"Little Deuce Coupe" Turns 75 at AutoFair
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The car that gave birth to America's hot rod craze-the 1932 Ford-will celebrate its 75th birthday with a special display during the April 12-15 Food Lion AutoFair at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Three decades before the Beach Boys sang of a "little Deuce coupe" that could "walk a Thunderbird like she's standing still," the '32 was simply a handsome, well-built buggy that had the misfortune of being introduced in the depths of the country's Great Depression.
Henry Ford, whose Model T turned America into a mobile society during its 1908-'27 reign, was feeling pressure from competitors such as Chevrolet, Buick and Oldsmobile to offer customers more variety, style and performance. His follow-up Model A of 1928-'31 maintained the company's sales dominance with its Lincoln-inspired design, rich palette of new paint options and attractive range of body styles, but the A's louvered hood concealed only a four-cylinder engine in a market that was yearning for bigger and costlier powerplants.
Banking on the production efficiency of his famous assembly line, Ford intended to introduce the world's first affordable V-8 in the 1930 Model A, but an industry-wide slowdown gave his marketers and engineers the incentive to develop an all-new model that would showcase the revolutionary "flathead" engine.
Ford cleverly built anticipation for the new car through national advertisements and dealership promotions, with the result that more than 5.5 million people crowded Ford showrooms during the week of March 31, 1932, to view the 10 body styles and 14 models that comprised the company's new line.
Although there were early overheating problems, the 65-horsepower, 221-cubic-inch, valve-in-block V-8 provided all '32 buyers-even those who purchased cars with the standard four-cylinder engine-a glamour halo that set Ford apart from its competition. From their 18-inch wire wheels and ladder frame design to the unique radiator shells and raked windshields, the Deuce coupes, roadsters, convertibles, sedans and station wagons were elegant, sporty vehicles priced as basic transportation.
Unfortunately, America's continued economic slide drained the pool of customers with the means to afford a new car; Ford's industry-leading production amounted to only 282,000 sales for '32-less than half of what the Model A had done the previous year.
In those early days of Detroit's planned product obsolescence, the '32s were replaced by an all-new '33 line and faded into used car lots and junkyards where they fell into the hands of aspiring drag racers and modifiers. In sunny southern California, where roadsters of all makes were popular with young drivers, the trend was to strip the Deuce of its fenders, lower the body onto the frame, build the flathead V-8 for maximum horsepower and head out to the flat dry lakes at Muroc (now part of Edwards Air Force Base) for some high-speed runs.
Other models of old Fords and Chevrolets were being turned into lake racers, but so many speed parts had been developed for the Deuce that it was cheaper to build a fast '32 roadster than anything else.
Genuine time trial cars were not very pretty but every modification served a purpose. "Lake" pipes were nothing more than open tubes that moved hot exhaust away from the flathead as quickly (and loudly) as possible. The "big and little" tire combination was an effective way to increase the transmission's overall gearing for higher top speeds. Rows of louvers were punched into the Deuce hood to allow cool air into the engine compartment.
The development and popularity of modified '32s remained a regional movement through the early 1940s, when thousands of impressionable young men were relocated to military bases throughout the southwest for the war effort. While training or serving, they learned machining and crafting skills and experienced the hot rod culture firsthand.
After World War II, the stripped-down racer look migrated to the boulevard cruise night crowd, which took the formula and liberally applied eye-catching paint schemes, tricked-out custom interiors, mirror-chromed engine parts and crazy body modifications. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, hot rodding had become a national obsession, glamorized by dozens of drive-in movies and as many songs. The long-forgotten Deuce coupe-in both three- and five-window bodies-re-emerged as a potential performance machine.
Its status as a hot rod icon was forever cemented with the 1963 release of the Beach Boys album "Little Deuce Coupe," which featured a wild chopped-top blue custom on its cover.
A special display of '32 Ford roadsters and coupes has been assembled for the April 12-15 Food Lion AutoFair. Other scheduled attractions include an Evolution of the Stock Car exhibit; prized rides of NASCAR stars Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart; a real-life version of "Doc Hudson" from the animated hit "CARS"; and two futuristic bubbletop show cars from the early 1960s.
Food Lion AutoFair, the world's largest automotive extravaganza, attracts more than 160,000 visitors and features 50 car club displays, more than 10,000 vendor spaces and a collector car auction conducted by Tom Mack.
More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway.
Show hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For information, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/cars.