For some, the most influential hot rod in their lives came in the form of a movie icon. For others, it was a record-chasing coupe. But if you’re looking for the most influential hot rod in the custom fabrication department, then Doane Spencer’s 1932 Ford Hi-Boy is certainly a top contender, as well as this month’s Hot Rod You Should Know feature vehicle!
Originally modified under the ownership of Spencer’s high school friend, Jack Dorn, who purchased the car in 1941, Spencer purchased the car from Dorn in 1944 for a mere $500. By that time, the roadster had been modified with a filled grille shell, shaved deck lid and a ’37 Ford Flathead V8 engine.
The car also already had its signature George DuVall split windshield, a carry-over from Spencer’s Model A, which he wrecked and then gave Dorn the windshield from prior to his purchase of the roadster. The windshield on the Spencer roadster is said to be the first DuVall windshield ever put on a roadster.
When Spencer took ownership of the Ford in 1944, he did away with the car’s original full-fendered look, giving the car an open suspension, another defining feature of the early hot rod. Spencer also equipped the car with a bit more oomph, pulling the Ford Flathead from under the hood and putting a 1946 Mercury 258ci Flathead V8 with Ord heads and a dual-carb setup in its place.
Other defining features of the car under Spencer’s ownership included a custom center armrest, which contained controls for the radio, and modified Lincoln brakes with extra cooling scoops fabricated by Spencer.
A gorgeous, unique, jet-black hot rod, the roadster went on to win the Best Appearing Hot Rod award at the Pasadena Roadster Club’s 1947 Reliability Run, as well as receiving an exclusive invitation to be displayed at the first annual Hot Rod Exposition in 1948. But the show circuit wasn’t enough for Spencer and he opted to transition the car into a racer, making the necessary tweaks to the Ford to do so.
Spencer raced the car at El Mirage for a number of years, turning an impressive 126.76mph in 1950 with the car, but Spencer still had bigger plans for the Ford. The next big move would be to enter the roadster in the Carrera Panamericana road race in Mexico.
To prepare the car for the Panamericana, Spencer fitted and formulated new components on the Ford. One of the car’s most notable custom component was the custom exhaust system Spencer came up with for the car that threaded through the side framerails rather than underneath them, giving the car more ground clearance for racing on rough roads.
The roadster was also fitted with an extra cross-member for added rigidity. Unfortunately, though the modifications were made for racing the Mexican road race, the roadster never made it to the Panamericana, because the race had been canceled at the end of 1954 due to numerous accidents.
Spencer kept the roadster until 1958, when he sold it to friend Lynn Wineland, of Rod & Custom fame. Reportedly, Wineland bought the car for just $300 without an engine or running gear, as Spencer is said to have been selling pieces from the car to raise money after purchasing a new house.
Though Spencer no longer owned the car (he did, however, own a modified 1955 Ford T-Bird that he was racing), he still remained part of its legacy and even helped Wineland work on the car for some time.
Under Wineland’s ownership, the roadster was fitted with a Y-block equipped with custom 4-into-1 headers built by Spencer, as well as a 1937 Ford tube axle. Unfortunately, Wineland was pushed to sell the car in the late 60s before he could complete his own build on the Ford, after a divorce left his home on the line.
Wineland’s friend Neal East purchased the car (minus the Y-block it had been fitted with), making a deal with Wineland that the car would always remain black and Ford powered, and Wineland would have first dibs on the car if East ever went to sell it.
East held on to the car until 1995 (having once again fitted the roadster with a 1946 Mercury Flathead V8 and gotten the car on the road), when he sold it to avid car collector Bruce Meyer. As the story goes, Spencer had talked to Meyer, the man responsible for commissioning the restoration of the Pierson Brother’s Coupe and the So-Cal belly tank, at the 1995 Hot Rod Reunion, suggesting Meyer purchase the car from East and restore it to its glory days.
Though East had not truly considered selling the roadster up to then, despite many offers over the years, he reconsidered following Spencer’s death later that year. Ownership was then handed over to Meyer who promised to have the car restored and then put on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum.
For the restoration, Meyer turned to Pete Chapouris and the So-Cal Speed Shop, who restored the car back to its Spencer-owned show car condition. In 1997, the first year that hot rods were allowed to participate in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the restored Spencer roadster took home first-place honors in the Class R Historic Hot Rods category. Since its restoration, the car has remained on display at the Petersen Museum as promised by Meyer.
A true standout in the hot rodding world, Doane Spencer’s 1932 Roadster will forever go down in history for its traditional look, innovative modifications and continued presence in hot rodders’ lists of dream cars. Some even call the car “The Holy Grail” of hot rods. Whatever you call the roadster, it’s certainly an influential hot rod you should know!