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The McMullen Roadster
Written by Eric Geisert on February 26, 2004

The original McMullen Deuce highboy roadster is arguably the most identifiable hot rod of all-time
The word “icon” is thrown about all too often when trying to establish the impact of someone or something upon our lives. Knowing this we choose our words carefully, but must acknowledge that the original Tom McMullen ’32 Ford highboy roadster is an icon of rodding. There are precious few cars (justifiably, Project X of Popular Hot Rodding) that are as recognizable and carry such a storied publishing pedigree.

In fact, the hot rod was famous before Tom purchased the Deuce in 1958, as it had appeared on the Life of Riley television series. Later, it appeared in a publicity photo featuring Nick Adams, who was staring at the time in a TV series titled The Rebel. Publicity continued to follow the highboy, as it was covered in numerous magazine articles and on the cover of at least five record albums. McMullen and his roadster were well-known for their exploits on the street, at the strip (for both the quarter- and half-mile), on the dry lakes, and for the roadster’s appearance, which changed frequently between 1958 and 1970.

Over the years, Tom built many street rods but he always found himself returning to his first love, eventually building two additional Deuce highboys. McMullen Deuce highboy roadster number two appeared on the SRM cover in September 1976 and number three appeared in August 1991. (The STREET RODDER May ’01 Milestones story featured all three of the McMullen roadsters.) With that being the case, this month is all about number one, the first, and the icon. (There is too much history to include in one article. So let us offer that you go back to those earlier issues and read about what may very well be the most publicized and interesting hot rod our industry has ever known.)

To Tom it was a multipurpose hot rod. It provided him with daily transportation while at the same time satisfying his “need for speed.” The Chevy-powered roadster with Tom behind the wheel established an A/SR (A/Street Roadster) record of 167 mph at El Mirage. The best quarter-mile speed was 118 mph while it reached 138 mph at the Riverside half-mile. The roadster served as his social as well as business calling card. Tom made numerous friends and contacts because of the car but also used the car to show off his electrical wiring prowess. It was this ability that lead to a small business named Auto Electric Engineering, which eventually became AEE Choppers, a highly successful motorcycle accessory company from the early ’70s. (Tom would tell the story about the start of AEE Choppers being based on his business license that was in the name of Auto Electric Engineering–he knew he needed a different name to sell motorcycle parts so it was abbreviated to AEE.) It was the success of AEE Choppers that lead to the loss of interest in the Deuce but allowed him to do something much more significant–TRM Publications (which stood for Tom and Rose McMullen). What was once a modest publishing company with one motorcycle magazine and a company roster of a dozen people has grown into one of the largest specialty publishing houses employing hundreds.

The Restoration The McMullen roadster had many incarnations, but for purposes of the restoration owner Jorge Zaragoza of El Paso, Texas, agreed with Roy Brizio (Roy Brizio Street Rods, South San Francisco, CA) that the car should be restored to how it was on the Apr. ’63 Hot Rod cover. This is the version best known by rodders everywhere. So here’s a brief rundown of how the car got into the hands of Jorge and Roy…

Jorge knew he wanted Roy to restore the car, it was only a matter of obtaining it from Don Orosco of Monterey, a rodder who owns his share of hot rods. The roadster was purchased from Don the week after the L.A. Roadster Show in June 2002. It looked the same as it did in the May ’82 issue of STREET RODDER when it was featured as part of a history story on the car.

Prior to Don owning it, the car belonged to Phyliss Lovesee, who at the time lived in Laguna Hills, California. She and her husband [Richard] originally obtained the car while living in Riverside, California. Before that, the car spent time at Gene Winfield’s shop. It was the Lovesee’s that had the car rebuilt at Chuck Lombardo’s California Street Rods. At this point, the roadster was black minus flames with a tan interior and had a mundane small-block and TH350 tranny. The famous black California license plate (GHF 475) was removed in favor of a vanity plate but the original plate was kept, which is the way the car stayed until the Roy Brizio Street Rods restoration. (We believe it was Albert Baca who purchased the car from Phyliss Lovesee and who then sold it to Don Orosco.)

Roy started the restoration with the following original parts: body (hood, doors, decklid, radiator shell), Deuce gas tank, dashboard (minus gauges) with the original Ed Roth pinstriping, tonneau cover, windshield frame, Deist parachute, front suspension (drilled I-beam axle and split wishbones, radius rods, spring, shackles, and shocks), and the very recognizable license plate. Of the significant original parts missing were the frame, engine, transmission and rearend, interior, and, unfortunately, the Moon tank.

From start to finish the restoration took Brizio’s craftsman one year to complete. Aside from his band of merry men, other Californian’s who took pride in their efforts were: Sid Chavers of Santa Clara, who brought back the famous black and white interior; Micky Galloway of Brentwood, who straightened out the tin; Darryl Hollenbeck of Concord, who applied the “foot” deep black paint (which rests beneath the Art Himsl flames that were pinstriped by Rory); Bruno Gianoli of San Bruno, who built the period-correct ’62 small-block 327 Chevy V-8; and Sherm’s Plating of Sacramento, who handled the chrome plating.

In Roy’s attempt to bring the car back to its original (meaning ’63) edition there were some mechanical changes that had to be undone. The most notable was to place the Model A spring forward, yes, in front, of the rear axle. Tom positioned the Model A spring in front of the rear axle but the car suffered severe wheel hop while under hard acceleration so he converted the suspension to a pair of parallel springs.

Volumes have been written on this car and, I am sure, there will be more to come. But for now, enjoy one street rod shop’s efforts to salvage a piece of our history.

To Learn More About All of the McMullen Roadsters:

Roadster #1
Hot Rod (cover), April 1963
Popular Hot Rodding, August 1964
Popular Hot Rodding, (cover), September 1964
The Best of Hot Rod, 1986
STREET RODDER, May 2001, (roadsters #1, #2, #3)
STREET RODDER, (cover/restored), April 2004

Roadster #2
STREET RODDER, (cover), September 1976
STREET RODDER, (cover), December 1977 through June 1991, (appeared as part of the magazine logo)
STREET RODDER, May 2001, (roadsters #1, #2, #3)

Roadster #3
STREET RODDER, (cover), August 1991
STREET RODDER, (cover), May 1997
STREET RODDER, (cover), July 1991 through April 1998, (appeared as part of the magazine logo)
STREET RODDER, May 2001, (roadsters #1, #2, #3)
McMULLEN (4).jpg McMullen Roadster with lic # BPK 567 (1).jpg McMullen Roadster with lic # BPK 567 (2).jpg McMullen Roadster with lic # BPK 567 (3).jpg McMullen Roadster with lic # BPK 567 (4).jpg McMullen Roadster with lic # BPK 567 (5).jpg
From Mecum Auction, Inc
  • The World?s Most Iconic Hot Rod
  • Built by the Legendary Tom McMullen
  • Original Iconic flame design by Ed ?Big Daddy? Roth
  • Purchased by McMullen in 1958 and continuously modified it until it was sold in 1970
  • Complete known ownership history back to Tom McMullen
  • Appeared on the covers of Hot Rod Magazine, Street Rodder, and Popular Hot Rodding
  • Starred on several record album covers, advertisements, on TV and movies
  • Ran in official NHRA National events at Pomona and Indy
  • Set a top speed record for street roadsters at El Mirage Dry Lake and Bonneville
  • Restored by Roy Brizio exactly as it appeared on the April ?63 cover of Hot Rod Magazine
  • Flamed, chopped and dropped, Blown Chevy small block
  • 1939 Ford gearbox, Moon Racing aluminum fuel tank
  • 3rd in class at 2007 Pebble Beach
  • The World?s Most Iconic Hot Rod
  • Built by the Legendary Tom McMullen
  • Original Iconic flame design by Ed ?Big Daddy? Roth
  • Purchased by McMullen in 1958 and continuously modified it until it was sold in 1970
  • Complete known ownership history back to Tom McMullen
  • Appeared on the covers of Hot Rod Magazine, Street Rodder, and Popular Hot Rodding
  • Starred on several record album covers, advertisements, on TV and movies
  • Ran in official NHRA National events at Pomona and Indy
  • Set a top speed record for street roadsters at El Mirage Dry Lake and Bonneville
  • Restored by Roy Brizio exactly as it appeared on the April ?63 cover of Hot Rod Magazine
  • Flamed, chopped and dropped, Blown Chevy small block
  • 1939 Ford gearbox, Moon Racing aluminum fuel tank
  • 3rd in class at 2007 Pebble Beach
Tom McMullen became a hot rodding legend due in large part to his most famous creation, this 1932 Ford Deuce roadster, which had already appeared in publicity shots for actor Nick Adams and in the “Life of Riley” and “Lassie” TV shows when McMullen purchased it as a young man in 1958. Dissatisfied with the roadster’s performance, McMullen began a series of modifications that included a GMC 4-71 supercharged 301 CI small block, a Halibrand quick-change, a parachute and a pressurized Moon fuel tank up front. “Big Daddy” Ed Roth laid out the McMullen-sprayed flames and added his trademark pinstriping, giving the car the trend-setting look that caught the imagination of a generation of rodders when it appeared on the cover of Hot Rod Magazine in April 1963. McMullen then switched to 327 power, famously racing on the street, the drag strip and on the dry lake bed of El Mirage, where he set the A/Street Roadster record of 167 MPH in 1964.
For a time the McMullen roadster seemed to be everywhere, appearing on several record album covers, in advertisements, TV shows and movies and on the front covers of Popular Hot Rodding and McMullen’s own Street Rodder, the latter after he had sold the car. After years of modifications and changes rendered the car almost unrecognizable, it was completely dismantled by Roy Brizio, who meticulously restored it as it had appeared on the 1963 Hot Rod cover. Flamed, chopped and dropped once more, the McMullen Roadster earned Third in Class at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, reinforcing its status as the World’s Most Iconic Hot Rod.

Tom McMullen.jpg
McMullen Deuces: Profile of a Hot Rod
by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide
Tom McMullen became one of the most important figures in the history of hot rodding and his flamed McMullen Deuce roadsters have always symbolized the hobby's unabashed soul.
McMullen started hot rodding as a teenager in the late 1950s, became a wiring specialist in the mid 1960s, and founded a publishing company in the late '60s

Tom McMullen bought his first hot rod, a 1932 highboy roadster, in 1958. Equipped with a 283-cid Chevy small block and a two-barrel carb, the car performed well, but Tom wanted more.

By 1962, the car was a unique combination of power and style. The small block, now 301 cubic inches, featured a GMC 4-71 blower. A Halibrand quick change and a parachute resided out back, and a pressurized Moon tank sat between the front frame horns.

Bold flames, laid out by Ed Roth and sprayed on by McMullen, combined with Roth-applied pinstriping to give the car an in-your-face look that appealed to youngsters when it appeared on the April 1963 cover of Hot Rod magazine.

McMullen opened a street rod wiring company at about this time. Lackluster business prompted him to do freelance magazine articles using his Deuce as the guinea pig.

He added a Chevy 327 and raced the car at the local dragstrips and El Mirage, where it set an A/Street Roadster record of 167 mph in 1964.

Next, Tom installed a wild Ford 427 wedge that made the car too hairy for street use. After starting his next business (building custom parts for Harley-Davidson motorcycles), he lost interest in the hot rod and eventually sold it in 1969.

McMullen founded Street Rodder magazine in 1972, and built a new Deuce in 1976 as a magazine project car. Dubbed "The Ultimate Roadster," the hot rod used state-of-the-art 1970s technology, but lacked the trademark Moon tank and parachute.

A genuine steel roadster, this car featured digital gauges, a credit card ignition, full independent suspension, and a 350-cid Chevy small-block V-8 with dry-sump oiling and Moser DOHC heads. Tom sold this car in the early 1980s.

McMullen built his third Deuce in 1991, again for Street Rodder. This one, built using aftermarket frame rails and a fiberglass body, captured the look of the original McMullen Deuce as it appeared in 1964. McMullen drove his final Deuce until he was killed in a plane crash in 1995.
Another version of McMullen's Deuce was built in 1997 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Street Rodder. The magazine staff aimed to capture the spirit of the original, although they built it using a fiberglass body and an aftermarket frame instead of a real steel Deuce.

The original Deuce passed through many owners until it reached the hands of Jorge Zaragoza in 2002. Zaragoza had Roy Brizio Street Rods in San Francisco restore the car to the way it appeared when it was on the cover of the April 1963 Hot Rod.

The restoration took about a year, and the McMullen Deuce is as good, if not better than, ever.
Auction Watch: The Tom McMullen Deuce Roadster
Posted on November 3, 2018 by MCG

At the Mecum Kissimmee auction in January, a historic hot rod will cross the stage: the famed ’32 Ford roadster built by racer and publisher Tom McMullen.

One of the great stories in hot rodding begins in 1958 with a young car enthusiast named Tom McMullen, recently migrated from Toledo to Southern California, the hot rod capital of the world. For $650, McMullen purchased a clean, nicely turned-out ’32 Ford roadster, already stripped of its fenders for the classic highboy look and powered by a Ford flathead V8. Over the next decade, the Deuce roadster would be constantly modified and transformed, featured in countless magazine articles, and would eventually become one of the most familiar hot rods on the planet.

Early on, the flathead V8 was swapped for a small-block Chevy and at some point, a set of sturdy, chrome-plated wishbone mounts—one of the car’s trademark features—was bolted to the frame. McMullen was now freelancing for the Southern California hot rod magazines, and the Deuce became a frequent prop for his how-to features.
The small-block V8 soon sprouted a GMC blower, and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth laid out a wild set of pin stripes and flames. McMullen raced the ’32 at Pomona, the Indy Nationals, and on the California dry lakes, and eventually the Chevy was replaced with a supercharged 427 Ford V8 that produced 850 hp on the dyno, while the ’39 Ford top-shifter gearbox gave way to an Art Carr C6 automatic.
In its various forms, the ’32 was featured on the cover of Hot Rod and Popular Hot Rodding, and elsewhere, including a number of album covers. McMullen sold his prized Deuce in 1970 and went on to operate several successful businesses, including his own publishing company that produced Street Rodder, Truckin,’ and other well-known titles.

McMullen must have regretted selling the Deuce. Although he never bought back the original, he built several updated duplicates before he and his wife Deanna were killed in the air crash of their Rockwell Turbo Commander in 1995. The original McMullen roadster, then in the hands of a private collector, was treated to a complete restoration by famed San Francisco Bay Area builder Roy Brizio, who returned the car to its April 1963 Hot Rod configuration with supercharged small-block and early Ford driveline. In 2007, the McMullen Deuce was one of the honored invitees at the first hot rod exhibit ever held at the Pebble Beach Concours.
The next big public appearance for the famed roadster will be at the Mecum Auctions Kissimmee sale just outside Orlando, Florida in January, 2019. No pre-auction price estimate has been set by the Mecum experts, but we note that when the car changed hands in November of 2012 at the Mecum Anaheim sale, it hammered down at $700,000. Naturally, we’ll be following the McMullen roadster story in its next chapter.
–Photos courtesy of Mecum Auctions.
McMullen roadster tops Mecum Anaheim at $700,000
Daniel Strohl on Nov 20th, 2012

McMullenroadster_03_1500.jpg McMullenroadster_04_1500.jpg McMullenroadster_02_1500.jpg McMullenroadster_05_1500.jpg Photos by Sam Murtaugh, courtesy Mecum Auctions.
It’s been a few years since hot rods and customs captured headlines for their performance at auction, but if any rod was going to do so in this age of perfectly restored muscle cars and multi-million-dollar exotics, it would be the McMullen Deuce roadster, what some call the world’s most iconic hot rod, which sold for $700,000 over the weekend at Mecum’s Anaheim auction.
Offered along with the ex-Jack Calori 1936 Ford three-window coupe, the ex-Tom McMullen 1932 Ford roadster, with its flames, pinstripes, big ‘n littles, and blown small-block Chevrolet V-8, represents the ideal Fifties hot rod to many enthusiasts. As Ken Gross wrote in the description of the roadster for Mecum, “you could argue Tom’s roadster took every hot rod styling and performance cliche, including many tricks that had been done perhaps in two’s and three’s to other cars, and simply lathered them on,” but when it debuted in its most recognizable and most imitated configuration in the spring of 1963, many considered it groundbreaking.
Originally hot rodded in the early 1950s by Don Hudson, the roadster had been used in some film and TV productions and fitted with a small-block Chevrolet V-8 by the time McMullen bought it in 1958 for $650, shortly after moving from the East Coast to Southern California. McMullen added a Moon fuel tank ahead of the grille shell and first painted it green metalflake but would soon ditch the metalflake for Ed Roth-laid flames and pinstripes over black. In that guise, it would remain as McMullen street raced, drag raced and later began to freelance for the Southern California-based hot rodding publications, thus making the Deuce a common sight to hot rodders throughout the 1960s. Over that time, he tried out a few different engines, including a 352-cu.in. Chevrolet V-8 with six carburetors that powered the roadster to 118 MPH in the quarter mile and 167 MPH at El Mirage.

In 1969 McMullen sold the roadster to finance his business ventures, and while he would later come to regret that decision and build at least a couple of similar cars, he never was able to buy the original back. Meanwhile, collector Don Orosco eventually ended up with the actual McMullen roadster, selling it in a package deal with the Calori coupe to collector Jorge Zaragoza. As with the Calori coupe, Roy Brizio was then trusted to handle the restoration of the roadster, completed in time for it to appear and take third place in the Historic Hot Rods class commemorating the 75th anniversary of the 1932 Ford at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. That same year, a panel of experts assembled by Ford Motor Company chose the McMullen roadster as one of the 75 most significant 1932 Fords of all time.