I’m not saying this is the best old car ever found in a barn. It is a Deuce hot rod. And it was buried in an actual barn. But it’s the story of how it was found that’s the best I’ve heard. Now I have to see if I can unravel it.
Again, this starts with a letter from a reader. Chuck Pinckney of Renton WA was responding to my column one year ago on Ken Mahan’s “Lifetime Deuce,” saying he and Ken had adjoining spaces at the Bremerton swap meet, then added, “I’ll drop in a photo of my Sir Duce barn find project from California that was tucked away up here in Washington for about 30 years in a barn.”
This is the photo he included. Yikes! I obviously responded and he sent more photos of the car being found, but little of what he’s done with it since. So I’ve been saving this one. But it’s time to show and tell. I just didn’t know there was so much to tell.
I contacted Chuck yesterday, and he said “Let me get my notes.” I said no, no, this is just a column, we’ve got to keep it short. We were on the phone about two hours. So….
This is the barn. Chuck said it was in Snohomish county (N.E. of Seattle) out in the boonies on a 40-acre farm. Somewhere between Marysville and Stanwood. It was owned by an old guy who was a hoarder. Besides other things, he collected tractors and old cars, scattered around the property. The top photo was about 10 years ago. By that time the place was abandoned, “as was,” and the old man was in an Alzheiemer’s home. But 30 years earlier he had a son in the Air Force, stationed in California, who wanted a ’32 Ford hot rod, and found one, less engine and trans, that looked like a ’50s street rod turned into a ’60s drag machine. He bought it. But two weeks later he was killed in a car crash. The father went and got the coupe and stashed it in his barn.
How to proceed? Well, the way Chuck just told me. About 10 years ago he drove a ’34 3-W coupe he then had to the XXX (Triple X) hamburger restaurant in Issaquah, a rod-gathering spot owned by Jose, a rod-enthusiast who held car shows there. Knowing Chuck (a rod collector who admits having “9 or 10” ’32 to ’34 Fords, plus a ’55 Nomad he’s had for 50 years), Jose brought out a bunch of photos he had recently gotten from a customer named Roger of this Deuce in a barn. Roger wouldn’t say where the barn was, but he let slip that it was in Snohomish county. Now the story gets hard to follow.
Chuck asked to borrow the photos, which he scanned. They included most shown here. Obviously Roger somehow bought the car, extracted it, but then sold it again, and wouldn’t say to whom or where. So Chuck started showing the photos to car buddies, until one said, “I’ve seen that. It’s in the showroom at Louie Lamb’s classic car lot in Seattle. It has Not For Sale signs on it.” Chuck says he “kinda knew Louie,” whom he contacted, but he wouldn’t sell.
Let’s back up. How’d Roger find this place? I’ll try to be brief. Roger’s wife had a girlfriend who lived near there and had seen the cars outside. He also had a buddy who wanted to do pistol practice there, and Roger went along to see the cars. Somehow he could see into the overgrown barn, spotting not only the ’32 but a Model A coupe, too.
Trouble was, they didn’t know who owned the farm or the cars. So Roger got the idea to search the newer cars outside, such as the clean ’57 Ford shown, and found a registration slip in the glove box of one with a woman’s name and address. It turned out to be the old man’s daughter. Roger made contact, and she said she could sell the cars.
But wait. Chuck said, “I haven’t told you about the helicopter guy.” What? A guy named Marv helped organize car shows at the XXX for Jose. He was there when Roger was describing the old farm, heard about the cars scattered around, possibly saw photos Roger took of the ’32 and Model A in the barn, and learned it was in Snohomish Co. Marv worked at some big company that had a helicopter, which he was able to use to fly over the area, spot the farm with abandoned cars, land, and coincidentally search them and find the same registration, contacting the daughter as well. I’m not making this up.
Chuck doesn’t know how, but somehow Roger convinced the daughter to sell the Deuce to him. It wasn’t a bidding war, because he got it for $2500.
The Model A in front of it was a stocker, and had a 1963 Wash. license on it. It might still be there. But this was 10 years ago, at least.
The ’32 had been painted with a light coat of grey lacquer primer, and the body had no apparent rust, dents, or damage. Here it has a 1-piece hood top, a flat firewall, and a grille shell. Of course the most significant identifier is the Sir Duce logo, with top hat and cane, painted in white on the cowl sides.
Another major identifier on the car, among more common speed parts decals, is the large one for Central State Racing Association, specifying Sacramento, Roseville, Auburn, and Placerville, with “Modifieds” at the top and “Hobby” at the bottom. So that fairly closely pinpoints where the car was from, at least at one time. It had a black Calif. plate on it with a 1964 year sticker.
So Roger was able to tow the ’32 out, load it on a U-Haul trailer, and take it home. From the fringe on top, it looks like the white roof insert blew off on the way. But you can see that the body is very cherry and the car is quite complete–windows, handles, dash, steering, seats, etc. Not only does it appear to have chrome window frames and ’50 Ford door handles, but that looks like once-tasty white tuck and roll inside. Chuck says the dash was chromed, then rusty, and spray-canned black. Note it’s also uncut.
Of course it has snow tires on the back, and surprisingly they all hold air. Chuck said it had a ’55 Chev rear mounted on a ’40 Ford cross spring, and both the X-member and front crossmember had been liberally cut out for some kind of big engine and trans, such as an Olds and Hydro, but that’s purely speculation.
So this is as far as the car got with Roger. We’d call it an excellent barn find, especially for $2500. It obviously has some sort of interesting–but unknown–history. Roger’s plan was to build it into a contemporary street rod. Fortunately that didn’t happen.
Turns out Roger was a salesman at Louie Lamb’s car lot in Seattle. When Roger showed Louie what he had found, and what he planned to do with it, Louie decided it really should be preserved, by him. So Louie forked over $14,000 to his own salesman, and parked it in his showroom window, like this, with Not For Sale signs.
That’s where Chuck finally found it. All this took place about 10 years ago, more or less. Chuck wanted it. Louie wouldn’t sell, adamantly. But as Chuck said, “He’s a car dealer. They all have a price.” Chuck kept after it for a couple years, but Louie wouldn’t budge. Then Chuck heard that Louie was looking for a ’32 3-window. Chuck found a good one that was coming up for sale, and decided to try to make a deal with Louie. But when he called this time Louie said, “I’ve got to buy out my partner. I’ve just put 15 cars on eBay, including Sir Duce. It hasn’t sold yet, so make an offer.” Sorry to drag it out, but this is the story.
To quote an old saying, money talks, BS walks. Or, more pertinently in this case, Chuck made Louie an offer he couldn’t refuse. He told me how much it was, but said I couldn’t print it. You can guess. It was substantial, but not crazy. Chuck said this deal was made in 2006. Wait a minute. That doesn’t jibe with the “10 years ago” time frame I’ve been quoting above. I just called Chuck to confirm. He said yes, he checked his notes, and the ’06 date is correct. So change all those 10-year time frames I’ve mentioned to 20 years. And as for the Model A, Chuck just told me that a few years after Roger got Sir Duce out, a bad snow and wind storm hit the area, and the barn collapsed, crushing the A. Meaning it would have gotten the ’32 also if it hadn’t been removed. Further, he said he drove by the old farm a couple years ago, and the whole property was cleared and one big new house sat on the 40 acres. So don’t go searching for all the other old cars, even if you have a helicopter. They’re gone.
So here’s what Sir Duce looks like today, sitting in one of Chuck’s packed garages. He took these photos last week, apologizing that he couldn’t get it out because it’s blocked in by a couple engines and other parts. He also admitted progress has been slow because “I have several cars I’m working on. I dabble on one and then another.” But he claims that this is his No. 2 project now, and he plans to have it on the street this summer. Plus he’s gotten more done than might appear. He started by rebuilding the frame with new crossmembers and a ’34 rearend on a stock spring. A ’39 trans with Zephyr gears is ready to go in. And he’s just built a hopped-up (and rare) ’55 Chevy 265 that will wear the tri-carb setup shown, with period air cleaners.
Body-wise he started by installing a stock ’32 firewall, adding the Sir Duce logo. The rest of the body is just as he got it, except he found the thin primer coat came off easily with some rubbing compound, revealing what appears to be factory Tunis Gray underneath. Of course he left the cowl as is.
The rear fenders he says are usable. The fronts were rusted out along the frame, so he found a decent primered and patinaed pair at the swap meet to replace them. He also got a similar 25-louver hood to add. You can see he’s kept the decals in the original windows. And he’s had a new top insert installed and the seat reupholstered in all-white tuck-and-roll. So it’s closer than it looks, and the most important part is that it’s been preserved.
Of course Chuck still has no clues as to this car’s history. The main one is the CSRA decal from the Sacramento, CA, area and of course the Sir Duce logos. I’ve never seen anything exactly like this on a hot rod before. So Chuck and I are both hoping that somebody out there might recognize it, and provide any sort of information–maybe even old photos?–about the car’s past. If so, I’ll certainly show it here, along with eagerly awaited pictures of this car completed and back on the road once again. This summer, Chuck? We all hope so. Till then.