• Well-known So-Cal period hot rod • Featured in Hop Up (1953) and Street Rodder (2003) • Purchased new and modified by Harry Warner • Accompanied by a Wayne 12-port 6-cylinder engine

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1933 Ford “Harry Warner” Roadster
Years Produced:1933
Number Produced:4,223 DeLuxe V8 Roadsters (126 Standard V8s)
SCM Valuation:$200,000–$300,000, (this car, depending on equipment)
Tune Up Cost:$350 (estimated for an Ardun)
Chassis Number Location:Stamped on the left front frame rail
Engine Number Location:Cast into bellhousing (flathead)
Club Info:Goodguys, National Street Rod Association (NSRA)
Alternatives:Other historic 1932 to 1934 Ford Roadsters
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 134, sold for $242,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s “The Scottsdale Auctions” on January 17, 2015. Gooding’s pre-sale estimate range on the car was $125,000 to $175,000, and it was offered without reserve.

Great history

Crack machinist Harry Warner bought this Deluxe Ford Roadster brand new in 1933, just in time to use it on his honeymoon. In 1940, while working at Lockheed Aircraft, he modified the car with a hopped-up ’39 Mercury flathead, Lincoln-Zephyr gears and hydraulic brakes, and a Columbia two-speed rear axle. Harry welded all the frame joints for added stiffness, chopped the windshield two inches, lowered the steering wheel and the seat a corresponding amount, and fabricated a new instrument panel from one-eighth-inch sheet steel to better brace the cowl.

In 1947, he acquired the Wayne Manufacturing Company — makers of 12-port cylinder-head conversions for Chevrolet and GMC engines — where he worked with Wayne Horning. Accordingly, Harry modified the firewall in this car, made his own transmission adaptor, and then installed a hot Chevy six with a Wayne cross-flow head. He used the roadster as a rolling test mule, driving it daily and occasionally drag racing it, throughout the ’50s and ’60s.

Historic photos show the Wayne-head-equipped Stovebolt installed. A rounded section was carved into the firewall to accommodate the longer engine, which was modified to full-race specs with a 3-carb manifold packing triple Zeniths, cast-iron three-into-one headers, Spalding dual-coil ignition, a Winfield SU1A cam, Harry’s own pistons, and a drilled crank with GMC rods.

In a Hop Up feature in March 1953, the author stated the Chevy developed 162 hp at the rear wheels at 4,500 rpm and topped 90 mph on the quarter-mile strip at Pomona. No displacement was given, but in Street Rodder’s June 2003 issue, tireless researcher Chris Shelton said that Harry was using a new 261-ci truck block by the mid-1950s.

The more things change…

Harry developed a DOHC head for Chevy sixes, but it would have been very expensive to produce and to buy, and only three were made. Seeing the light, in the 1960s Harry installed a built-up 283-ci Chevy V8, a ’50 Ford Overdrive transmission and an Olds rear end. By that time, the roadster had gone from black to red to a Pontiac green hue.

Harry retired the roadster in the 1970s, and after his death in 1982, his son Dan acquired the car. Bill Swanson of La Canada, CA, who’d admired the ’33 for years, bought it and began a restoration with Art Fernandez, who did all the metal work. Pete Eastwood sorted out the chassis, added hairpin wishbones and a tubular dropped axle, and reinstalled a ’39 3-speed with a Lincoln-Zephyr close-ratio first/second gear cluster.

Departing from the ’33’s long 6-cylinder history (although it did have a flathead Merc V8 for years), Swanson installed a 292-ci Mercury block with Ardun OHV heads and a triple manifold from Ken Austin. He then trimmed the car in maroon leather, leaned back the windshield posts, and Lynn at Thornton’s Top Shop did the canvas honors.

When Harry had the car, he ran both headers into a single straight pipe with a lakes plug that exited at the rear, and he built a clever bypass, controlled by a lever at the dash, which flowed into a second tailpipe that featured a built-in muffler. During Swanson’s restoration, which took nine years, a conventional dual exhaust system with lake plugs was built for the car.

The reckoning

I was at Barrett-Jackson in 2003 when Tom Cantrell bought this ’33 for $156,000 — a lot of money at the time. Respecting the roadster’s early history, Tom later acquired a Wayne 12-port 6-cylinder engine, and he offered that motor, along with Harry’s original modified steel dash and its vintage gauges, when the car sold in January at Gooding for a heady $242,000.

Parked in front of the Gooding & Company tent, the handsome Washington Blue ’33 commanded a lot of attention. But would it have brought more if it had been restored as Harry had it? A look at our comparisons suggests the answer is yes.

The price difference of $86,000 less commission represents a decent profit after 12 years of Cantrell’s ownership, and considering the car’s previous history, current condition, and the extra mill, it was a good deal for both the seller and the buyer at the price bid.

This is Harry Warner’s car all right, but there’s precious little of Harry’s history left in it. And therein lies the problem. What’s next here? Do you keep this “historic” roadster the way it is — a lovely, well-sorted restoration with a healthy Ardun — or do you re-restore it back to look the way Harry built it?

Back to the future?

If changing the car is in the new owner’s plans, old photos could point the way, and a ton of old correspondence came with it. If you figure that a running Ardun V8 like this one is worth $40k-plus, and various other new parts could be sold for another $5,000 to $10,000, you’d have a $50k budget to make this car back into what it once was.

A gennie Wayne cross-flow-head-equipped six came with the sale, and the tranny’s right, so you’d have to install that old dash, rework the front end with a vintage dropped axle, reshape the firewall, then test and install the inline Chevy. The Warner-style exhaust system could be adapted from the existing twice pipes. New old-pattern Ford upholstery from LeBaron Bonney, a black canvas top (the existing threads can be sold), a reshoot in either Pontiac Green or black paint, and you’d be back to Harry Warner specs — and a bigger potential upside, too.

I know what I’d do. How about you?

(Introductory description courtesy of Gooding & Company.

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