Plum Tub – This Deuce Phaeton Went From Simply Appetizing to Totally Tasty
Some hot rods are just too cool to be enjoyed by one enthusiast all their life. Like a good book, they’re destined to be shared and passed along to new owners every few years. Each one of those owners then gets to soak up some miles and smiles while adding details, touches, and stories of their own along the way.
JD Terry’s Deuce phaeton is one of those cars. JD bought the plum-hued highboy last year to add to his collection of vintage rides. He knew it had ‘the look,’ that intangible element that just seems to set some hot rods apart from the rest. “It’s one of those cars that, if it’s driving by, you do a double-take,” JD says.
That look led us to give the phaeton the Goodguys Feature Pick in Fort Worth. But JD was quick to credit previous owner Nick Chappelle with helping to define and refine the Deuce’s distinctive character.
Talking with Nick, we learned the phaeton had an even longer backstory. It turns out that Nick bought the car in much the same way JD did – after seeing it at the Goodguys Nationals in Columbus years ago. Back then it was owned by Jim Smith of the Hot Rod Garage in Oklahoma, who had bought it from a friend in the Pacific Northwest. It was a fun, bare-bones rod with a satin black body, aluminum hood, and a well-worn small-block Chevy engine. And while it was a two-seater at the time with a tonneau cover over the back, the car’s most important feature for Nick was space for a roomy rear seat – something he desperately wanted since his previous ’32 roadster was not very practical for enjoying with his two sons and his wife.
The phaeton had been built with solid fundamentals, so Nick was able to enjoy driving it right away. The boxed ’32 frame had split wishbones and a Pete & Jakes dropped axle up front, finned Buick drum brakes, Vega steering, a later-model Ford rearend suspended by quarter-elliptic springs, and a simple TH350 automatic transmission behind the small-block V8.
It was fun and it was cool, but even as he enjoyed it, Nick knew the Deuce had untapped potential. “Every time I walked in my garage, I said, ‘damn, that thing is ugly,’” Nick says with a laugh. As a lifelong hot rodder who has worked in shops since he was a teenager, Nick has a pretty good eye, and he could envision changes that would give the Ford an improved attitude. So, the day after Thanksgiving one year, he pulled it apart with the goal of having a facelifted phaeton on the road by spring.
Nick left the chassis mostly alone, just cleaned things up and swapped on a Durant mono leaf spring up front. Reproduction 18-inch Divco-style wheels were paired with 16-inch steel front wheels for a more pronounced rake, with 7.00-18 and 4.50-16 Firestones and ’40 Ford hubcaps completing the look. The car’s tired small block was replaced with a fresher 350c.i. V8 fed by an Edelbrock carb topped with an old oil bath style air cleaner pinstriped by Ron Myers.
Body and paint work is Nick’s specialty, so he focused much of his attention on refining the Ford’s sheet metal. This included redoing a few patches, making the rear doors and cowl vent functional, and long hours of paint prep. He also added a heavily raked Dick Rodwell windshield, installed commercial headlights, and tucked the taillights closer to the body.
The distinctive color was part accident and part improvisation. “I was originally going to paint it green, but the color that came was purple,” Nick says. So, he added some brown and black to the R-M single-stage paint to create a dark plum hue that is now one of the car’s definitive features.
Inside, Nick added a back seat with harnesses for his kids and had all the seats and interior soft parts upholstered in black vinyl by Adkins Upholstery in Trenton, Ohio; Adkins also made a new tonneau cover for the car. The dash was treated to Stewart-Warner gauges in an engine-turned panel, while a ’40 Ford style wheel topped the Ididit steering column, which is fitted with a Hudson shift lever and top section. Nick installed Moal aluminum inserts in the kick panels and fabricated some cool accent pieces like the throttle pedal, an aluminum transmission tunnel cover, and matching battery and fuse panel cover. A rubber floor mat kept things simple and vintage looking.
After driving the phaeton topless for a couple seasons, Nick decided to redo the top to better fit the lower windshield. He had a local woodworking shop build a new oak header piece, and then trimmed the remaining framework to achieve a more desirable shape. He was able to re-use the existing top material he had by stretching it over the frame and trimming off the excess.
The result was a hot rod tub that not only looked cooler than before, but also drove better and was more reliable. “I had a fun time building and painting it and making it mine,” Nick says. “I really didn’t want to sell the tub, but JD hit me at the right time as I started my own paint and restoration shop, and I couldn’t pass up the offer.”
JD obviously knew a good thing when he saw it, a fact that was reinforced by the fun he had taking it to events last year like the Lone Star Nationals and the Gathering at the Roc, turning heads wherever he went. He also made a few improvements of his own, like treating the car to fresh wiring. The last we heard, he had the Ford back on the market, so by the time you read this someone else may very well be behind the wheel of this plum phaeton, adding yet another chapter to its colorful story.
Photos by John Jackson