THE WAY WE WERE
Paul Gommi is living the Ford collector’s dream.
SPIRITED. Growing up on the East Coast, Paul Gommi wasn’t predestined to experience a truly intense gearhead life. He started out painting and studying fine art, following in his dad’s footsteps. The elder Gommi, an artist as well, learned photography during World War II, taking epic pictures of military battles at sea before turning into an acclaimed professional photographer. He specialized in food photography for advertisement.
Like many kids in the 1950s and ’60s, Paul came to appreciate cars, which led him to become a drag racer, starting with a small Austin Bantam roadster and quickly progressing to Top Fuel. He won no less than 30 meets at Eastern dragstrips in 1963-1964.
Building some road racing Lotus/ford engines for a friend led to Paul getting a call from Carroll Shelby. He wanted Paul to build V8s for his Trans-am Mustangs and to develop engines for the GT40S raced at Le Mans. After the Le Mans wins, Keith Black hired him to develop the 426ci engine for drag and boat racing; but he also built motors for the Miss Chrysler Crew, the Hawaiian dragsters, the Super Chief Funny Car, and more. Other notable accomplishments include designing the first three-disc clutch, the bottom oiler, and running the first fullsize rear wing on a dragster.
We also owe to him the first successful rear-engine dragster on the West Coast. That rail set track records at Irwindale, Seattle, Orange County International Raceway, and Lions. One of the most unusual pieces of engineering he created was a rear-engine rail with dual blowers. It performed very well during the first tests; so much so that the NHRA decided to ban it, supposedly because the setup was “too dangerous,” a claim that Paul rebuffs to this day.
From 1974 until 1986, he owned an advertising agency that was based in an office located behind his house, which is now part of his large garage. He handled customers well known within the performance industry, such as Comp Cams, TCI Automotive, Nitrous Oxide Systems (NOS), Venolia, and Simpson.
Through the 1970s and ’80s, Paul began chasing old race cars, eventually stumbling upon the ex-ike Iacono Ford Model A roadster that he campaigned with friends, using a flathead V8. He also located the heavily chopped ’34 Bonneville coupe raced by Don Ferguson in the 1940s. The plan was to compete again on the salt with it; but it did not happen as the event was rained out two years in a row. Eventually, his successful advertising enterprise allowed him to retire in 1986, and he soon got busy competitively running a Nostalgia Top Fuel dragster. But a spectacular crash at Famoso Raceway in 1993, when a pinion shaft broke at 180 mph, ended his career as a pilot.
The accident did not stop him from playing with cars—far from it. Paul focused his attention on hot rods, with a keen eye to aesthetics. Being an accomplished painter/artist gave him a unique perspective on the hobby. He realized machines can be built into art, though they should remain fully functional. He also believes beauty evolves from the graceful lines found in nature, with no sharp angles.
Case in point: Paul’s well-known orange ’34 Cabriolet. The goal for this project was to improve on its function and good looks, without using (visually) anything that would not have been available from 1930 until 1940. As an artist, he noticed the louvers on the hood sides made the vehicle appear shorter and taller; so, he chose to adapt horizontal ’36 Ford vents. There are many other visual details made to enhance the car’s lines, including the lack of rubber on the running boards or the spare wheel installed closer to the body.
His passion for old Fords also inspired Paul to restore some of the rarest early V8 models to their factory stock appearance. Among them are several Dearborn Award Winners, such as a ’34 roadster pickup (only 14 were made) and the first ’33 prototype car, the roadster designed by Edsel Ford and E.T. Gregory. All these “stockers” have found new owners since; but his home garage, located near the port of Long Beach, still houses a few fantastic hot rods.
The ’34 Cabriolet mentioned earlier, equipped with a license plate reading “WAWEWER” (Way We Were) is part of the fleet, along with his amazing 301A ’32 roadster, detailed in our sidebar.
Another desirable Deuce is the green panel delivery that was used by a company called Paul’s Appliance Service (no relation) until 1967. He bought it in the early 1970s and drove it daily for years, adding several hard-to-find goodies, including the Pines Winterfront grille. Motivation comes from a ’49 Ford flathead V8 fitted with Stromberg carbs, an Isky cam, and Offenhauser heads. Note the ’41 Ford truck headlights.
The fourth car sitting in Paul’s shrine is an original paint ’33 Ford tudor. This project will receive a supercharged stroker 24-stud flathead with a cam of Gommi’s own design, along with a host of other unique improvements. Incidentally, the sedan has taken the spot of his famous black Deuce Ford phaeton that he entered in the 2014 Grand National Roadster Show but sold afterward, a move he regrets to this day. Paul spent 6,000 hours on this build, inspired by the 1940s and early ’50s hot rods. It features
a ton of rare components: ’32 Pines Winterfront grille, 25-louver hood, ’32 Auburn dash panel, ’49 S.CO.T. supercharger, and more.
As you can see from the pictures, the four-car garage is well equipped, while the adjacent room is now used for parts storage and component assembly. Except for a few modern tools, everything here is period correct, including a Kwik-way valve-grinding machine and vintage enamel signs. One wall has an impressive display of desirable components, such as ’32 grilles. Paul loves to tinker with flathead V8s (always his engine of choice), which explains why you will see three of them in the photos. He has loads of parts neatly organized in bins to complete his projects. A couple of glass cases are home to photos of his former race and show winners, along with numerous trophies he has won over the decades.
As a true hot rodder, Paul spends many hours in his garage. We certainly can’t blame him, considering his selection of cars and parts. Talk about a great way to enjoy your retirement years!
> Paul has owned his ’34 Cabriolet since the 1970s. In its first resto rod iteration with beige paint, it won Best ’33-’34 honors at the 1981 NSRA Street Rod Nats West, before adopting new orange garb and many subtle alterations in the 1990s. > See the “Paul’s Appliance Service” lettering?It was applied shortly after Paul Booher purchased the (rare) panel in 1932. Gommi has been driving it since 1972. Motivation comes from a hopped-up ’49 flathead
> Originally Paul’s office back in the 1980s, the space adjacent to the four-car garage has been converted into a parts/assembly room. > Over the years, Paul has come to appreciate flathead V8s, hence you’ll see several of them in his shop, either built or in the process of being assembled. This example runs a rare S.CO.T. supercharger with dual Strombergs. > Gommi has been collecting desirable accessories for years, as evidenced by these packed shelves. Ford scripts, license plate toppers, toys, taillights of all kinds, about 20 gauges and 20 shift knobs… See anything you like? > Everywhere you look, you will find unusual parts stored in bins or hanging on walls. That Deuce grille in the middle is a highlydesirable Pines Winterfront piece, characterized by its vertical panels, which closed for cold weather warm-ups.> Jackets serving as mementos to our hobby’s past have become highly collectible. Paul did not need to buy this one, as he won it after setting a track record at Lions Drag Strip in 1971.
> HRD readers might remember this Deluxe V8 Phaeton from when Paul entered the tub in AMBR competition in 2014. One of 978 assembled in 1932 and personalized (almost) solely with pre-1945 goodies, the phaeton has since gone to one of Paul’s friends.
> The prestigious Dearborn Award honors the best Ford-based restorations in the nation every year. Paul has won eight times, including in 1988 with this ’32 roadster equipped with numerous rare parts. > Paul went home with another Dearborn award in 1988 for highestscoring ’33’34 Ford, with his prototype ’33 Standard roadster. Later production models featured 160 changes compared to this car, such as the skirted front fenders.