THE WAY WE WERE

Paul Gommi is liv­ing the Ford col­lec­tor’s dream.

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Classified -

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!

• WORDS & PICS: STEPHAN SZANTAI • COL­LEC­TION: PAUL GOMMI

> 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.

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