As long as man has been able to move forward on four wheels (and even two wheels) we have always wanted more out of our automobiles. In some instances we wanted more to get a job done, go further, carry more, and overall improve the task at hand via the automobile and its capabilities. Leaving it up to the manufacturer hasn’t always satisfied our hankering want to modify, change and tinker with what was purposefully designed to work as intended. This drive to change vehicles has developed entire sub-cultures within the car culture itself and in some instances has even attributed to technological advancements in production cars.
Websters Dictionary defines the word “hot-rod” as “an automobile specially built or altered for fast acceleration and increased speed”. For some this simple sentence is a way of life, others a weekend hobby, but no matter the level of interest it is purely a creative, individualized, and unique facet of the car culture. One small part of the Hot-Rod story takes place in the small town of Newburyport, MA. In 1952, The Cam Snappers Hot Rod Club was formed, which may very well make them the earliest known Hot-Rod Club in the USA, predating the well-known LA Roadsters by 5 years. Within this small community in Newburyport was a rather large interest in Drag Racing, which of course is where Hot Rods got their initial following. Big names like Don Garlits, and Setto Postonian often graced the 1,320 foot long drag strip located in Sanford Maine, which was only an hour from Newburyport, MA and was often the drag strip of choice, but also a popular destination for the Cam Snappers Club. A newspaper from the period offers some insight to the intense competition between Garlits and Postonian and mentions one particular individual, a Mr. Dick Ouelett as racing a heavily modified VW Karmin Ghia in Class E during the same night Garlits and Postonian were “duking it out”.
Mr. Ouelett is really where this story begins, and is the focal point of this story, a story that depicts the period Hot-Rod and the men who built them. According to club records, Mr. Ouelett joined the Cam Snappers on March 29th 1954 and after reviewing copies of period newspaper articles (included in the sale) likely raced at the Sanford Drags between July of 1955 through October of 1964 when the New England Hot Rod Council ran the event. The man, time, and place were the setting for what obviously comes next, the car: a 1932 Ford Hot-Rod, which we will call the “Ouelett Roadster”. While exact early history is not known on the car that would be turned into the hot-rod we see today, we do know that by the mid 1950’s it was a known machine that was roaming the streets of Newburyport and raced on occasion at the Sanford Drags. It was certainly known by the club and period photos give a very good idea of the craftsmanship and how this car came to be, and how it is today.
Hot-Rods are always a “hodge podge” of a few different cars that when put together make sense in the most abstract of ways. This particular car is based on a 32 Ford chassis with a 31 Ford Deluxe Roadster body, a rare combination and very unique. The engineering and creative craftsmanship behind the rest of the build and making all of it work only becomes evident the further one inspects the car. Extensive changes have been made, but also the simple “turn it upside down, and it works” sort of engineering has been applied. In short, it’s genuine and it’s what real hot-rods were made of; basic ingenuity that got the job done. The all-important power plant comes by way of an Oldsmobile Rocket V-8, mated to a matching period automatic transmission. Some unique features that can be noted include a modified Oldsmobile rear cross member that sits about 4” below the chassis which acts as the engine cradle and support. Along with split wishbone radius rods which are about 8-9 inches longer than they would be on most other cars. The front nerf bar features a large “O”, which stands for Ouelett of course, and even though the rumble seat no longer exists and has been converted to a trunk, the grab bars still remain. Other parts used in the build include a Nash steering box and steering wheel, in order to work however the steering box was mounted through the chassis with the pitman arm upside down. To accommodate the low mounted engine and to coincide with the all important hot-rod look, the car was channeled about 8-9 inches, which further gave way to flat floors. The exhaust manifolds were also turned upside down to accommodate the low slung engine. Last but certainly not least, the true mark of a Cam Snapper member is the Gear lever, which is the original, untouched, chrome plated section of a cam.
Those are the pure basics of the build, but as one inspects the car further both in pre-restoration photos and the car as it sits today it becomes evident that every aspect of the car is intriguing with parts coming from many different cars that make up a spectacular hot-rod with great proportions, classic lines, and a truly iconic style. The overwhelming facts remains however that this all happened in 1954, in period, rendering it an original, a first, a truly unique and forward thinking first chapter to the world of hot-rods when it was only in its infancy.
The Cam Snappers records indicate that Mr. Ouelett’s last club meeting was on October 3rd 1962. The Ouelett Roadster is said to have traded to a Mr. Conte of Salisbury, MA where we believe the windshield was cut to how it shows today along with different wheels installed. It was likely driven seldom and was put away for the better part of 30 years, as we are told. It was rediscovered in about 2006 when well known Purveyor Don Meyer located the car in its long time resting spot, still in Conte’s ownership. Garage fresh photos tell the story of the find and as found condition. Upon Mr. Myers acquisition the car was treated to a total restoration, but with extreme attention to detail. Letters, phone calls, and diligent research as well as a well preserved hot-rod created the blue-print for an accurate restoration. It was in about 2008 that the car was finished. Subtle upgrades were done to address safety and reliability concerns such as a fuel cell, modern style hoses as needed and an auxiliary fan. Very few miles have been contributed since the completion of the restoration and as a result the car presents as a show worthy example with little to no flaws, if any.
Cosmetically, the cars dark candy apple red paint is fitting, and the two tone vinyl interior is a proper contrast in period designs. It is straight down the side and there is no evidence that the car was ever really rusty or hit. It is a solid and very well presented hot-rod that could easily be a contender at any show. The chrome was kept as original and as found as to not to disturb anything. An acceptable amount of patina adorns them and brings fourth the character this hot-rod possesses. The engine bay is very clean with no leaks present and everything coated properly, not to shiny in some areas, raw metal where appropriate and chrome plated where necessary, exactly the way it would have been in period.
Driving the Ouelett Roadster is interesting to say the least. A ton of power is present for sure, especially for 1954, but by modern standards it lacks in just about every other aspect. However, for all intensive purposes this is a hot-rod and at the end of the day it was meant to go as fast as possible in a straight line, as Websters Dictionary suggested. It does brake as it is supposed to, steers where directed, and shifts as intended. In no way are its functions lacking in terms of there ability to perform, it has wonderful road manors and overall is dialed in as expected from a well tended to car.
In March of 2015 the Ouelett Roadster had the distinguished honor to be in the top .1% of period hot-rods that are deemed significant enough to participate in a Concours D’ Elegance. The Ouelett Roadster attended the Amelia Island Concours D’Elegance, and was well received. While no awards were earned, it was in the company of some of the most significant Hot-Rods of all time, hailing from prestigious private collections and even the Peterson Automotive Museum. This is testament to the Ouelett Roadsters acceptance, recognition, and presence in the world of Period Hot-Rod’s as a genuine and important example of American Automotive History.
Hot-Rod’s are abundant in their availability, you can even build one yourself, in your garage, on the weekends. They can cost $20,000, or you can add a zero, but there is an extreme detail that immediately separates 99.9% of all hot-rods: “built in-period”. The Ouelett Roadster is a period hot-rod that is worth absolute consideration. It is very real, with a story to match and known history since its conception. A worthy addition to any major collection, museum, or enthusiasts garage looking to carry on a legacy and own a real piece of Americana.
Available Documentation: (Please click on the links below to view the file)