Peter Quaife's Y-block powered '32 has style in spades

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

Peter Quaife’s Y-block-powered 1932 Ford coupe is an exercise in traditional style

This article on Peter’s ’32 Ford was originally published in issue 16 of the Street Machine Hot Rod magazine

REALITY TV has exploited seemingly every aspect of our existence for its dumbed-down, heavily scripted version of what ‘real life’ supposedly looks like. It’s even managed to make hot rod building look as easy as putting together an Ikea shelf. Get a few tattoos, some Vans, the right goatee and a parts catalogue and you’re away.

It’s 83 years since they punched out the ’32 Ford, and in that time customisers have nailed a few mods that make it impossible to find a bad angle to shoot from

But of course it’s not like that at all, so it’s refreshing when you stumble across the true reality of hot rodding, as we did when we visited Peter Quaife’s home in Rye, Victoria.

Pete’s shed is pure hot rod heaven. He reckons he’s only had 20 or so cars, but to be honest that’s a struggle to believe. It’s a goldmine here: sidevalves and Y-blocks on stands, multi-carb manifolds, torque tubes, straight axles, all crammed in amongst garage memorabilia, panels, plates and, of course, cars.

Pete says the parts collection reaches critical mass occasionally, and when it does, he simply starts a new build. In fact, he’s got a project car nearing completion for a customer at the moment. “It’s the last one I’ll ever do,” he swears; at 70 years of age, he’s supposed to be retired now and rattling around the big house he and wife Denise bought as a holiday home 40 years ago.

As far as cars go, Pete is only interested in Fords, and building great hot rods from them. If you watch what people have built over the years, you’ll see fads and fashions that swing in and out – some just once, others time and again. But then there’s the time-honoured styles that evoke an era, the kind of look that makes you say: “Ahhh,” because it’s just right – like the simplest food made perfectly. Those are the kind of rods Pete builds.

Vintique made the repro tank; it’s part of the whole package. Twist, tweak, but keep the classic cues

It doesn’t matter how much you press him, though, Pete won’t brag about these cars. He does it because he loves it – it’s his life.

Two-link ladder bar rear with a Winters quickchange and a transverse leaf, beautifully intertwined for a basic functional result. You can chuck plenty of horses through this and it’ll make those 7.50 Firestones earn their money

He will tell you how much he loves his car club, though. The Spades Rod & Custom Club has been a constant in Pete’s life for many years. “They’re my family, they’re my best friends,” he says. They still race a speedway car together, and Pete loves it. “It’s the whole thing – the getting ready, the trip there, the racing, the fixing, the trip home, it’s all part of it,” he enthuses. The recent ‘traditional’ revival in hot rodding passed by the Spades guys unnoticed, as that’s what they’ve been doing all along – building jaw-dropping Fords.

Here’s a measure of Pete’s casual attitude. “What’s the manifold?” I asked him on the phone. “I dunno, an Edelbrock I think?” Turns out it’s an Offy. Whatever it is, it’ll be right

A case in point is Pete’s latest build, the ’32 three-window you see on these pages. Vic O’Neill, Spades stalwart and singer for Melbourne rockabilly legends The Straight 8s, supplied the body and the rails, which Pete then boxed and used as the starting point for the chassis. The rake was set thanks to a So-Cal five-inch dropped axle, and combines with the four-inch roof chop to set the tone for the build. A smattering of chrome, hairpins, Firestones, juice brakes from a ’40 Ford and a quickchange diff complete the picture. Billy O’Neill mixed the paint colour. “They call it Morris Minor Green, or something,” Pete says. Practicality was more important than nostalgia here, so they used two-pack.

The ballast resistor gives this away as a vertex dizzy, not a mag.Watch closely knackers, these Jegs units have a Hall-effect pick-up and advance weights with one wire hook-up

Under the hood is a venerable Y-block – topped by an Offenhauser intake with three 97s – running to a top loader. Pete made the exhaust and used a foot-long hot-dog to get the note right.

Pete can’t remember where the repro bomber seats came from: “Someone in the States made ’em.” Like everything else, they’re right on target

A peek inside the cabin reveals bomber seats, Auburn dash and ’40 steering wheel.

Just like every car in Pete’s shed, you know that in 25 years this car will still look just right; it’s timeless. No toxic day-glo paint tint, no billet, no out-there wheel/tyre combo.

No, there isn’t a part or catalogue number for this. It shifts the top loader with knife-edge precision

There’s nothing in this shed that doesn’t have that same sort of magic. Nothing overdone, nothing underdone, nothing caught in a vain attempt to be tough or cool – they all stand on their own terms.

Looking at some of these cars, it’s clear that a chop in Pete’s mind means four inches. There’s a ’glass ’32 whose body Pete’s taking another inch off all ’round. “Those bodies come with a three-inch chop, but, you know, I think they’re better with four,” he declares.

On top of what Pete’s built himself, there are the relics – a ’46 sedan and a Customline, both in original nick and spec, time machines that are regularly driven. Inside another shed is a lime green ’33 with a four-banger that Pete says doesn’t even have an extra hole drilled in it anywhere. It’s never been repainted, not with a gun anyway. Then there’s the ’51 Merc sled, and an all-steel ’34 in 20-year-old red with hood, no guards and a flatty.

A few cars owned by Pete’s son, Paul, also live here – including his awesome GONLOW Buick Century (SM Hot Rod #14) – and they’re every bit as sweet as the old man’s. It would appear this is a hot-rodding family tree that’s spread its branches wide. Pete’s daughter Carrie married Jamie Camilleri, whose gold ’32 has already featured in the 2011 edition of SM Hot Rod. When you talk to Jamie about the inspiration for that sensational rod, he’ll soon tell you that Pete Quaife’s influence loomed large.

Whether it’s a slammed Desoto-grille Buick or a ’32 roadster, the Quaifes turn out simple classics and make it look deceptively easy

All too soon, it’s time for me to leave. Pete and I stand in the drive before I go and talk about the F-truck he’s tidying up as a parts-getter. Mike, Pete’s boxer dog, sniffs around. “We go everywhere together,” Pete says. The weather has turned the corner from winter and it looks like down here by the beach it’s going to be a long hot rod summer; no doubt Pete and Mike will soon be out cruising and enjoying it together.

Now that’s hot rodding reality.


Paint: Morris Minor Green

Motor: Ford Y-block 272
Pistons: Stock
Rods: Stock
Cam: Mystery grind
Induction: Triple Stromberg 97s
Manifold: Offenhauser
Exhaust: Quaife, HM Industries
Tank: Vintique
Body: Fibreglass by Vic O’Neill
Chassis: O’Neill and Quaife

Clutch: 11in
Trans: Ford top loader

Brakes: ’40 Ford
Axle: So-Cal 5in drop, hairpins
Diff: Winters quickchange

Photographers: Chris Thorogood