Beloved ‘Apache’ roadster B.C.’s most historic hotrod

  • Jim McGowan’s ride survived busy show circuit, engine fire
    • Edmonton Journal
    • 14 Dec 2010
    • Alyn Edwards 

    The Apache street rod built in 1952 from a 1932 Ford roadster looks good at any angle. In 1957, the Apache carried Jim McGowan and his bride, Mary, ontheir honeymoon. McGowan rebuilt it in the 1980s after a disastrous fire.
    It wasn’t a good situation in 1952 that led to Jim McGowan’s purchase of a partially built 1932 Ford roadster hotrod. Two members of the newlyformed British Columbia Custom Car Association had drowned during a club outing at Cultus Lake, and the car was being sold by the family of one of the victims for $250.
    Car culture was really taking hold in the early 1950s in Vancouver, with enthusiasts banding together in clubs, cruising the streets and teenagers showing off their rides at burger joints.
    McGowan became part of that scene. The Ford roadster body had already been “channelled” by being lowered over the chassis. McGowan used an A-frame swing in his father’s backyard to drop in a more powerful Ford flathead V-8 engine. He chopped the windshield and added custom touches to the car like chrome headers and exhaust pipes.
    His hotrod was painted Apache red, so he called it Apache. The car was a hit when it was entered in Vancouver’s first Motorama custom car show in 1953. The next year, it was featured in a 1954 edition of Hot Rod magazine.
    McGowan was born in Toronto and moved to Vancouver with his father in 1948. His first car was a 1936 Ford two-door sedan. Then he began customizing a bulbous 1942 Chrysler sedan by lowering the car, adding fender skirts and installing a split manifold for dual exhausts.
    By 1952, what he really wanted was a low-slung, hopped-up ho- trod. Fellow B.C. Custom Car Club member Andy Anderson told him to buy the partially built Ford roadster, and hotrod history would soon be made. The Apache also made an impact in Toronto when McGowan drove it across Canada to visit his mother. The cut-down red roadster attracted so much attention among Toronto’s young car crowd, that he was invited to drive to Watkins Glen, N.Y., to watch some of the first car races on the newly constructed track.
    In 1957, the Apache carried Jim and his bride, Mary, on their honeymoon. “I built a small trailer and pulled it with the hotrod,” he says.
    After several years, he installed a Desoto hemi V-8 engine and entered the rod in custom car shows. This earned him top honours at shows in Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., as well as at the 1958 Pacific International Motorama show and a similar show in Victoria. Best in class, best roadster, best competition street rod and best engineering were some of the accolades the deuce earned.
    The Apache was shown four times at the famous L.A. Roadster Show, while an increasing number of magazines featured the car, including Hot
    Rod Magazine Annual as well as Rod and Custom. McGowan and Mary drove the roadster to shows all over the Pacific Northwest. The Ford became one of the best-known hotrods of all time. But disaster was right around the corner.
    In the 1960s, McGowan was operating a service station in Vancouver. After doing some work on the car, he rolled it outside to put gas in it before firing the engine. A spark from a jumper wire that popped off while he was cranking the engine ignited fumes from spilled gasoline. Suddenly, his treasured hotrod was engulfed in flames.
    “There was a lot of damage,” McGowan recalls. “The fire melted the hood and the front fenders, which were made of aluminum, and burned out the interior.
    With four children to care for, McGowan had to put the severely damaged hotrod in storage, where it stayed for nearly two decades. He found some time to work on the car in the 1980s. He took out the hemi engine and had the body straightened before installing a contemporary small-block Ford engine to get the famous hotrod roadworthy.
    “At that time, I discovered there was an amazing number of guys still interested in hotrods, and I got right back into it,” McGowan says.
    By the mid-90s, driving long distances in an open hotrod with no side windows was wearing a bit thin. So McGowan built a 1934 Ford Tudor sedan street rod with a contemporary fuel-injected Ford engine coupled to a five-speed transmission. He and Mary have been all over the continent with this reliable ride pulling a matching Boler travel trailer.
    In 2007, the Apache was displayed at the historic Northwest Deuce Days celebration held in Victoria to mark the 75th anniversary of the 1932 Ford — the most copied car in history and the basis for hotrod culture. There were more than 800 special-interest cars in attendance, half of them 1932 Fords. McGowan’s Apache was given the award for being the most historic hotrod.
    Today, the Apache looks as contemporary as ever, and McGowan continues to be the proud owner.