Rust-To-Diamonds: The Long Journey of Harry Luzader’s Classical Gas ’32 Ford
Story by Jim Hill
For a car-crazy teenager in the 1950’s, the “stuff dreams are made of” were not a black painted statue of the deadly Maltese Falcon. Instead, those dreams often began amid the rust, dust and hoped-for diamonds of a local junkyard. Back in the day they were called “junkyards”, not politically-correct “auto recyclers”!
Monroeville, Pennsylvania’s Harry Luzader had the dream to one day own a neglected, forgotten 1932 Ford five-window coupe. Harry’s elusive butterfly was quietly, slowly dissolving in a local junkyard, which happened to be within almost walking distance from Harry’s parents’ motel.
Of course, anything ’32 Ford is and was the Holy Grail for hot rodders. Bonnie & Clyde even bragged in a letter to Henry Ford about the powerful, famous flathead Ford V-8’s they preferred to hijack as getaway cars!
For some reason, Harry’s dream car had an anemic, Model A four-banger, the less popular standard engine option in 1932. The junkyard caretaker had driven the car for years, until it finally died in about 1958. It and another ’32 were left side-by-side, to fate and oxidation.
Harry’s prize ’32 was monitored by an eccentric old guy who lived right there, on sight. The fellow was in every way the stereotype for the title “Junkyard Caretaker”. It took months of negotiations, and $400 cash money to convince the curmudgeon of cars to free Harry’s dream.
Progress on the treasured ’32 slowed as time and family considerations intervened. Harry’s dad died unexpectedly, and his progress on the car slowed as he joined his mother to operate their family owned motel. Finally, in 1962, the ’32 was finished and ready to drive.
Classic 60’s Gasser is a term that fits Harry Luzader’s 1932 Ford five-window coupe in every description. Luzader was a one-man-band, building his own engines and four-speed transmissions, building, tuning and driving this car to wins in C, D, and E/Gas and then in D/Altered. (Dave Heston Photo, from the Internet)
During the long construction and restoration Harry had ample time to decide what he wanted from the ’32. To power the classic coupe he had assembled a 352 CID, stroker small-block Chevy, built in his home garage. To prove the prowess of his handiwork he engaged in street racing and the coupe was as fast as anything scooting around on the streets, east of Pittsburgh.
A local machine shop owner and engine builder, Don Bolland, was a friend of legendary Ohio Gasser racer and ECDT Hall of Fame member Dave Koffel. After a chance meeting, Koffel, advised Harry on how to make a Chevy run, fast. He also warned him not to push the Chevy too hard, as its welded-stroker crankshaft had limitations and a finite lifespan. The day came when the engine destroyed itself in spectacular fashion, placing Luzader at a crossroads.
Rather than return to street racing he decided to turn the treasured ’32 into a bonafide drag race car, with C/Gas as his preferred class. His daily transportation went from the street-racing ’32 to a pedestrian vehicle owned by the motel, used for running errands. That suited Harry just fine, and he focused on building the treasured ’32 into a serious C/Gas racer.
Harry again turned to Don Bolland for advice and precision machine shop services before assembling another small-block Chevy, an association that would last for decades. This time it was a 283 CID Chevy, bored .060” to 292 CID, with a Hilborn fuel injector. For internal components Luzader made another acquaintance through Dave Koffel. This time it was Harvey Crane, from way down South, in Hallandale, Florida. Crane provided a roller cam, valve train components and ported cylinder heads. That relationship with ECDT Hall of Fame member Harvey Crane and his products lasted for Harry’s entire drag racing career.
Often as not, Luzader’s ’32 left the line with front wheels waving at the air! Tube front axle suspended by leaf springs and of course, all chromed, plus front-mounted Moon fuel tank.
Almost as soon as the ’32 hit the track it was clear that Luzader’s combination of parts and tuning knowledge were a winner, as was his driving. The crisp, green ’32 had the appeal of a freshly printed $100-dollar bill, and an 8,000 rpm screaming small-block. His home track, Pittsburgh International Raceway, found a ready and frequent winner in C/Gas class, and in Street Eliminator contests.
As time and responsibilities at the motel allowed Harry traveled with the car. He made trips to NHRA’s Division 1 World Championship Points events, the storied NHRA Nationals, in Indy and the Springnationals, at Englishtown. Luzader held official NHRA National Records in D and E/Gas several times. When NHRA expanded the OHV Altered classes to include D/Altered he switched the ’32 to Competition Eliminator, which often paid more in prize money. In Comp, he experienced considerable success running at the then class weight break of 11 pounds per CID, where the ’32 slid very comfortably into D/Altered. Running in D/Altered Harry was comfortably under the then standard National Class Record for his handicap. The highlight of the ‘32’s career as a Comp racer came with a win at the 1968 NHRA Nationals, and a coveted “Wally” trophy.
Harry’s ’32 started out running in C/Gas. Here he and the cool lime green car wait in the tech inspection lines at the NHRA Nationals, circa 1965. That’s Harry to the left, waiting for the tech terrorists to tell him what failed to meet specs! In those days tech happened in the shopping center parking lot on Indy’s 16th Street, and was maybe the greatest drag racing car show ever!
In 1973 Harry made a decision he would often later regret… he sold the beloved ’32.
Luzader ‘s racing was self-financed, and largely supported by the cash the car won. The ’32 was the classic hot rod and dear to Harry’s heart. His hands had touched every bolt and nut in the car. Reluctantly, Luzader faced the reality that the ’32 was aerodynamically at a disadvantage, it’s beautiful, classic lines like a quarter-mile windjammer. He needed to raise funds to build a more aerodynamic race car, and the Opel GT seemed perfectly suited for Harry’s return to D/Gas class and Modified Eliminator racing with a more aero-friendly and competitive car.
Selling the cherished five-window was a chore not unlike taking an aged, infirm family dog on its last ride to the vet. The sale was negotiated and the deal closed. The new owner converted the one-time terror of the strip to a street rod. The car’s buyer continues to own it, and remains steadfast in rejecting even ridiculous offers for its sale.
Having secured funding, Harry obtained an Opel GT and built it to be an ultimate Gasser. The Opel reflected the same attention to detail and painstaking craftsmanship as the ’32, and was a consistent winner. It also received Harry’s “what else” powertrain, a 292 CID, injected small-block Chevy built for 9,000 rpm high-winding.
After moving to D/Altered, Harry ran the ’32 as a D/Altered, in Comp Eliminator. Here, at the 1968 NHRA Springnationals, Englishtown, NJ, he leaves first against the equally classic Blackwood-Eckard-Kirk B/Altered Anglia. NHRA Chief Starter, Buster Couch, has just flipped the switch for Luzader’s full-tree handicap start while Carl Kirk waits.
Harry recalled that in time trials at The Nationals he red-lit on every run, but came back in eliminations for right-on-green starts. In those days’ reaction times were not available in electronic timing systems. Luzader used the time trial runs to hone his leaves for the upcoming elimination rounds.
Harry’s return to Modified Eliminator was successful, and remained so until 1981, when NHRA dropped Modified after the ’81 season’s finale. Luzader continued to race, again in Comp. Finally, in 1990, the cost of racing exceeded Luzader’s budget for both time and money. Harry Luzader parked the Opel GT forever as a race car. Over the last three years he has put a painstaking effort into turning the car into a unique street rod with a lengthy pedigree.
This idyllic setting of nearby barns and silos must have provided a notable contrast with the 9,000 rpm scream of an injected small-block Chevy! Here Harry Luzader rev’s it up, launching his E/Gas ’32 Ford five-window coupe. Named as one of the all-time best examples of the classic ’32 Ford by Ford Motor Company, Luzader’s timeless ’32 said it all about 60’s hot rods.
Harry’s devotion to running his ’32 Ford, and then the Opel GT used the same basic, perfected combination of engine and drivetrain. With it he collected an admirable list of career achievements. Among these were Best Engineered honors at the NHRA Springnationals, 1968, over a dozen NHRA ET and MPH class records, a dozen Division 1 wins in WCS points events, 17 National Class Win trophies and points leader in Division 1 four years.
This early 70’s photo taken at NHRA Gatornationals, Gainesville, FL, shows Luzader running E/Gas, in Modified Eliminator. It’s been estimated that during its decades long career this car made several thousand passes down the quarter mile tracks along the eastern U.S.
Easily the single most prestigious honor for Harry Luzader’s wonderful ’32 Ford five-window coupe came during the 75th Anniversary of the iconic 1932 Ford. Ford Motor Company recognized just how significant Harry’s ’32 five-window coupe was as “One Of The 75 Most Significant ’32 Fords of All Time”! That honor came although the car had always been powered by a small-block Chevy!
Although classically beautiful, Luzader’s ’32 Ford presented the aerodynamic profile of a river barge. To remain competitive, he made the painful decision to sell the ’32, using the proceeds to construct this slick little Opel GT. Luzader ran it in both E/Gas and in D/Altered, with notable success. Harry has recently converted the Opel GT to a street rod cruiser sporting Luzader’s predictable attention to every detail.
The legend of Harry Luzader’s ’32 Ford didn’t end there. Jeff Beck, legendary rock guitar master has a deep love for ’32 Fords, and has amassed an impressive collection. He lusted after Harry’s ’32, and offered to buy it for substantial money. It’s often said that there are some things that money cannot buy. Harry’s ’32 is one of them. Beck’s very attractive offer was rejected by the car’s current owner. Odds are the car will remain a part of his life and his estate, until after his passing.
The East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame welcomes and congratulates Monroeville, PA’s Harry Luzader as a member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016.