Lifelong Hot Rodder J. Neal East’s Story Continues

By Brian Brennan   –   Photography Courtesy of the Tex Smith Collection

Ron Ceridono and I couldn’t pass up this story. One evening while swapping old photos taken by our mentor LeRoi “Tex” Smith, Ceridono and I began talking about the 1932 Ford panel truck displayed on this page. It might not be the most exciting hot rod you have gazed upon, but the backstory of its owner is most definitely one to read.

Before we get onto the Deuce panel, how about a little on J. Neal East’s background. Neal is a lifelong hot rodder, car show guy, magazine guy (freelancer and a staff member of Rod & Custom), owner of many hot rods, including some famous ones, automotive bookstore owner, and a Lifetime L.A. Roadsters Club member. Now, we don’t have the space to go into depth on Neal and his lifelong obsessions, as that’s a story for another time. But here is a sample that should open your eyes, give you a chuckle, and downright know you are reading about a true hot rodder.

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The 1932 Ford panel truck as it sits today … sporting a refreshed green and black paint job and still running its 298-inch Flathead engine.

Before Neal was the “famous” hot rodder, he was another hot rodder working his way through school. The 1932 panel photos were shot by Tex Smith in front of a hangar at the Santa Monica airport. Not just any hangar, but one used by Howard Hughes Productions. Yep, that Howard Hughes. Here Hughes housed leftover goodies from his movie production days, including his personal aircraft. Neal tells us that he was the night shift back gate guard and in several years of being “on duty” no one ever passed through these gates. As such he had lots of time to do his homework. This led to him eventually becoming a chauffeur for Hughes, not for him but for Hughes’ dentist. When working your way through school you take the jobs you can find.

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03 Historic photo from 1960 showing a Deuce owned by Neal demonstrating the timeless appeal and functionality of vintage cars for both show and drive
This photo was shot back in 1960 and shows one of the many Deuces Neal owned. It also proves the point that you can “drive ’em and show ’em” to equal success.

Now back to the Deuce panel truck. Neal found it parked on an L.A. street resting under a tree. He stopped to look and soon found that the owner was in a bind with the Independent Rear Suspension and offered the truck to Neal for $300. Neal didn’t have that much on him and said he would be back the next day. The owner then informed Neal the price would be $350 “the next day.” So, Neal managed to get his dad to come back the same day with the prescribed $300, and the rest, as is often said, is history. The panel had a four-cylinder along with mechanical brakes. Neal drove it like that for a spell, but it wouldn’t be long before the hot rodder in him led to swapping the mechanical brakes for hydraulic binders and out came the four and in went a stout 296-inch Ford Flathead V8 engine that is topped with a four-barrel carb. The panel has been driven everywhere, including from SoCal to Denver when Neal moved, and in 1991 it became his daily driver while operating the automotive bookstore. Neal also drove it from Denver to Iola, Wisconsin, to be part of Old Cars Weekly working with Smith. It was back in 2022 that Neal and his son, Chad, drove the panel on the Denver Early Ford V8 Club Poker Run … it ran just great.

04 Neal s Roadster exhibited at the 1961 Oakland Show under the L A Roadsters Car Club a testament to the enduring popularity and versatility of classic cars
Neal’s roadster, shown at the 1961 Oakland Show as part of the L.A. Roadsters Car Club exhibit. He drove it from SoCal as it was his daily driver. Neal purchased the roadster from Bob Woodward when in 1958 it appeared in Hot Rod. Neal redid the

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It’s just the “tip” of a great story about a true hot rodder but it’s one-story worth reading. Neal … keep enjoying those hot rods, you’ve kept all of us captivated. MR

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