Some hot rods are born travelers. From their initial creation, these vagabonds of speed find their way from one owner to another, passed down through a trail of admirers. With each succeeding possession, the vehicle changes form, as new owners put personal touches on their flanks. Since hot rods are born as customized versions of stock models, there’s no right or wrong here. It’s all in the eyes of the title holder and his or her fabrication team.
Several owners have sat behind the wheel of this immaculate Deuce, and numerous rounds of modifications have been made to its form. Yet there has been one true, constant presence over the last 70 years of this hot rod’s life. That steadfast overseer is none other than Gene Winfield.
Gene first put his hands on the roadster back in 1948. It was already a nifty highboy when it came to his shop. “It was owned by Joe Cardoza at the time, and I did a few modifications,” Gene says. “I welded and then leaded the cowl vent.” That would be the first of quite a few run-ins with the Deuce, as it seemed to magically return to Gene for any work it needed.
Once Joe was done with the roadster, it passed on to Lew Thompson of the Modesto Century Toppers hot rod club. Lew drove the car for several years around the Modesto area before he decided to sell it. Joe wanted the car back and put a deposit on it, but he never could come up with the balance due. So Lew ended up selling it to fellow club member Pete Hischier for $300.
Like any hot rodder, Pete wanted to put his own ideas into the Deuce. It was in disarray when he purchased it from Lew, so he worked with a local garage to get the car roadworthy. He wanted to make it a fendered car again, so he sourced a pair; one of them from a twodoor sedan. He kept the flathead power it came with and covered the roadster’s black paint with several coats of candy apple red. This incarnation of the Deuce appeared on the cover of Carcraft in June 1960, pictured along with several other notable roadsters.
It wasn’t long after the cover appearance that Pete contacted Gene about doing a makeover on the roadster. Gene had remembered the car from years before and was game to work with Pete’s ideas, as well as throwing in a few of his own for good measure.
Pete wanted to upgrade the car and make it into a Sunday driver and show car. Gene went to work, first building a custom stainless pan between the fenders up front. Then he designed and executed a gas tank cover made from ribbed aluminum and then filled the roadster’s lower body line. Up front, he frenched the grille shell and then installed a 2-inch-drop front axle, which was filled to finish the look Pete was after.
The interior was also done over, using period pieces that any ’32 owner would die to have in his ride today. The complete Auburn dash that Lew installed, filled with original gauges, was kept in place. A Stewart-warner tach was mounted on the column, which is topped with a ’57 Ford steering wheel. The upholstery was done over as well, with a stunning black-and-white motif.
To send this build over the top, more modifications were made to the running gear and chassis. “Pete decided he wanted lots of chrome, so we chromed the hell out of it,” Gene says. The radius rods, shocks, front axle, driveshaft, and differential were some of the many parts chromed on the roadster. Fortunately, Pete’s wife worked at a chrome shop, so getting the pieces done was easy, and certainly less expensive. The car hit the streets with a new glossy black skin, set off by chrome wheels, the rears reversed for the look Pete wanted.
Though it was mainly a weekend cruiser, Pete still had it out quite often. “He brought it to one of my shows in Modesto,” Gene recalls. It also graced the pages of HOT ROD in 1964, garnering a two-page spread shot by Eric Rickman.
In the early 1970s, the roadster changed hands once again. Bob Whitehead is a hot rod guy who Gene knows well, as Gene put one of his first blended paint jobs on Bob’s Ranchero in the 1950s. Bob acquired the roadster by way of a trade, giving Pete his ’67 427 Vette in return for the Deuce. It didn’t take Bob long to start modifying the roadster to suit his own taste.
Bob installed a motor any rodder would be jealous of: a blown Ardun topped by a S.CO.T. blower fed by two Stromberg 97s. Out back he mounted a Halibrand quick-change. Bob installed a 1970s-styled interior to reflect the times, and once again bumpers were installed on the car.
Bob blew up the Ardun flathead at one point, and replaced it with a second Ardun pulled from an Allard by hot rodder Mark Conforth in New Jersey. Bob owned the car for 30-odd years. It was kept with a bevy of other beauties in his garage, and thus rarely driven. > This photo illustrates how the car changed—and didn’t—when it was owned by Bob Whitehead. Wheels and tires are different, the running boards are no longer white, and the custom front pan has been removed. There’s also the matter of the blown Ardun.
When Bob decided it was time to pass on the roadster to a new owner, he sold it through an ad in a car magazine to Chris Gruys of Sonoma, California. By now the car was once again showing its age, so Chris figured the best guy to bring it to was the man who knew it best. Chris called Gene and asked if he could do a makeover, with, of course, some of his own personal touches. Gene agreed, and the Deuce was wheeled into Gene’s shop for a teardown.
The paint definitely needed to be upgraded, and the old Ardun flathead was ready for freshening. While Gene did his voodoo on the body, Ardun specialist and flathead guru Don Ferguson rebuilt the engine and worked his magic on the power adder. The interior once again was changed, going back to a style similar to what it wore in 1964 (and done by the same shop). One-off ghost flames, laid by Gene himself, were added, along with a set of ’56 Buick wheels shod in beefy redline tires. The stainless pan that had been removed years ago by Bob Whitehead was reinstalled in between the front fenders. > Current owner Rob Ida re-enacts Pete’s pose. When Rob purchased the car, he decided to return it to its mid-1960’s form. One important change was removing the roadster’s full hood treatment (a hood Gene had made on TV’S Monster Garage) so the Ardun powerplant could be seen. The hood has been put away for safe keeping.
Chris was pretty proud of his newly minted roadster, especially since the potent Ardun flathead now put out about 310 hp. He held on to the refurbished roadster for a few years until he felt it was time for something different.
Chris contacted Gene when he was ready to sell. He asked if Gene could give a little “pep talk and speech” to the bidders when the car hit the block at Russo and Steele in Scottsdale in 2012. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. “I was ready to get out there and hype it up, but all of a sudden the plug was pulled and the Deuce was rolled off, not hitting reserve,” Gene says.
Chris put the car up for sale online, hoping that with a national audience, someone would understand the relevance of this pedigreed roadster.
Rob Ida always has his eyes open and ear to the ground, looking for interesting projects. He happened to be on an auction site when this particular ’32 came up on the screen. “I was surprised to see a car like this online, with its history, and of course Gene’s modifications. I just stumbled upon it. It wasn’t presented well, so that was to my advantage.” Though car didn’t look like much to him, the pedigree was there, so naturally he was interested.
Rob made an offer and secured the car from Chis Gruys. It didn’t take long for Rob to make a mental plan of what was in store for his new purchase. “I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the car, and make the modifications that I thought the roadster needed. I really wanted it to look similar to the way it looked in 1964.”
The day the Deuce was delivered, Rob had a set of ’40 Ford steel wheels with traditional Firestones mounted and ready to go. With a little massaging of the suspension, Rob got them to fit perfectly. “That changed the stance right away. It has just the slightest rake to it. It just looks right.”
Next up was removing the ghost flames, which meant taking off some paint and blending it all in. The roadster also had a set of Harley turn signals that were removed. The all-important Ardun powerplant purred like it was brand new.
Once the roadster was tested thoroughly, Rob thought the next thing to do was to put the Deuce through its paces. “I figured The Race of Gentlemen would be a good place to see what the Ardun could do. I found out this roadster ran at Muroc back in the day, so it has some racing pedigree.” He called Gene and invited him out for the race. Together they formed their own race team, and will showcase the roadster at TROG 2018.
The roadster will be under Rob’s care for the foreseeable future, and he plans to show it at several concours events this year alone. But who knows, with all the change of scenery this Deuce has seen, it might be just a phone call away from heading in a new direction. For now, New Jersey looks like a nice fit for this stunning Ford.
• WORDS & PICS: SCOTTY LACHENAUER • VINTAGE PICS: ERIC RICKMAN, PETERSENPUBLISHING CO. ARCHIVE• CAR: ROB IDA
> Throughout this roadster’s life, there’s been a consistent force keeping up her good looks and performance. Gene Winfield has been the main man behind this hot rod’s 70 years on the road.
> Pete Hischier owned the roadster in the early 1960s. Early in his stewardship he had it painted candy apple red, and that’s how it appeared (center of bottom row) on the June 1960 cover of Car Craft.
> Gene also loved to shoot photos of his creations. Here Pete Hischier’s wife, Shirley, gets a pose on with the roadster. > A few years later, Pete took the Deuce to Gene for a makeover. The candy red was out, replaced by black paint, and they “chromed the hell out of” the car’s components, says Gene. Here Pete poses in the newly-finished roadster in an outtake from Eric Rickman’s October 1963 photo shoot. A two-page feature ran in the April 1964 HRM.
> This is the flathead that was in the Winfield roadster when Bob found the car. He installed the Ardun, and this engine went into Bob’s ’40 Ford coupe. Aside from some topside changes, including the Eaton supercharger, it hasn’t been apart since Gene built it in 1958!
> When Bob Whitehead bought the car in the early 1970s, the roadster was pretty tired, so he decided to upgrade the ’32. The flathead was rebuilt and received a set of original, early-casting Ardun heads, along with a rare S.CO.T. supercharger. Bob blew that first engine up, and replaced it with another Ardun flathead pulled from an Allard. This combo was rebuilt by Ardun guru Don Ferguson back in 2009. The engine dyno’d at 310 hp, a significant amount of power from any flathead.
> 3. When you think of the Holy Grail of hot rod dashes, Auburn might be the first one that comes to mind. This original unit is still filled with the original gauges, which all work perfectly.> 4. A mid-’60s Stewart-warner tach sits on the steering column and still looks as clean as the day it was taken out of the box.
> 1. The roadster has seen several different wheel/tire combos in its existence. When Rob bought the car, the first thing he did was ditch the Buick wheels for a set of more traditional ’40 Ford steelies. They are now shod in period-perfect Firestone tires: 5.6015 up front and 8.20-15 out back.> 2. Like many 70-year-old hot rods, the interior has changed over the years. However, there are no modern parts here, everything except the upholstery was the way it was put together in 1964. The vinyl was redone in the last couple of years to mimic the look it sported when it was a show rod more than 50 years ago. The ’57 Ford steering wheel that Pete Hischier added in 1959 looks right at home in the mix.
> One of Gene Winfield’s many custom touches on the car was his frenching of the grille shell.