by Ken Gross & Rober Genat
“Mr. Bracket” built a hot rod. Doane Spencer’s ‘32 Ford roadster is one of those very special cars where just the mention of it conjures up a distinct, timeless image in the minds of serious hot-rodders. For over half a century, this picture-perfect, jet-black ‘32 Ford highboy, with its laid-back DuVall split windshield, Schroeder racecar steering, hairpin wishbones, black steel wheels with skinny bias-plies, discrete plating, and integrated side pipes, has set a very high standard. It’s been cloned and imitated, and its signature elements have been unashamedly copied by a legion of admirers.
Beautifully restored now, the roadster won the first Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Hot Rod Class, along with class wins at Amelia Island, Meadow Brook Hall, and Louis Vuitton in New York. Today, the ex-Spencer ‘32 is usually on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles when its owner, Bruce Meyer, isn’t out driving it. And drive it he does. In 2002, Bruce tooled the priceless Spencer deuce out to Pomona for the annual LA Roadsters Father’s Day meet. A few years ago, he drove it on Mark Morton’s River City Rod Run, sliding around in the light snow we encountered in the San Gabriel Mountains. This roadster has even chingo-ed from Beverly Hills out to Bakersfield for the NHRA Reunion. Meyer, a man with a garage-full of Ferraris, ‘Benzes, a 427SC Cobra, a Duesenberg, and a Bugatti, says “Driving it is wonderful.”
There’s a ton of history in this car. Old photographs show it at the Pasadena Roadster Club Reliability Run (where it won “Best Appearing Car” in 1947), and later that year it was shot at Pico Rivera, lined up alongside the best rods of its era, waiting to be chosen as one of the SCTA/Russetta entrants for the first big indoor hot rod show at the LA Armory. There are even shots of it running hard at El Mirage (where it turned 126.76 mph in 1950 with a relatively small displacement, 243-ci destroked flathead).
Spencer believed you built a car using the best of what was available, and when upgraded parts came around, you fitted them. Like many great hot rodders, his goal was to make things better and faster. He never stopped improving this roadster, that is, until he switched to another project, his 1957 Thunderbird. And he never let that car alone either.
Interestingly, Doane’s ‘32 roadster was already a hot rod when he got it. He and his friend, Jack Dorn, were students at Hollywood High School. Dorn first owned the roadster in 1941, when the then full-fendered ‘32 got a filled grille shell and shaved deck lid, along with a 21-stud, ‘37 Ford V-8. After Doane wrecked his Model A, he gave Dorn its genuine George DuVall split windshield. Jack then paid noted Hollywood bodyman, Jimmy Summers, $45 to modify the ‘32 cowl to accept it.
At the end of 1954, after a considerable number of accidents, the Mexican government permanently cancelled Pan American Road Races, so Doane never got to race his roadster in the event. Coincidentally, that’s when Ford introduced the 1955 Thunderbird, and loyal Ford man Doane Spencer actually flew to Detroit with his young daughter, Doanna, and drove home a black one. The new ‘Bird, extensively modified by Spencer, turned 149.53 mph at Bonneville in 1961. Spencer kept improving the car until he died, and it too spawned several clones. (Chuck DeHeras owns the original.)
At this point, the next two owners of the Doane Spencer roadster, Lynn Wineland and Neal East, entered the picture. Lynn Wineland built his first hot rod when he attended Coalinga (California) high school, before serving in the Army Air Corps and attending art school in Ohio. He first saw Doane Spencer’s roadster at the LA Armory show in 1948, and later he and Doane connected at the 1950 Indianapolis car show, where Wineland’s ‘32 was entered. Pick up an old copy of Trend Book 102, published in 1951 by Bob Petersen and Bob Lindsay, and you’ll find photos of Wineland’s sharp, channeled ‘32 roadster, with a split windshield. A member of the Hoodlifters, an Ohio hot rod club, Wineland ran a Navarro-equipped three-carb ‘42 Mercury engine with a Winfield SU-1R cam, rare Kinmont disc brakes, and a ‘42 Lincoln transmission with a column shift. (Doane Spencer’s roadster, in lakes trim, is found on page 86 of the same book.)
When he returned to California, Wineland lived in a house on Spencer’s street in Sun Valley. In January 1956, he signed on as graphics director for Rod & Custom, and three years later, he was the editor. In December 1959, Wineland put his friend Doane Spencer on the R&C masthead as technical editor, but Spencer seldom actually went to the R&C offices. Finally in October 1960, Neal East became an R&C associate editor. The stage was set for ownership changes.
Lynn Wineland purchased the roadster from Spencer sometime in 1958. Doane had bought a new house and needed the cash. Reportedly, the car was completely apart with no engine and running gear; Spencer had been selling the parts piecemeal to raise money. Wineland paid him just $300 (!) for what was left and moved it to his garage. But Spencer was still in the picture, still working on the car. Doane and Lynn are shown with the roadster on the cover of the December 1960 R&C, fabricating front nerf bars for a story. The Y-block engine is fitted, along with a beautiful set of four-into-one headers. In the eighth edition of Floyd Clymer’s popular Handbook of Engine Swapping, there are two pages of photos showing how Spencer hand-formed and welded those headers, as well as how the exhaust pipe extensions were built to pass through the frame.
Sadly, Lynn Wineland never drove the Spencer car during his ownership. By 1968 or 1969, he was getting a divorce and was about to lose his house and his garage. He called Neal East, who’d sold his own roadster, but who did have a garage. Lynn offered East the Spencer ‘32, sans the Y-block that had been installed, but with a few important conditions: the car had to remain black, always be Ford-powered, and Lynn wanted the right of first refusal if it was going to be sold. Neal says he replied, “It’s not getting sold, so don’t worry about it.”
Interestingly, in a letter to R&C in September 1995, Wineland wrote, “I never perceived nor claimed the car as being mine – I was just a custodian and I always consulted with Doane before proceeding with a change.” Interestingly, Wineland closed his letter with this prophetic thought; “I’d prefer it to go to some place such as the Petersen Automotive Museum.”
From 1985 to 1995, the Spencer ‘32 was relatively dormant. Neal East had Pete Eastwood and Bill “Birdman” Stewart freshen up the chassis and body, which included a hood repair that saw a full inch added to ensure the sides squared perfectly with the grille shell. The modesty panel inside the shell was also reworked to hide the axle. They also remade the exhaust pipes out of stainless; Doane’s steel side pipes had rusted. Then East moved to the Denver area, and work slowed to a crawl.
Spencer and Bruce Meyer spoke at the Hot Rod Reunion in 1995, and apparently Doane himself suggested to Bruce, who had earlier commissioned the restoration of the Pierson Brothers’ coupe and the So-Cal belly tank, that he buy the car and complete it. Wendy Spencer, Doane’s youngest daughter, who lives in Denver, asked Neal if she could see the roadster, and he brought it, unfinished, but assembled and in primer, to a local event so she could. Sadly, that was the same day her father died. Many hot rod enthusiasts, including Kirk White, Don Orosco, Gordon Apker, and Bruce Meyer, as well, had tried to purchase the car. East had refused every offer. But now he reconsidered.
“Tell me what you’re going to do with this car,” East asked Bruce. When Meyer told him that he’d make it available for everyone to see and admire, East agreed to sell. By now the time was right, even to the coincidence that “Birdman” and Pete Eastwood were working at Chapouris’ shop, then called PC3g, so they helped complete the roadster. The Doane Spencer roadster was delivered to the restorers in much the same form as it exists today. Pete Chapouris told me that they deliberated bringing it back to the way Doane had originally built it, but then decided that since he’d done most of the later modifications, even if he’d never driven it that way, that they’d restore it as it was. It was a logical decision.
Bruce Meyer knew Doane well; he understood the significance of this roadster, and knew what its disposition had to be. Meyer promised Neal East and Lynn Wineland, (who still had a sincere interest), that the completed roadster would be displayed at the Petersen Museum (where Meyer was Board Chairman) and that it would be shown at the 50th Anniversary Grand National Roadster Show.
Bruce Meyer sponsors an annual Preservation Award at the Grand National Roadster Show for the best restored hot rod. This trophy, a plated Steve Posson casting of the roadster on a wood plinth, is a lasting tribute to Doane Spencer, a remarkable, original, and talented hot rodder.
Says Meyer today, “this car has to be the holy grail of hot rodding. I never thought I’d own it. It was so complicated. I had to convince Neal I’d do the right thing with it, and we had to get Lynn’s (Wineland) blessing, too. But I love having it, because I had a connection with Doane. He was an artist and a genius. That’s why this roadster still inspires people.”
Taken from Ken Gross & Rober Genat's Hot Rod Milestones: America's Coolest Coupes, Roadsters, & Racers (published 2005)