For over 15 years New Jersey hot rodder and Radir Wheel company owner Rich Conklin has been gathering parts to restore the famed Dorman-Koopman ’32 Ford AA/Street Roadster. Originally built in Michigan, the car epitomizes the wilder drag roadsters of the ’60s with its towering stance, thunderous blown Hemi and show car detail. Recently Rich finished the rolling chassis, and we had the opportunity to photograph it before the body is bolted to the frame. Look for more on this bitchin’ roadster in the not-so-distant future.
The trip also gave me the opportunity to look at the cool stuff around Rich’s “World Famous Hot Rod Farm”—18 acres that have been in his family for over 100 years. Today, in addition to serving as Radir Wheels’ headquarters, it remains a working farm as well as home base for the Dead Man’s Curve car club he co-founded in 1978.
New Jersey’s always had a colorful hot rodding scene, and for decades Rich and his friends have done their part to maintain that reputation. A few years before forming Dead Man’s Curve, he built a raucous 327/four-speed-equipped ’55 Chevy in the vein of the Gasser-style hot rods and “Street Freaks” of the time. He still owns it today, having racked up over 100,000 miles traveling to shows all over the east coast and Midwest. It shares garage space with a ’39 Ford woody surf wagon, a ’37 Plymouth pickup, a ’67 Corvette with a factory 400hp 427, and a large number of other projects.
Among those projects is the one I traveled to see: the Dorman-Koopman Deuce. It’s always been one of my favorite drag roadsters (along with the equally meticulous ’28 Chevy AA/SR campaigned by Hugh Tucker). Rich found the car in 2000—a few years after starting Radir (which, with their mag wheels, spindle-mounts and cheater slicks, is another extension of his obsession with ’60s-era drag racing style). The roadster’s steel body wasn’t for sale because it was already being used for another hot rod project, but Rich was able to buy most of the remaining parts including the heavily modified Deuce frame, much of the original suspension, the magnesium five-spokes with slicks and rare Michelin X radials, and even the original upholstery.
A call to Brookville for a steel Deuce roadster body solved the sheetmetal issue. Tracking down the rest of the missing pieces was a different story. Mike Dorman passed away in the ’80s, but Don Koopman is still living in Michigan and was a huge help. He’s provided a wealth of information, as well as some amazing vintage photos and even an 8mm film of him and Mike building, running, wrecking (!), rebuilding and racing the roadster at Indy. We’ll be sharing it all with you soon.
Rich will have the chassis on display at Dead Man’s Curve’s annual spring party on June 17th at his farm, located at 65 River Road in Montville. And he plans to have the car completed in its metallic blue 1965 livery for their Wild Hot Rod Weekend car show over Labor Day weekend in nearby Mahwah, New Jersey. You can visit deadmanscurveusa.com for details about both events.—Curt Iseli