A little over 90 years ago, on March 31, 1932, Ford brought power to the people—V8 power, which up until then could only be found in Cadillacs, Lancias, and cars like that. With the all-new 1932 Model 18, Henry Ford democratized the V8. Suddenly just about anyone could buy a powerful car that also looked good. And as soon as ’32 Fords got to be old cars, they and their flathead engines were scooped up by veterans returning from WWII and turned into hot rods, over and over again.
“Hot rods are still cars that are third or fourth or fifth owners that you can customize and make it your own,” said Terry Karges, director of the Petersen Automotive Museum. “But you start with something that’s real affordable, that almost nobody wants anymore, and you start to personalize it.”
“It’s the iconic hot rod,” said collector Bruce Meyer. “It’s a great platform for innovation, and hot rodding is all about personalization, innovation, and performance. So when something’s right, it just lasts. And you can see that it’s pretty darn popular.
To celebrate all that, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles didn’t just host another cruise-in—though they did that—but they invented their own holiday, National Hot Rod Day, June 11, and invited owners of ’32 Fords to come and celebrate.
While signups suggested there might be 250 cars present, a little over 100 actually showed up. No matter, it was still a great day filled with horsepower, old friends, and stories of ’32s of yore.
“The ’32 Ford was the first economically available V8 engine,” said hot rod author Pat Ganahl, who was wandering among the Deuces on the Petersen’s open-air parking deck. “And it was a totally new body style, thanks to Edsel Ford.” It was a body style that has easily stood the test of time, mainly due to its simplicity of design.
“From the Model A to the ‘32, you really got a little bit softer and smoother, there are a few more curves and compound curves and things to it,” said AMBR-winning hot rod builder Troy Ladd of Hollywood Hot Rods. “I think it really was a turning point in automotive design at the time… I think it’s just a really nice design—it just works.”
Before World War II, amid the Great Depression, when Herbert Hoover was President of the United States, and even most Germans didn’t take Hitler seriously, Ford stopped making the Model A. Ninety years later, its replacement, the 1932 Ford Model B, will remains the foundation of automotive enthusiasm in America. And “Deuce Day” this past Sunday at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles indicates that that foundation is vital.
“You can see enough out of it,” one showgoer said to another while inspecting a five-window ’31 rat rod so radically chopped that the windshield was hardly more than a slot and the driver has to basically sit on the floor. “Yeah,” the other said, “you don’t want to have too much outward visibility.”
Though it was Deuce Day, the show wasn’t so strict that only ’32 Fords were admitted. See, that ’31 Model A was okay too. Plus a few customs and the like. But mostly it was ‘32s. Maybe 60 of them.
The 1932 Ford has been a superstar since its inception. Throughout 1930 and 1931 there were rumors that Ford would soon add a V-8-powered model. “The rumor that something new will be introduced by Ford which will create a sensation in the automobile continues to gain strength,” reported The New York Times on April 3, 1931. “The report that there is to be an eight-cylinder car read for distribution before the end of this year is neither denied or affirmed.”
The company kept the rumors boiling for a year as the public grew ever more anxious to see the new, more powerful Ford. The sort of tease that GM would use effectively over eight generations of Corvettes. And Honda would abuse the process in the agonizing lead up to debuting the second Acura NSX. But Ford did it first.
When the V-8 showed up, the public went nuts. In its April 1, 1932 edition The New York Times related how crowds flocked to Ford’s New York headquarters at Broadways and 54th that debut day. “By actual count,” wrote the paper, “the number who viewed the cars exceeded 40,000 by six P.M. and visitors still were arriving at the rate of 4500 an hour. The exhibit will be opened at 8 A.M. and will run until midnight today and tomorrow.” The most popular part of the exhibit was apparently the cutaway chassis showing details of the new engine. “No figures were available as to the number of orders placed,” continued The Times. “Although it was said that many dealers were receiving orders despite the fact that the cars were not yet on display at their places.”
At the Petersen, the variety of ‘32s on display proved how durable the design is. Despite several examples at Deuce Day that tried mightily, it’s hard to screw up a ’32 so thoroughly as to make it truly ugly.
Bruce Meyer, who is L.A.’s patron saint of hot rodding, was on hand with one of his Doane Spencer roadsters built in the immediate aftermath of World War II. It sort of presided over the event as Deuce Royalty. The star of the show, however, was Pat Gauntt’s still fresh Deuce three-window coupe which looks like it was built on the day that Bentley decided to go hot rodding.
Discover the one of the first mass produced electric cars, the #GeneralMotors EV1. On this episode of Unboxing the Archives, join Laura as she takes us through the history of #alternativefuels. From steam to electric, explore everything from the #StanleySteam car to the EV1 that traveled across the country.
The General Motors EV1 was the first modern, mass-produced electric vehicle (EV) built by a major manufacturer. A development of GM’s 1990 Impact concept car, the EV1 was aerodynamic, lightweight, and easy to operate. It also had a range acceptable for long-distance commuting. Consumers could only lease, not buy, the cars from select dealers in California, Arizona, and Georgia. After four years of costly production, the EV1 was discontinued and all but 40 cars were dismantled.
Laura recommends the following for further reading on alternative power:
In its latest video celebrating million-dollar cars, the Petersen Automotive Museum takes an in-depth look at President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s armored 1942 Lincoln, just in time for Presidents’ Day
Petersen’s chief historian Leslie Kendall gives this tour from the museum’s Vault, where this Lincoln can usually be found surrounded by other cars that were used by various international heads of state.
This armored limousine is significant because it’s the first presidential car delivered to the White House with armoring from the factory. Commissioned from Ford, the hulking V-12 sedan arrived with a number of safety measures installed, including steel plating on the floorboards, roof, and transmission tunnel. Even the flathead V-12 under the hood got an extra layer of protection. The glass—which, strangely, occupants could still roll down—is nine sheets thick
The fascinating story of the Twentieth Century Motor Corporation, Liz Carmichael and the Dale three wheeled car.
The Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation was an automobile company started by con artist Geraldine Elizabeth “Liz” Carmichael, in 1974, incorporated in Nevada. The company’s flagship vehicle was the Dale, a prototype three-wheeled two-seater automobile designed and built by Dale Clifft. It was touted as being powered by an 850 cc air-cooled engine and featuring 70 mpg‑US (3.4 L/100 km; 84 mpg‑imp) fuel economy and a $2,000 (in 1974 US dollars) price, which were popular specifications during the mid 1970s US fuel crisis.
Liz Carmichael, a trans woman, appeared to be of an imposing size—estimated to be at least 6 ft (1.8 m) tall and 175 to 225 lb (79 to 102 kg). She claimed to be the widow of a NASAstructural engineer; a farmer’s daughter from Indiana; and a mother of five. In reality, she had been wanted by the police since 1961 for alleged involvement in a counterfeiting operation. She had changed her name and identity from Jerry Dean Michael (born c. 1917). She often introduced Vivian Barrett Michael—the mother of their five children—as her secretary. The company would ultimately prove to be fraudulent when Carmichael went into hiding with investors’ money.
Before meeting Carmichael, Clifft hand-built a car made of Aluminum tubing and covered in naugahyde. The Dale prototype was designed and built by Clifft, and the project was subsequently marketed by Carmichael. Much of the interest in the Dale was a result of the 1973 oil crisis: higher economy automobiles like the Dale were viewed as a solution to the oil crunch. Speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times in November 1974, Carmichael said she was on the way to taking on General Motors or any other car manufacturer for that matter. She said she had millions of dollars in backing “from private parties” and also talked of a 150,000 sq ft (14,000 m2) corporate office in Encino, CA. The prototypes were built in Canoga Park, CA, and an aircraft hangar in Burbank, CA, was supposedly leased for the assembly plant, with more than 100 employees on the payroll.
The Dale was also marketed as being high-tech, lightweight, yet safer than any existing car at the time. “By eliminating a wheel in the rear, we saved 300 pounds and knocked more than $300 from the car’s price. The Dale is 190 inches long, 51 inches high and weighs less than 1,000 pounds,” said Carmichael. She maintained that the car’s lightness did not affect its stability or safety. The low center of gravity always remained inside the triangle of the three wheels, making it nearly impossible for it to tip over. She also went on record to say that she drove it into a wall at 30 mph (48 km/h) and there was no structural damage to the car (or her). She said the Dale was powered by a thoroughly revamped BMW two-cylinder motorcycle engine, which generated 40 hp (30 kW) and would allow the car to reach 85 mph (137 km/h). She expected sales of 88,000 cars in the first year and 250,000 in the second year. The vehicle’s wheelbase was 114 in (2.90 m).
A non-running model of the Dale was displayed at the 1975 Los Angeles Auto Show. The car was also shown on the television game show The Price Is Right.
The Petersen Automotive Museum-The strange case of the Dale from the Vault
The company had already encountered legal troubles when California’s Corporations Department ordered it to stop offering stock for public sale because it had no permit.
Rumors of fraud began to emerge, followed by investigations by a TV reporter and some newspapers as well as the California Corporation Commission began an investigation. Although Clifft said he still believed in the project and said that he was promised $3 million in royalties once the Dale went into production, he only received $1,001, plus a $2,000 check, which bounced. Carmichael went into hiding and was featured in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries (S1 E22 which aired on April 26, 1989), which detailed the fraud behind the Dale as well as the fact that Carmichael was wanted. She was eventually found working in Dale, Texas, under the alias Katherine Elizabeth Johnson, at a flower shop. She was arrested, extradited to California, tried and sent to prison for ten years.
Carmichael eventually died of cancer in 2004. Clifft, never shown to have been involved in the fraud, later formed The Dale Development Co., and developed and received several patents; he died in 1981.
“Reclaimed Rust” is the title of an exhibition of custom cars, guitars and memorabilia from the James Hetfield Collection that opens February 1 at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Hetfield is co-founder, lead vocalist and songwriter for the heavy-metal band Metallica.
He also is a lifelong car enthusiast.
“Hetfield’s vehicles assert both a reverence for history and a disregard for convention, standing collectively as a testament to the musician’s distinctive personality and artistic energy,” the museum said in its announcement.
New exhibit displays a dozen amazing racing machines built in Southern California
The Petersen Automotive Museum has opened its “Legends of Los Angeles: Southern California Race Cars and Their Builders” in the Charles Nearburg Family Gallery. The display features 12 race cars and two vast screens for a 180-degree panoramic video offering spellbinding action of and from some of the most famous cars built in the Los Angeles area, as well as interviews with their constructors. That alone is worth the trip