Ron Carlsten calls his classic 1932 Ford 5 Window Coupe the 227 Bullet Coupe because, well… it had 227 bullet holes in it. “Some friends and I were in the garage one night,” Ron told me. “We’d had a few drinks and decided to count all the bullet holes.”
I was hoping for a Bonnie and Clyde type of story about the bullets, but alas that was not to be. Ron believes it was nothing more than target practice. How Ron would end up building a classic Deuce Coupe hot rod, however, might be as good as the Bonnie and Clyde story anyway.
Ron grew up in the 80s. He and his friends were into skateboarding and BMXing and punk rock. When they started driving, they got into mini trucks and Cal Look Bugs – lowered, brightly painted, no chrome, Volkswagen Beetles.
* A quick note about modified Volkswagen Beetles: They were and are legitimate hot rods. Ron told me about his friend Kevin Potter who had a ‘58 Bug with a 2276 cc motor, putting out about 200 hp. In Kevin’s lightened Beetle, and Bugs could be made really light, that produced a stout horsepower to weight ratio. “We’d race Camaros and Mustangs and eat their lunch,” Ron said. “It got to the point where they wouldn’t race us anymore.”
It’s not that Ron and his buddies didn’t like muscle cars and hot rods, it’s just that they’d gotten too expensive. But some things were changing.
“When clubs like the Lucky Devils, Sacred Karts, Road Zombies, and the Shifters hit the scenes in the early to mid 80s,” Ron told me, “it was like: Oh I don’t need to have paint and upholstery and perfect body work. I can literally go out and buy a junker and throw it together and I’ve got a hot rod.”
Ron and his friends started getting into early hot rods because all the old guys were throwing away the traditional components. “They wanted independent front suspension and air conditioning and power steering and power brakes,” he said. “And they were like ‘I don’t want that straight axle, that’s a piece of junk. Here you can have it.’”
Ron and his friends developed their ideas about hot rods from reading magazines from the 40s and 50s. “That’s a hot rod,” they thought. “That’s what it should be.” The first one Ron built was a 1930 Model A coupe.
About two years later, he heard through the hot rod grapevine about the ‘32 being for sale. Three cars – a 1933 3 Window, a 1934 5 Window, and the ‘32 – had been found half buried in a dry river bed in the “Four Corners” area. (That’s where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona all come together. You can actually stand in all four states at the same time.) Someone found the cars, dug them out and brought them back to Phoenix.
The ‘32 ended up being sold to one of the long time – like since the 1940s – hot rod guys in Phoenix, Ron Olmstead. He planned to build the Coupe a future project. Unfortunately, Mr. Olmstead had some health issues and had to start selling off his cars.
“All the big name hot rod people from California, Arizona, and Nevada came and looked at it,” Ron recalled, ”and said ‘No, I’m not fixing that car.’ Everyone passed on it because it was in such horrible shape.
“Once all the hot rod guys passed on it, that’s when I was able to buy it. I didn’t have a lot of money but I had a lot of time and the gumption to do it. When I bought the car from Ron Olmstead he said he would hold my money for one week and if I changed my mind I could bring the body back. I called him two days later and said ‘I am keeping the car.’ Over the next 3 years I pieced it together with a friend of mine.”
What Ron was able to buy was five pieces of a ‘32 Ford, in very rough shape, with no chassis. The floors were completely gone. The lower six inches of the body were basically just rust.
Ron and his friend Alex MacGillivray started with the floor, using reproduction parts from the Brookville Roadster company and fabricating the front floor near the transmission tunnel. They worked their way up to the doors, making them functional. Then they chopped it 3 inches and fit the windshield in it. He mounted it on the rolling chassis and drivetrain he still had from his Model A.
“After that I put the wiring back in it and started driving it,” Ron said. “As soon as I got it running. It had a full floor, but I didn’t have all the patch panels in it. I just made it structurally sound. It had no windows other than the windshield. It still had all the bullet holes in it.
“I drove it to the Lonestar Round Up show in Austin, Texas. It’s 1200 miles one way. We went to the Round Up, partied our asses off and had an amazing time. I drove it all the way back and I had zero problems with the car.”
That was in 2007. In 2011, Ron made a return trip to the Round Up, and this time he posted what was happening during the drive on the H.A.M.B. (Hokey Ass Message Board), which is an Internet discussion board for traditional hot rodders.
“We left Phoenix at 5:30 in the morning and we drove straight to Austin,” Ron said. “I did postings at every gas stop in real time. It was huge on the discussion board. Everyone just loved it. We made it to within 80 miles when I blew the generator.” (Click here to read Ron’s H.A.M.B postings.)
Add in a gazillion (approximately) trips to Los Angeles, and you can see Ron likes driving his ‘32. “I probably had 40 to 50 thousand miles on the car when it was all surface rust and bullet holes,” he told me.
And if you haven’t been paying attention, many of those miles came in Arizona, Texas, and Southern California. I had to ask… does the Coupe have air conditioning?
“It has no air conditioning,” Ron replied. “No heater. No radio. No power windows. It just has ignition and brake lights and headlights. That’s it.”
The Coupe was in rough shape when Ron purchased it. There was no frame, just the body. He first put a reproduction frame underneath, but then he found an original frame that was in good enough condition to restore, which he completed with the help of Steve Szymanski at Industrial Chassis.
The entire front end is 1932 Ford parts except for the brakes and front spindles. The front crossmember, wishbones, axle and transverse leaf spring are all 1932 Ford. Ron heated and dropped the axle 4 inches, and used split wishbones to lower the car in the front in the classic hot rod manner.
The front spindles are 1940 Ford parts, and have 1940 Lincoln drum brakes. The brakes are coveted hot rod parts. They give the traditional hot rod look, but are self-adjusting, which was pretty high-tech for 1940.
In the rear, Ron is using 1936 wishbones and a 1940 transverse spring to mount a Ford 9″ rear, complete with a center section painted in red primer (another nod to classic hot rodding) and standard drum brakes. The 9-inch has a Positraction differential with 3.00 gears. Building the rear suspension required Ron to fabricate and weld numerous mounts and brackets.
Stance is an important aspect of a car to Ron. He has always liked an aggressive, mean look for all his cars – his Beetle, his 1930 Ford, and his current ‘32 Coupe. For that, the Coupe’s wheels supply the perfect finishing touch. The front wheels are very rare Ford V8-60 wheels, 16” x 3.5″ wide. Ford only made them for 6 months, for cars with the 60 horsepower V8s. Today, a pair of these might cost as much as $1500. Brand new Firestone bias ply 4.50/4.75 x 16 tires from Coker Tire are also period correct. The rear wheels are 16” x 4” Fords, with 7.50 x 16 Firestone tires.
A 350 cubic inch small block Chevy provides the horsepower for Ron’s cruising, working through a Turbo Hydramatic 350 transmission. The short block is completely stock, as Ron wants to maximize reliability and ease of repair. “I drive the car a lot,” he said. “I’d rather be able to walk into an Autozone if something happens, buy what I need, fix it in the parking lot, and keep going.”
But like any good hot rod motor, it’s not all stock. Ron’s fitted the outside of the engine with a fan, water pump, and valve covers from a 283 Corvette. An Edelbrock 600 – essentially the same as a Carter AFB – with manual choke provides the air/fuel mixture.
The Coupe’s exhaust is really unique. The manifolds are Fenton split exhaust ram horns, another very rare component, which were used on the 1957 Chevy Black Widow stock cars. The two outlets from each manifold merge into straight-through exhaust pipes. Those pipes are made from 1936 Ford drive shafts. These drive shafts were tapered, and hot rodders learned to cut off the ends to create a great looking and sounding exhaust system. There are no mufflers.
Ron drove the car for about 9 years concentrating on the mechanics and not worrying about the body too much. With minimal creature comforts and lots of rust – and 227 bullet holes – a lot of people at that time mistook the Coupe for a rat rod, which Ron did not like. “It’s not a rat rod,” Ron would tell folks. “It’s a traditional hot rod that isn’t finished yet.”
During these years, he would periodically fill holes and get rid of some of the rust. Eventually, all the “hammer and dolly work” as Ron referred to it, was done and he was ready to pull it apart and finish the body.
“I tore it apart and over two years did all the final body work,” he said. “I decided I was going to make it the nicest car I possibly could with the talent I have, and then try to get it in the Grand National Roadster show.”
Ron submitted his application for the 2020 show and it was accepted. Having to make the Grand National gave him a deadline to beat. For months, Ron’s Instagram posts kept his followers up to date with the phrase “Still on track for #GNRS2020”.
He had to buy a grill shell and a new trunk lid – the car did not have one when he bought it. As mentioned earlier, the floor has some reproduction pieces and patch panels. Matt Tomb taught Ron how to hammer weld (talk about old school!) and together they used that technique to install a Walden Speed Shop metal roof insert. But otherwise the body is all 1932 Ford steel. Juan Vasquez from Scott’s Coach Works helped with the body work.
Ron and his father Ron Sr. took the body down to bare metal, block sanded and primed it, and sprayed on the beautiful black paint – a color Ron described as “black as my soul.” (He was kidding. I think.)
The interior has without a doubt the most unique dashboard I’ve ever seen. I’ll let Ron explain: “The dash is 1955 Sunbeam Convertible on the left, with an ashtray and glove box from a 1955 VW Bug on the right, and the steering wheel is from a ‘55 Buick. I wanted something different than other 32s. Minimalistic but with a real presence. WIth a European coach-built flair to it. And I wanted to pay homage to starting out with Cal Look Bugs.” Ron finished off that European flair with Porsche leather upholstery, which covers the Escalade seat warmers he installed.
Ron stayed on track and finished the Coupe in time for the GNRS. It made a great impression. The ‘32 was given an award by Geezup L.L.C. as their pick of the entire show. And it was included in the Rodding USA magazine coverage of the show. Ron’s friend Paul Martinez is the Rodding USA Editor.
So how does a kid growing up with BMX, Volkswagen Beetles, and punk rock become so well versed in classic hot rod styles and build techniques? In the 1980s those two parts of society didn’t hang out together very often. “A lot old hot rod guys didn’t want to have anything to do with us,” Ron told me, “because we listened to weird loud music and had funny hair cuts and wore tennis shoes.”
Paul Martinez, however, was not one of those guys. “I’ve known Paul for more than 30 years,” Ron said. “We’ve become lifelong friends. He did not shy away from the young guys. He was one of the first hot rod guys to take the young kids under his wing. He said, ‘I’m going to show you how to do all this.’ Paul and several other guys showed us how to build traditional hot rods.”
Those other mentors include: John Carter and Joe Harris, the former owners of the Old Ford Store in Tucson; Tony Huggins; and Eddie Pethol, who let Ron sit in a hot rod for the first time. In the Phoenix area, Ron Olmstead, Don Marks, Frank Boweritz, and Steve Szymanski were also there to lend a hand to the rookies.
But Ron’s hot rod apprenticeship started with his Dad, Ron Sr.
“My Dad was in a car club back in the early 50s,” Ron said. “He and his brother built a ton of cars through their youth. He stepped away for a while, but then got back into it.”
Ron purchased his first VW with his paper route money. “My dad thought I was nuts. He said ‘I’m not working on this car. It’s a German pregnant roller skate.’ But I told him these cars are really cool. I took him to shows and Dad said, ‘I had no idea. These are really cool.’
“He started teaching me how to work on cars. Once I got proficient, I said ‘I want to do a hot rod.’ Dad always wanted to do one but his parents wouldn’t let him because back then hot rodding was associated with bad people. I bought my ‘30 Coupe and started building it. Dad met some of my hot rodding friends, and he bought his own 30 coupe – which he still has – and we built our cars together.”
Ron’s got another car show scheduled for his Ford, so he’s been driving it less recently – just enough to work out the bugs. “But,” he said, “after this other show I’m going to start driving it a lot and if it gets rock chips or scratches, I don’t care.”
And he’s already got his next project planned:a ‘32 Roadster, which Ron considers the “pinnacle” of classic hot rods. “It’s going to be a pre-war hot rod. A flathead motor, wire wheels, and not dropped. It’ll be like a 1930s to early 40s style build.”
And that flat head may be pretty tricked out. Ron’s got a set of Federal Mogul copper heads for the motor. It’s one of only four sets in existence. He’s trying to sell them, but if he doesn’t get a purchaser, they’ll end up on the Roadster.
I would not have guessed that a skateboarding, BMXing, punk rocker would be out there enthusiastically building classic hot rods. But Ron and his friends saw an opportunity and seized it, with the help of some great hot rodders of the previous generation.
His 5 Window Coupe is a great example for the next generation to follow.
Photos courtesy of Ron Carlsten.
Artwork courtesy of Mike Learn.
Click here to see more photos of Ron’s 227 Bullet Coupe.
You can follow Ron’s hot rod adventures on Instagram (@hot_rod_ron), Twitter (@checkeredstrip), Facebook (HotRodRon32), LinkedIn (hotrodron) and on the web at CheckeredStrip.com.
You can see more of Mike Learn’s art on his Instagram (@mike.learn) and his website MikeLearn.com.