Champion Coupe – John Hornbrook‘s ’32 Ford Three-Window Coupe
John Hornbrook’s chopped Deuce three-window coupe is more than a tough-looking, back-to-basics hot rod. It’s also the fulfillment of a 40-year family dream.
“This car has been owned by my father since 1980,” John says. “It was gifted to me in 2012 with the stipulation of completing the car and enjoying it. I enlisted Murray Kustom Rods to get the car back to its deserving condition and making a simple, traditional hot rod driver with a Bonneville attitude, since my father and I competed at the Salt Flats.”
The bitchin’ blue coupe was officially crowned as the Goodguys Tanks, Inc. 2021 Hot Rod of the Year following an intense weekend of competition May 28-30 at the 15th BASF Nashville Nationals. It went up against nearly 20 rowdy and ready competitors and a fantastic Top Five lineup. In the end, the coupe’s attitude, construction quality, and performance came together to earn it the title.
John says the coupe was little more than a body shell when his father, Charles, first got it. The idea was always to build a cool hot rod, but other projects seemed to come first, including a long string of motorcycles and a Bonneville racer built from two British Berkeley bodies.
The Bonneville experiences influenced Charles’s ideas for the Deuce, to the point where he performed a top chop inspired by the famous Pierson Brothers coupe – an aggressive and angled slice. He eventually pieced the car together and made it a roller.
When John got the car back in 2012, he invested considerable time researching shops that could take on the build. He says he was impressed with Fort Worth-based Murray Kustom Rods as soon as he walked in the door. “The thing that sold me was the quality of welding,” John says. “And they also knew what they were talking about.”
John says he could tell that shop owner Heath Murray understood his vision and goal for the coupe. “I told him I wanted the same aggressive chop and stance,” John says – a hot rod that looked like “if a guy knew what he was doing in the ’50s and built himself a super nice coupe.”
The Murray Kustom Rods team used tried-and-true hot rod components to get started, like a modified Pete & Jakes frame, Super Bell dropped axle, a Currie 9-inch rearend on a ’32 Ford spring, and a TrackMaster cowl steering box. Kinmont disc brakes from Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop added some nostalgia flavor, as did the 16×5- and 16×6-inch Wheel Vintiques wheels and Coker Firestone 4.60-16 and 7.00-16 tires.
The small-block Chevy V8 is a fundamental hot rod choice, as well. It’s fed by a trio of Stromberg carbs on an Edelbrock intake and uses Corvette-style manifolds and customized finned aluminum valve covers that now incorporate Hornbrook’s name. Power is transferred through a Centerforce clutch to a Tremec five-speed transmission controlled by a custom swan-neck shifter.
The team had its work cut out for them on the Deuce body. They removed the previously chopped and filled top and started fresh with a still-aggressive slice that removed 5.5-inches from the A-pillars and 4.5-inches from the rear. They also lowered the rear window and used reproduction doors and other metal panels from Brookville to repair and refine the areas that required attention. When the initial metal fabrication was complete, the coupe went to A&R Classic Restorations in Emory, Texas, for final bodywork and fit and finish. That’s where the beautiful BASF Washington Blue paint was applied, too. Details like ’47 Buick taillights and Guide 682-J headlights on a custom headlight bar helped to complete the look.
“One thing that’s a surprise to me, but is just off the charts, is the dash,” John says. The woodgrain finish on it and the garnish moldings, painted by Darren Winzell of Gasoline Art, was not part of the initial plan, but ended up being a welcome idea from Heath Murray. Heath also helped locate the ’34 Dodge gauge assembly that further distinguishes the dash.
John says the interior as a whole is a nicer than originally planned, thanks in part to that dash and to the Relicate leather upholstery skillfully stitched in a classic pleated pattern over a Glide bench seat and custom door and side panels. Other interior details include a Limeworks steering column, ’40 Ford style wheel, and vintage-style wiring from American Autowire. They even managed to stealthily fit a Vintage Air system into the car.
The end result captures the hot rod essence John was after. “I think it’s better than I envisioned,” he says. “The stance is just so cool. It’s refined looking, but it’s a tough and mean-looking car.”
In other words, it’s a champion coupe and a fitting Goodguys Tanks, Inc. 2021 Hot Rod of the Year.
Photos by Steven Bunker & John Jackson