Norman Bradley’s Bad-in-Black ’32 Ford Brings Home the Tanks Inc. 2020 Hot Rod of the Year Title
“It was supposed to just be a cool pantina’d hot rod.”
Norman Bradley says he had no intention of his ’32 Ford five-window coupe becoming a Goodguys Tanks Inc. 2020 Hot Rod of the Year winner when he first had Henry Richards at Steadfast Manufacturing start building it. The two had worked together on a prior five-window Deuce – a chopped, bare-metal, full-fendered coupe – but Norman really wanted a highboy.
Henry knew about another five-window coupe in Tennessee and was able to acquire it for a new project. The old Ford body had aging black paint and seemed like an ideal candidate for the weathered, survivor-style hot rod Norman had in mind, so he sold the bare-metal coupe and told Henry to get started on this one.
“It was just going to be a really cool old hot rod,” Norman says. “It just kind of snowballed.”
That snowball effect was not a total surprise. After all, the thing that first attracted Norman to Steadfast builds were the cool details and creative tricks Henry and his team consistently work into their traditional-style hot rods. Before long, Henry was coming up with neat new options to work into the five-window project.
“He’s so creative,” Norman says. “He had so many ideas. The more stuff he did, the cooler the car got. I pretty much told him, ‘do whatever you want to do.’ It would have been a shame to not finish the car.”
Many of those creative ideas are found on the Steadfast-built chassis. There are plenty of tweaks, from the stretched wheelbase to the arched crossmembers. Even the Steadfast-built front hairpins locating the drilled Roadster Supply dropped axle have a graceful arch to them. A Durant leaf spring, Pete & Jakes spindles and steering arms, and RideTech shocks are part of the front suspension package, along with a Borgeson steering box. Out back, a Winters quick-change was hung on a Posies spring and located with Pete & Jakes ladder bars and RideTech shocks.
Look closely and you’ll find more details, like headlight bar and taillight mounts recessed into frame, removable front frame horn box plates, motorcycle front brake lines, a tucked fuel tank, and custom front and rear spreader bars. They’re all subtle touches that add up to make a big difference. Ford drum brakes with finned Buick brake drums lend a traditional look behind the 16×5- and 18×8-inch Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop wheels wrapped in Firestone rubber.
Nestled between the frame rails is an Aaron Blatter-built 383c.i. stroker small-block Chevy with a Thumpr cam, MSD distributor, and triple Rochester carbs by Hot Rod Carbs churning out 425 horsepower. Coated Corvette valve covers and brushed stainless ram’s horn manifolds keep things low key when combined with black paint on the smoothed engine block. A 700R4 overdrive transmission makes for easy revs on the road and is controlled by a Gennie shifter.
The wedge-chopped top helps give the coupe its hot rod attitude, but it’s the top insert that gets early Ford fans talking. Rather than fill the top with a new smooth skin or use an original-style fabric insert, the Steadfast team made a flush-fitting steel insert. A satin finish sets it apart, along with a shapely louvered inset panel on the interior side. “No one has ever done one this way, so it took a good amount of R&D,” Henry says.
Other body mods include a sectioned hood, custom rear body corners, and other minor nips and tucks, all covered in a deep black PPG finish. Cool details help complete the exterior appeal, including a bronze-finish Pines Winterfront-style grille insert from Alumicraft, custom three-piece headlight bar, tight-fitting Model A taillights, and nickel-plated trim and suspension parts by Jon Wright’s Custom Chrome.
The custom metalwork continues inside with a custom transmission tunnel, shifter surround, and master cylinder cover. Henry and Norman turned to M&M Hot Rod Interiors for the soft parts, and the M&M crew delivered with distressed diamond-stitched Relicate leather on the seat and simple door, side, and trunk panels to match. Classic Instruments fill a Greening dash insert, while the one-off steering wheel complements those outside the car.
In the end, Norman says that allowing the project to snowball was the right thing to do. “I love everything about the car,” he says.
Henry was rightfully happy with the outcome of the build, as well, and had his sights set on the Goodguys Nashville Nationals and the 2020 Hot Rod of the Year competition. When that event was postponed and eventually cancelled, Henry brought the car to the Heartland Nationals in Des Moines, where it earned a Top Five finalist spot in the Street Rod of the Year competition. Later in the year he presented an online submission for Hot Rod of the Year, where the bitchin’ black coupe ultimately won over the evaluation committee and captured the Tanks Inc. 2020 Hot Rod of the Year title.
While the finished coupe is a little showier than Norman originally intended, he’s still looking forward to getting it on the road. “Next year hopefully we have more shows,” Norman says. “I want to drive the car. I don’t want it to just sit in the garage. It was built to be driven.”
Henry hopes to see it on the road, too. In fact, it’s something he has joked about with Norman. “You know, if you drive it enough,” Henry tells Norman, “eventually you’ll have that patina’d car you wanted.”
Photos by John Jackson & Damon Lee