Chris Nolff’s 1932 Ford Coupe Highboy Build in Progress

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“No bells, no whistles. Just a hot rod.”—Chris Nolff

In this edition of Build-in-Progress, TREMEC is shining the spotlight on Chris Nolff of Michigan and his 1932 Ford highboy classic, outfitted with a TREMEC TKO 600 transmission. The vintage-style Blue Oval is not his first adventure in old iron, having owned other 1932s, as well as a 1937 and 1940. In fact, parked in the home shop next to this project is a 1966 Ford Mustang that he has been renovating simultaneously to be a Pro Street dragstrip car.

Noticing a Ford theme? That’s Chris’s backstory. He was a mechanic at a couple dealerships, including Bob Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, and at an automotive company that focused on building one-offs and prototypes. He then moved to Ford Motor Company, building experimental and show-car prototypes. He retired from there as an engineering technologist (a fancy way of saying “mechanic,” as Chris explains it).

“When I retired from Ford in 2010, I picked up the ’32. I now had a lot of time and I just couldn’t stop doing this type of work. I’m a gearhead that won’t quit,” said Chris. He loves designing, fabricating and assembling, and typically spends every day working on his projects. The highboy had been a work-in-progress for seven years, mainly due to spreading out the cost of this build over time.

Chris previously built an award-winning 1925 Ford called “Coyote.” The goal for this car is to debut it formally at the 2021 Detroit AutoRama. After that, this unique car will function as daily driver, show car, and cruiser. “It’s made to drive, ride, steer and stop. It’s like a brand-new car.”

Scenes from a 1932 Ford Highboy Build in Progress:

Chris found this Ford on RacingJunk.com. “The ’32s have always been a favorite, like for a lot of people. I’ve seen many ’32s built. This car was just my definition of the way I would build a ’32 highboy.”

How he decided on the buildup and modifications: “Went to bed thinking. Woke up thinking. Sometimes it took days for a decision.”

“Bones” is the car’s nickname. “I wanted to call it ‘Bones’ because it’s a bare-bones hot rod. When I build, I like to do things old school.” It represents a classic car built back in 1932. “All the parts I’ve used come from the 1930s or 1960s. It doesn’t have late-model dual overhead cam, air conditioning or a stereo.”

”When you see a fenderless car, the frame is usually painted the same color as the car. I was able to make the frame and body two different colors.” In this case, black and Kodiak Brown Metallic, inspired by his wife’s 2013 Ford Edge. “After her car is waxed and in the sun, it changes colors and grabs your attention. I’d never seen a ’32 in this color before.”

Chris Nolff’s 1,800lb 1932 Ford highboy is all about the meticulous details – which have required a lot of patience. He did the design and fabrication in his home shop, except for the paint job, since it required a paint booth. “I did 90 percent of the work. When building a one-of-a-kind car, it needs to be built by one person.”

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The coupe has a Mustang 289 high-performance engine – a built, blueprinted and balanced 289 Hi-Po – and TREMEC TKO 600 transmission. Both fit right off the shelf, and were designed to be so. Chris already had the engine for 30 years; it was originally in his 1966 Mustang. Chris built the chassis specifically for having a TREMEC TKO 600 transmission – his first TREMEC ever. “This car gets the best of everything for durability and performance, and I wanted the 600 lb-ft of torque for a future horsepower increase.” He also gave it a clearcoat. “I didn’t paint it; the undercarriage is already multiple colors. Let the transmission speak for itself.” He built a homemade shifter.
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Creature comforts include reclining bucket seats, power windows and brakes, and tilt-column steering. Chris also runs Hella headlights, 1948 Chevy blue-dot taillights and license-plate bolts with embedded LED lighting.
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The 15-inch American Racing five-spoke wheels are wrapped with 185x70R15 radials up front and 275/75R15 BFGoodrich drag radials in back. The front rim is 4 inches wide, while the rear is 10 inches. The Ford suspension includes a four-link coilover-shock rearend and Super Bell wishbone-arm setup in front, plus a Ford 9-inch with a limited slip and 3.25:1 gear ratio. “Just a bare-bones, classic highboy hot rod, built for speed.” There’s also custom exhaust. He used off-the-shelf Mustang headers and fabbed 3-inch exhaust that runs all the way to the back bumper. A friend who works at Watson Engineering helped with cutting, fitting and tacking together of the stainless steel system, then said friend argon-filled the system for strength.
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If there was any part of the Ford build that Chris dreaded, it was the wiring, because “it was very, very time-consuming.” That’s due largely to its aircraft-like design, meaning precise organization of each wire, including running them individually, side by side and removing any kinks. He then ran the wiring through the frame and body so that no wiring could be seen underneath the car. “When you build a custom car, wiring has to be custom also. Doing it in stages was my way of staying organized.”

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