This one spun out of control right from the outset, and I had to figure some way to throttle it back. So I decided to make it a picture story. Because if I started telling the actual Doane Spencer tales I’ve collected, we’d soon have a book. And that’s why I’m doing these short columns–because I’m done doing books. Short? Well, we’ll see.
I was going to start by saying that Doane Spencer was the Lil’ John Buttera of the ’40s, but that’s not right. It’s the other way around. He was known for a couple of black hot rods–including the now restored and preserved Deuce hiboy roadster that is arguably the best of the all-time Top 75. But his career building and tuning record-setting race cars lasted decades and well deserves a book.
But not here. What started this “small” column was a request from the Petersen Museum for some photos of Doane’s Deuce for an exhibit on Bruce Meyer’s cars, which of course includes the perfectly restored ’32 that won the first-ever hot rod class at Pebble Beach. So I went to my files and pulled out a thick folder full of photos, negs, and many pages of hand-written notes.
I’m still not sure why, but in late 1997 stodgy, hardbound Automobile Quarterly asked me to write a 4000-word article on Doane’s ’32, with historical photos, to accompany color “portraits” that they had already taken of the recently restored, Pebble-winning car. I doubt many of you read A.Q., or saw the piece, but it ran in Vol. 37, No. 3 (March 1998). Other than a much briefer version covering Bruce’s two black ’32 roadsters that I did for The Rodder’s Journal No. 61 in ’13, this was the only in-depth, historical piece ever done on this car.
As usual, I overdid it. Fortunately I had met and gotten to know Doane fairly well before his full life ended in Aug. 1995. So for the A.Q. article I interviewed Jack Dorn (the car’s prior owner, and Doane’s best friend), his wife Betty, daughter Doanna, Lynn Wineland (2nd owner), Neal East (3rd owner), Barney Navarro, Alex Xydias, and Neil Emory (of Valley Custom). There are 24 pages of hand-written notes, so stories will have to wait. There are more photos, too. Several here have never been seen in print. They came from a shoebox-full that Doanna shared with me, and I copied with my camera on her kitchen table.
Like this one. I have to admit I didn’t takes notes on specific photos, and it’s been more than 20 years. But this is a soap-box derby-type “coaster” that Doane built as a young boy, displaying an obvious aptitude for both construction and design.
But let’s get to the ’32 with some photos that’ll probably surprise you. We don’t know who the kid on the fender is, but the fact that the car had fenders is the first surprise. Jack Dorn and Doane were best friends at Hollywood High, class of ’42. Jack got this “cherry” ’32 roadster from its first owner in ’41, and began “stripping it of accessories.” Note the filled grille shell, solid hoodsides, smooth bumpers, and ’36 Chevy headlights with no bar. Meanwhile, Doane had a ’31 Ford phaeton, for which he had George DuVall at So-Cal Plating make a V-windshield. But he wrecked the phaeton, so he gave the V-windshield to Jack and they had mutual good friend Jimmy Summers rework the ’32’s cowl and door tops to fit it. Also note wipers added by Doane, plus it looks like he already “straightened” the outer posts. When this was done, Jack had the maroon car painted black lacquer, plus had the padded cloth top made by Benny Leonard. Jack also quipped that Doane didn’t graduate because, “He never went to class; was always working on cars.” So both joined the Navy, and by ’44 Jack agreed to sell Doane the ’32 for $500, adding “When he gave me the windshield, I knew he planned to get the car.”
Home in 1946, Doane and Jack decided to drive the ’32 to the Indy 500 (first since war’s end). The photos above were taken on that trip, visiting friends. But probably the most amazing photo here is this one of the new ’46 Merc engine Doane built and installed for that trip. As seen here, it initially ran heads and intake made by good friend Mal Ord–very rare today. But the truly amazing part is all the chrome and polish on nearly everything under that solid, and seldom-lifted hood. Obviously taken after fenders were removed, this is the only photo I’ve ever seen (or shown) of this beautiful engine compartment.
Dorn said they had $65 when they left, and after the 500 race, kept driving east, working at Ford dealerships along the way, spending six months and covering 38 states. Doane made such trips in the roadster annually, either with Dorn or Jimmy Summers, eventually hitting 42 of the 48 states. Fred Haller’s Ford dealership in PA was a regular work stop and it was there, possibly on the first trip, that Doane sold the original fenders off the car for added cash. I know you’ve never seen this photo, taken in late ’47 at the first Pasadena Roadster Club reliability run. That’s Jack in the roadster cap leaning on the obviously straightened windshield. Don’t know if this is before or after the run, but it shows rods and rodders of the era. More significant is this seldom-seen rear view of the car at the Rose Bowl staging area, same day. Doane hand-formed the steel gas tank cover with inset license plate, flanked by bullet taillights. This is how the car looked until he tore it apart to modify the frame for the Mexican road race. Also note the visibly higher quality fit and finish on Doane’s car compared to the ’34 in front.
You’ve probably seen this one of Wally Parks and Ak Miller presenting Doane the Best Appearing Car trophy after the run. An even smaller version was the only photo of the ’32 to appear in Hot Rod magazine for decades.Wish people had better cameras then, but this is otherwise a nice portrait of a happy Doane, home with his trophy-winning hot rod.And this is a much better portrait of the car, lined up with others hoping to be selected for the first SCTA Hot Rod Show in Jan. ’48. Of course it was chosen, as seen in the opening photo. As usual, the hood is shut and there’s no top. Despite some claims, as far as I know there were no awards or trophies at these (two) shows; being selected was the big deal.Besides plenty of street racing, Doane never missed a lakes meet, constantly changing speed components, if not whole engines. Headlights and windshield glass are removed. This car did it all. Well, possibly not circle track racing. This photo taken at Carrell speedway (left) was actually a line-up for selection for another show, but Doane played it up by adding ribbed front tires and grooved dirt trackers on the rear. Typical Doane; constantly changing things.
Another previously unseen photo is also completely unexplained. It was in the box of pics that Doanna had, but–unlike most others–there was no lengthy or colorful story to go with this one. Well, obviously there is, we just don’t know what. With the unusual leather cap and goggles, it’s even hard to tell if that’s Doane. And he’s certainly showing little interest in the high-heeled bathing beauties.
We happen to know the photo at left was a publicity shot for the upcoming SCTA-AMA motorcycles vs. hot rods drag meet to be held at the Santa Ana blimp base in 1950. The thing to note in these two photos, however, is the change in front axles. I don’t know what the semi-tubular one was made from, but it’s the only photo I’ve seen it in.
Although they met in ’47, 1950 was the year Doane married his wonderful wife Betty. I wish I could tell more of the stories she told me, but that year the Indy car show offered Doane $100 to show the roadster, so that’s where they drove for their honeymoon, spending about a month on the road. She loved the topless roadster, including driving it. “I’d drive Doane to work, then I’d race cops on Wilshire Bl. I’d win. And I raced it 3 or 4 times at the lakes.” There’s more, but…
I’ll run both of these photo large, because they’re the type you want to study to see details in the background. The top one might be familiar, but the bottom one’s never been shown. You probably know that when inveterate racer Spencer heard about the new Mexican cross-country road race, he decided to enter his ’32 and–of course–significantly rebuild the chassis for that purpose. You can read details elsewhere, but he started by bobbing, Z-ing, and adding an X-member to the frame. The engine Doane and a friend are manhandling is a new ’52 Lincoln OHV. Again, too much to tell here. One thing to notice is that Dorn’s original padded cloth top appears to be on the propped-up body.
Which is strange, because sometime before this Doane had Valley Custom make the steel, removable top you see here. Although rumored to have been made from a ’34 coupe or sedan roof, Neil Emory told me they hand-formed it from flat sheet stock, using nothing more than a small hand-held air hammer, body hammers and dollies, and a gas torch. It’s a work of art. But, strangely, my sources say Doane never painted it or installed it on the car.
The Panamerica road race was cancelled in 1954. Doane bought a new Ford Thunderbird late that year, set records with it at Bonneville, and the roadster sat in pieces. I must skip a lot. I really wanted to show this Dec. ’60 cover of little Rod & Custom, because by then Lynn Wineland was the editor, he was able to buy the vestiges of the still-black roadster, and he made Doane Technical Editor of R&C, partly as a way to get him to continue working on the ’32. The cover, with the blurb “How to Make Nerf Bars,” shows Doane heating and bending the front nerf you partially see in the photo above, which is still on the car today. He also made the rear hairpin radius rods (holding a Halibrand quickchange), mounted just behind his unique through-the-frame exhaust outlets. A point I want to make is that Doane worked on this car before he owned it (adding the V-windshield), and was still working on it a decade after he sold it to Wineland.
The R&C cover photo also shows a Y-Block overhead Ford engine mounted in the car, with finned valve covers and Doane-fabricated headers, but with a 2-port Hilborn injector set on the valley cover for the photo. I assume that’s what’s under the closed hood in the photo above, taken at the ’61 L.A. Roadster show at the Hollywood Bowl.
I just recently found this photo, obviously taken at the Hollywood Bowl, without the top or hood–or anything on top of the engine. Since the ’63 show was cancelled, I must presume this was the first show in 1960 (even though the rules proclaimed “no unfinished cars”). The point is that although Lynn claimed a 3-71 blower on this engine, I’ve never seen evidence.
In another chapter we can’t begin to cover, fellow R&C staffer Neal East acquired the roadster from Lynn in ’69, promising to keep it Ford-powered and black. So Neal put a flathead back in it, got it running in much the same form as it appears today, and may have put as many miles on it as Doane did, given the two decades Neal drove it. And he just assured me in a phone call from Denver that “It never turned a wheel with an overhead engine in it.”
Finally, despite its now concours condition, current steward for the past two decades, Bruce Meyer, isn’t a bit shy about taking this fabulous and fabled ’32 roadster out on the highway, or even on the same high-mountain road Reliability Run route it first traveled in 1947. Yes, this is just a small part of the story of this amazing hot rod. But I’d be willing to bet you hadn’t known, or seen, much of it before this.