Phil Rillotta’s 1932 Ford five-window coupe

A dyed-in-the-wool street machiner, Phil Rillotta still couldn’t resist the lure of a hot rod

Photographers: Guy Bowden

Phil Rillotta is no stranger to the pages of Street Machine. He’s the owner of what was once Australia’s fastest street-registered car — a blown and injected LC Torana that was good for 8.2@168mph! Phil still owns PRO ST1 and is currently updating it, but we’re not here to talk about the Torana or the dozen or so matching-numbers muscle cars he’s got. Nope, we’re here to drool all over his nostalgia-style 1932 Ford five window coupe.

First published in the July 2004 issue of Street Machine

Although it would be fair to say that Phil is a dyed-in-the-wool street machiner, he’s always had a soft spot for the earlier stuff and numerous viewings of American Graffiti did nothing to dull that desire. Building a hot rod was definitely on the cards but Phil knew that as much as he loved the traditional styled cars, if he built one himself it would probably end up being a Pro Street-style rod. Luckily for Phil, a good mate who lives in Queensland knew of a really good Deuce coupe that was up for sale. So while the Rillotta family was conveniently on holiday in sunny Queensland, Phil’s buddy took him over to meet Ronnie Wilson and his bright red ’32 Ford …

Just as Phil is well-known in street machining circles, Ronnie is no stranger among the hot rod crowd. But neither had ever heard of the other, some indication of the divide that exists between the two camps. In the end — oh, how we dream of this ‘problem’ — Phil’s wife said: “If you don’t buy it I’m going to kill you!” and the coupe was off to its new home in Adelaide.

Ronnie has been building hot rods since the 1960s, starting with a ’29 Chevy roadster that he fitted with a 312ci Thunderbird motor. Imagine that — a Ford engine in a Chev! At the time, the Chevy roadster was a show-winning car and ever since Ronnie has been building quality cars that just keep getting better. Even Phil, with his very high standards, was blown away when he saw the car and can still spend hours with his mates crowded into the garage, checking out all the undercarriage detail and amazing workmanship.

The basis for all of this was a pair of Just-A-Hobby chassis rails that the boys at Rod City Repros strengthened with boxing plates, then set up to accept the 4½-inch dropped Super Bell axle and the narrowed Galaxie nine-inch diff. Four-bars hold everything in place front and rear.

Once back at Ronnie’s place and at the mercy of his machine shop, he set about machining bolt covers, a radiator cap, brake and accelerator pedals and a whole bunch of other bits and pieces to finish off the chassis to a standard a lot of people only dream about. And while you’re under there checking out all of the detail, you can check yourself out in the louvred and polished stainless steel floor and the twin two-inch polished stainless exhaust. On this car, if it’s not red, it’s shiny!

The body is the second ’32 five window to come out of the mould at Deuce Customs. Ronnie had planned on buying the very first one, but by the time he got down to Melbourne it had already been sold. That beautiful deep red colour is straight red tinter from the PPG catalogue and was expertly sprayed over the entire chassis and body by Kerry Fehldberg. The trad-as-you-can-get white Tuck & Roll trim was handled by Larry Unos and suits the car to a T. A set of genuine drive-in speakers have been hooked up to a cassette player that’s hidden discretely under the dash. On a car as traditional as this you don’t want to spoil the look with a late-model stereo. Besides, there’s enough to look at with a full complement of Classic VDO gauges. Finishing off the interior is dark red carpet, a white Moon steering wheel, and an eight-ball shifter from Lokar.

Wheels and tyres define a hot rod and the choice we have here plants this car smack dab in the middle of the 1950s — 15×4½ solids up front and 15x8s out back, wrapped in Firestone wide whites really set this car off, as well as giving Phil plenty to do when it’s time to wash the car. A set of ’49 Ford dog-dish caps and some trim rings add some shine to the corners and help keep the 356 Porsche discs and big Galaxie drums from scraping along the road.

After his eight-second Torana, Phil’s going to need some patience when hopping into the coupe, though with a 350 Chev topped by a trio of Stromberg 97s and backed up by a high stall Turbo 350, the coupe scoots along just fine. Besides, it’s not all about how fast you go, it’s about how good you look doing it. Phil reckons if he parks the Torana and the coupe next to each other, no-one even looks at the Torrie.

The biggest problem Phil faces when he starts up the coupe is trying to keep his youngest son out of the passenger seat. He just loves sitting in any of Phil’s many cars when they’re fired up. He’s obviously been paying attention: one day while sitting on Dad’s lap he reached for the key and started the car. Looks like this two-year-old has a bright hot rodding future ahead of him! Phil is now in the habit of taking the keys out of the cars and making sure they’re somewhere nice and safe.

So what’s on the horizon for Phil now that he has his dream hot rod? Well, the Torana’s copping a facelift. Once that’s done Phil will probably get into building his own hot rod roadster, but this one will be a lot different. Plans call for a high-tech Pro Street-styled unit that will have way too much horsepower (if that’s possible) to keep the coupe company in the shed.

Pro Icon

Toranas, especially the little LC-LJ variety, have long enjoyed popularity at the sharp end of Australia’s pro-street race scene. Chris Erceg, Joe Cutelli, Peter Flynn, Daniel Callaghan, Craig Thompson and Michael Perry have all taken Australia’s favourite pocket rocket and endowed it with a big engine and bulk attitude — and backed it up with stellar performances on the strip. And while these blokes have all gone faster than Pro ST1, Phil’s LC was the first to combine seriously exotic componentry (blown and injected Roedek-blocked Chev with about 1000hp) with plenty of street car touches for a car with heaps of crowd-pleasing appeal. A timeless mix!

Phillip Rillotta
1932 Ford five window coupe

Colour:PPG red tinter
Block:Chevrolet 350ci
Induction:3x Stromberg 97s
Camshaft:Crane (mild)
Pistons:TRW 10:1
Rings:Speed Pro
Valves:Speed Pro, Crane springs
Oil pump:Standard
Fuel pump:Holley Blue
Cooling:Walker radiator with thermo fan
Exhaust:Sanderson Limefire headers with polished stainless two-inch pipes
Gearbox:Turbo 350, high stall converter
Diff :Narrowed Galaxie nine-inch, 3.55:1 gears
Front:Super Bell 4½-inch dropped I-beam axle, Pete & Jake Shocks, four-bar
Rear:Four-bar and AJ’s Hot Rods coil over shocks
Steering:’39 Ford column, HQ steering box
Brakes (front):Super Bell Highboy Kit (356 Porsche discs and calipers)
Brakes (rear):Ford Galaxie drums.
Master cylinder:HQ Holden
Tyres:Firestone wide whitewalls 15×5.6 (f), 15×8.20(r)
Wheels:Steel solids 15×4.5(f), 15×8(r)
Body:Deuce Customs fibreglass
Seat:Custom-made frame
Steering wheel:Moon
Trim:White naugahyde with red piping
Instruments:VDO Classic
Shifter:Lokar eight-ball
Carpet:Red, custom fitted
Stereo unit:Pioneer (hidden under dash)