You could own the Hot Rod that gave us quarter-mile drag racing

03rd October 2017
Bob Murray

Nowhere else in the world combines race horses with race cars quite like Goodwood, but keeping the horsepower well away from the horse flesh is – for obvious reasons – a sensible precaution. It hasn’t always been like that everywhere though…


The photograph you see here is of something that could never happen at Goodwood: a horse racing a car, and neck-and-neck, too. The contest happened in America in 1944 and when the car won, an American performance legend was born.

RM Sotheby’s, which is selling the hot rod in the picture at auction in the US on Thursday (October 5th), says the story goes like this: the owner of an American quarter horse – a breed famed for its short-distance sprinting ability – won lots of bets challenging car owners to races.

The horse won each time apparently, until… a 1932 Ford highbody roadster with a reputation for being the quickest car in the San Fernando Valley turned up to take on the nag. With hot rod legend Pete Henderson driving and a large crowd watching on, the quarter horse and the car lined up next to each other for a specially staged race one Saturday morning on Highway 39 outside La Habra, California.

The Henderson-built deuce roadster – powered by a flathead 296 cubic inch V8 with hot cams, twin Strombergs and high-rise intakes – came home a winner by a short head and was forever after known as the “hot rod that beat the horse”.


Its significance goes further, though. For many in the American performance car world, this contest marked the birth of quarter mile drag racing.

“There are few cars more significant in the world of American Hot Rods than Pete Henderson’s 1932 Ford Roadster,” says RM Sotheby’s, which is selling the car at its Ralph Whitworth Collection auction at Hershey in the US (5-6 October).

In its day the car was clocked at 120mph. As well as a varied racing career it featured in several B movies, including Hot Rod Gang. The car has been on the cover of Rodders Journal and named as one of the top 75 ’32 Fords. Restored to full chopped-top 1940s glory, the Ford was awarded first in class at the 2002 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

What price such a slice of American performance car history? Guide is US$160-180,000 (about £120-135,000). Horse extra.

  • Ford

  • RM Sotheby's

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