The hot rod is an all-American pastime due largely to its lack of rules and norms. It’s about freedom of expression and anything goes. Sometimes that free-choice combination becomes iconic. Such is the case of the Tom McMullen 1932 highboy roadster. Now the iconic flamed McMullen Deuce roadster can be yours when it’s auctioned at the Mecum Indy 2020 event later this week.
Black hot rods with flames have been around at least since WWII. Stripped down roadsters were racing the California dry lakes in the 1920s. The 1932 or Deuce highboy roadster is considered the quintessential hot rod. Add a flamed paint job and it’s a combo that has been seen over and over. But McMullen’s roadster transcended that iconic combo for a number of reasons.
First, McMullen was a freelance hot rod writer. His source of material came from trying different components and making changes to his roadster. Purchased by him in 1958 it was already well known in the Los Angeles area as a highboy with dark green paint and a 283ci Chevy V8.
The McMullen highboy roadster was highly visible, fast, and appeared at many Southern California drag strips
But McMullen slowly transformed it. The engine soon got a supercharger, and the exterior was soon transformed with Ed “Big Daddy” Roth flames and pinstriping. The McMullen Deuce roadster was highly visible, fast, and it appeared over and over at Southern California drag strips. It appeared in magazine articles in everything from Hot Rod to Rod & Custom and Popular Hot Rodding. The highboy was featured on the December 1963 cover of Hot Rod immortalizing it in the hot rod world.
Because it was iconic even back then and flamboyantly visible it landed on album covers with cameos on TV shows. Meanwhile, McMullen could be seen blasting around the southland making for a memorable sight. Once you saw it you never forgot it. In the context of the mid-1960s sedans and trucks, it was outrageous.
By the early 1980s, the McMullen roadster was changed beyond recognition
McMullen went on to bigger things starting his own publishing company with titles like Choppers, Street Rodder, and Truckin’. By the early 1980s, the McMullen Deuce roadster had gone through numerous hands and was changed beyond recognition. But everyone knew what the red street rod with the black interior was; it was the McMullen roadster. Around this time McMullen recreated it in Street Rodder, and in later years another recreation became a how-to build in that same magazine.
McMullen went on to fame and fortune but he and his wife were killed in a light plane crash owned and piloted by him in 1995. Not much later a wave of nostalgia poured over hot rodding and restoring famous hot rods became a thing. Certain insiders knew where the McMullen roadster was, and a client of Roy Brizio Street Rods in So. San Francisco ended up persuading the owner to sell.
After a little over a year, the famous highboy roadster was completed in the early 2000s
Once at Brizio’s, a complete restoration to the way it was on the cover of Hot Rod commenced. Of course, many of the parts like the Moon tank, wheels, and certain speed parts had to be scrounged up. After a little over a year, the famous highboy was completed in the early 2000s and honestly, was nicer than it ever was. Even the flames. which were slightly different from one side to the other were reproduced exactly. Having passed through a couple of hands over the years it will be at the Mecum auction but not as an auction vehicle.
Mecum has what is called “investment grade” vehicles that are featured. They can be purchased directly from them. Part of the reason for this platform is because of this roadster. At the last auction it was in at Kissimmee in 2019 the bids went up to $700,000. That didn’t meet the reserve. All of the anticipation for how this would end fell flat. So to avoid that happening the auction house will hype certain vehicles without the risk of not meeting reserve.