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Finally, a highboy to drive

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, March 22, 2013, at 5:59 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, March 23, 2013, at 6:08 a.m.

Jan Coe has owned some hallmark Ford hot rods: a ’36, a ’37 and a ’40. But there was one that he wanted above all others — a 1932 Ford highboy roadster.

So when he spotted a satin black highboy built by shop students at Peabody-Burns High School on display at the Starbird rod and custom car show a few years ago, one thought flashed through his mind. "I said, `I’ve got to have that,’ " he recalled.

It took some negotiating, but he and the school district finally agreed on a price and the car was his.

"The kids did a super job on it," Coe says. "I drove it one summer the way it was. There were some minor problems … I am probably a little more particular than they were."

So he decided to basically keep the car as it was built, but go through and make it his own with some minor tweaks. The really big change he had in mind was the color.

"I love green, so me and Rick Starbird (of Starbird Collision) hit it off on a color … Porsche green," Coe said. "Rick did all of the body and paint work.”

The car began life as a fiberglass shell, with the doors extended 2 inches for extra legroom. The only steel in the body is the Rootlieb custom hood and the Vintique Reproduction grille shell and insert, says the owner. The students had used a ’32 Ford frame, boxed for extra strength, as the foundation for their build. Pete & Jake’s suspension components and a Super Bell dropped axle give the car a nice, nose-down stance, with a little help from the tall 215/ 85R/ 16 BF Goodrich rear tires and the shorter 155R15 Cokers up front.

Big 1934 Ford commercial headlights and small round ’50 Pontiac tail lights are used in conjunction with wiring from Affordable Street Rods in Great Bend.

Beige steel wheels by Wheel Vintiques were used fore and aft, with 1946 Ford dog dish hubcaps and trim rings adding a bit of glitter. Front disc brakes were provided by GM, while standard drum brakes were used on the 9-inch Ford rear end, which runs a 3.50 gear set.

Fitted between the frame rails is a 1996-vintage 350 cubic inch Chevy Vortech V-8 engine, rebuilt to original specs, aside from a Crane roller camshaft, an Edelbrock intake and a 550 cfm Holley 4-barrel carburetor. An Olds-style twin-snorkel air cleaner nestles atop the carb and the heads are fitted with Oldsmobile-style valve covers. A set of Speedway block-hugger headers are hooked to 2-1/4 inch pipes crafted by Matt Schroeder of Newton, flowing through polished stainless steel Turbo mufflers, also from Speedway.

A Chevy 350 Turbo Hydramatic transmission was overhauled by Farmer’s Repair at Elbing, which also built and balanced the driveshaft for the roadster.

Inside, a middle bench seat out of a 1986 Dodge mini van was repurposed by Scott Downey to fit the roadster, then covered in beige material to match the door panels; Downey also installed the color-keyed carpeting. A Lokar shifter and oval pull-type door handles blend in with the low-key theme, which features a classic 1940 Ford-style steering wheel atop and ididit column.

A pair of big Stewart Warner black-face gauges, one a 160 mph speedometer, the other a 4-way readout, occupy the center of the dash. On the road, Coe looks out over a cut-down Vintique windshield.

Coe says he couldn’t have got his highboy back together without the help of a lot of good friends, such as Kevin Kaiser of American Muffler, who oversaw the mechanical end of the makeover.

"I just surrounded myself with good people. I’m not that mechanically inclined," he said.

When he couldn’t find an appropriate vanity plate for the car, Coe decided to put a conventional tag on it. Amazingly, the day he went to the tag office, he was issued "889 COE," which sort of topped the project off.

"Everything is basically the same as the kids built it," Coe said. "This really is the one. I’m going to enjoy it. I’m not going to put a top on it. If I’m going to have a top, I might as well drive my pickup.

"I’ll look at the Weather Channel and if it looks like there’s a chance of precipitation, I’ll stay at home," said Coe, who feels that the car turned out so well, he may just sit in his garage and look at it.

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