Subject of an 18-page article in "The Rodder's Journal"
The Walker Morrison Roadster 1932 Ford "Highboy"
Chassis no. 18-74450
286ci Mercury OHV V-8
3 Stromberg Carburetors
Estimated 225hp at 5,000 rpm
3-Speed 1940 Ford Manual Transmission with Lincoln-Zephyr cluster
I-beam Dropped Front Axle with Tubular Shocks, Single Transverse Semi-Elliptic Leaf Spring
Solid Rear Axle with Transverse Semi-Elliptic Leaf Spring and Tubular Hydraulic Shock Absorbers
4-Wheel Hydraulic Drum Brakes
*Historic California hot rod with dry lakes racing history
*Featured in period publications including 1952 Hop Up magazine
*Headers and hairpin wishbones fabricated by Doane Spencer
*Correctly restored by one of the country's best hot rod shops
*2nd in class at 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance
The 1932 Ford Highboy Roadster
Post-WWII California dry lakes pioneers established the definitive hot rod look. With its immortal styling, robust chassis, easily-modified Ford flathead V-8, and ready affordability, the timeless '32 Ford roadster, a one-year-only model, and short-lived in production at that, became the platform for all manner of 'go-fast' modifications.
By the late 1940s, the classic '32 highboy, as evidenced by the famed roadsters of John Ryan, Bob McGee, Hank Negley, Walker Morrison, Ray Brown, Ed Stewart and others, had become a model for the ages. Devoid of fenders, the spare wheel, running boards, bumpers, cowl lights and door handles, the result resembled the stripped-for-action racing roadsters that ran at Elgin, Illinois and Mines Field, now LAX.
Many '32 highboys were built, but not to a pattern. Some cars had 'the look.' Some didn't. Hot Rod Magazine and 'the little books,' like Rod & Custom, Car Craft, and Hop Up covered the better-built rods. It was considered an honor to have your car featured in a period publication. Highboy roadsters were dual-purpose cars. Owners used them to cruise and drive to work. Stripped of non-essentials, they became weekend dry lakes racers. Few authentic street and race highboys remain as originals, or are restored exactly as they were built. Survivors are highly prized and seldom offered for sale.
The Motorcar Offered
The Walker Morrison '32 was everything a '50s-era guy could possibly want in a hot rod highboy and it still is. This elegantly understated 'Deuce' roadster appeared in Hop Up magazine in January, 1952, then reappeared in a 1953 Fawcett Publications special called Best Hot Rods.
In the vernacular of that era, it was a knockout. Built by a talented mechanic, Walker (Moe) Morrison, of Whittier, California, a member of the "Road Runners", this roadster's modifications are a primer on how to build a classic hot rod. A dropped and filled front axle, a Z-ed frame and big-and-little tires on steel wheels give it a perfect stance, with a slight forward tilt. Modifications included a chopped windshield, a filled grille shell and cowl vent, and shaved door handles. Hand-fashioned track-style hairpin wishbones, by legendary LA-area fabricator Doane Spencer, W-shaped headers flowing into chromed lakes pipes that ran nearly to the rear wheels (more of Doane Spencer's handiwork), and twin exhaust pipes that paralleled the frame horns, were artfully executed.
The rare, late 1932 Ford, 25-louver hood (earlier examples had 20-louver side panels), concealed a bored and stroked 59AB flathead V-8 with the era's speed best equipment: Evans high-compression heads, Navarro triple intake manifold, a Potvin 38-83 cam, a Scintilla-Vertex magneto, and a finned Filcoolater oil cooler. Radiator hoses, air horns, generator cover and acorn nuts were chrome-plated.
Inside, under the neatly-fabricated folding canvas top, was a pleated leather interior and a genuine Auburn 12-160 dash with its distinctive five-gauge insert, incorporating a 120mph speedometer, and a separate 8,000 rpm tachometer mounted to the left. The steering wheel was stock '46-'48 Ford; the hubcaps were '47-'48 Ford. On the glove compartment door - another original Auburn feature - was a Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) timing tag certifying that Morrison raced his car at El Mirage Dry Lake in June 1949, turning a credible 123.11 mph in Class C.
Jack Stirnemann, a renowned St. Louis area hot rod shop owner, bought the remains of this '32, from three-time Grand National Roadster show winner, Ermie Immerso.
"Ermie didn't sell much," Stirnemann says, "but I persuaded him to sell me an old '32 roadster that looked as though it had been a hot rod for a long time. It was in rough shape and the frame had been boxed, but the numbers matched the title."
Immerso led Stirnemann to Gary Godbehere, from Phoenix, Arizona, who at one time had owned the Walker Morrison Roadster. "When I found out what the car was," Stirnemann says, "I flew to Phoenix to learn more. Godbehere (who died in August 2006) had old photos of the car, and he told me quite a bit about it." Carefully tracing the roadster's chronology, Stirnemann learned Morrison had sold it in 1953 to Rick Harding. Harding in turn sold it to Gary Godbehere who replaced the flathead with a Chrysler Hemi, with pictures to prove it.
Sometime in the 1960s, Godbehere passed the roadster to Ulysses E. Wilson, who installed a Chevy V-8 and drag raced it. In the 1970s, it went to Alton Sipes of Phoenix, who didn't keep it long. The next owner was an auto salesman, Mike Combest of Phoenix. It's believed that Dick Smith worked on the car during this period. Knowledgeable hot rodders will remember that Smith built the pioneering hemi-powered deuce roadster that's in the Henry Ford Museum. Immerso obtained the roadster from Combest in 1980. Stirnemann bought it in 1994 and began a comprehensive frame-off restoration.
One of many challenges was duplicating the car's exact color. Jack Stirnemann, whose specialty is painting, looked at a spectrum of old maroon shades. He had only seen this car in Hop Up magazine's sepia tones. Walker Morrison once described the color as dark maroon, but Moe's close friend, Ralph McFarland remembered, "...in bright sunlight, it was more like a ruby red." Jack scrutinized an array of maroons in color gradations. Using a photo spectrometer, he found a color that was close, and tinted that shade for the final hue. When Stirnemann showed the completed car to Ralph McFarland for the first time, an emotional Ralph said, "Oh Jack, you got the color perfect!".
Stirnemann restored the Morrison roadster exactly as it appeared in Best Hot Rods. He stared repeatedly at those old photographs, noting every detail. The period cotton-coated wiring has wax-coated thread ties. It's exquisite. Jack asked Bill Jenks, the famed Potvin cam specialist, if he could grind a 38-83 cam. "I can do one of those," Jenks said," and he did. The Fawcett book noted the car had a 25-tooth Lincoln cluster in the transmission and a 3.54:1 rear. It still does.
In 1952, Hop Up's unidentified writer had noted, "Photography alone cannot express the true beauty of Walker Morrison's roadster, which appears to be nothing unusual, but is, in reality, one of the cleanest examples of roadster building in Southern California." It still is.
Jack Stirnemann credits his brother Harry, machinist Ernie Vision, welder Jimmy Marshall, and George Lange, for helping with the restoration. A few years ago, Jack encountered Walker Morrison's former girl friend, Carolyn Sager, at Bonneville. She had fond memories of "Moe" and his roadster.
"Cars were really his passion," Carolyn remembered. "That car had a lasting effect on all the young kids who were involved with it. It was one car they always remembered."
Perfectly restored, drop-dead gorgeous, the Walker Morrison '32 highboy represents an unusual opportunity to purchase an authentic lakes roadster, just as it appeared during the Golden Era of American hot rodding.