When we saw this
phaeton we knew we were onto something special. There are many
definitions for a hot rod but one universal saying gives us the need
for speed. In the early days hot rods were built for speed—that was
the point. Knowing this we asked Paul Gommi of Southern California
to give us a tour of his '32 Ford phaeton and introduce us to the
early days of hot rodding.
Paul Gommi's philosophy in building a hot rod is: ''The car's
appearance is the result of making improvements to the car's
performance. You can't move forward until you know the past. A hot
rod is supposed to be an improvement in performance over stock.
There are only three things you can do: increase power, reduce
weight, and streamline the vehicle.''
Hot rods are defined by their modifications that individualize the
vehicle. The modifications include accessories, speed equipment, and
body and/or chassis modifications. To simply build a car requires a
great deal of mechanical knowledge and ability, which Paul has. A
veteran Top Fuel drag racer who won more than 30 meets from 1963-74,
he also built engines for Carroll Shelby's race cars and Keith
Black. His innovations include the first bottom oiler, the
three-disc clutch, the first Top Fuel rear wing, and the first
successful West Coast rear engine dragster (track records at Lions,
Seattle, Irwindale, and Orange County). From 1974-86, he owned an
advertising agency, handling accounts like COMP Cams, TCI
Automotive, NOS, Venolia, Bill Miller, and Simpson. From 1988-93 he
campaigned a Nostalgia Top Fuel dragster until a broken pinion shaft
caused a spectacular crash at Bakersfield, ending his career.
His latest creation is this original American '32 Ford DeLuxe V-8
phaeton (only 974 produced). He set about improving its performance
exactly like he would have in 1955, using all pre-'55 parts,
materials, machinery, tools, and even methods.
According to Paul, ''A hot rod is all about the engine. Modifying
the engine is the greatest improvement you can make in
performance.'' He chose a '37 Ford 221ci 21-stud Flathead engine.
For performance, he took a '49 S.Co.T. supercharger and adapted the
21 studder by designing and making all the pulleys, drive, and
modifying the manifold with the help of his friend Tom Taros.
Paul chose a cam
design so radical, he knew it couldn't perform without the
supercharger. He added '55 Chevy valves, Lincoln valvesprings, and
his own five-angle valve job. He even designed and built his own
full flow oil system. He built the Stromberg 97 carbs and even the
filter elements for the '50 accessory air cleaners. Making all these
modifications to improve the horsepower create the outrageous
appearance of his engine; it truly is a case of ''form follows
Next up was the
chassis. Again according to Paul, ''The stance is determined by
trying to get the highest gear ratio possible so the car can go
fast. The highest ratio for a '32 Ford rearend was a 3:54. With a
7.50x16-inch tire, it's 2,700 rpm at 70 mph, but with 7.00x18s it's
2,400 rpm at 70. That's why the phaeton has '40 18-inch Ford
accessory wheels that create a rake, or stance.''
Paul adapted '55 Ford
axles to a machined '32 differential for strength. To save weight,
he removed the fenders, running boards, cowllights, framehorn
covers, bumpers, irons, spare tire, saving hundreds of pounds. He
further improved performance with real '39 Lincoln brakes he
lightened by drilling 420 holes in each drum and radially slotting
the backing plates front and rear. A super-rare '50 Bell tube axle
further saves weight along with drilled shock arms and pedals.
Inside, Paul cut down
an Auburn panel to fit the '32 dash, adding '40s Stewart-Warner
gauges and a '36 Philco radio hooked to Drive-In Movie speakers to
overcome wind noise with the top down.
To save more weight,
Paul eliminated all carpeting from the floor and front seat back.
''Carpeting is for your grandmother's floors,'' he says. He hand-cut
black rubber floormats to fit, adding '41 Harley footrests for
protection. To help streamline the car, he laid back the windshield
bases and chopped the stanchions, the windshield frame, the top
irons, and bows, still providing a folding top. The interior, top,
and side curtains were all done in Paul's garage with the help of
The tail is brought up
with Chrysler AirStream lenses on Packard buckets and '31 Ford
reworked arms. Hanging below are '50 Triumph motorcycle mufflers.
Out front are streamlined '40 American La France fire engine
headlights, a '37 Indian motorcycle horn, and a Pines Winterfront
What Paul's car
represents should be clear by now. He set out to increase the
performance of his tub in the three ways possible. Each step he took
created the appearance you see-form following function.
He ended up with a
really ''hot tub.'' On one hand Paul Gommi's phaeton is a shrine to
the most desirable obsolete parts in the world. On the other hand,
he put those parts together in a way our forebears never thought to.
The result changes our notions of tradition and progress.
It's unlikely anyone
else will focus so many rare and desirable parts in one place in
such an original package. At the very least, it's hard to imagine
that anyone could top it.
Please click each
image below to see an enlarged picture
Paul Gommi 1932 Ford Phaeton - 2010
Street Rodder Pleasanton Top 100
San Pedro, California
September 07, 2010
By Eric Geisert
Wanting to build a traditional hot rod, Paul went as so far as to
not add anything to his original steel body that wasn't '50-era
period perfect. A supercharged 21-stud engine (with homemade pulleys
and much more) powers the ride and the car was completely built at
home, including paint, body, engine, and upholstery.
Subject: PAUL GOMMI IN THE GRADY &
GOMMI TOP FUEL DRAGSTER (on Alky) WINS FIRST TIME OUT.
Russell Grady and I (Grady & Gommi
Speed Shop, Stamford, Conn.) got a Lynwood Welding Chassis (made by
Pat Bilbow in Penn. He was the Scotty Fenn of the East Coast.) it
was 98" wheelbase and we lengthened it four feet. You can see the
welds where we added the pipe. We built an Olds engine using the
stroker crank out of Russell"s chopped 57 Olds custom
(The Oriental). That's the first magnesium blower Sneaky Pete
Robinson ever sold and the second Enderle Bug Catcher
ever made. Ivo got the first. We were from Stamford Conn. and
friends with Al Zaberini of Bee Line Automotive. Jimmy Yerks, (I
hope I am spelling it right,) who worked for Bee Line, had a Lynwood
Welding dragster with a supercharged Oldsmobile engine. He was the
local hero at Dover at the time running around 9.50 E.T.s., and
speeds of 165 MPH.
Russell and I took it up as a challenge to see if we could build a
dragster to beat the Bee Line crew. The Bee Line car weighed about
1450 pounds. We decided to make a car as light as we could. Russell
actually made an aluminum bellhousing, and an aluminum front leaf
spring! Pete Robinson made the mag blower and drive. Enderle the mag
We even made the valley cover out of plexiglass. The seat was a
Sears Plastic kitchen chair with the legs removed. ($3.00)Thinking
our car might go fast, we heard some cars on the West Coast were
running a REVOLUTIONARY DEVICE called a PARACHUTE! We found a guy in
Florida called Buddies Ring Slot Chutes.
We bought one of these Big Ring Slot Parachutes like they would use
to drop a Jeep out of an airplane! We mounted it on our dragster,
AND HEADED FOR DOVER DRAG STRIP.
Jimmy Yerks bet us $100. our car couldn't weigh under 1300 pounds.
When we got to the track for the first time, we went straight to the
scales. Our car weighed 1250 pounds. So we started the day $100.
We pushed the car down the track, turned around and pushed to start
it. I swung around and staged. (Burnouts were not invented yet.)
Brought up the R's and let out the clutch. Up to that point, all the
fast dragsters (9 second runs) smoked the tires like crazy. For
whatever reason, being we didn't know whole lot about what we were
doing, our car slipped the clutch and with no tire smoke ran an 8.90
at 180. MPH! The speed was the fastest anyone in the country had run
on straight alky.
As I approached the finish line, I pulled our BUDDIES BIG RED RING
SLOT PARACHUTE. Just as I passed the lights, there was a TREMENDOUS
IMPACT almost like I had hit a wall head on. My head slammed into
the steering wheel, I thought "Wow, the Chute Opened Hard, but then
the car wasn't slowing down anymore, so I grabbed the brake handle
and started applying the brakes. My eyes were glued straight ahead
down the shut down area. This was my first ride ever in a dragster.
Just then out of the corner of my left eye, I saw something GIGANTIC
AND RED PASSING ME. "
"What the hell is that?" I thought and just as I was realizing it
was my chute tumbling by, my dragster SPUN AROUND IN A COMPLETE 180
and was racing backwards down the shut off. Somehow, I had the
presence of mind to keep hitting the hand brake. Then there was
ANOTHER BIG IMPACT as I hit something going backwards. The car had
stopped and I was staring back towards the starting line.
After I caught my breath, I climbed out and looked. My dragster was
up against the cables of the CUT DOWN TELEPHONE POLE and Cable
fence at the end of the track with my PARACHUTE HANGING OVER THE
FENCE GENTLY SWINGING BACK AND FORTH WITH SOMETHING IN IT!
If anyone remembers, there was a big square Iron Grating over a big
Square Sewer Drain just past the finish line to let water drain off
the track where it went between the hills. Who would have ever
thought when they designed the track, that someone would invent a
Parachute to help stop the cars!
MY BUDDIE'S BIG, ROUND, RED, RING SLOT CHUTE, HAD CAUGHT THE EDGE OF
THE GRATING AND LIFTED THE WHOLE THING UP INTO THE CHUTE AT 180 MPH!
THAT GRATING MUST HAVE WEIGHED 300 POUNDS! So, when I put the brakes
on, my chute went tumbling past me at 180 MPH and spun my whole
dragster around and pulled it into the end fence.
They managed to put the grating back. My Chute was plenty torn up
and I decided I'd rather stop WITHOUT one of these new fangelled
We went on to face Jimmy Yerks in the Bee Line Dragster in the
final. The photo you are looking at is my dragster about to be
pushed down the tack to fire. NOTICE NO BREATHER MASKS YET. YOU GOT
TO GET WOOZY FROM ALL THE FUMES BEFORE STAGING. In the other lane,
you see the 57 Olds of Jimmy Yerks which is pushing him down to fire
up. Standing next to my dragster is Mark Kennedy, my friend and
crew. We beat Jimmy in the final with another eight second and 180
MPH run. We went on to win the final 5 or 6 meets in a row that
season at Dover. I think I still have the trophies. That Winter we
Subject: Now with a Chrysler
engine. Newspaper Article. Photo taken at Dover Drag Strip 1965
Subject: Actual photo taken a Dover
early 1965 with Chrysler now running 8:10x190MPH+ at Dover.
Subject: Now with a super Light
Chrome Moly chassis by Bernie Shacker & 354" Chrysler.
This photo is mid 1965. Bernie
Shaker built me this chrome moly tubing chassis to prevent me from
getting killed in that leaf spring front suspension dragster we had
been running. This car instantly ran 8.00's and I actually set the
A/FD NHRA National Record at Conn. Dragway at 8.01. The Record only
lasted a week or two and was taken away by the Frantic Four at
Pomona CA.. at a 7.99.
Photo taken at Dover Drag Strip. In the background our Grady & Gommi
Speed Shop Chevy Carry-All truck.