Hot Rod Phenomenon: How United Pacific Resurrected The Deuce Coupe

Homage (n.): an expression of high regard. Something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another.

If this was the way Henry Ford did it back then, then that is how we were going to do it now. –David Odegard, Project Manager, United Pacific

The Ford Model 18– it goes without saying that this car was one of the most creative endeavors of a Big Three company, not to mention a legend in its own right. It was the first car to ever offer an affordable V8 engine to the masses, offering speeds not seen in the majority of commonplace production cars, and arguably exists today as the pioneering and iconic specimen of hot rodding.

Meanwhile, a California-based company, United Pacific, had made a name for itself making 18-wheeler components with a strict limit for error and high regard for polished detail, as well as a host of restoration parts for classic hot rod and muscle car applications. That all changed in 2009, when the company took on a project that would change the future of the ’32 Ford forever.

Background Of An Icon

In the years leading up to the Model 18, Ford Motor Company was entering a state of despair. The once-successful Model T was entering its nineteenth year in production in 1927. Old Henry Ford, now in his sixties, was stubborn and intractable when it came to producing new designs. Yet, even he couldn’t deny the writing on the wall as Chevrolet began to outsell Ford.

After the Model A proved somewhat mild in terms of success, Ford gathered his best and brightest in 1929 to create a new bestseller. What resulted was the V8-powered Model 18, based on its four-cylinder Model B cousin. The car sold incredibly well, thanks to its immaculate design and 75 mph top speed– but the mystique of the ’32 Ford would only grow in the years to come, as hot rodders the world over began to fall in love with the car.

A Tale Of Two Factories

In an interesting twist of happenstance, both United Pacific and Ford Motor Company shared more than just the passion for Deuce Coupes. The two companies are neighbors across time, thanks to a factory that Ford had run from 1930 (Model 18s were built there) to 1956, while United Pacific established its headquarters in the 1980s just a few miles away.

Photos Courtesy of United Pacific

It goes without saying that the wonder and majesty of the ’32 Ford reached unseen levels in the decades following its introduction, but the sad fact was that many of those Model 18s were not getting any younger. Rarity and rust combined to shatter many an enthusiasts’ hopes for creating their own Deuce Coupe, and no company had yet stepped up to offer a suitable aftermarket solution.

Using high-quality materials and tooling, the United Pacific Model 18 replica is the answer hot rodders have been waiting for since the 1940s.

Company president Major Lin, himself an avid hot rodder and aficionado of the Deuce Coupe, had overseen his company’s growth for years and decided that something had to be done to thrust United Pacific into the limelight. Together with project manager David Odegard, the two men devised a strategy to expand United Pacific’s Deuce Coupe line to include all of the vehicle’s body components and accessories, such that everything but the chassis was made onsite.

In addition, every single part would have to pass Ford’s licensing program (established in the mid-90s to guard against poorly-made or knockoff products) to ensure that the authenticity and durability was up to snuff, which United Pacific had been in compliance with since 1994. “We were one of the first four or five companies to be licensed by Ford,” said Odegard.

Lin and Odegard sought the help of Dennis Mondrach, Director of Licensing at Ford’s Component Sales division, to help them reach their goal. Mondrach had been there in 1994 to help United Pacific attain its honor as a Ford-approved licensee. He and several others in Dearborn made Lin a very happy man, not just by approving a license to build, but also by hosting him in the Ford booth at the 2013 SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

Quality Is King

A test body and jig sit in the background and foreground of the United Pacific shop, respectively.

It’s one thing to empathize or appreciate the level of respect that Lin and his team felt for the Deuce Coupe. It is another thing entirely to understand and carry out such a vision with such an eye for detail and absolute accuracy, no matter the cost.

As we learned from talking with Odegard, the business went to tremendous lengths to reproduce the Model 18’s body. The tooling, for example, was an effort that United Pacific took on with gusto: “We created a warehouse full of dies for this body. They’re all Class A steel die sets…[where] a lot of businesses make tooling using Kirksite, a zinc-based metal, the truth is that it’s not as durable or long-lasting as steel. And that’s what we used– we didn’t use any temporary Kirksite tooling.”

“We know when we make the die for a part, that there is no contour that isn’t accurate; we’ve already tested it all,” said Odegard.

The result of such stringent demands for quality gave United Pacific a significant edge in the reproduction aftermarket. The methods used to produce the steel body parts made the company, in essence, a modern-day Ford factory, charged with producing exquisite products that were indistinguishable from the originals in almost every way.

“Every single aspect of a part is done to the last detail. It would be like going to the Ford parts counter in 1932 and buying a spare quarter panel or door– our product is that way,” explained Odegard. “Accuracy is the goal. We have the tech and ability to do it, as well as the desire to do it.”

A Fresh Spin On A Familiar Icon

It’s not unfair to say that United Pacific’s aim in their project was to create the perfect ’32 Ford. Truth be told, however, the car was hardly a paragon of modern industry in its original state.

The full-steel dies created full-steel parts that had a perfect fit and finish every time.

Much like any other car of the era, early and late production models produced differences big and small, compounded with constructs from the likes of Ford as well as its subcontractors, like Briggs Manufacturing or Murray Body. Dashboards, bracing, firewalls, and other components possessed certain traits, depending on when and where they were built.

“[Thanks to modern technology], we had the luxury of selecting what was the best production way to do it now,” said Odegard. “We made our choices between the early and late designs in order to make our version the best of both worlds.”

Ford Motor Company was so pleased with United Pacific’s recreated Deuce Coupe that it hosted a completed replica inside its booth at the 2013 SEMA Show.

Fit and finish, as a prime concern for the engineering team, made the lineup of Deuce Coupe parts practical for both startup and in-progress builds. Since the part designs always veered toward purity and originality, any regular Joe could now have their very own customized hot rod, untouched in every way– no chopped roof, no dropped axle, no horrendous paint job that had to be sanded off– only the rugged EDP coating, which would offer better longevity against rust inside and out.

All the while, the team also took special care to ensure the parts would mesh well with popular suppliers of niche Deuce Coupe materials, like exterior door handles and window channels. It made the recreated car a win-win for all parties involved: the enthusiast, the aftermarket, Ford Motor Company, and United Pacific.

A Make And Model That Keeps Improving

The United Pacific ’32 Ford has been a huge success since its official debut last year, but the engineering team is always on the lookout for further advances. For instance, headliner tacking strips will be making their way to dealer shelves later this summer. This will accomodate a longtime lack in supplies for enthusiasts of the Model 18.

With over 150 panels, trim pieces, structural components, and various other odds and ends, the catalog that United Pacific has built for the ’32 Ford Model 18 is one worthy of admiration, not just for the improvements made, but also for the respect of tradition and culture it brings to the table.

“We were glad that we could look back on this accomplishment and realize that we had made zero compromises,” said Odegard. “If this was the way Henry Ford did it back then, then that is how we were going to do it now.”

Take a look for yourself at all of United Pacific’s parts and pieces for the Deuce Coupe by visiting their dedicated webpage, and stay clued in on new developments (like their forthcoming ’32, destined for the SEMA Show in November) by Liking them on Facebook.

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About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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