We just got back from a 4000+ mile, 16-day vacation driving trip, something Anna and I have been doing nearly every year in the 47 years we’ve known each other, starting in a ’47 Chevy pickup with a camper shell. Billy came with us when he was a kid, so we had to get a tent. He could tell you stories (but he probably won’t).
This year our route led through Tucson and El Paso to Marfa, TX; then across miles of Texas to Texarkana, through Arkansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, down to Tucumcari, a night (and snowstorm) in Winslow…and you know the rest of the song.
But one of our main goals on this trip was to visit Tom Prufer in Kerrville, TX, something we’ve been wanting to do since he moved there about a decade ago. And this column is about him, not so much us. Well, more specifically, it’s about what’s in his garage, trophy room, and other storage spaces, because there’s no way I could even begin to gloss on “The Prufer Story” here. For that I would direct you to The Rodder’s Journal No.s 63 and 64, where I was finally able to tell this hot rodder’s truly amazing life story in detail. All I will say here is that, during the two nights and one day we spent there, Tom took us honky-tonkin’ on Friday night, we ate some of the best Tex-Mex and barbeque we’ve ever had, and he even took us up to little Luckenbach, TX, to listen to local country guitar pickers/singers and drink beers on picnic benches.
But what you want to see is what’s in the garage, right? First off, it’s a small garage attached to a ’50s house on a neighborhood street, not a big workshop. Second, I started with the photo at top only because Anna’s cell phone got a better picture than my camera did. I’d title it “Two old farts and a red roadster,” except you’d be hard pressed to tell that Tom is 83. He claims he’s slowing down, but we didn’t see much evidence of that. As for me, um, self-denigration isn’t pretty, so…no.
As for that red ’32 hiboy, Tom states it’s his last hot rod. Could be. But it’s also a first, in a couple of ways. As far as I know, this is the only Deuce roadster he’s ever owned. But much more importantly, this is the first car he has built completely by himself, in his own garage. That was his specific goal, and, even though it was still on jackstands when we saw it, it looked to us like he had reached that goal, quite admirably. We’re talking bare frame up, engine, paint, the whole nine yards. This is the first full paint job Tom’s ever done, much of which he did in the driveway. He also got a small Miller MIG welder to fabricate things like the motor mounts you see in the photo at left (“I’m not a great welder, but I’m good with a grinder,” he says). We can relate, right?
The project started, obviously a few years ago, when the late Pete Chapouris mentioned that he had a customer with a black-primered, ‘glass-bodied ’32 roadster who wanted to switch to a coupe instead. It was one of the few excellent bodies made by Harwood, and it came with one of Pete’s SoCal windshields, but not much else. Tom had already picked up an older, owner-fabbed, original-rails frame at a swap meet in Kerrville, but after close inspection decided to resell it in favor of a fresh one from Kiwi Konnection, which Squeak Bell delivered to Tom at one of his regular treks to the L.A. Roadster Show. The engine also started as a local swap meet misadventure. Sold as a “built” fresh shortblock, it turned out to be a worn-out 350. So Tom ordered a Scat stroker crank from Jeg’s to make it a 383, along with a set of Sealed Power pistons and GM Vortec heads, and built the engine himself. Tom says when you live in a place like Kerrville, you get good at mail-order and make friends with the UPS guy (or gal). Jeg’s sent the Turbo 350 trans, too.
Likewise he ordered up all of the chassis parts from Pete & Jake’s, including the 9-inch rear that rides on a leaf spring. The 5-spoke wheels include early 14-inch Americans in front that he had Eric Vaughn machine on the back to fit tight to the disc brakes.
In the rear view, you might be surprised to see a bobbed tail, but Tom says, “I’m really a Model A hiboy kind of guy. I don’t like the ’32 gas tank hanging out the back.” So he got one from Tanks and mounted it in the trunk, using hood straps from Lime Works. Everything you see here Tom did himself.
Tom was considering trying the upholstery, too. But, as you can see, he wisely left this to Hot Rod Interiors in Oklahoma City. They not only built the seat frame, but upholstered it in tan and dark brown. Tasty. I especially like the matching carpet. I’m not sure what it is. Unlike the now-ubiquitous square weave, it’s a smooth, no-nap material like indoor/outdoor carpet but nicer. Perfect for a topless roadster. You’ll also notice we photographed things just as we found them.
And you’ve undoubtedly also noticed the small silver scallops outlined in blue. Tom was a long-time admirer (and friend) of Tommy The Greek, and obviously learned his style. He used a spray can for the silver, and I won’t tell how he did the pinstripes. It’s a very nice touch.
Unfortunately the roadster takes up the garage, but that’s not the only thing to see at Tom’s place. In fact, he’s rebuilt the whole house, too, in a decidedly Western flavor, picking up lots of gems at local yard
sales (including a full, real, bear-skin rug). All we’re going to show here is a glimpse of his office/trophy room. In this small sample of trophies, including several from the Oakland Roadster Show, you’ll notice a prestigious NHRA “Wally,” among others. And there aren’t too many hot rodders who can hang a collection of magazine covers and features on the wall like Tom’s. I’m proud to say I was responsible for a few of them. Next Tom took us out to the backyard, which he fully landscaped himself (slowing down? Don’t think so). But he led us to a corner where, under a canopy, we saw the decal-covered rear doors of a small enclosed trailer. Inside we found–what else?–a blown fuel dragster. You should know that Tom ran a succession of Power King rails in the ’50s and ’60s, and this is a copy of his “last successful” Power King Too, built for today’s popular CackleFests. Of course it has a big 392, with a Bowers mag blower, 4-port Hilborn, and a full load of flame-spewing nitro when lit. Plus you can see Tom’s trademark much-louvered and red-scalloped body.
And if that weren’t enough, Tom next drove us to a nearby storage garage, where he rolled up the door to show us this, a bright red, Chevy-powered, show-quality ’40 Ford pickup. He had told me he was building it a few years ago, and I wondered where it was. “I finished it just about the time the roadster body became available,” Tom explained. “And the roadster project not only took up the garage, but also most of my time, so I had to park it over here and have been too involved to do much else with it since.” It wasn’t running, so I didn’t think I could get a decent photo of it. Meantime Anna snapped this with her cell phone. Yes, it shows that this pickup is a nice piece. Waiting.
So this is just a quick look at what Tom Prufer has in his garage(s) in Kerrville, Texas. And when I called yesterday to get some details, Tom said he got the roadster fired and took it out for an initial test drive. “But it’s got a pesky little oil leak up by the pressure sender that I can’t locate, plus it has a small vibration in the motor. So I’m going to pull it out and get it balanced.” Spoken like a hot rodder who spins his own wrenches and has plenty of experience pulling engines apart and putting them back together in time to make the next round. Tom, thanks very much for a great visit. But maybe it’s time to slow down just a bit. Maybe. And as your old pal Baskerville would say, “Get that roadster out and get your hair blown!” It’s therapeutic.