Ignition Special: Terry Davis’ 1932 Roadster

Words Karlee Sangster Photography Luke Ray

It all began with a magazine. The glossy pages full of American hot rods entranced the 14 year old Terry Davis and it was the start of something beautiful. Growing up around speedways like Rowley Park, Mount Gambier, Portland and the Sydney showground, it didn’t take long for Terry to choose his career and at 15 he started work as an apprentice motor mechanic. Every apprentice needs a project car and Terry was no different. By 18 he had completed a ground up rebuild of an FX Holden and had well and truly caught the bug. Joining the Ramrodders Hot Rod Club in the 70’s with the FX earned him his fair share of ribbing. Something had to be done. The rod of choice was a 1934 Plymouth Sedan.

The Plymouth was first driven to the 'Thunderbirds' Easter Hot Rod Show in Bendigo 1976, not quite finished. By 1977 it was complete and was featured in the first Australian Street Rodding magazine and on the cover and feature article in Australian Hot Rodding Review. Not many rodders can boast two front covers for their first build. But where to next?

The Easter of 1980 saw Terry finish an A Model Roadster Pickup. The car’s maiden voyage was the first Tassie Rod Holiday. Building his reputation in the press, the pickup was featured in Australian Street Rodding and Custom Rodder. Both the Plymouth and the pickup had generated some interest and were sold to buyers in Western Australia. Terry was without a hot rod for six long months. His next car was a 1935 N.Z. Ford Tudor, kept for several years before the purchase of a family friendly daily driver, an Austin A40 sedan. It took 3 years to get this one right and it stayed in the family for the next 18. It even managed a feature in Fast Fours and Rotaries magazine.

It was time for another rod. Terry had always wanted a coupe, and managed to

purchase rough '27 T Coupe panels and build his own chassis. The car was powered by a Buick V6 and transmission and sold in 2003.

Never one to pass up an opportunity, Terry had bought and stashed away cycle fenders and International pickup rims more than 10 years earlier. These provided the inspiration for his current car. After pouring over countless feature articles in American Hot Rodding magazine, the decision to build a ‘32 Roadster was clear. In a stroke of good fortune, Terry’s daughter Tracy married local rodder Michael Ahrens, and they went to the U.S. for their honeymoon. Again, never one to miss an opportunity, Terry asked for some specific souvenirs; A dash insert, engine turned panel from So Cal Speedshop, Stewart Warner curve faced wings instruments from Speedway Motors, and bare chassis rails.

Michael and Terry began work on the chassis early in 1998, borrowing a '32 chassis jig and pinching the rails from the firewall to the grille shell. The frame horns front and rear were cut off and the pair boxed the rails. Terry had a flat front cross member folded up and this was stepped up to lower the front of the car. The engine mounts were custom made front and rear as were the centre and rear cross members. The guys also mounted the engine high so no mechanicals hung below the lower edge of the chassis rails, creating a super clean line. To continue the look, the exhaust was also mounted high and kitted out with Ramshorn manifolds and hot dog mufflers. The full exhaust is HPC coated and completely custom made by Michael.

Deuce Customs supplied the body and rolled pan, which Terry decided to bolt on to give an earlier look. The Roadster body was chosen as he had in mind a Past Tech Duvall Screen and a custom roof. A good many hours were spent on fine tuning the roof design and fabrication, with the intention that the car would look as good with the roof on as with it off. Terry reckons the car is quite comfortable to drive now, but it took a few attempts at seat frames and bases!

The majority of work was carried out by the pair at home, but paint work was sent to a friend, Jerry Grant, who sprayed the body and chassis with red sting and gloss black two pack.

The car truly was a joint effort, with Michael helping Terry out with all aspects of the build, including designing the headlamp bar and shocker brackets, which the pair fabricated from ¾ inch solid bar at home with a chalk pattern on the shed floor, an oxy welder and vice, during a stinking hot Adelaide summer.

Terry says they had a good idea of how the car should look, but working out how to achieve a lot of it was decided along the way. Though he had built several cars before, he admits this was the most ambitious and made the decision to try and to stick to the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) method of build early on.

After seven years, Terry declared the ’32 finished. It sees regular use and is on full S.A. registration.  Notable journeys include trips to the Chopped Rod and Custom Show in Newstead in country Victoria - a fair way from home! He says what he likes best about driving hot rods is the sense of community. With friendships formed more than 30 years ago still going strong, it is easy to see the appeal and the motivation to keep building and driving these cars.

The ’32 is a true testament to the skills of its builders. With the vast majority of the car built on site at Terry’s home, it is an inspiration to fellow hot rodders and shows just what can be achieved with the right skills, persistence and passion.

Tech Specs.

Engine.....350 Chev, TQ 20 cam. Weiand intake etc.

Trans........Ford Top Loader 4 speed, Jeep top shift, custom gear lever and 38 Ford gear lever knob.

Diff...........Ford XB 9 inch 3.7:1 ratio

Rear Suspension.......Triangulated 4 bar, lower arms are hairpins with bracket and bush @ diff housing mount.

Wheels.....International Pickup

Tyres........Front Firestone 525x16

               Rear Firestone 700x16

Front Axle..Magnum 4 inch drop, new stub axles and bolt on steering arms.

Steering Box..HZ Holden, Torana U joints to home made stainless steel steering column and 4 spoke sprint car style wheel.

Pedals.......pedal box and pedals are home built with early Ford pedal pads, accelarator pedal Michael picked up at Pamona Swap Meet.

Custom underdash switch panel and steering column drop were fabricated by Michael.

This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 10.