Photos by Trent Sherrill, Words by Jake Steele
Some of us never had a chance.. whether we knew it or not, our fate was sealed the minute we were born. Can you imagine, never having a choice? It's...just..decided for you. There is no way around it and resistance futile. You're stuck, that's it, all she wrote. No debate. Alarming? Well, hang on, let me give you some context... I'm not talking about some bizarre religious cult, or being born into the mob. No, I'm talking about something far worse - something from which there is absolutely no escape, a dirt that doesn't wash off, no matter how hard you scrub. You see, some of us are just plain old natural-born hot rodders.. Paul Gilligan of Vancouver, Washington is the perfect example of just what I mean. If you have any doubt about this fact, the '32 Coupe below should be all the evidence you need to prove Paul's affliction.
Now, before you go feeling sorry for him and wondering if there is anything you can do to help, fear not, he came to terms with his fate some time ago. See, Paul is a pretty sharp guy and figured out early on that the best thing to do with this "problem" was to simply accept it. And he not only embraces it, he freely admits it. After all, the first step is simply admitting you have a problem, right?
The story may have been written from day one, but the earliest memory he can recall of actually realizing it was when he was about 6 years old. Paul was part of a large family, having 4 considerably older brothers who were - and this may shock you - major gear heads. On occasion, the older boys would allow him to tag along on their adventures and one day in the early 1960's, they brought him along to look at a hot rodded 1932 Ford 5 window coupe that was for sale. They arrived and one by one, shuffled along the side of a house where they were greeted by a car-shaped lump covered by a tattered green army tarp. The gentleman pulled back the tarp to reveal a worn out, dilapidated old coupe. It was more than a little rough around the edges and not exactly what Paul's brothers were looking for. Sighting the fact that they were wanting something a little nicer, the boys began inching their way back to their own car. The man selling the coupe however, insisted that they at least have a look under the hood. Humoring the guy, the boys agreed. When he opened the hood, it revealed an early small block Chevy with multiple carbs and Corvette valve covers. As proud as he was, the boys were unimpressed and remained unswayed. They thanked him for his time and headed home. None of them gave it much thought beyond that. None that is, except for Paul. Even though he was just a small child at the time, he remembers the sight of that engine bay as if it were yesterday. "That's when it all started, " Paul says, "I remember that experience and seeing that motor stuffed in there like it were yesterday. From then on, I was hooked."
With the stage set, Paul embarked on his hot rod career. Through the years, he has had countless cars of all kinds, but mostly early Fords. Early on, he developed a talent for body and paint work and eventually opened his own body shop. He spent his free time buying, selling, building and showing hot rod Fords. It didn't take long for Paul to gain a reputation for having some of the most tasteful and skillfully built cars in the area. Along the way, he also became quite proficient at sniffing out old hot rods and large stashes of parts.
It was one such stash of long hoarded-away parts that would eventually lead to the creation of the gorgeous coupe you see in front of you. Some years back, Paul had heard a rumor about a large collection of 1932 Ford parts in a town on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. He made contact with the gentleman and eventually was able to talk his way into what was essentially a warehouse, stuffed full of '32 treasures. It was the proverbial "honey hole" we all dream about, right in front of him. There were bodies, frames, engines, body parts, and countless odds and ends. This wasn't Paul's first rodeo, and where a lot of us might have gotten weak in the knees, he buckled down and set out to make a deal. He enlisted the help of his son, Steve, and the two of them together would end up purchasing the entire lot as a package.
With the deal made, Paul and Steve began the enormous job of clearing out the warehouse. The sheer volume of the collection made it a daunting task. But over the course of many long days and weeks, they hauled load after load of dusty relics from the four walls that had kept them hidden for so long. The idea was simple: sort and categorize it, set aside what they wanted to keep for themselves and sell off the rest. It seemed easy enough, but the amount of items the gentleman had amassed over the many years of collecting meant that this would almost be a part time job for the father and son team. They quickly filled their shops and garages and with no other choice, began renting storage units to house what remained.
After several months sorting parts, taking inventory and selling off duplicates and items neither of the two needed, they each walked away with their own stash of "keepers." Among the items in Paul's pile was most of what was needed to build this killer coupe. He shifted some cars around in his shop to make room and got to work.
Paul started by plucking a nice frame out of his new-found inventory and installed a Model A cross member up front to assist the dropped axle with the task of getting the front end down where it belonged. He then fitted a stock cross member to the rear, altered with the center portion from a 1940 Ford to accept the '40 spring and rear end. The same era juice brakes were used front and rear and the steering duty was given to an F-1 box. A warmed-over flathead from a '53 Mercury was placed between the rails. It was completely rebuilt and features an Isky cam, Offenhauser heads and custom-made headers. It was then backed by a rebuilt '39 transmission.The body itself also came from the aforementioned honey hole. It wore a heavy coat of grey primer and was in overall good condition. Paul put his years of body and paint experience to work and began the process of making the car laser straight. He then sprayed coat after coat of gorgeous "Poppy Red", a period-perfect color that is, in reality, a little more orange than it is red. He had the interior stitched in white vinyl with orange piping. Dave's Upholstery in Vancouver, Washington handled this with expert precision and captured the era of the car perfectly. To top it off, a tasteful dose of pinstriping was added by Comeau Lettering, also from Vancouver, Washington.
So, the moral of the story is, sometimes we don't have a choice, but that's not always a bad thing. After a lifetime of hot rodding, Paul has figured out two things: First, there is no known cure for antique-car-obsession. And second, it seems to be hereditary.. "My son is just as bad as I am. I don't know who's fault that is.."
A small side bar: I first encountered this car in about 2013 or so if I remember correctly. Paul's son, Steve is a member of the Estranged CC and our club was displaying about 15 cars at The Portland Roadster Show that year. Steve had asked if we had room for his dad's '32 Coupe and of course everyone agreed. I had never seen the car before and at the time really only knew Paul through reputation. Needless to say, I was absolutely blown away when I first saw this thing and it is still my favorite hot rod to this day. I've never said "the photos don't do it justice" when Trent Sherrill is in control of the lens - and do NOT mistake what I'm saying, because the images are typical of Trent's great work - but there is no substitution for seeing this coupe up-close and in person. It is an absolute period-stunner....
A friend of mine from Colorado saw this article and told me about it. Very well done Jake, you are an excellent writer, story teller. Im majorly impressed. Thanks very much. I don’t do Facebook or Instagram ,but luckily a friend of mine does. Later Pops.