- Inaugural 1954 ATAA World Series of Drag Racing Class AB Champion
- Same owner for more than 60 years; driven less than one mile since 1954
- Built by Francis Fortman and driven by Kenny Kerr
- Competed in only one drag-racing event, then stashed away
- Documented with the title from 1952, vintage racing photos, discovery photos and the ATAA program
- Featured in Hot Rod DeLuxe, Ol’ Skool Rods and Old Cars Weekly magazines
- Powered by a 4-carburetor, Edelbrock-equipped, alcohol-burning flathead V8
- Rare engine-turned Stewart-Warner instrument panel
|Vehicle:||1932 Ford 3-Window Drag Coupe|
|Number Produced:||One like this (20,506 1932 DeLuxe Model 18 V8 3-Window coupes were built)|
|Original List Price:||$575|
|Tune Up Cost:||$250 (estimated)|
|Chassis Number Location:||18-prefix Ford VIN is stamped on the front frame rail on the driver’s side|
|Engine Number Location:||Cast on bellhousing|
|Club Info:||Goodguys, National Street Rod Association (NSRA)|
|Alternatives:||Other ’32 Ford hot rod coupes, preferably with racing heritage|
This car, Lot T221, sold for $42,900, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s annual Spring Classic auction in Indianapolis, IN, on May 16–20, 2017.
Lost and found
The 1932 Ford 3-Window DeLuxe coupe is one of hot-rodding’s favorite models, second only to the roadster of the same year. Introduced late in the 1932 model year, the handsome 3-Window variant soon became a classic.
This virtually original ’32 Ford drag-racing coupe was owned by the same family for over 60 years. It was built by Francis Fortman and Kenny Kerr for the inaugural 1954 ATAA (Automobile Timing Association of America) World Series of Drag Racing, which was held at Half Day Drag Strip in Lawrenceville, IL, about 20 miles from Chicago. Running on alcohol fuel, and driven by Kenny Kerr, the quick coupe won Class AB, with a trap speed of 105.88 mph, after which it was retired. It never ran again.
The short-lived ATAA was one of several national drag-racing timing associations to rival the National Hot Rod Association in the mid 1950s. For a time, the NHRA banned horsepower-increasing but explosive racing fuels such as alcohol and nitromethane, and instead insisted that racers use pump gasoline. That created an opening for rival timing associations that had no fuel limitations.
Leading dragster drivers such as Don Garlits wanted to run as fast as possible, and that meant a nitro fuel mix was essential. The new associations welcomed the old pros who broke with the conservative NHRA hierarchy, and that also created openings for new, unknown racers to show their stuff.
Building a racer
One of those, Francis Fortman, owned a frame-repair shop in Chicago. He initially found this coupe, and almost decided not to buy it when he found that the seller had removed the radiator. But his partner, Kenny Kerr, insisted.
The coupe was taken to Kerr’s shop, where the body was channeled over the frame 10 inches. The top was not chopped, but the grille shell, the cowl vent and the roof were all filled. The team installed a dropped axle along with tubular shocks. They fitted a modified flathead V8 well back in the chassis and equipped it with an Edelbrock 4-carburetor manifold and Edelbrock finned high-compression heads. A 3-speed Ford gearbox and a ’40 Ford rear end, with its gears welded to make it a quick-and-dirty locker, rounded out the basic driveline modifications.
Inside, the two welded a sturdy roll bar to comply with ATAA rules. They also fitted a handsome Stewart-Warner gauge panel, a single bomber bucket seat and a ’40 Ford steering wheel. The passenger’s seat was removed, and in its place they fitted a rectangular gas tank, along with a hand-operated fuel-pressure pump.
Period photos show a crudely finished leatherette interior. The frame was painted white, as were the grille bars, and the body was finished in maroon. Whitewall tires added a bit of spiff. The decklid was screwed onto the body at its lower edge so it wouldn’t fly up at speed.
One and done
Curiously, after they won the ATAA’s Class AB, Fortman and Kerr elected never to run the coupe again, and Fortman kept the car. Ken Robins, who found the ’32 in 2012, told Old Cars Weekly Editor Angelo Van Bogart that Fortman said, “A ’32 Ford was worth nothing in 1954, so instead of selling it, he put it in a field and put a tarp on it.”
The coupe sat outside for 20 years in all kinds of weather. After some kids shot at the derelict coupe with a BB gun, Fortman rolled it inside a barn, where it sat for another 38 years.
Robins heard about the coupe from a friend. His timing was perfect. Fortman was ready to sell, and his wife agreed: “Don’t let that man out of the house,” she insisted. Afterward, Robins simply cleaned the coupe up a bit and installed newer tires.
The 3-window remains heavily rusted in lower portions of the body and the doors. Robins, who sold the car at Mecum and believes it’s a piece of Americana, artwork and hot-rod history, asked, “Where are you going to find a car from the first World Series of Drag Racing?”
The question of what to do with this car is complex. It was poorly stored and now it’s in rusty, deteriorated condition. You could spend as much to restore it as its purchase price, probably more. And while it would be a nice-looking piece, as the old photos of the car indicate, I’m not sure you’d get your money back.
The ATAA is a lost chapter in hot-rodding, and while this car was a one-time winner, its victory is not very significant. Although Robins reports people who saw the unrestored hulk at the “Iron Invasion” hot rod show in Woodstock, IL, “went nuts,” that enthusiasm was not reflected in its fair and market-correct $42,900 sale price.
Precedents exist for former racing hot rods to be rebuilt and repurposed, and while the purists won’t like it, that’s what I’d do here. Jim Busby built a killer former drag-racing deuce 5-window for the street that Richard Munz now owns. Part of that ’32’s pedigree is the fact that it was once a competition car, but it’s a tough-looking street runner today. So… I’d chop this coupe’s top three to four inches and restore the car for the street.
You could leave the engine set back if you want or remount it in the stock position. Real Henry steel chopped-and-channeled deuces are every hot-rodder’s dream, and all the go-fast parts are available to make that four-carb flathead look and run like a champ. Rather than having a rusty bookend, you’d have a cool-looking ’32 with a checkered past that’d both turn heads and kick butt.
What would you do?
(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)