If you look up the term “hot rod” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you’ll find an entry for a noun that reads “an automobile rebuilt or modified for high speed and fast acceleration.”
While that’s accurate, the good folks at Webster’s could have just replaced their entry with a picture of the 1932 Ford Roadster that Tom McMullen purchased in 1958 for $650 shortly after he moved from the East Coast to Southern California.
Already used in episodes of TV shows like “Life of Riley” and “Lassie” by the time McMullen purchased the muscular motor vehicle, the ’32 Roadster started out with a small-block Chevrolet V8 under the hood.
After McMullen – who was an accomplished gearhead and aspiring automotive writer at the time – took possession of the car he replaced the small-block motor with a 352 CI Chevy V8 that he eventually outfitted with a GMC 4:71 supercharger and two four-barrel carburetors.
That engine rig allowed McMullen to street and drag race to his heart’s content as well as run the roadster to run a track-best speed of 118 miles per hour in the quarter-mile at El Mirage and hit 138 MPH in the half-mile at Riverside.
In addition to the work he put in under the hood, McMullen also got to work on the hot rod’s exterior and spray painted flames and pinstripes designed by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth onto the roadster’s black body.
With its engine intact on the inside and its flashy paint job turning heads on the outside, the roadster appeared on the album covers of several records and graced the fronts of magazines including Street Rodder, Popular Hot Rodding, and Hot Rod.
Following its appearance on the cover of his ‘zine, Hot Rod writer Pat Ganahl wrote: “when [McMullen] reconfigured it to the form that blazed our eyeballs on the April, ’63, cover of Hot Rod, once again, we’d never seen anything like this!” And Street Rodder editor-in-chief Brian Brennan said McMullen’s ’32 was “the most identifiable hot rod of all time.”
With his writing and publishing career off the ground, McMullen – who founded Street Choppers magazine and then started Street Rodder as its sister publication – made the agonizing decision in 1970 to sell off the roadster for $5,000 in order to keep his growing businesses running.
McMullen later called the sale “one of my biggest mistakes” and the car passed through a number of hands before winding up with collector Jorge Zaragoza. He asked award-winning Hot Rodder Roy Brizio to dismantle the car down to its brass tacks and then restore it to its original appearance from the ground up.
Brizio did as he was asked and the result was a car which was able to take third place in the Historic Hot Rods at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance as well as go on to be named one of the 75 most significant 1932 Fords of all time by a panel of experts assembled by Ford Motor Company
Sold at a Mecum auction in Anaheim in 2012 for $700,000, the McMullen roadster is scheduled to cross the auction block once again at Mecum’s Kissimmee 2019 sale this Saturday.
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