By Drew Hardin
Photos Courtesy Eric Rickman, Petersen Publishing Company Archive
History on the Auction Block
The December 2018 RM Sotheby’s auction at the Petersen Automotive Museum made headlines for the $22 million paid for a ’56 Ferrari 290 MM—a race car with provenance that included such notable pilots as Juan Manual Fangio, Phil Hill and Stirling Moss. Parked just a few feet away from that historic prancing horse during the auction’s preview was another ’50s icon: a ’32 Ford known as the Lloyd Bakan coupe.
When Bakan, a 22-year-old Navy vet, bought the coupe in the mid-’50s, it was already a hot rod. But it was under Bakan’s ownership that the car gained its notoriety. Not only did it appear in several magazines, including Petersen Publishing Company’s Rod & Custom and Hot Rod, but it also has the distinction of being the first car to be photographed for a Hot Rod cover with swimsuit-clad young women. (The poolside photo was famously shot by Petersen’s Eric Rickman, who stood on a ladder in the pool to get the composition he wanted.)
The car’s original builder, Roger Long, planted a Mercury Flathead V8 between the framerails, chopped the coupe’s roof 4 in., and mounted bobbed fenders over the rear tires. By the time Bakan bought the car, the flathead had been swapped for a DeSoto Hemi modified by famed performance engine builder John Geraghty. The Hemi’s JE pistons, Iskenderian camshaft, Weiand intake, Stromberg 97 carburetors and custom exhaust would send the car down the quarter-mile at 103 mph.
Bakan worked with Altadena Auto Body to turn the Deuce into an absolute stunner. The bobbed rear fenders were replaced by a pair of sedan fenders that were rolled within the wheel arches to line up their flared trailing ends with the car’s gas tank. The shop fabricated a distinctive set of front and rear nerf bars and painted the car in a custom-blended color that fell somewhere between burnt orange and bronze.
Bakan showed the coupe often—earning nearly 50 trophies for the car—and also cruised the drive-ins local to his Eagle Rock, California, home. He sold the car in the late ’50s, and it passed through a number of owners who made changes to its powertrain and paint scheme. Even decades later, though, it was still recognizable as Bakan’s distinctive coupe to those in the know.
Car collector and vintage racer Don Orosco bought the car after starting a search for it in the late ’90s. With his team of restorers and help from Bakan himself, Orosco returned it to its ’50s roots. A suitable DeSoto Hemi was found in a Fresno junkyard; Orosco’s body workers rejuvenated the Deuce’s worn-out sheetmetal using only gennie Ford steel; and painstaking care was applied to replicating the original paint color, using period photography shot by historian Andy Southard in 1958 as a reference.
Orosco’s efforts were rewarded by a Hot Rod Class win at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2007. It looked like a new chapter in the car’s life was going to begin at the Petersen Museum auction, but a high bid of $360,000 (RM Sotheby’s pre-sale estimate was $400,000–$500,000) was not enough to send it to a new home.