Saturday, May 9, 2009

A 75th birthday for the '34 Ford

Two years ago, the hot-rodding world pulled out all the stops to celebrate the diamond jubilee of the iconic 1932 Ford, the hot-rodder's hot rod.

The high point of that jubilee was a gathering of the 75 most significant '32s in conjunction with the Grand National Roadster Show of 2007. It was held in its own hall at the L.A. County Fairplex in Pomona and was awash with fabulous Fords and hot-rod royalty.

Now, two years later, the 1934 Ford turns 75, with considerably less pomp and circumstance but no less love from its devotees.

The Model 40, as both the 1933 and 1934 Fords were designated, had a graceful grille in front and--while so many '32s are now and were then fenderless--most Model 40 survivors wear full, sweeping fenders over the front wheels and down the sides.

While much of the '32's notoriety flowed from its all-new, affordable V8, those first eight-cylinder engines were problematic to make and prone to numerous failures, many of which would have resulted in massive recalls were they issued today. But by the time the Model 40 Fords came out, the teething problems of the V8 had largely been cured.

So the '33 and '34 Fords were really better cars, mechanically, to begin with. And because the '32s often command more attention, a buyer could usually get a better price on a '34, all other things being equal.

Nonetheless, even in this diamond-jubilee year, celebrations are decidedly muted for this car. We attended a pretty good one this week at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. The museum has several Model 40s on display, including famous representatives such as the innovative, record-setting Pierson Brothers Coupe and the California Kid, now more famous than the Martin Sheen movie of the same name for which it was made. The cars will stay on display at the Parks museum through Father's Day. For more, visit

Then, as part of the museum's regular monthly Prolong Twilight Cruise Night, organizer John Duran added a healthy, shining row of '33 and '34 Fords to the sprawling, eclectic mix of rods and customs that usually fill the museum's parking lot. There were yellow and orange, blown and unblown, black and purple, street and competition cars lined up next to the fence by the front entrance.

Bob Slovick was first drawn in by two movie cars.

"American Grafitti and The California Kid really took me in, made me crazy" he said.

He built a '34 with a 427 big-block topped by a massive Weiand blower. The plates read, "BLON 34." Did he consider a '32?

"No," he said. "I just like the look of the '34, it's more rounded; the '32 looks kind of square."

Petersen Automotive Museum director Dick Messer drove his own '34 Tudor to the show.

"It's like driving a normal automobile," said Messer of his highly modified, highly modernized car. It sports a Corvette drivetrain, air conditioning and power seats. "I drive it all the time."

Messer understands the difference in public perception between the '34 and the '32.

"The '32s were like, 'Oh man, I got a Deuce,' the '34s were like, 'Oh yeah, I got one of those, too."

Art Bereuter spent seven years building his orange--unchopped--1934 Ford 3-window. Now it has a 420-hp Cleveland V8, a C6 transmission and a nine-inch Currie rear end. Why a '34 instead of the '32s everybody else has?

"I had a car before this, a '29 sedan delivery," he said. "Then I saw this car, I don't know, I wanted it."

The same thing happened to longtime NHRA announcer Dave McClelland.

"The '34 is the car I've lusted after since I was 16," McClelland said. "I saw a '34 3-window when I was in high school, I told my dad I wanted it, took him over to where the car was parked. My dad said, 'Absolutely no way are you going to have this car.' I ended up with a '39 Plymouth. But I maintain that his rejection of my '34 is what led me to my life of cars."

McClelland still has not gotten a '34 but, he says, he's not dead yet.

"I walk past a line of cars like that and it's just terminal lust."

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