5-6 October 2017

The Ralph Whitworth Collection

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Lot 173

1932 Ford "Pete Henderson" Roadster

  • Chassis no. DRF99005

Sold for $192,500

  • Offered from the estate of Ralph Whitworth
  • The famous ’32 Ford roadster that beat a quarter horse in 1944
  • Russetta Timing Association: 120.9 mph at Harper Dry Lake, 1944
  • Star of several hot rod movies in the 1950s
  • Named as one of the most significant 1932 Fords of all time
  • Featured on the cover of Rodder’s Journal

Presented here is a 1932 Ford highboy roadster with remarkable history. Restored as it looked in the early ’40s, it will always be known as “the hot rod that beat the racehorse.”

As the story goes, back in 1944, a guy with a quick quarter horse won countless bets challenging hot cars to a race. This roadster, however, had a reputation as the quickest car in the San Fernando Valley. With Pete Henderson behind the wheel, in a specially staged race held in La Habra, and witnessed by a large crowd, including speed equipment gurus Vic Edelbrock Sr., Ed Winfield, and Phil Weiand, this deuce was the only car that ever won. Ernie McAfee took a famous grainy photo showing the roadster edging out the horse. Noted hot rod racer Ak Miller and writer Gray Baskerville always said they could trace the origins of ¼-mile drag racing to that famous contest.

A few months earlier, 18-year-old Pete Henderson had purchased the speedy ’32 from Don Casselman. It was equipped with a Don Blair-built, bored, and stroked 296-cu. in. Mercury flathead, running a hot cam from the legendary Pierre “Pete” Bertrand. Milled aluminum “Denver” heads, a Weiand high-rise dual intake manifold with twin Stromberg 97s, and a Spaulding dual-point, dual coil ignition rounded out the engine modifications. Typical of street roadsters in that era, it had a neatly chopped top, but it retained the original Ford ‘push and pray’ mechanical brakes and wire wheels. On the dash, a Russetta Timing Association timing tag attests to a 120.9-mph run at Harper Dry Lake in 1944. Pete Henderson sold the car in 1946 to L. K. Chappelow of Monrovia, California, who owned it for a year before selling it to Manny Ayulo. Surviving photos show the ex-Henderson roadster competing at many L.A.-area circle tracks, driven by the soon-to-be Indy 500 star Ayulo, and later by racing stalwart Jack McGrath.

Miraculously, this roadster survived all that rough-and-tumble bullring competition and became a noted street ’32 highboy, owned by George Rowland, who added bobbed rear fenders by Art Chrisman, baby moon caps, and wide whites. Ralph “Digger” Guldahl Jr. acquired it in 1955, installed a new 265 Chevy V-8 to replace the now-tired flathead, and the roadster appeared in a host of “B” movies, including Hot Rod Gang and The Spider. Steve Lydecker bought the much-traveled deuce in 1957 when Guldahl was drafted. In ensuing years, it was owned by Art Vitteraly, then channeled, powered by a Buick V-8, and it is not known what else transpired before Robert Takahashi bought the car, after which it was purchased by Chuck Longley in June 1977.

Longley ran a few advertisements hoping to learn more information on the roadster. His query about its identity was answered by none other than Pete Henderson, the former Pasadena ‘kid’ who first made this ’32 Ford famous. As they talked, when Chuck mentioned the car’s Auburn dash panel and several distinct filled holes, Pete said “ . . . it kinda sounded like my car.” Chuck asked if Pete still had the roadster’s serial number. He did. And it was the same car!

The historic deuce still retained its original body, frame, and chopped windshield when Chuck and his son Mike began the restoration in 1995. After perusing old photos of the car, they located a proper flathead V-8, a ’34 Auburn dash panel, that rare accessory rimless steering wheel, an early Cadillac fuel pressure pump, a pair of ’39 Ford teardrop taillights, and a host of other period parts. After its restoration, the Longleys brought the car to the L.A. Roadsters Father’s Day meet where it was a big hit, and then took it to the 2002 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, where it was awarded first in its class.

Featured in Rodder’s Journal, issue number 32, as well as on the cover of issue number 47, it was also named as one of the top 75 ’32 Fords of all time, and honored at the Grand National Roadster show in 2007. Soon afterward it was sold to Ralph Whitworth, who planned to display it in his museum-to-be in Winnemucca, Nevada. Invited to Pebble Beach that year, the car suffered some damage while it was being transported, and was therefore not judged. Subsequently, the roadster underwent an extensive re-restoration by National Rod & Custom Hall of Fame honoree Tim Strange, owner of Strange Engineering in Lewisburg, Tennessee. “We stripped the car to bare metal, talked to Pete quite a bit, and did a full frame-off restoration. Jamie Rice did the upholstery. Using those conversations with Pete, and studying old photographs,” Strange says, “we restored the car as close to the way Pete had built it as we could.”

With a panoply of famous owners, Top 75 ’32 Ford honors, a sparkling and accurate restoration, and the understated good looks of a classic deuce highboy, the “Pete Henderson” roadster is ready for an appreciative new owner . . . and its next quarter-mile challenger!

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver


+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat


+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht


+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig


+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose


+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould


+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff


+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach


+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry


+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut


+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire


+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn


+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin


+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill


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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher


+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers


+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden


+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more