Phil “Cooz” Cocuzza grew up in the coastal New Jersey community of Toms River. He headed up a popular rock band and built fast cars before entering the Navy in the mid-’60s. Phil found himself back home in New Jersey in 1968 after serving his country wondering what to do next. He opened a Corvette shop and focused on what he loved doing most—drag racing—and he became darned good at it.
In 1978, Phil moved to Southern California and purchased a successful automotive parts business. He liked what he was doing, but he wanted more, “I decided to get back to my roots with a business called Corvette Connection in the San Fernando Valley before branching out to classic muscle cars and changing the name to California Muscle Cars.” Phil has since moved his business to Acton north of Los Angeles seeking a quieter life with his wife, Kim, where he continues to build fine automobiles.
In the wake of 25 major NHRA national records and 16 Wallys as a professional drag racer, Phil found himself faced with a family medical crisis. He put drag racing aside to focus on family and a lifelong ambition that would keep him closer to home, this Washington Blue 1932 Dearborn Deuce highboy nostalgic roadster.
“Steve Young, a close friend of mine who was chairman of the Petersen Automotive Museum, and I discussed building a hot rod,” Phil tells us. Phil was at The Petersen sitting on a park bench outside when he met Pete Chapouris of SO-CAL Speed Shop. Phil adds, “I shared my plans for the Deuce with him and he promptly hauled out his business card along with a cell number.”
Phil quickly found himself meeting terrific people, “I put a list together and called Pete at SO-CAL who shipped parts to get me started. Rudy Martinez, who owns Modern Performance Classics, introduced me to Sal Solorzano, VP of Total Cost Involved Engineering, who helped get me on the right track.
“The Dearborn Deuce body was chosen for this project, a precision steel body with a windshield, side glass with power windows, and an awesome folding convertible top that stored nicely,” Phil tells us. He went to the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona to get ideas. “I walked around the show soaking up all that I could, noting some of the best ideas as I went along.
The very last car I saw there was a 1932 Dearborn Deuce. I introduced myself to Bud Root, who owned and built the car. I had a million questions. He was very helpful. He gave me his cell number and invited me to call at any time.
“Bud introduced me to some of the best car builders in the street rod business,” Phil relates. “There was Jack Hagemann, who is a world famous sheetmetal expert. I brought my Deuce to Jack’s shop in Morgan Hill, California, where the body was massaged with great attention to detail; the hood, sides with 20 louvers, the transmission tunnel, and the rear roll pan.” When the body was complete Phil looked to Sanderson Headers in the San Francisco Bay Area where custom headers were made along with a ceramic-coated exhaust system.
Sanderson was right next to Roy Brizio Street Rods, which was gracious enough to allow Phil to park his trailer there while Sanderson did the exhaust system. Another great talent was Sid Chavers who did a remarkable job on the Italian Honey Saddle interior.
When Phil brought the Deuce home to Southern California, he and friends Kirk Peeler and Larry Wissmann went to work on the final stages. R & C Custom Auto Body’s Rigo Castenada in Palmdale, California, and Joe Camacho of Magoo’s Rod Shop prepped the body and laid down PPG 1935 Ford Washington Blue.
There were polished stainless brake and fuel lines to be bent, flared, and installed. The GM Performance 383ci crate engine was disassembled and blueprinted by Gregg Jacobson of PHD Speedcenter in Bakersfield, California. Phil opted for a hotter cam and a classic Edelbrock Tri-power manifold with a trio of Rochester 2-Jet carburetors. A TREMEC five-speed with 0.83 overdrive vectors the 383’s brute torque to a Currie aluminum 9-inch diff with Detroit Tru-Trac 3.90:1 cogs. A Super Bell axle was employed in front. Those are custom modified 1939 Ford taillights.
Phil and a handpicked team of passionate professionals worked feverishly to create a Dearborn Deuce beyond anyone’s expectations. Its first time out at the 2015 Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, Phil’s Deuce took runner-up in the Modified Street Roadster class consisting of 70 competitors.
Sometimes it takes a dream, a vision, to bring a person home to their very roots. Phil’s Dearborn Deuce is the result of belief it could happen. He amassed the best talent to conceive a lifelong dream and one heck of a retirement plan. What’s more, he’s back to drag racing, proof you really can have it all.
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Source: Hot Rod