific design has its limitations, Ford designed the K-member’s crossmember to accommodate the ’32 transmission mount which, of course, was designed for the small ’32-48 passenger (and ’49 pickup) case. Over the years people have modified the crossmember to accommodate various other transmissions (Cad-LaSalle, Packard, Olds, and early Econoline come to mind, and the Borg Warner T5 has gained popularity recently) but their use requires considerable fabrication and that sort of defeats the kit’s bolt-in appeal.

Adhering to the bolt-in edict limits this kit’s utility to traditional-style builds but that’s of little consequence; generally speaking only a historically inclined builder would labor to use a K-member in the first place. But for that application it would be pretty difficult to top the elegance and effectiveness of this kit. It first and foremost lends a great deal of structural integrity to a legendary frame and it looks the part of an old Ford design.