Car Dealer Don Sangster Discovers That Doubling the Doors Can Make a Rod 10 Times Cooler.
By Chris Shelton – Photography by the Author
Being a four-door was never easy.
Though favored by new-car buyers, their family car image made them decidedly uncool among enthusiasts. With very few exceptions, four-doors got treated as parts harvests to build roadsters, coupes, and even two-door sedans.
Then something happened that nobody really expected: that pool of buildable roadsters, coupes, and two-door sedans dried up and people started doing something very unexpected: thinking of four-doors in downright favorable terms. Then Don Sangster did something he admits he never would’ve dreamt of doing. “I told John (John Barbero at Pyramid Street Rods) that I’d like to do a 1932 Ford highboy Fordor,” he says. “And I wanted a Nailhead in it.
“Just about that time a Ford dealer called to tell me about this 1965 Wildcat they took in on trade,” he continues. “Well, I didn’t want no four-door but then the light came on—that’s the last year for the Nailhead. That’s the engine for my car! And they wanted $250! We drove it for a few years, just beating around in it. Then I started looking for a 1932 Ford Fordor.”
He found his as a body down in Texas. “The guy bought it as a complete car and replaced that Fordor body with a roadster body,” Don says. “So, I had it shipped to Barbero’s place. It was nice.”
Barbero sent the body over to Ryan Schmitt for metalwork while he built the chassis. He spanned American Stamping Rails with a Model A–style crossmember up front and round tubing everywhere else. He achieved the front stance with a 5-inch Magnum tube axle and reversed-eye spring. Swivel shackles pin the axle to an Industrial Metal Craft split wishbone. A Vega-style box steers it. Hot Rod Brake Company Kinmont-style discs stop it.
A Winters V-8–style quick-change axle mounts to the chassis with Ford radius rods that Barbero modified to meet the outside of the frame. A pair of Strange adjustable coilovers suspends the chassis over the axle.
We’d tell you how Tyler King built the 401 but sadly he died soon after he finished the job. “He didn’t even get to hear it run,” Don laments. It wears an Autotrend EFI setup on a shaved Offenhauser manifold and MILR Products rocker covers. That engine feeds a BorgWarner T5 transmission. Between the Nailhead’s broad torque output and the five relatively close ratios, “… you always have the right gear,” Don praises.
Meanwhile, Schmitt fabricated the floors, chopped the top 2 modest inches, and fabricated the chin panel ahead of the grille and fillers between the body and tank. He also fabricated a three-piece hood to fit the Carolina Custom hood latch; however, he did it a slightly different way than usual. “I told him to extend the body line so it forms a lip that overlaps the hood side slightly, like the way it does on a stock hood,” Barbero says. Schmitt also made the blisters that mount in the hood.
Back at Pyramid, Barbero mounted a Moal pedal assembly to the firewall and fabricated various components, like the stalks that mount the 1937 Ford taillights. A Speedway Motors quick-release column mounts a Blinkie, Hot Rods & Custom Stuff’s self-canceling version of the Yankee 960 accessory turn-signal switch. Bolted to the release hub is a Johnson Hot Rod Shop (JHRS) Modern Vintage steering wheel. A JHRS Hole Shot shifter complements it.
Jason Mortenson straightened the body and began applying the Jeep Anvil Gray. Jeff Kudsk applied the remainder, including the burgundy on the details. Mitch Kim striped everything.
Paul Reichlin at Cedardale Auto Upholstery in Mount Vernon replaced the seat innards with foam carved for lumbar and thigh support. He then trimmed everything in burgundy leather and Feintuft carpet. He also milled and fabricated the oak-slat headliner.
E-T Wheels makes the 16×6 and 18×8 Sebring wheels as knockoffs, but the nuts themselves aren’t production. Divers Street Rods milled them from aluminum in the likeness of the brass ones that it did for Don’s roadster pickup. “I’m the only guy with two sets,” he not-so-subtly brags.
The prominence of certain four-door cars indicates a kind of shift in the hot-rod kingdom. At the very least, it shows a kind of logic that the industry lacked for several decades, basically a return to a time when people really did hot-rod four-doors. And there’s a tailwind to the movement: the car won the 2019 Deuce Days event in Victoria, British Columbia.
And call Don a converted man. “I really should’ve done something like this a long time ago,” he admits. “Those two extra doors make a car so much easier to live with!” MR