EASTERN DEUCE RE­BORN

Hot Rod Deluxe - - News - • WORDS: KEN GROSS • PICS: CHUCK VRANAS • CAR: ROSS MY­ERS

When he couldn’t find his old road­ster, he built it again.

FITZY.

Any­body who thinks hot rod­ding wasn’t a big deal in New Eng­land didn’t grow up there in the 1950s. Just 10 years after the first is­sue, HOT ROD mag­a­zine’s Fe­bru­ary 1958 cover story fea­tured sev­eral prom­i­nent East Coast hot rods. The Cal­i­for­nia crowd dis­cov­ered that rod­ding and rac­ing were se­ri­ously thriv­ing back east.

Most East Coast rods had a low, dis­tinc­tive look. Be­cause their cars weren’t raced at the dry lakes, hot rod­ders who lived east of the Mis­sis­sippi of­ten opted for closed cars. They could per­form many dif­fer­ent stream­lin­ing al­ter­ations with­out be­ing moved up in com­pe­ti­tion classes. East Coast guys wanted road­sters, but given the re­gion’s se­vere win­ter weather, closed coupes and sedans were more prac­ti­cal; chan­nel­ing a car (cut­ting out the floor­boards and low­er­ing the body well down over the frame) was cheaper and more ex­pe­di­ent than chop­ping tops and even frame Z-ing. Two handy kids with an acety­lene torch and high school shop class skills could chan­nel an old Ford in a week­end. Hoods were op­tional, no mat­ter what the weather.

The East Coast even had its own hot rod mag­a­zines, like Rod­ding and Re-styling and Rod Builder & Cus­tomizer. The late A.B. (Arnie) Shu­man and his brother Bernie’s ter­rific book, Cool Cars, Square Roll Bars, chron­i­cles and cel­e­brates the best of East Coast hot rod­ding. The brothers ran a ’32 Ford road­ster at the drags in San­ford and on many other New Eng­land strips. Decades later, A.B. be­came the ed­i­tor of HOT ROD. The Shu­man brothers filled their book with black-and-white shots of all the heavy and not-so-heavy hit­ters in those days. (Now out of print, the book is avail­able on ama­zon.com for $120 and more. Snap one up. It’s price­less).

There were hot rod clubs in ev­ery town, but in the Bos­ton area the big dogs were the No-mads, a highly re­spected group that gath­ered at a small shop called Speed­way Cus­tom in All­ston, a work­ing-class Bos­ton in­ner sub­urb. Speed­way was owned by a pair of ir­re­press­ible Ar­me­nian-amer­i­cans, Mudd Shar­ri­gan and his brother John, bet­ter known as Shag. Tal­ented me­chan­ics and fear­less com­peti­tors, the Shar­ri­gan brothers cam­paigned a se­ries of ever-faster cars un­der the No-mads ban­ner. Shag turned

136-plus mph in a frac­tion over 9 sec­onds at San­ford, Maine, in the club’s flat­head, then later Hemi-pow­ered, drag­ster.

The No-mads’ dis­tinc­tive, axe-shaped, three-di­men­sional club plaque fea­tured a beat­nik-look­ing char­ac­ter in a red beret (which the club mem­bers all wore). His flow­ing han­dle­bar mus­tache ends were de­picted as a road­ster’s front axle. Other No-mads mem­bers in­cluded Peter Se­fe­rian (who later re­stored a primo Bu­gatti Type 35A), Ge­orge “The Greek” Kar­alekas (who owned a chan­neled three-win­dow ’32 Ford coupe), Dick Pratt, and Norm Grimm.

And there was Paul “Fitzy” Fitzger­ald.

Tal­ented

Fitzger­ald was one of the most tal­ented of the bunch. He ac­tu­ally drove his ’32 Ford road­ster from his home in West New­ton, Mas­sachusetts, to his fresh­man in­ter­view at Yale. The in­ter­viewer asked, “You built a car? What kind of car did you build?” Fitzger­ald said, “Well, sir, it’s sit­ting right out­side.” Parked in the Yale Quad, the road­ster was sur­rounded by cu­ri­ous stu­dents. Need­less to say, he was ac­cepted on the spot.

Once at Yale, Fitzger­ald played ice hockey, stud­ied en­gi­neer­ing, and never stopped im­prov­ing and up­dat­ing his chan­neled Deuce. Over time, he up­graded his road­ster with a home­built in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion that he de­signed him­self, and the full-house flat­head gave way to a red-hot Chevy V8. Spot­ted at the drags, the

car copped a two-page fea­ture in the March 1957 is­sue of HOT ROD with the head­line: “A Ford in name only, Bos­ton road­ster bris­tles with ex­pres­sion of owner’s ideas and fine work­man­ship.” But we are get­ting ahead of our story.

Paul Fitzger­ald’s road­ster odyssey be­gan in 1952 when he pur­chased a rolling ’32 Ford chas­sis with a bare road­ster body for $60 from Rick Gar­ner (who even­tu­ally be­came a No-mad). Over the next two years, the frame was ex­ten­sively mod­i­fied with a flat front cross­mem­ber and a con­sid­er­able kick-up in the rear. The oblig­a­tory flat­head V8 was set well back in the chas­sis. A Ford V8/60 tubu­lar front axle was fit­ted, with the trans­verse leaf spring mounted be­hind it, to keep the front end low. The steer­ing box was an in­verted ’40 Ford unit.

To achieve that clas­sic Eastern-style “in the weeds” look, the body was chan­neled over the much-mod­i­fied frame, and a 10gal­lon gas tank was lo­cated in the trunk. The fen­ders, re­quired in Mas­sachusetts, were cut down from Packard spare tire cov­ers. The most dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of the car was the sec­tioned ’37 Ford truck grille. Cus­tom chrome nerf bars pro­vided some mea­sure of park­ing pro­tec­tion.

By 1953, Fitzger­ald had in­stalled a “full-race” 1950 Mer­cury flat­head V8 en­gine, bored and stroked to 286 inches and built by Mudd Shar­ri­gan. Fitzger­ald com­peted in Nhra-sanc­tioned drag races, win­ning Top Elim­i­na­tor and set­ting top time at the Au­gust 1954 New Eng­land Cham­pi­onships held at La­co­nia, New Hamp­shire. The fol­low­ing year the car won Top Road­ster at the NHRA Safety Sa­fari New Eng­land Drag Rac­ing Cham­pi­onships at Or­ange, Mas­sachusetts. Com­pet­ing as a street road­ster, Fitzger­ald’s Deuce won Best in Class at the big Spring­field, Mas­sachusetts, In­ter­na­tional Auto Show.

Over the next two years his road­ster won nu­mer­ous auto shows, gar­ner­ing sev­eral Best En­gi­neered and Best Con­structed awards. Although many guys clung to flat­heads, through a GM con­nec­tion of his dad’s, Fitzger­ald ac­quired and in­stalled a 265-inch Chevy V8 and a four-speed gear­box, which pow­ered his car to three straight B/street Road­ster New Eng­land drag rac­ing awards.

Fitzy’s rac­ing ex­ploits in his ’32 weren’t lim­ited to New Eng­land. In 1958, he com­peted at the NHRA Na­tional Drag Rac­ing Cham­pi­onships held at Ok­la­homa City, los­ing in the B/street Road­ster fi­nal round.

The ver­sa­til­ity of this road­ster and its ever-in­ven­tive builder/driver knew no bounds. Fitzger­ald com­peted in three sports car hill climb events, win­ning First over­all. The first two were at Belk­nap, New Hamp­shire; the third was the SCCA Hill Climb at Mt. Equinox, Manch­ester, Ver­mont. Fitzger­ald’s Deuce beat MGS, Jaguars, and even an Al­lard. Along the way he beat a young en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent from Brown named Mark Dono­hue, who had a mod­i­fied Corvette.

Big Changes

An un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dent in 1959 led to some big changes. Fitzger­ald’s brother was hit head-on by an­other car and the front end “was all twisted up.” Fitzy fab­ri­cated an all-new tubu­lar steel chas­sis that in­cluded a clever in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion of his own de­sign. “I would have had to find an­other ’32 Ford for a re­place­ment frame,” he says mat­ter-of-factly to­day. “I didn’t have the time. It was eas­ier to build my own chas­sis.”

Fitzy was al­ways im­prov­ing his road­ster. Over time, he would use three front

> Chopped and chan­neled, with a ’37 Ford truck grille, Paul Fitzger­ald’s wicked blue ’32 road­ster was fea­tured in HOT ROD in March 1957. Later he de­signed and in­stalled his own in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion.

PIC: ERIC RICK­MAN

> Fitzger­ald’s Deuce epit­o­mized the term “show and go.” Not only did he win sev­eral car show awards, but he also raced it. Here he is in the stag­ing lanes at the NHRA’S “Big Go” in Ok­la­homa City in 1958. He went all the way to the fi­nal round in B/street Road­ster.

> Fitzger­ald swapped the 286ci flat­head and ’39 Ford trans in his road­ster for a new 265ci Chevy small-block, backed by a four-speed Corvette box. His dad had a friend at the fac­tory. Fitzger­ald said to him, “When you get a suit­able en­gine, send me one.” The guy did! And Fitzy dropped it right in, re­plac­ing the Ford torque tube with an open driv­e­line and a ’56 Chevy rear.

> Clas­sic tuck-and-roll up­hol­stery made of blue and white Nau­gahyde repli­cates the cool setup that Fitzger­ald had back in the day. New Eng­land win­ters dic­tated a top. He drove his car year-round, even oc­ca­sion­ally in the snow, as did many Bos­ton-area rod­ders. They froze their tails off.

> Fitzger­ald stud­ied a Bri­tish book on sports car de­sign and built his own in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion, with in­clined shocks like a race car. To­day it’s a mod­i­fied Heidt’s unit, but it’s very sim­i­lar to the orig­i­nal. He built his own chas­sis of square tub­ing after the car was in a crash. It was eas­ier, he said, than find­ing an­other ’32 Ford frame.

> Triple carbs top the Chevy small-block in Fitzger­ald’s road­ster. To repli­cate the road­ster’s last en­gine, Fitzger­ald ac­quired a ’56 Chevy V8; in­stalled 10:1 pis­tons, 327 rods, and a Dun­tov cam; and then topped it with Of­fen­hauser ribbed valve cov­ers.

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