• ’31 Ford roadster body channeled over a ’32 Ford frame • An authentic “barn find,” intact since the early ’60s • Fresh 286-ci Vern Tardel-built three-carb flathead V8 • Featured in Pat Ganahl’s book Lost Hot Rods II

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1931 Ford Model A “unknown roadster”
Years Produced:1931, modified in early 1950s
Number Produced:58,496 (Standard 5,499; DeLuxe 52,997)
Original List Price:For a stock model, $20k–$25k (depending on restoration quality, history and condition)
Tune Up Cost:$150
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on top of driver’s side frame rail (for original frame)
Engine Number Location:Stamped on pad on right front of block, below cylinder head (for original block)
Club Info:Goodguys, National Street Rod Association
Alternatives:Any 1928–32 hot rod roadster
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 3115, sold for $78,100, including buyer’s premium, at Auction America’s California sale on July 31–August 2, 2014.

Dusty and rusty

Most car enthusiasts fantasize about barn finds. Hot-rodders are no different. This car’s auction seller, Greg Hopkins, from Dothan, AL, had just finished building a chopped Model A coupe when he saw this bitchin’ old roadster advertised on Craigslist. He partnered with his father-in-law to buy it, flew to Broomfield, CO, and drove it home — some 1,800 miles, most of them on two-lane backroads.

Although the car had been dormant for years, the Craigslist seller, Frank Vahling, was confident the roadster was ready for a long haul. He’d installed a ’52 Mercury flathead, four new whitewalls and a fresh pair of batteries (the car used two), along with new belts and hoses. Jerry Weatherman freshened the white vinyl tuck-and-roll interior.

Five days after he bought the roadster, Hopkins rolled into Dothan, with lots of stories to tell from people he’d met along the way who were mesmerized by the sight of that old hot rod.

Still a mystery

No one knows who initially built this car. It languished in storage from 1967 to 2012. A car transporter/dealer named Bob Connor watched it for about 18 years before he acquired it from its then-owner, a land developer who knew nothing about it. Connor then sold it, without an engine, to Gary Vahling, who then resold it to his brother Frank.

Features in Hop Up, The Rodder’s Journal, Ol’ Skool Rodz, and an appearance on the cover of Pat Ganahl’s book, Lost Hot Rods II, have failed to yield any clues to its origins. Hopkins carefully cleaned off a coat of gray primer to reveal a weathered ’53 DeSoto Spring Green finish. He found a ’32 Ford VIN on the chassis when he lifted the body, and traced that number to the registration of a ’32 Ford roadster near Mechanicsburg, PA, in the fall of 1958.

What is known is that this is a very well-built, strictly East Coast-style lowboy, channeled over a ’32 frame that was substantially Zee-ed, front and rear, and fitted with a late ‘30s Ford X-member. The car appears to have been built in the early ’50s. The steering box is from a ’40 Ford, with hand-crafted hairpin radius rods. Fasteners under the car indicate it had a full belly pan at one time.

Rolled and louvered frame valances made from Ford roof sections, and a custom rear pan, with twin protruding exhaust tips, plus neatly fitted cycle fenders, attest to excellent craftsmanship. A ’40 Ford dash was molded in, the taillights are ’41 Chevy, and the custom three-piece hood has louvered sides. That classy split windshield, made from ’38-to-’39 Ford and Model T components, is one of this car’s many visual highlights. The newest part on the roadster was a parking brake handle from a ’55 Chevy – and there’s a 1955 dime in the center of the steering wheel. Tabs welded to the front axle appear to be for a tow-bar. Perhaps it was raced. Who knows?

A blast from the past

The chassis number trace indicated the roadster originally came from back East, but it was located for a time in the San Bernardino, CA, area. Greg Hopkins learned that when the roadster was in California, it was owned by Pete “Tom” Leeland, a USAF airman. Bob Flagger, an engineering student in Colorado, owned it in 1962. And that’s where the known owner trail stops. To our knowledge, this car was never featured in a period hot rod publication, hence its nickname, “The Unknown Roadster.”

After his epic cross-country drive, Hopkins installed a fresh 286-ci Vern Tardel-built flathead V8 topped with a Cyclone 3-carb intake, Cyclone high-compression heads, a four-inch Mercury crank and a full-race Isky cam. The transmission is still a Lincoln three-speed with Borg-Warner overdrive. Greg Hopkins told Auctions America this car “could have been the belle of the ball in its heyday. Whoever built this car,” he said, “poured their heart into it.”

Jim Taylor from Gloversville, NY, was the high bidder. “I have several unrestored cars in my collection,” he said, “and I didn’t have a hot rod. So this car was perfect.” Although Auctions America estimated $100,000 to $125,000, the high bid was substantially less. Several other hot rods sold decently in the same sale, including a reproduction of Gene Winfield’s shop truck (Lot 3134), which brought $143,000.

Drive it like you stole it

It’s safe to say that patina isn’t for everyone. You can’t polish cars like this, and they always look scruffy. That annoys people who love a gleaming finish. Channeled cars have “the look,” but they are tough to drive, because you’re basically sitting on the floor, with just a thin cushion as a seat squab. Your legs are extended straight out in front of you, so driving a car like this for any long distance can be downright painful — especially for a tall person.

While this roadster is obviously a period piece, despite its new engine (which is a plus if you want to drive it), its actual history remains obscure. If more details were known, or if the car had appeared in a hot-rodding magazine in the ’50s, that would increase its value. As you can see from comparable sales, historic channeled ’32 roadsters have sold very well in the past. Although this is a handsome car, it’s still a Model A Ford on Deuce rails, rather than a more coveted ’32 roadster body. That might deter some buyers.

Bottom line, an old-style, channeled roadster like this one, with a serious flathead, could not be professionally built for $78,100. On top of that, there’s authentic patina, which can’t be duplicated, plus a serious flatty with Cyclone speed equipment, and a host of magazine coverage already. For the price paid, I think this was a terrific buy.

(Introductory description courtesy of Auctions America.

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