The Story Behind The Nissan-Built Ford HighBoy Roadster - SUV VEHICLE

The Story Behind The Nissan-Built Ford HighBoy Roadster



  • Nissan showcased a ’32 Ford Highboy hot rod at SEMA, infusing it with a Nissan 300ZX V-6 powertrain.
  • The ’32 Ford Highboy is iconic for its adaptability to modifications and has a rich history in the hot-rodding world.
  • The unusual crossover between a Ford and Nissan delighted SEMA attendees and highlighted the craftsmanship of a Nissan employee.

Automakers usually view each other with a mix of rivalry and indifference. While the occasional partnership can brighten the mood, it’s worth highlighting when one company praises another one.

Enter the spotlight: a 1932 Ford Highboy Roadster. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill hot rod, as it’s something truly unique: Nissan chose to feature it at the 2008 SEMA Show. Now, you might be wondering why on Earth would Nissan showcase a Ford at SEMA? The story behind it stems from the passion of a Nissan employee for the ’32 Ford. With ingenuity and determination, he decided to infuse it with a Nissan 300ZX V-6 powertrain, along with plenty of other enhancements.

But why did this turn out to be so emblematic? Well, the ’32 Ford Highboy is already an incredibly iconic car due to its significant influence on the world of hot-rodding, renowned for its simplicity and adaptability to modifications. This is clearly evidenced by Jack Taylor’s idea to introduce a Nissan V-6, delighting us with what he called the “Z Highboy Roadster”, an unexpected crossover that fascinated the public.

In order to give you the most up-to-date and accurate information possible, the data used to compile this article was sourced from Ford and Nissan.

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Nissan Employee Modified A Specimen And Nissan Displayed It At The SEMA Show

The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show stands as one of the largest and most significant events in the automotive industry and specialized accessories market. Each year, it draws thousands of exhibitors and tens of thousands of attendees from around the globe, including car manufacturers, distributors, retailers, media, and automotive enthusiasts.

Nissan Planned An Exceptional Presentation To Celebrate 50 Years Of Car And Truck Sales In North America

During the event held in 2008, Nissan was celebrating its 50th year of selling cars and trucks in North America and its 10th year as an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) participant in the SEMA Show. The occasion was clearly very special for the company, so they felt the need to translate that sentiment into their presentation.

How did they do it? In a very original way, they showcased 12 highly modified Nissan vehicles built by aftermarket vehicle suppliers and customizers, as well as by Nissan’s own engineering staff. The dozen vehicles ranged from the exotic Nissan GT-R supercar, a remarkable success for the Japanese company, to a Nissan employee-built 1932 Ford Highboy hot rod powered by a Nissan 300ZX engine.

The Unveiling Of The Z Highboy Roadster

1932 Ford Highboy with Nissan powertrain

If you’ve been to SEMA or read about it, you’d know that the vast majority of vehicles are either classic American or new Japanese. One of those twelve cars showcased at Nissan’s booth managed to combine both.

Attendees at the SEMA Show that day encountered a rather unexpected combination. It involved a Japanese-designed V-6 Nissan power plant inside a domestic Ford hot rod. Nissan North America employee Jack Taylor spearheaded the construction of this unbelievable variation of the classic 1932 Ford Highboy Roadster, utilizing a complete Nissan 300ZX drivetrain. This variation was dubbed the “Z Highboy Roadster”.

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It Received The Complete Powertrain From A 1996 Nissan 300ZX

1932 Ford Highboy with Nissan powertrain

When it was unveiled, the audience went crazy. The 1932 Ford Highboy is already a car with a rich history and an icon of its era, and this one became even more special due to the modifications that it went through: it received the entire powertrain of the 1996 Nissan 300ZX.

A Nissan-Sourced 3.0-Liter V-6 Was Installed In The Hot Rod

Starting with the most notable aspect, the hot rod received a Nissan-sourced 3.0-liter DOHC EFI V-6 Twin Turbo engine. Although the real power output that it is capable of achieving is unknown, we can make an approximation by looking into the information available about the car from which the powertrain was obtained. The entry-level 300ZX was rated at 222 horsepower and 198 pound-feet of torque.

The engine is paired with a five-speed manual transmission. The frame features rails from the American Stamping Corporation, which have been boxed and pinched with custom cross members. Its front suspension system features a custom tubular un-equal length A-arm IFS, complete with polished forged aluminum ZX spindles, hubs, and brake calipers, as well as a 240SX steering rack that has been narrowed for optimal performance.

Meanwhile, the rear suspension system consists of a custom tubular 5-link IRS, accompanied by a ZX differential equipped with polished ZX axles, hubs, and brake calipers.

Further Customizations Implemented

The rest of the vehicle is rather straightforward. It showcases an AS custom chassis paired with a Downs Manufacturing ’32 Ford Roadster body, which has been coated in an eye-catching shade of yellow with a Sikkens single-stage custom mix paint. Additionally, it boasts a Rootlieb three-piece side-opening hood, a custom hinge assembly, a polished aluminum grill, and MG-B MG Midget windshield posts, frame and glass.

Moving inside, the interior features a custom bench design upholstered in brownish-gray leather, accompanied by wool carpeting. The model also sports American Racing wheels, a stainless steel exhaust, and a side-opening hood.

Other additional features include:

  • ZX manifolds.
  • Stainless bullet mufflers.
  • Jet-Hot coated pipes.
  • Walker radiator.

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Reasons Behind The Ford Highboy Roadster’s Iconic Reputation

1932 Ford Highboy Roadster

By the end of 1932, America found itself amidst the Great Depression. However, largely due to Ford’s advancements in assembly line production and the refinement of sheet steel manufacturing, automobiles, which were once considered high-priced luxuries, were transformed into practical transportation options affordable for the majority of struggling Americans during those tough times.

The 1932 Ford, affectionately dubbed the “Deuce” due to its year of release, stands as a testament to defying its modest origins to emerge as one of the most iconic and significant cars ever manufactured in the USA.

It Was The First Mass-Produced Car With A V-8 Engine

This is the reason why March 9, 1932, holds a special place for devoted Ford enthusiasts. On this date, Henry Ford introduced his V-8 engine, initially named the Model 18 but now commonly referred to as the Flathead. While Ford wasn’t the inventor of the V-8, nor the first auto manufacturer to produce one, his achievement lay in being the first to devise a method to mass-produce a cheap, lightweight V-8 built from a one-piece casting.

The significance of the ’32 Ford largely stems from its engine. Equipped with the then-new Flathead V-8, it marked the first time a V-8 engine had been incorporated into a mass-produced and relatively affordable car. Prior to the introduction of the Deuce, V-8 engines were reserved for big luxury cars.

This eight-cylinder engine offered an incredible performance compared to other vehicles of the time which, coupled with its accessible price, contributed to its popularity. Following World War II, in 1945/46, thanks to depreciation, these ’32 Fords became the main target of young GIs returning from service in Europe and the Pacific.

A Car With Unmatched Style And Highly Customizable

1932 Ford Highboy Roadster front 3/4 shot
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The design of the 1932 Roadster was sleek and sporty, boasting clean lines and an aggressive appearance. This combination of classic style and performance caught the attention of automotive enthusiasts both in the 1930s and in the decades that followed. As a result, it has appeared in numerous movies, television shows, and artworks throughout the decades.

During the Great Depression, young enthusiasts began to modify and customize older cars to suit their tastes and needs. The Ford Highboy Roadster was a popular choice for these customizations due to its versatile design and relative availability.

In turn, these various attributes led the Ford Highboy Roadster to play a significant role in the development of hot rod culture in the United States, a movement based on modifying cars for use in street racing and speed exhibitions, becoming one of the most popular models.

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Hot-rodding Culture: Importance Of The Ford Highboy 1932

1932 Ford Highboy Roadster front shot
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A convergence of seemingly unrelated events, certain unique characteristics of the ’32 Ford, and a touch of luck all played a part in Ford’s modest offerings for 1932 becoming the iconic hot rod aesthetic.

The Flathead V-8 Remains A Key Component

Hot-rodding is a timeless tradition that has given rise to many enduring cars. Hot rods are beasts that could be classic or modern American cars modified to reach higher speeds. The foundational hot rod models include the Model T, Model A, or the ’32 Deuce.

Having burst onto the scene with amazing fanfare roughly 90 years ago, the 1932 Ford remains popular today among hot rod and street rod enthusiasts, historians, and collectors. But why?

Well, the ’32 Ford boasted a series of firsts and lasts, which endeared it to hot rodders. It marked the debut of the Flathead V-8, the first V-8 engine in an affordable, mass-market automobile. Initially too costly for teenage hot rodders, it later provided an accessible platform for installing a Flathead once these engines became abundant and cheap. Supply and affordability were crucial factors influencing virtually everything hot rodders incorporated into their cars in pursuit of style and speed.

Its Innovative Steel-Reinforced Body Marked A Significant Improvement

1932 Ford Highboy Roadster front 3/4 shot
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Another notable first was the steel-reinforced body of the ’32 Ford, a significant improvement over the mostly wooden structures with stamped metal skins that were prevalent among car manufacturers in 1932. With a steel inner structure, these bodies were lighter and more durable, less susceptible to degradation from continuous structural stresses. Unlike roadsters and coupes from contemporary manufacturers that often fell victim to dry rot and termite damage when exposed to the elements, ’32 Fords fared much better, resulting in greater availability and consequently, lower prices.

An unintended aesthetic advantage of the ’32 Ford was the removal of fenders and running boards, a practice adopted to save weight and increase aerodynamics for racing. This resulted in a clean body mass devoid of gaps, aprons, and irregular body lines, whether with or without fenders. Remarkably, a fenderless Deuce, or “highboy”, featured styled, exposed frame rails.

These exposed frame rails incorporated a stamped style line that followed the front fender and running board attachment points, a unique detail unseen in any other automobile. Because they were meant to be exposed, there were no brackets, brake lines, or body bracing typically found on a covered frame.

As automotive styling progressed, the 1932 Ford represented one of the final and most refined designs of an era characterized by upright and honest styling. Vertical grilles, tops, and door cuts were phased out by 1933, while cars grew larger after 1932.

The Deuces were lighter, smaller, simple, easy to stuff a V-8 into, and abundant on car lots and in junkyards, all of which helped the 1932 Ford become the car of choice for hot rodders. Moreover, the ongoing evolution of hot-rodding technology has ensured that lots of quality products continue to enter the market, allowing enthusiasts to customize their iconic Deuces however they like.


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