Modern Rodding FEATURE
Shop Built title
Building an AMBR-Winning Roadster in Your Workshop is No Easy Task
By Brian BrennanPhotography by Wes AllisonVIDEOGRAPHY by RYAN FOSS

here was a time when hot rods and race cars were built in home shops. Many older rodders remember these days as the “glory days” of rodding and racing. There will be doubters but this ’32 Ford highboy roadster, which took home the 2023 America’s Most Beautiful Roadster trophy, is, in a manner of speaking, a home shop–built hot rod.

black '32 Ford highboy roadster
No matter how quickly you think you will be able to build your dream hot rod, the fact is it’s a lifetime in the making. There is no getting around the idea that Jack had the inspiration and put forth the effort to come up with the overall design. He then sacrificed countless days and nights to support the effort it took to build his ’32 Ford highboy roadster. Now, any project of this magnitude requires help … Jack was wise enough to enlist the help of George Hagy, who worked with Jack for much of the fabrication. To Jack’s “crew,” Gary Gates machined the bellhousing, firewall, and torsion bars that were added. A great deal of the mechanical work was handled by Mark Grohman, Donnie Anderson was the engine machinist and builder, Cody Chapman worked his magic on the EFI, Darryl Hollenbeck performed his masterful and artful touch on the body- and paintwork, Jimmy Shine and his staff worked on the many louvers found throughout the hot rod, and Sid Chavers handled the interior—another of the roadster’s strong points. To wrap up this project there was some “heavy lifting” handled by Roy Brizio and the team at Roy Brizio Street Rods as they completed the final assembly and finishing details. And, of course, not all work is physical and in Jack’s case he received a great deal of support and inspiration from Jackie Howerton who knows a thing or two about hot rods and race cars. All this from a lifelong dream of Jack’s that began to take shape back in 2000 from artwork by Thom Taylor.

For a hot rod that has undergone significant modifications it is conspicuous to see that Jack began with an original ’32 Ford frame. At this point Jack and Hagy teamed up to wholeheartedly modify the frame and work their collective magic. The front and rear of the frame is stepped while in back there is a two-piece hoop that allows for the rearend to be removed and replaced.

black '32 Ford highboy roadster
All hot rodders take pride in what “lives under the hood,” and this ’32 Ford highboy roadster is no different with its distinctive V-8. The center point of the powerplant is a ’56 Dodge Hemi originally 315 inches, often referred to as a Baby Hemi. At the heart of this V-8 is an iron D-500 block featuring its new 3.751-inch bore and 4-inch stroke. Donnie Anderson of Engine Machining and Assembly handled the machinework, which included a new bore and V-8 assembly. John Beck of Pro Machine built the custom stroker crank. The new displacement for the Baby Hemi is now 353 inches. Inside there is a set of custom Ross 10.4:1 pistons and a Comp Cams special billet ’shaft with newly designed hydraulic roller lifters by Johnson Lifters. The aluminum cylinder heads are literally a fresh design from Speed Dome Engineering, Jack’s new company. The heads feature 64cc combustion chambers, 2-inch intake and 1.55-inch exhaust valves, T1 (titanium) retainers, custom push rods, and lots of ARP hardware all at work. The valve covers are original Dodge Hemi now chromed and feature Missile Enterprises WeaponX coil-on-plug ignition, all under the control of a Holley HP FI Racepak SmartWire system. Induction is based on eight-stack EFI throttle bodies built by Cody Chapman of Vintage Air in his own home garage with stainless screen-capped velocity stacks from BBR Filters. The spark is initiated via an Odyssey battery through a Vintage Air alternator, all brought to life by a Ron Francis wiring system positioned by the crew at Roy Brizio Street Rods.
aerial view of the inside of a '32 Ford highboy roadster
wooden steering wheel
open trunk in a '32 Ford highboy roadster
The small-ish V-8 puts out plenty of power, coming in at 415 hp at 5,500 rpm and 452 lb-ft at 3,900 rpm. Allowing this power to breathe are the custom exhaust headers by Hagy working off a mock-up set fabricated by himself and Mark Grohman. From here 2-1/2-inch stainless steel tubing is used to then link up with a pair of Borla mufflers before the tips exit through the rear roll pan. Cooling this potent Hemi is more of Jack’s handiwork (Speed Dome Engineering) in a self-cast raised aluminum water pump, a Dubs Thermal Products radiator, a 19-inch primary clutch fan, and an 18-inch Vintage Air brushless Monster fan.

The front suspension is based on a ’37 Ford tube axle, a front longitudinal torsion bar coupled with a torsion bar arm shackle and mount integrated into the top of the kingpin. From here the hairpin radius rods were fabricated by Jack and Hagy. In the back the transverse torsion bars come from Moal Coachbuilders with the front and rear torsion bar arms machined by Gates. A pair of ’33 Ford spindles are used along with Carrera adjustable race shocks and a front antiroll bar. Steering is true modern era hot rodding by way of an OEM Vega-steering box. In back there is a Winter’s as-cast quick-change and axles matched to the torsion bar and a pinion-mounted Watts link. Bowler Performance Transmissions prepped a TREMEC five-speed now featuring a low-profile aluminum machined top cover and run through its gears by a modified Hurst shifter. The clutch package, residing within a custom bellhousing with an incorporated Tilton starter, is based on a McLeod twin-disc system mated to a custom flywheel machined by Andrew Riviera of the Vintage Air machine shop. From here the power is moved rearward to the Winters Champ quick-change that sports a 4.36 gear. Can you say “hang on”!

black '32 Ford highboy roadster
aerial view of an engine
At the corners you will find Wilwood disc brakes made up of six-piston calipers with drilled-and-slotted rotors. The master cylinder comes by way of Speed Dome Engineering–a company Jack started during the multi-year build process of the roadster. The wheels have a distinctive race car look because they are N.O.S. magnesium Halibrand Indycar wheels. The fronts are 16s while the rears are 18s. To this Coker/Excelsior Competition 5.50×16 Sport Racing radial tires were added and in back truly rare Englebert Competition 7.00×18 Sport Racing radial tires are found.

The body is one more piece of history in that it too is original ’32 Ford roadster sheetmetal. From here the modifications began, such as the removal of the stock firewall and then replaced with a machined aluminum ’wall. The rear wheel openings were filled to more closely match the shape and gap required by the vintage wheels and tires. The rear roll pan is once again Detmer handiwork. The cowl vent was filled while the license plate was frenched into the rear lower deck panel, as are the ’39 Ford taillights. From here the hand-fabricated aluminum hood was hammered out by Hagy with the initial bodywork massaged by Craig Naff and Hagy himself. The finished body- and paintwork fell to Darryl Hollenbeck of Vintage Color Studio who used a PPG toner black to achieve the “deep” finish.

front end of a '32 Ford highboy roadster
shifter knob and cupholders
close up of valves
man sitting inside a '32 Ford highboy roadster
Inside the highboy roadster an original ’32 Ford dash is fitted with a six-pack of Classic Instruments gauges that are reminiscent of early hot rod gauges with the “large face” speedo and tach. Attached to the dash is a one-off steering column fabricated by Jack and Hagy while the custom wheel was turned out by Moal Coachbuilders. The custom aluminum buckets represent more Moal handiwork with the final fitment handled by Detmer. Special thanks goes to Sid Chavers of Sid Chavers Fine Auto Upholstery who turned out the nifty stitchwork in black leather along with interior panels and carpeting. Several nice touches are the retracting seatbelts and the down bars that add a great deal of structural rigidity, allowing for those “serious” drives. Before you ask, yes, the roadster does have A/C. By now you’ve probably noticed the A/C registers in the side panels (near the passenger’s shoulders) and the center console that houses two more registers and the A/C controls. The A/C intake rests behind the custom grille located between the seats. The modified Hurst shifter pokes up just in front of the buckets midway between the floor-mounted custom console and the upholstered tranny top cover.
Jack refers to the roadster as the “Champ Deuce” as his way of paying homage to his lifelong love of the Indianapolis 500 race and its men and machines. Turns out he comes by it “naturally” as his great uncle was the first chief of tech for the race. These cars continued to influence Jack and when it came time to build this roadster the influence was undoubtedly present.
(Editor’s note: In the May ’23 issue of Modern Rodding, our tech guru Ron Ceridono wrote a piece on the chassis providing much more info. He is now amid producing a story on the Baby Hemi, getting into the “nuts and bolts” of what’s going on, which should appear in the July ’23 issue. —B.B.)
close up of grill and a headlight on a '32 Ford highboy roadster
underneath a '32 Ford highboy roadster
black '32 Ford highboy roadster
Modern Rodding
VOLUME 4 • ISSUE 33 • 2023