Hot Rod Heaven
Photographs By Bob Capazzo
The Beach Boys helped win immortality for hot rods based on the legendary 1932 Ford two-door, and it’s Steve Memishian’s passion to make sure we never forget about these colorful road rockets.
By day, the Round Hill Road resident is a partner at the top-rated, New York–based growth-stock manager DSM Capital, the company he cofounded with Daniel Strickberger. Memishian has a distinguished Wall Street pedigree, having served as a senior vice president at Paine Webber and as a partner and portfolio manager at W.P. Stewart & Company, before departing in 2000 to found DSM.
At night and on weekends, however, you’re likely to find this Winchester, Massachusetts, native in the garage, which is currently occupied by two of the sweetest hot rods in the world: a 1934 Ford three-window coupe and a classic deuce coupe, in this case a 1932 five-window.
These are authentic 1930s Fords, not the fiberglass replicas commonly seen at car shows, and each (despite sober dark paint and very little body chrome) is a showpiece. The ’34 is a state-of-the-art modern street rod with many go-faster updates, including disc brakes and a General Motors 430-cubic-inch “crate” motor of 1970s design that can produce well over 400 horsepower. Not only can it keep up with today’s traffic, but it also could probably blow the doors off a BMW M3 in a stoplight derby. The 330-horsepower ’32 reflects an earlier era, with a ’66 Chevrolet engine and many period speed accessories, including ’60s J2 Oldsmobile carburetors, a Halibrand “Quick-Change” rear end, vintage “Twin Blue” Stewart Warner gauges and an ultra-rare Moon racing fuel tank.
When started, these cars produce a deep mechanical rumble out of their twin tailpipes. When they’re on the road, which happens quite frequently, they swivel heads all over Greenwich. “People want to know what year they are and who built them,” says Memishian, a dashing and youthful fifty-nine-year-old. “One very persistent lady wanted to know how she could buy one just like it for herself.”
The hot rod era that these Fords celebrate was relatively short-lived, with a heyday from the end of World War II until approximately 1955, when General Motors introduced an overhead-valve V-8 that changed the sport. In his Stamford warehouse, Memishian keeps a bright red ’29 Ford roadster that would bring tears to the eyes of any veteran of the California dry lakes where these cars raced against the clock in time trials. Sitting proudly on a 1932 frame, his roadster body is stripped to the basics, without top, hood or fenders. The car is powered by a twin-carb supercharged 1949 version of the period hot rod engine, a flathead Ford V-8. As Memishian explains, the flathead was Ford’s principal engine from 1932 to 1953 (an amazing run), and it was infinitely improvable with parts made by the independent operators that sprang up around Southern California, including Iskendarian cams and Edelbrock manifolds.
“The ’32 was the first Ford tooled after the Depression started,” says Memishian, “and it had to be much more compelling than the earlier Model As to bring back the customer. To hot rodders, it was the perfect canvas; they flipped over it. And these were high-volume cars, so that many of them reached the junkyard quickly and were available to the highly skilled mechanics who became the hot rod pioneers.”
In 2007, Ford will celebrate the seventy-fifth birthday of its little deuce. Larry Erickson, a chief designer at Ford and the man behind the new Mustang, describes it as “a landmark car, beginning a period of styling dominance for the company and, most significantly, offering the world’s first mass-produced V-8 engine.” He adds that it changed automotive history not only when it was introduced, but also years later when it played a pivotal role in the development of the hot rod. “These cast-off cars, built in backyards and small garages, performed far beyond their original capabilities and often rivaled the performance of the best in the world,” Erickson says. “Hot rods are a uniquely American form of automotive expression.”