There’s no better word for it. I looked in the thesaurus. Of all the hot rods I’ve seen–and that’s a lot–I’ve never seen any better preserved in its original condition than this one. I’m not talking rebuilt, restored, dug out of a barn, or saved in a hermetically sealed collection. This Buick-powered, metallic blue, hot rodded Deuce coupe is exactly the same as it appeared in a feature in the Nov. ’63 Rod & Custom, as well as when Dale Mack built it in Glendora, CA in 1956. And, perhaps more amazing, it’s been running and driving the whole time.
This is one of the cars I showed two columns ago, in beautiful black and white, when we were studying early ’60s (and late ’50s) hot rods. Shortly after that column ran, I got an email from Christopher Ostlund from Big River, CA (just across the Colorado from Lake Havasu, AZ), saying “That Dale Mack ’32 coupe you showed in your column is sitting in my garage.” Of course I was intrigued, but not overly hopeful. Lots of people have told me they had a “famous old hot rod” hidden in their garage, barn, backyard, whatever, and hardly ever has it been any sort of gem or treasure. Well look at the two photos above. This is a gem, a treasure, an incredibly preserved piece of hot rod history. And we haven’t even gotten to some of the best parts, yet.
In his brief original note Chris simply stated, “You wrote about Dale Mack’s ’32 5-window coupe from R&C Nov. 1963. I have owned this car for a long time now. It’s still in the exact same condition as it was in that article.” I of course quickly replied that I was intrigued, and to please give me his full name, location, and some photos. When he wrote back, with pics that were too big to print here, I was way more than intrigued. He added that his grandfather, Floyd Auten, (now 95 and living in San Diego) had bought the car from Mack around 1970, and that Chris bought it from him about ten years ago. He also mentioned it was in Street Rodder, Feb. ’75, when his grandad had it. I pulled that SRM binder from my shelf to check, and there it was, appropriately enough, on page 32 in a feature on the 2nd Deuce Day held by the Obsoletes club in a park in South Gate. And the article was by me! I ran a good-sized photo of the coupe, and an even larger one of its ’50s-style interior, saying “Deuces really come out of the woodwork for this meet–ones you don’t normally see on rod runs.” I i.d.ed the owner as Floyd Auten and the original builder as Dale Mack (in 1955) and looking at the photos now I see it still even had the white painted under the fenders. Nobody was building ’50s-style “traditional” street rods in the mid-’70s, but I obviously loved them, especially this car’s blue-and-white T&R interior. Well check this out:
Not only does it still have the same white seats with blue rolls, the white headliner with blue piping, and the blue loop-pile carpet with white binding, not to mention the white top insert, but it even still has the Bob Lee tag on it, who was known as the premier hot rod upholsterer in the Pasadena area, especially for his signature white roadster tops (as on Gray Baskerville’s car). And when I say original, I mean all the same stuff Bob Lee stitched in the mid ’50s, down to the understandably slightly worn carpet.
It’s truly amazing that this upholstery, not to mention everything else on this car, is preserved as well as it is. Although it might have looked like a show car in the ’63 R&C feature with its pristine painted undercarriage, it was titled “Torrid Street Machine,” and at that point Dale Mack had been driving it on the street for some seven or eight years. Shortly after my column ran, I got a note from well-known rodder Dean Lowe (HRM cover Jan. ’62) saying, “I know that car. Dale Mack was my dad’s TV repairman, and he used to drive that ’32 doing his TV repair house calls.” No lie.
I had a very interesting conversation with Chris’s grandfather, Floyd. At 95, it’s amazing what he remembers, only some of which I can fit in here. He grew up in Arcadia and went to high school in the early ’40s, where he got into Ford hot rods, and really wanted a ’32 coupe. However, when he turned 16 what he was able to get was a ’34 coupe, on which he learned to wrench and “fix up.” But he sold it when he joined the Navy in ’44 for WW II (…stories!). Upon returning he married at 24, settled in Glendora, raised four kids, became an electrical contractor, and happened to live next door to Dale Mack, who had the ’32 and a ’34 sedan in his garage. Floyd told Dale “If you ever want to sell that ’32, I’ll buy it.” It took 25 years.
Perhaps the most surprising part is that Mack kept the car exactly the same all that time, while other rodders were constantly updating theirs. And he kept it indoors and in perfect condition. Meanwhile Floyd, while his kids (and business) were growing, had joined the Early Ford V8 Club and went through several restoration projects, starting with pickups and then keying on ’39s. About 1970, Floyd said, Dale decided he wanted to buy a boat for the family, and finally offered him the ’32. Although the ’63 R&C feature said Mack had $5000 invested in it then (a lot!) he let Floyd have it for $1700. It was Floyd’s only hot rod, but it was what he always wanted. “I’ve gone through a lot of cars,” he told me. “But I liked the ’32 the way it was. Why change it? I had no intention of changing it.” Then he added, “My wife and I had a lot of fun with that car. We drove it all over California and Arizona. I had it 42 years, but I always kept it in a garage.”
So let’s jump back several decades. I don’t know much more about Dale Mack and this car other than what was in R&C or what Floyd has told me (he did remember me taking pictures and asking questions at that Deuce Day…I didn’t even remember that). He said Dale got the engine from a ’56 Buick that got T-boned and totaled when near-new, with only 1200 miles on it. If you compare these engine shots to the one in the ’63 feature, the chrome Cad air cleaner, finned valve covers, and even the odd plug wire looms are exactly the same. Besides being cleaner then, the only visible difference is stock exhaust manifolds in place of some sort of tube headers, which Floyd said he changed. He also remembers having to have a new radiator made, which he painted black (and retained that angled cap?), and adding an electric fan to the front because it didn’t have one. Plus, that looks like factory original Buick green paint on the engine to me.
Here are technical details according to the ’63 R&C feature. First, those are ’56 Dodge taillights, which Dale probably bought new at the dealer’s. In front is a chromed Bell dropped tube axle, and the rear is a 4.11 ’39 Ford with a Columbia 2-speed overdrive. Plus it has ’42 Lincoln brakes all around. This is higher-class stuff than most mid-’50s rods. The engine was (and still is) a stock 4-barrel ’56 Buick with the addition of a “Kenny Harmon [i.e., Harmon-Collins] 3/4 cam.” And, I might be wrong, but I think it has the ’50 Merc wheels and hubcaps because they have a smaller bolt-pattern to match the Lincoln brakes. Another questionable point is the transmission. In ’75 Floyd told me it was a Cad-LaSalle, which would make sense behind the Buick. But the ’63 R&C states specifically that it was a “Late model ’39 Lincoln sideshift trans converted to floor shift,” and that a “Lincoln clutch bolts to a ten inch Buick flywheel.”
The forward location, and shape, of the shifter where it comes through the floor indicates a ’37 LaSalle top-shift to me, plus floor-shift conversions were rare then and usually mount farther back. But I pick nits. Instead check out that great dash layout containing round gauges from a ’49 Mercury, which also contributed the radio, parking brake, knobs and handles. I forgot to ask Floyd if he knew the origin of the ’50s chrome strips on the doors; I don’t, but I love ’em. The R&C text states the steering is from a ’53 F-100, and that obviously includes the chromed column and the 3-spoke wheel with Ford-emblem cap. I can’t i.d. the large round tach.
Two more views of this time capsule. Naturally, given that it was driven plenty in the 65 years since it was built like this, the tires have been changed at least a couple of times, but retain the medium whitewalls. The last thing Floyd told me was that after so many years the original nitro lacquer had faded to the point it had to be redone about 12-14 years ago. So he had a local restorer (Danny Stark, Big River, CA) carefully match the color and meticulously mask and repaint the car in modern materials, without much disassembly, followed by rub-out to lacquer-like finish. But everything else on this car, from the hubcaps, chrome fender welt and bumper brackets, to the rubber running boards, cowl lights, horn, and mirrors, remains unchanged. Finally, since the yellow Calif. plates that were on it had to be turned in, Floyd proudly states he was first in line to get the new, blue “Deuce 1” tags when personal plates were first introduced here, and they’ll stay with the car in perpetuity.
Speaking of which, Chris related to me how he loved to visit his grandfather as a young boy, because Floyd then lived in the high desert (Yucca Valley) where he had a 7-car garage with this hot rod, several other early Fords from rusty to perfectly restored (his current self-built ’39 rumble seat convertible has picked up at least one Best of Show award), not to mention parts of all kinds everywhere. A wonderful place for a kid to play. And it was infectious. Chris treasures a photo of himself, at age 10, sitting with his grandad on the running board of this coupe. And recently he duplicated it with 95-year-old Floyd, himself (44), and his 10-yr. old son Christopher. Chris states emphatically, “I’ll never change the car. My son will end up with it. He’ll inherit it.” I’d say this is a whole new level of “being caretaker.” And thank you, Chris, very much for sharing this with us.
Now, on a related tangent: In that same column I showed two pictures of someone cleaning a highly modified/customized ’34 Cabriolet for a show, noting that it bore some likenesses to the Chili Catallo Deuce Coupe and wondering if the Alexander Bros. of Detroit had anything to do with it, but stating that I didn’t know anything about it myself. I of course figured several of you would clue me in–which you did–and I should have guessed that the first would be Mark Moriarity, which he was. He knew the car was Don Vargo’s “69er,” that it was built by the Alexander Bros., that it intentionally echoed Catallo’s Coupe, but it was a brilliant candy apple red. It debuted at the 1962 Detroit Autorama, and won the ISCA points championship that year, Mark adding that it would probably have won the Ridler Award, except it wasn’t instituted until a year later.
Further, he said the car somehow ended up in Puerto Rico, in pieces. Years later Chip Hoyinski decided to recreate the car, and was able to salvage just the original nose. So he had Blast from the Past Street Rods in Pottstown, PA meticulously rebuild the car as you see here, so it could debut at the Detroit Autorama 50 years later, in 2012. So now you–and I–know. And to quote my dearly departed friend, Gray Baskerville, ADEEOS (til next time).