Curbside Classic: 1932 Ford V8 “Deuce Coupe” – American As Apple Pie (À La Mod)

I have a feeling that the phrase “Well, this is the last thing I figured I’d see in Tokyo” is wearing thin by now, but I really can’t think of a better one, in this instance. It was doubtless justified in all the other cases it’s been written on CC (be it in one of my posts, or one of Jim Brophy’s), but you have to admit, given how uniquely American this Ford is, you have to wonder why it’s . Who’s down for a coupe of Deuce?

The famous Deuce. It’s like meeting a legend. Impossible not to try and sing “You don’t know what I got” in a Brian Wilson-esque falsetto. Of course, the Beach Boys were very right. I have no idea what this has… er…”got.” Certainly not a 1932 Ford 221ci 65hp flathead V8, that’s for sure. I understand a lot of these were given SBCs, even back in the ‘60s. Well, why not. Originality has no place in this car, so GM engines are fair game.

Officially known as the Ford Model 18, the 1932 Ford V8 range hit the showrooms very late in the model year – in early April. Strictly speaking, there were 10 body variants available from Ford, but the advert above stretches those to 14, because some are show both in “Standard” and “Deluxe” guise. It’s a pretty full range, with roadsters, sedans and phaetons (but no station wagon, no limousine and no sedanca de ville), as was the style at the time.

Winning with a pair of Deuces – the 1932 Ford coupes

Ford seemed to like to have two of everything on the range – two 4-doors, two 2-door sedans, two sporty drop-tops, two 2-door convertibles – and two coupes (and yes, as these are American cars, I will forego the accented “é” on that word, just to emphasize that in this case, the correct pronunciation is “coop” as opposed to “coo-pei.”) Those are the ones we’re interested in – the three-window and the five-window.

If I had to pick one, it would probably be the three-window. I think it looks slightly racier and has the suicide doors, and those little details kill me (har har har). But it so happens that the Deuce that I encountered was of the five-window persuasion, so we’ll have to make do with that.

There is no way to overstate the impact of the ’32 Ford on American automotive history. Ford pre-sold 50,000 of the V8s even before launch, which was taking place at the tail end of the Hoover administration, otherwise known as the depths of the Great Depression. Detroit was bleeding red ink and great marques were going bust left and right. Things looked bleak indeed – except over at Ford, where old Henry had just pulled on of the greatest moves of his career and relegated Chevrolet, Plymouth and all the others to eating V8 fumes.

It could be argued that, styling-wise, the ‘34s were far more eye-catching than the rather staid ‘32s, but they were also a tad heavier. And when young folks started getting their hands on them in the second-hand market, ’32 coupes and roadsters began to be highly prized items.

Apparently though, they were not the object of “mods” initially. The cheaper (and also pretty easy to come by) Model As and Bs of the early ‘30s were the first to undergo thorough weight-saving fender-ectomies and given souped up engines. But by the early ‘50s, 20-year-old Fords were dirt cheap no matter what the motor, so the V8 models also started to be reassigned to Highboy duties.

For that is apparently what these hot rods were called – the “fender-less / big rear wheels” type of classic hot rod, with the body sitting on top of the frame, was known as the Highboy. Typically, the base car was a Ford (a Deuce, a Model B or a Model A), but could also be a Chevy, a Willys, a Studebaker or whatever. If it was anything other than a Ford, it was usually a later model, as most cars in 1932 had wood-framed bodies, which do not age all that well. Fords (and Chryslers, if memory serves) had all-steel bodies, so they were also favoured for that reason.

But the supply of Ford coupes and roadsters was not inexhaustible – they made over 200,000 Model 18s, but only a fraction of those were of the sexy two-door type. It seems that there are none left to turn into a hot rod, and that has been the case for a few decades now. There are precious few that have escaped this fate to begin with and still look like something Ford made in 1932.

These days, the only genuine ’32 Ford bits one might encounter in one of these might be the chassis – but even that is not a certainty. Everything else, especially the body, can and will be made new, sometimes in fiberglass. Costs a pretty penny, too.

Is this what we have here? I have absolutely no idea. I did not know that about these cars when I shot the photos, so I didn’t try knocking on a panel to gauge what is was under that fancy gray paintwork. For what it’s worth, there is a date (and a signature) on the car for the custom pin striping, so this particular Deuce coupe’s last coat of paint dates back to 2014.

The interior is mercifully restrained. I’ve had a look at the dashes of a bunch of Deuce hot rods online, and this is one of the more respectful ones – extra gauges are tucked under the dash, which is itself just soberly painted. The upholstery is nicely understated, too.

Substantial additional bonus points for that huge steering wheel, which looks like a genuine vintage part. Nothing like a ’32 Ford’s wheel, but at least it has that classic Art Deco look and is not a puny wood-rimmed Momo.

Looking at that front end, we find a good old beam axle – a perfectly normal piece of technology for this car. Ninety-nine percent chance that the rear end has a live one, because that makes a whole lot of sense. The springs are a bit more difficult to identify – for me, anyway. But we have a lot of experts on this site, so someone will doubtless point out what I cannot see. Likewise, I’m no expert on brakes, but those look much better than the cable-operated drums Ford put on their products for a (very) long time.

That’ the idea behind these hot rods in any case – improve performance and make it look “individual”, even to the detriment of usability. Straight-line speed was the usual way to measure who’s pecker was the biggest. That scene in American Grafitti comes to mind. Well, lookey here! A Deuce five-window coupe… In a 1973 movie depicting a scene taking place circa 1962, just before the Beach Boys came out with that song…

What a peerless piece of American Pie à la mod this Ford is. I do wonder how in the world it could be considered as street legal in Japan, though. They do have odd rules here and I don’t know a tenth of them, but shouldn’t there be one about the gas tank doubling up as the rear bumper? If you get rear-ended (through no fault of your own) by anything bigger than a bicycle in this Deuce, the road’s going to get doused in dinosaur juice.

Mind you, it doesn’t have much of a front bumper, either. In fact, the more I look at it, the less legal this Deuce coupe seems. Yet it was on the street, so either it belongs to someone who has a heck of a lot of influence, or the laws are looser here than I thought. Alternatively, perhaps they have something akin to the 25-year rule here, or make special exemptions for iconic cars featured in ‘60s hit songs. I guess when it comes to what laws are on the books in this country, (Wilson falsetto back on) “You don’t know what they got.”


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Curbside Classic: 1932 Ford V8 – America’s V8 Love Affair Starts Here, by PN

1932 Ford V8: The Greatest Car Of All Time?, by PN