They say with a little practice you get better at doing things. For Jerry Owen of Providence, North Carolina, the practice has been building ’32 and ’33 Fords. Over the years he has become what he calls an “amateur engineer” and can stick a car together that will last in the Southern heat and drive many miles. As a testament to that, this yellow coupe was finished in 2005 and has racked up more than 118,000 miles. Even better, the car was a key ingredient in him marrying his wife, Vickie.
Jerry had a ’32 highboy that he drove the wheels off, even winning a Deuce Doins pick in Charlotte in 2002. When the itch to build a new car hit, he decided to start another highboy, this time a three-window coupe with a more traditional style. Since real steel ’32s are scarce in the damp Southeast climate, he special ordered a Rat’s Glass body with a 3-inch chopped top and a 1½-inch angle-channeled floor. This put the body on an angle over the rails and worked with the 5-inch dropped axle and relocated Model A crossmember to give him the rake he wanted.
Jerry set up a pair of ASC rails on his home frame jig and C-notched the rear to allow the 8-inch rearend – suspended by a triangulated four link – to operate at the right height. Instead of pinching the rails to allow the channeled body to sit correctly, Jerry simply made pockets that allowed the body to slide down into place. He also moved the axle forward one inch. The chassis was finished off with RideTech shocks, Heidts rear coil-overs and a GM power steering box setup with cross steer. This idea came from his years of tinkering and bolted right into the Vega box mounts.
Jerry also mounted the 355c.i. Chevy engine (that he built himself) higher in the chassis than most people do, specifically to run a mechanical fan. It’s topped with an Edelbrock carb. In addition to power steering, the engine also has the “required for the South” A/C unit and an additional 16-inch electric fan mounted horizontally down by the oil pan. After years of cruising in the heat, Jerry figured out that air in the engine compartment doesn’t exit through the hood sides very well. He discovered that if he added a small fan to pull the air down and out, the temperature needle stays put. Friends have since copied his clever idea and they all cruise cool.
Halfway into the build, Jerry decided to make the car into a full-fendered street rod and purchased steel fenders from the late Barry Lobeck. He quickly realized that the angle-channeled body was going to alter the fit of the fenders, hood, and radiator; changing one aspect had affected numerous others. He ordered a 2-inch longer hood and trimmed it to fit, after he dropped the grille shell.
Jerry then began work on the fenders. The catch was that he didn’t know how to TIG weld. Not one to let that stop him, Jerry did what any hot rodder worth his lug nuts would do: He ordered a Lincoln welder, taught himself, and practiced until he was ready to modify the fenders. He made bucks for each side and worked them until they required very little filler. He also TIG-welded the hood and made fender edges out of ½-inch cold-rolled beads. The hood sides were then stepped at the bottom to flow with the body.
Jerry chose the PPG Chrome Yellow color because it “stands out and is easier to keep clean during North Carolina’s pollen season.” He also said it’ll never go out of style. The wheels were originally slated for a ’32 truck he was building for his wife. He was wondering what they would look like on the coupe and after bolting them on they never left. He said he tried to give them back to her, but she laughed and said she doesn’t want them now that they’re “used.”
The interior is set up around a set of Toyota seats. Jerry had Waller’s Upholstery trim them to match the rest of the cabin that he did himself. Dakota Digital gauges, a Lokar shifter, and a Grant steering wheel round out the cruiser-friendly cabin.
One thing missing inside is a vanity mirror for Vickie. They started dating during the car’s construction and she asked if he would install a vanity mirror for her on a sun visor. “I told her with the chopped top it wouldn’t be much more than a ruler,” he said. “One day after the car was finished I told her to go open the door and look overhead, and she just knew that I had finally installed her mirror.” To her surprise there wasn’t a mirror. Instead she found a note asking her if she would marry him. “Yes,” was her answer and she has ridden with him for most of those 118,000 miles, including the time they hit a deer and wiped out a front fender. (The car rode around fenderless for a year as he made the repairs.)
The car spent a little more time off the road when Jerry converted it to the 700R4 automatic. It was originally set up with a Muncie four-speed, but as much as he drives the car, he found the need to stretch out his left foot more important than rowing gears. The floor and pedals were redone for cruising comfort after an incident when the pins in the side cover came loose and left him driving back home without any low gears.
Though Jerry has built and sold many cars over the years, this one has developed a bit of a sentimental anchor and he’s held onto it. He has kept busy building cars for other people, like Vickie’s dad, but ultimately feels that driving them is the best part of owning a hot rod.
“Old cars bring smiles to old people’s faces, and to young people’s faces, and they spark random conversations that lead into other subjects,” he says. “I think people who don’t really drive their cars are missing out on a big part of the car culture.”
Photos by Steven Bunker and Todd Ryden