Time Capsule Coupe | Survivor 1932 Ford Hot Rod


Words Craig Metros Photography Jonathan Szczupak

This article was first published in Fuel Magazine issue 21 (2015)

This past March, I made it to the 63rd Autorama, the first time that I had visited in nine years. The Detroit custom car and hot rod show annually brings together a unique mix of shiny machines including muscle cars, race cars, trucks and even a few famous movie cars. Some are difficult to categorise, including the mid-engined three-dimensional Pac-Man car. The show’s big draw, especially for hot rodders and customisers, is the prestigious Ridler Award. For over 50 years the Ridler award has been presented to the most outstanding new custom car, shown for the first time anywhere. This year, seven meticulously hand-crafted custom vehicles were in the running. Chip Foose’s modified ’65 Impala ‘The Imposter’ took the Ridler. Everything on this car had been modified and refinished to a perfected lustre.

While all this takes place on the main floor of the Cobo Center, more traditional hot rods, customs and bobbed and chopped bikes are on display in the basement. With less glitz and more grassroots, the basement is just as alive and has become a show within a show. And while Chip’s custom Impala was making an impact with crowds upstairs, there was an early Hemi-powered deuce coupe in the basement making its own stir with show-goers.

Like all cars in the basement, this ’32 three-window sat on the bare concrete floor without any mirrors reflecting its undercarriage or spotlights to enhance the paint. It was flanked by an impressive collection of original trophies won at drag strips almost sixty years ago and the original hopped-up Flathead motor on a stand.

The car was purchased last year by members of the Gonzalez family. Ray Gonzalez has been building performance and drag racing motors most of his life. In fact, Ray rebuilt the Hemi and got it running again just in time for Autorama. The motor was fired up a few times during the basement, attracting even more interest from onlookers.

The now faded red coupe was originally modified into a hot rod. The body sports classic custom mods such as a heavily chopped top, channelled body, custom firewall and shaved drip rails. The original Flathead motor had all of the available speed upgrades for the time. During the late ‘50s, the ‘32 saw its fair share of drag racing until 1960 when the coupe was turned into a dedicated drag car. The Flathead was replaced with a Hemi motor and the interior was completely stripped out. The ‘32 radiator, grill shell and headlamps were also removed to reduce weight. This gave the car an even more aggressive look and changed the overall appearance into its final configuration.

Before the Autorama show wrapped up for the weekend, the coupe won the Survivor Award. In August of this year, the coupe picked up another Survivor Award during the Relix Riot show at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan.

Currently, the ’32 is kept in Chris Mizzi’s building. Chris is Ray’s son-in-law and one of the owners. Chris gives us a bit more history behind their incredible coupe in his own words:

Our ‘32 Ford was owned by Al and Dave Tarkanyi, two brothers who purchased the car around 1953. Al and Dave were members of the Downriver Modified car club in the Detroit area.  The Downriver Modifieds were one of the original clubs that formed the Michigan Hot Rod Association (MHRA) and one of the 13 original NHRA clubs. The MHRA started the Detroit Autorama, with the intention of using the proceeds of the show to fund the construction of their own race track.  That goal was realised in the late ‘50s when the Michigan Dragway in New Baltimore was built in 1958, which was the first association owned drag track in the country. Our car was very much a part of that early Detroit area hot rod scene, appearing in the 1958, 1959, and 1961 Autoramas and racing at the Michigan Speedway and the Detroit Dragway.

The car was driven on the street and raced for a few years with the Ford Flathead motor. The Flathead was stroked to 296 cubic inches using a Mercury crankshaft with full floating bearings.  To save weight, a custom radiator made out of chromed tubing was fabricated, along with home built headers, Weiand heads, an Offy manifold with three Strombergs, a Halibrand Quick Change rear (later switched to a 1948 Lincoln rear end) and many other modifications. We have time slips showing the car ran low 14s at around 96 MPH with this setup.

Around 1960 they installed a 1951 Chrysler 331 Hemi and turned the car into a full-time dragster.   Because the car was no longer going to be driven on the street, they removed the lighting, charging, and cooling systems, welded in a roll cage and a push-bar in the rear, a single aircraft-style seat for the driver and a fuel cell in the passenger area. The brothers built a log-style manifold from a kit, added six Stromberg carburettors, a 48 Lincoln rear end which was modified to lock up and turn both rear wheels and an aluminium Shiefer flywheel mated to the original early Ford transmission.

Their best time with the Hemi was 13.60 at 105.9 MPH. In 1961 the engine was removed and disassembled with the intention of rebuilding it with new, high-compression pistons. The car was never put back together and sat on blocks in Dave’s garage from 1961 until we purchased it in late 2014. The car today is exactly as it was the day it last came off the track. Along with the car we also got all the trophies, many of which still had the time slips tucked into them, their club jackets, spare parts and all the documentation and receipts from the parts they purchased when they were building the car back in the ‘50s.

The car is owned jointly by myself, Chris Mizzi, my brother-in-law Chris Gonzalez, and my father-in-law Ray Gonzalez. The original owners and their family have been there along the way as we got the ‘32 running and shown and to give us some insight into the history of the car. Because of its history going back to the early days of the Detroit hot rod era, we have come across quite a few people that either remember the car, raced against it or have pictures of it from when it was shown or raced almost sixty years ago.  

As for now, the three owners plan to leave the car in its current condition. “The brothers constantly changed the car until the day they parked it. In fact, when they parked it their intention was to change it again by updating the engine. Then it sat for fifty years. So, my future plan is to honour the car for its history and keep it as intact as possible, but also use the parts they gave us (grill, lights, etc.) to make it a little more drivable, as it was before it became a full-time racer,” Chris explains. It’s been a real treat to see it turn up in a few local shows. We can't wait to see it cruising down the road again.