7/6/2004 | 5 MINUTE READ

Suddenly, it's 1932

Originally titled 'Contracted to design, develop, engineer and build a modern version of the '32 Ford Roadster body in steel, ASC used modern technology to make it everything the original wasn't.'
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Contracted to design, develop, engineer and build a modern version of the '32 Ford Roadster body in steel, ASC used modern technology to make it everything the original wasn't.


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Walk into the back room of Oakley Ind. (Clinton Twp., MI), past the die work being done for major OEM programs, and you'll see something unusual: new Kirksite dies developed from CAD data supplied by ASC (Southgate, MI) for a 1932 Ford convertible. But not just any '32 Ford drop top. This one has been redesigned and reengineered to accept a disappearing cloth top, curved side glass, power windows, larger doors, and more interior space within the footprint of the original. Unlike that car, the "Dearborn Deuce," as the new '32 is called, started with a white-light scan of an original car, and moved to the CAD screen for modification. There the body was made symmetric–something the original definitely wasn't–the "tulip" panel between the decklid and interior was shortened and made functional so it could be used as a cover over the folding convertible top, the doors were lengthened to ease ingress and egress, the lines were subtly reshaped and sharpened, structural braces designed to radically reduce cowl shake were added, the A-pillar was changed to accept roll-up windows and modern weather seals, and the H-point lowered.

The Dearborn Deuce
The Dearborn Deuce started as a hand-built make-work project for ASC's crafts team, but morphed into a math-based, stamped and welded, low-volume production program.

"The Dearborn Deuce was born, engineered, and developed by ASC," says Jim Inglese, one of the principals of Hot Rods & Horsepower (HR&H), a Branford, CT, maker of all-steel 1932 Ford hot rods. ASC oversees all of the tooling and stamping, acquisition of outside vendors, and the build of the convertible body. This is vastly different than the process followed in the design and development of HR&H's '32 Coupe, wherein Inglese and company oversaw each step in the process. "When we got into this with the 3-window Coupe," he says, "we were stupid. Would I do it that way again? Never in a million years."

Oddly enough, Mark Trostle, president of Creative Services at ASC, never intended for this project to grow beyond the production of a half-dozen cars. As the owner of a hot-rodded '32 Ford Roadster, Trostle understands the shortcomings of Henry Ford's original, and saw the design and creation of a less compromised version as a way to keep ASC's craftsmen busy during the lull between auto show cycles. "I wanted something that would be a nice calling card for ASC, keep my guys busy, and be fun," says Trostle. Which meant building the bodies by hand and finishing the vehicles with parts and pieces sourced from companies like HR&H. Only HR&H was embarking on its own convertible program, and looking for a company capable of taking it from an idea to reality. "That meant doing a lot of planning for a production volume approaching one car per day," says Trostle. And extending the project from four months to 16.

truncated 'tulip lid'
Underneath the truncated "tulip lid" sits the folding convertible top. Modified production pieces are used to build the folding mechanism.

Once the CAD work was complete, Trostle's team built a skeletal model to examine potential problem areas. "We did cube models of certain high-risk areas of the car," says Trostle, "like the area where the new cowl and door designs meet. These areas were milled out of high-density foam to make certain there were no issues." Even the rear quarter panels were milled in foam to make certain the surface would remain crisp even after multiple layers of paint were applied. The changes were scanned, added to the CAD files and passed along to the die maker.

Mike Oakley, president of Oakley Ind., says the Dearborn Deuce isn't all that different from the prototype die programs his company does for the Big Three: "We take the CAD data, use it to produce a foam pattern that is packed in sand, then filled with molten zinc alloy, and mill the dies to their final shape." The Kirksite dies are good, he says, for 800 to 1,000 hits, which is four to five times the number necessary to reach this year's planned production total of 200 cars. "Both doors are formed in the same set of dies," says Oakley, "because they are fairly simple shapes." Yet no panel takes more than three hits from forming through hemming. "That's because we've eliminated the need for a trimming die by using a laser to trim the excess metal from each panel," he says. And though more costly in a volume production program, this eliminates the need for one die set. Oakley Ind., by theway, is the company responsible for the dies used to produce the body panels–including the deep-draw front fenders–of Chevy's SSR. "Obviously, this isn't the first hot rod we've done," he says.

Kirksite dies are cast and finished at Oakley Ind.
Kirksite dies are cast and finished at Oakley Ind. Finished panels are delivered to ASC where they are placed in a fixture and welded before shipment to Hot Rods & Horsepower. All photos courtesy of ASC.

"The brackets and other sheetmetal pieces below the Class A panels are relatively simple and produced on a sheetmetal brake," says Trostle, "though the A-pillar is made of investment-cast stainless steel." This retains the bright finish found on a real '32 Ford, but in a piece that is lower and more complex than the original's. To ease entry and exit, Trostle moved the door line forward 3.5-in., and tied it into the trailing edge of the A-pillar, whose inner surface was extended to form an "L" shape when viewed from above. The additional surface provides the sealing plane for the roll-up window. The curved glass follows the sweep of the body (Fords of the era had side curtains), and mates with a channel built into the padded convertible top. "Though the shapes are different, a lot of the top's pieces are drawn from the parts used in our production convertible tops," says Trostle. The top is manufactured at ASC.

The Deuce's body is built at ASC's Southgate, MI, facility at a rate of four per week. "We receive all of the raw stampings, fixture them, and do a body build on a small assembly line," says Trostle. The completed bodies are shipped to HR&H's facility where most are mated to a replica '32 Ford frame HR&H stamps at its Dearborn Manufacturing facility in Milwaukee, WI. This plant also produces service frames for domestic OEMs alongside the boxed, double "C"-section Deuce frame. "Other than the fully boxed sections," says Inglese, "the only difference between our frame and the original is the notch that allows the car to sit lower."

Happy with the current relationship, HR&H is working with ASC on their next project, a '33 Ford Roadster. Only this time, hints Inglese, "the top will be totally different, and in keeping with ASC's expertise." It debuts this July.