A Perfect Balance
Tradition Meets Technology in This Ultra-Black Highboy
Jeanne and Carl Booth’s ’32 Ford convertible
When it comes to striking a perfect balance in a hot rod, there’s almost nothing more difficult than blending tradition with modernity. Get the wheels, tires, or other details wrong and you’ll be scrambling to explain a vision that went off the rails. Get them right, however, like Jeanne and Carl Booth did with their ’32 highboy, and you attract all sorts of attention and accolades; including a STREET RODDER Top 100 Pick at Louisville in 2017, as well as making our Top 10 list for the year.
To nail the blacker-than-black Deuce’s details, the Booths struck a balance with builder Bill Jagenow at Brothers Custom Automotive in the Detroit area. He’s known for traditionally styled rods driven by old-school mills, but the Booths insisted their roadster incorporate a few 21st century elements.
“We wanted the worry-free driveability of a modern car, but in a classic-looking package,” Jeanne says. “That meant an electronically fuel-injected engine and an overdrive transmission because we planned to drive it as much as possible.”
The Booths already had a strong foundation in a set of Downs framerails and a rare Downs fiberglass replica of the Dearborn Deuce steel body. They also had a new Chevrolet Performance LS3 at their disposal, along with a GM 6L80 six-speed automatic transmission. That was back in 2012, when the idea for the technology-infused, traditionally styled highboy was hatched.
“It doesn’t seem all that long ago, but at the time, the LS installation trend was really picking up steam with restomod muscle car builders, but it was just starting to catch on with street rodders,” Jagenow says. “There weren’t nearly as many options for hot rods and nobody, not even the restomod guys, had any experience with the 6L80 transmission. It was a real learning curve.”
Adding to the challenge was the decision to ditch the LS3’s original plastic intake manifold and go with an Inglese eightstack induction system. Thanks to its eight throttle blades, it enables considerably more airflow than the LS3’s original throttle body, amplifying even the slightest twitch of the throttle.
“With the fiberglass body and no hood or fenders, the car is so light that it takes almost no effort to get the car moving quickly,” Jagenow says. “Consequently, we found that even cruising at 40 mph the engine uses such little air and fuel that the controller thinks it is idling. It was an unexpected twist that we addressed with new engine mapping.”
Similarly, the Booths insisted on an electronic push-button transmission shifter, which came from PCS, which would push up and out of the way when not in use, keeping the cabin clean and clutter-free. Theirs was one of the first matched with the high-tech 6L80 and the LS3 engine, requiring some custom controller work from automatic transmission guru Mark Bowler.
“It was an all-new combination in need of
an all-new controller solution,” Jagenow says. “Mark Bowler really came through on that one and as a result, the driveability of the car is second to none.”
There is no power steering or air conditioning because a car like this just doesn’t need them; and along with the custom tuning, the engine also wears finned valve covers from Greening Automotive that hide the LS3’s unsightly ignition coil packs, as well as custom, inside-the-frame headers.
“The valve covers and headers just didn’t exist when we started the project,” Jagenow says. “So many of the details on the car were custom made as much for necessity as they were for aesthetics.”
And speaking of aesthetics, there’s no arguing with the car’s traditional highboy stance. Jagenow kept it simple and devastatingly effective, bobbing the frame to move the fuel tank into the trunk and creating a rear roll pan to clean up the rear appearance. Up front, there’s a stock-appearing Deuce grille and ’34 Ford commercial headlamps. That’s all.
Next, the Downs body was painstakingly blocksanded to create the impeccably smooth surface on which was laid a few coats of what’s now known as “Bill’s Roadster Black” from PPG. Rather than straight black paint, his mix is pretty much the carbon black toner used to blend with other paints. It’s an intense black that shows a mile deep, and believe us, we know. The mirrorlike finish reflected every pebble for 100 yards in every direction during our photo shoot, making it one of the more difficult cars we’ve photographed lately.
“The paint is so deep and smooth that people at shows can’t tell whether it’s a fiberglass or steel body,” Carl says. “Those who are convinced it’s steel are floored when they hear the truth.”
The car was so very black that the decision was made to add a pair of parallel pinstripes that follow the upper body side moldings, giving the car a subtle yet effective accent. Jagenow also insisted the black paint be complemented with black steel wheels and blackwall tires, going against his customers’ original wishes.
“I had already purchased whitewalls for the car because that’s what I really wanted, but sometimes the customer isn’t always right,” Carl chuckles. “As soon as I saw it all-black, with the blackwall tires, I knew Bill was correct. I’ve now got a set of whitewalls for sale!”
Indeed, the Booths’ Deuce is as handsome as any highboy we’ve encountered lately; and its deftly integrated technologies only enhance the hot-rodding experience. For those who’d rather hit the open road than re-jet a carburetor, it strikes the perfect balance.
For the digital experience: https://bit.ly/2K9mIkx