Street Rodder Winter 2013

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Street Rodder Winter 2013
>Through his work at Car Craft and Rod & Custom, Bill Neumann inspired
numerous enthusiasts. Half a century on and we're still talking about his work.
Here he is with his trademark roadster in August 1961, presumably days after he
took the technical editorship at Car Craft.
LEFT
>"(The photo) was used as a heading for 'Benchsession with Bill Neumann',
a Q&A answering readers' mechanical questions," Neumann indicates.
It Burned Short but the
Last Custom-Car Golden Age
Burned Brighter Than any Othe[
Here's how it Looked.
By Chris Shelton
Photography Courtesy of the Petersen Archives,
Greg Sharp, Mike Alexander, and the Joe Wilhelm
and Bill Cushenbery Families
very culture has a golden age The custom-car movement has
had at least three, in succession no less. The one from about
1960 to approximately 1965 shines particularly bright in pretty
much all ways
Now if you're not a custom-car devotee understand
something Right now a whole bunch of custom buffs are up in arms.
And for good reason, really; that era is particularly polarizing. What
made it exceptional was a sort of gluttony, something that stood in
pretty sharp contrast to the more modest aesthetic from the two
periods that preceded it
If you learn only one thing about the custom car movement it's
this It pretty much owes its existence to World War II. As Ambrose
Bierce once quipped, "War is God's way of teaching Americans
geography." And that war had a particularly profound effect on
impressionable kids from the land built by the automobile.
Remember that until the outbreak of war Americans lived pretty
modestly. And though we feel fondly about the auto designs of the
age they were largely conservative, a reflection of the pragmatism
that the automobile-buying public knew for the dozen years of the
Great Depression
E
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>Barris rarely stopped short of excessive but his other pet project, "Kopper
Kart", forecast more drama with its 4-inch chop, 51/2-inch section, and 8-inch
channel. The quad headlights predated OEM quads by at least one model year.
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>George Barris grins for a reason; though his customers' cars won America's Most
Beautiful Roadster title three times his "Twister T" that got his name on the trophy.
To prove that the car had as much go as glitter he submitted it for a rod test that ran
in the Aug. '63 Rod & Custom. Its 17-second e.t. ain't bad for a show car.
>Given an old farm truck and a mandate to win trophies, Barris earned Richard Peters
a name on the AMBR trophy not once but twice (1958 and 1959). Though recognizable
as a Model A roadster pickup, not a single panel escaped reshaping. John Mumford
showed the Brizio-restored Kart at the 2008 Grand National Roadster Show.
That wasn't exactly the case
in Europe; it too suffered during
those years but the landscape
differed. For the most part the
automobile existed in Europe
mostly as it did in America
prior to the Model T. as a tool
for businessmen and a toy for
the elite. Just as they did here.
the rich over there preferred
highly stylized vehicles. Without
the hordes of ordinary cars
to distract from them, the
exceptional cars of the wealthy
stood out to the troops To
borrow another phrase, "How
are ya gonna keep 'em down
on the farm after they've seen
Paris .. and the cars
built there?"
That experience made
returning Gls antsy for
something new and America's
profound economic boom and
personal wealth gave them the
opportunity to indulge their
promote those stars. The first
custom-car Golden Age from
1946 to the early '50s sh.owed
enthusiasts how to do it
Encouraged by this new
promotional tool, customcar builders and enthusiasts
alike submitted countless
instructional articles. This
idea exchange broadened the
community and the results were
obvious in the cars. Enthusiasts'
ages also factored prominently:
participants from the first
Golden Age were old enough
to have steady jobs if not
careers to feed their passion.
and the maturity and discipline
to complete more intensive
projects. As a result. designs
grew increasingly complex and
mature from the mid-to-late
'50s, the second Golden Age of
the custom car.
But nothing prepared the
world for what followed Custom
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fancies, a rare experience for
most draft-age kids. Only one
problem remained Greeting
those kids upon their return
were the models designed
during the tail end of the
conservative slump they left.
cars whose designs were well
beyond the help of the facelifts
they got
Discontent. the generation
of newly educated car buffs
and Gls did the thing that
helped them win the war: they
improvised Like the Harry
Westergards and George
DuValls from the pre-war era,
they blended bits and pieces
of existing cars to create
something unique. Only there
were a lot more would-be
stylists than prior to war's
Oj>tbreak. Stars were born
Barris, Cerny, Emory, and
Gaylord, JUSt to name a few So
too were tabloids to exploit and
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cars aren't competitive by
design but their builders are
by nature. This idea exchange
that the magazines facilitated
in the prior era encouraged
enthusiasts to organize events
where they could pit their
creative skills against each
other. These were quiet battles
but they were no less fierce, and
any new idea set precedence.
So if someone plated their
rocker covers another would
plate their heads. If someone
figured out how to lay down
candy another would up the
ante with 'flake. Over the years
headlights doubled, tailpipes
quadrupled, upholstery
pleats went every which way
but up This last generation
followed that format but at
an accelerated case. Before
you knew it a Kandy Kolored
Tangerine Flake Streamline
Baby was born.
George Barris
He was there from the start He played a pivotal role in
editorial content in Petersen's early years. He organized events.
He never missed an opportunity to promote his busi ness. Barris
Kustom Industries.
Barris was one of the first to establish long-standing relationships
with corporate bosses like AMT's Bud "The Kat" Anderson. It goes
without saying that he played a key role in Ford's participation.
An inveterate promoter. Barris brought probably more attention to
bear on the custom-car industry than any other person. Without him
there's a good chance the custom car would've faded into obscurity
rather than help establish a billion-dollar boutique industry
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>Though totaled by a collision with a big truck, Jim Skonzakes' '53 Lincoln
turned into the Golden Sahara at Barris' shop. A tape recorder and a complete
cocktail bar accompanied the now-obligatory hi-fi and television. The crown
jewel: gold-plated trim. Skonzakes still owns the car but it's reportedly
in disarray.
TOP RIGHT
>Here's likely the genesis of Ford's Custom Car Caravan. AMT hired Barris to
build cars, which would become models in its Custom Car Caravan. The first
became the Styline Galaxie kit but Barris touted this Thunderbird as the Styline.
Possibly this was the bait that got Ford on the line.
>The Barris shop built the X-Pak 400 from thin air. It appeared to float but Mike
Alexander, who repaired X-Pak when it broke on its way to Detroit, revealed it
owed its levitation to linear motors. Still a neat creation, though.
Though the hot rod and
custom-car world largely went
unnoticed or at least dismissed
as a passing phase by the rest
of the world, a few prominent
people understood the popcujture ig;1plications Among
them was Tom Wolfe who
anchored an Esquire feature
and later a book of essays on
the grand champions of the
latest custom-car golden age:
George Barris and Ed Roth (in
fact we used his title in the last
paragraph). But we owe what
follows to another JOUrnalist. one
a little closer to our home so to
speak: Bill Neumann.
In 1961 Neumann. then a
discontented Ford dealership
general manager. dropped
everything to take a technical
editorship at Car Craft. "Before
that I took my roadster to
Detroit to the National event."
he recalls. He won his class.
>In 1963 Barris got a fourth spot on the Big Trophy, this time with Chuck
Kirkorian's '29 Ford, Emperor. Among other things, the roadster featured a
prominent nose with integral headlights, a design pioneered by the Alexander
Brothers on Chili Catallo's "Silver Sapphire".
"More importantly, Dick Day and
Bob Greene saw the car They
knew I'd been doing freelance
work for Rodding and Restyling
in New York. They knew my
background and they knew my
work by my car that was there.
That was without anybody's
help because there were no hot
rod shops back in the '50s."
He ascended the ranks
within the year "Petersen
fired the entire staff at Rod &
Custom because they were
going off on really wild stuff
that didn't relate to hot rods or
customs," he recalls. "Dick Day
(Car Craft) and Bob Greene,
who was editor at Hot Rod,
recommended me as an editor
to lead a new staff" Neumann
partly ensured his ship's safety
by lashing it to the Barris and
Roth juggernaut Among other
things R&C ran a two-part
interview with the veteran and
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>Originally dubbed "ExcalibLir", Roth's "Outlaw" (1959) was his first foray into
original body shapes. According to Ed Fuller, Roth wanted sqmething along the
lines of Grabowski's Kookie Kar but nothing that owed its existence to any other
designer. Fiberglass made it happen and Roth was hooked.
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>Though an incorrigible cutup, Ed Roth found his true element when elbow-deep
in plaster and fiberglass resin. A huge advocate of building bodies from scratch,
he taught enthusiasts the ropes by way of numerous self-published booklets.
>Seemingly without a moment's notice Roth followed "Outlaw" with the
"Beatnik Bandit". With its stick steering and blown-acrylic canopy it challenged
the notion of what made a car a car.
the vanguard in the May and
June '62 issues.
Neumann was quick to
seize upon another potential
interest generator As he
explained in 50 Years of Rod
& Custom. Neumann rebuilt
the title as a means to groom
younger readers for Hot Rod
magazine. "I saw models and
scale racing as an avenue for
pre-teens to get a handle on
rods," he said as part of the
interview. So the space he
created by eliminating off-topic
editorial like skydiving and
mini-bikes he filled up with
model cars, slot cars, and their
respective competitions. "We
were pretty heavy into model
building through Monogram
and Revell," he recalls. "They
had big displays for modelbuilding contests and slot-car
racing at each venue."
>Without Barris "Chili" Catallo's Silver Sapphire wouldn't have its chopped top,
pale-blue paint, or photo on a Beach Boys album cover. However, without the
Alexander brothers it wouldn't have its trend-setting nose or side strakes. Draw
your own conclusions.
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The attention wasn't JUSt
good for editorial; a market
tailored expressly to enthusiasts
who were crazy about cars
but too young to own them
appealed greatly to scale-model
manufacturers. In fact AMT
representative Budd "The Kat
from AMT" Anderson, George
Barris, and AMT president
George Toteff conJured a touring
scale-model program called the
Custom Car Caravan. AMT's
presence and the prominence
of artists like Dean Jeffries,
Stanley Mouse, and Ed Roth who
"performed" at shows boosted
attendance. That. in turn, kept
the promotional coffers full. Now
thrust into the corporate world's
rada~ custom cars found a new
}f:ln the companies that made
the fullsize versions of the scale
models. "They really got Ford's
attention," Neumann says
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>Roth was nothing if not prolific; in less than a year (and within months of
Barris' X-Pac) he released his own air car, "Rotar''. Triumph-driven fans actually
made it levitate but a shattered propeller that injured fi ve people earned
it infamy.
>Eternally progressive to his end, Roth embraced everything new. He flipped a
Corvair's cradle around, inverted its transaxle, and built the Road Agent around
it. The only thing more shocking than that was its fuchsia finish and orangetinted canopy.
Ed Roth
If mankind ever had an interstellar ambassador it needn't have
bothered Ed Roth. If such a position existed he probably would've
paid to serve JUSt to visit his other worldly mentors; with his
inexplicable ideas it seemed Ed Roth was not of this place.
The cars he built looked like spaceships The monsters he
airbrushed on T-shirts resembled monsters. The guy almost
single-handedly invented the accessory industry for the youth
market by creating a catalog's worth of key rings, decals, models,
and trinkets. Oh the cars. Actually he didn't build cars as much as
he built lunar modules. If Roth played by any rule it was this there
were no limitations. The enthusiast is the creator. an idea that
resonated wildly.
By definition a custom-car builder changes the way a car looks.
Ed Roth, on the other hand, changed the way we look at cars.
>Rather than a car to build, Ford gave Roth two engines around which he
promptly built the "Mysterion". The asymmetrical creation toured extensively,
but eventually buckled under its own weight. It got stripped and disappeared.
The Alexander Brothers
Though born 3,000 miles from the birthplace of the custom car.
brothers Mike and Larry Alexander had one thing their West Coast
brethren lacked: proximity to the Big Three. And because the design
houses tested their models on public roads, the streets of Detroit
were like a custom-car show promoted by the automakers.
Their proximity to the manufacturers inevitably worked in their
favor By a secret association with moonlighting General Motors
designer Harry Bentley Bradley the brothers won contracts with
Ford above and beyond the Custom Car Caravan. Contracts with
other makers followed, including a pickup project that won the
brothers one of their three Don Ridler Memorial Awards and that
truck's immortality as one of the first series of Hot Wheels cars.
When the city filed imminent domain on the brothers' shop they
dissolved the business and took positions with manufacturers and
Tier One suppliers Working as liaisons between the design and
engineer departments they quite literally defined the shapes of
production cars for decades.
>Brothers Larry (left) and Mike Alexander pose with "Alexandria", a would-be
shop truck that got upstaged by the Dodge pickup that became the Deora.
Ironically, Deora didn't become a shop truck either; however, it did win the Don
Ridler Memorial Award and achieved immortality as part of the first generation
of Hot Wheels.
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>Don Vargo liked what the brothers did to his pal Chili's Deuce coupe so he
submitted his '34 cabriolet for a similar treatment. Rather than a repeat
performance the 69er got a unique grille and side pipes rather than strakes.
Had the Don Ridler Memorial Award existed in 1963, Vargo likely would've won it.
>So bold were GM 's early-'60s designs that few dared to alter them, but when
a teenaged Mike Budnick showed up with a brand-new '60 Pontiac the brothers
obliged him. A year and a half later the "Golden Indian" emerged so extensively
and elegantly modified it was easy to mistake it for an upcoming Pontiac design.
>Heads would've rolled had Ford discovered a moonlighting GM artist designed
the "Alexa". Harry Bentley Bradley capitalized on Ford's fastback styling for the
tail and gave it a continental flair with model-specific headlights.
>Alexander Brothers' employee Bob Massaron gave back a great deal of his pay
for the brothers to help finish his '56 Chevy. The "Venturian" went on to win the
second Don Ridler Memorial Award, the first of three for the brothers.
You could say Ford was
looking for such a break.
Through the '50s Ford played
second fiddle to General Motors
in more ways than sales. The
touring Motorama program GM
promoted since 1949 gave the
company a great promotional
advantage. The General's Art
and Color Section created
inspiring designs. which its
marketing department sold as a
peek into the future. The results
showed in sales figures: people
loved what the future promised.
Ford, still financially reeling
from a poorly realized brand
introduction in a recession
year. hadn't had a chance to
release show cars, much less
create a touring infrastructure
from scratch. So when General
Motors inexplicably ended the t •
Motorama program in 1961
Ford's new handlers inspired
by Budd "The Kat" and led by
Mustang And we all know how
well that went for Ford.
The story, model
manufacturers' involvement.
and Ford's interest in the
custom-car movement inspired
Neumann to conduct another
interview, this time with as many
prominent restylists of the day
"The Grand National at that time
was probably the biggest and
most well known show. especially
in California," Neumann recalls.
He coordinated with five of the
biggest names in the industry:
Joe Wilhelm. Gene Winfield, Bill
Cushenbery, Darryl Starbird,
and of course the Barris-andRoth show "I arranged for all
of the guys to be at the show
and told them what was going
on. I made up a bunch of
questions that they didn't know
in advance and then asked
each one their thoughts on the
particular subject"
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Ford's Jaques Passino devised
an uncannily elegant and
cost-effective plan. Rather
than create every one of its
show cars in-house. a costly
proposition, Ford produced
a few itself and gave preproduction models and a
modest budget to a ready-made
group of contracted stylists
also known as customizers.
And instead of investing in an
entirely original touring network
Ford paid to ride the car show
promoters' coattails.
It had a wonderful secondary
effect instead of telling people
what cool cars it could build
as GM did, Ford showed people
what cool things enthusiasts
made from its cars. It resembled
the scale-model template
right down to its name The
Ford Custom Car Caravan.
Among other things it inspired
the design that became the
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The story, "An Exclusive
Interview", ran in the July '63
Rod & Custom The format
proved Neumann was serious.
The story consisted of 10 pages.
short on photos but long on
ideas. And this dialogue proved
that his guests were just as
serious. The six-builder panel
discussed the influence that
support from corporations
like Revell, Monogram. and
Ford had on the industry
Make no mistake, these were
still passionate enthusiasts;
however. it was plain to see
that they were thinking in
business-like terms. The
custom-car world officially
went professional that morning
on the Oakland Exhibition
Building floor at the Grand
National Roadster Show
"The story, it was the biggest
selling issue of R&C ever,"
Neumann notes.
>The car Winfield restyled for Leroy Kremmerer eluded identification as
the '56 Mercury it started as. A 4-inch section, handcrafted fenders, and
the debut of his signature paint technique put Winfield on the map
in1962.
>Eager to build a car for the Caravan, Winfield didn't wait for Ford to sell him a
dollar car. Instead, he bought a near-new Econoline pickup. Winfield "chopped"
the top by lowering the whole cab enough to reduce the gap between the
belt line and door window, a trick revealed by the dip in the bed rail. He recently
cloned the Pacifica.
Gene Winfield
One could consider a good eye a prerequisite for elevated
custom-car builder status. But of them all one guy stood out for
a keen sense of style Gene Winfield didn't just know how to build
something; he knew how to make it cool.
Though known for intense restyling and a few completely
original designs, probably Winfield's greatest contribution added
another dimension to custom-car finishes. The fade techniques he
pioneered proved so captivating that they often stole attention from
the intensively reshaped panels they covered.
Of them all Winfield established the strongest connection with the
model manufacturers and ultimately took a consultancy position
with AMT Partly due to the company's Speed and Custom Division
Winfield produced cars for the film-production industry as interest
in custom cars waned. Winfield crafted vehicles for The Man from
UNCLE. Get Smart. and Star Trek, JUSt to name a few AMT's
decision to close its Speed and Custom Division moved Winfield
even closer to the production industry where he built star cars
for numerous motion pictures, including 25 cars for Ridley Scott's
Blade Runner
Though active in the industry for seven decades, Winfield has
barely slowed down. He sti ll works as hard as ever traveling around
the world teaching painting and customizing seminars. Never one to
guard his techniques. Gene Winfield spent his career advancing the
industry and inspiring enthusiasts.
>Winfield built the Strip Star from scratch right down to its composite wheels.
Bob Larivee (Promotions Inc.) commissioned and toured the aluminum-bodied
creation. The canopy cantilevers up for driver access and a tonneau covers
the passenger compartment. Winfield powered it with one of Ford's
427 engines.
>With its front-drive construction and hydropneumatic brakes, steering, and
self-leveling suspension Citroen's DS-series cars spoke to Winfield. He built
the Reactor around its novel underpinnings for Promotions Inc. Reactor made
cameos in Star Trek, Bewitched, and Mission: Impossible, three of the biggest
TV franchises of the time.
>The cars Gene Winfield builds are merely extensions of his personality: cool,
sophisticated, and slicker than hell. Seriously guys, don't turn your back on him
if your gal's around. Though a gentleman to the core, he'll stroll off with 'em.
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>Cushenbery's personal project, a '40 Ford he called "EI Matador", changed the
definition of a custom car. Its flared bull-like nostrils, aggressive-looking scoops
and coves, and its blood-like finish made it look angry and exciting.
>Rather than compete with his Wichita contemporary, Darryl Starbird, Bill Cushenbery
moved to a town adjacent to Monterey, CA. With fewer shops to influence him
Cushenbery dreamt up some of the most creative and innovative designs.
>Cushenbery's "Silhouette" wasn't just his first scratch-built custom car; it may
have been the very first of its kind. Silhouette won the Tournament of Fame at
the 1963 National Roadster Show and sent him and his wife to an all-expensepaid vacation to Paris, France. His association with Ford earned Silhouette a 427.
Bill Cushenbery
Few can lay claim to landmark evolutions in any field. And even
fewer can claim more than one. But in the annals of the custom car
one man stands out. Bill Cushenbery repeatedly and consistently
changed the way custom cars looked.
With every car he redefined what customizing meant. While
others built cars as patchwork quilts of existing parts. he made
his own shapes by hand. When his peers began to catch up he
waylaid their efforts by making entire car bodies from scratch.
Unable to gain a toehold on his designs. his peers often stared in
bewilderment.
A man of few words, the late Bill Cushenbery was content to let his
work speak for him. And by doing so he achieved one of the biggest
voices in the industry
>Cushenbery capitalized on Ford's jet-age taillight treatment for the round
headlight treatment on "Astro", his pet project for Ford's Custom Car Caravan.
Is it any accident that Ford stacked the headlights and opened the rear wells for
the '66 model?
>Month by month Car Craft magazine showed how a bunch of random car
parts, flat sheetmetal, and a ton of ingenuity culminated in a show-stopping
Cushenbery creation. The Car Craft Dream Rod got a second wind as the
restyled Tiger Shark. AMT offered both as kits.
What follows are profiles of
various custom-car builders
who played an instrumental
role in the transformation of a
hobby to an industry Note that
we expanded the scope to other
builders who, for whatever
reason, didn't or couldn't attend
the symposium. This isn't
without precedence either. In
1963 Car Craft editor Dick. Day
used Neumann's interview
story as a springboard to a
book. Custom Car Yearbook
No. 7showcased, "The Greatest
Names in Customizing"
Unfortunately, we don't have
enough archival material
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to cover every one of them
in the book but we do have
enough to do numerous other
builders JUStice
By definition, a golden age
has to end at one point. The one
defined by intense creativity,
manic production, and great
exposure wound down by 1965.
That's not exactly a coincidence,
either. It certainly wasn't the
only event but President
Johnson's decisions to send
ground troops to Vietnam that
year certainly distracted anyone
of draft age Incidentally, most
custom-car enthusiasts were at
or near draft age.
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And in an ironic twist the
OEM designs inspired by
this latest custom-car golden
age took a lot of·the incentive
for most enthusiasts to
create their own expressions
Remember the Mustang that
grew from the humble Falcon as
part of Ford's Caravan? "See, in
the late '60s, custom cars really
took a dump," Gene Winfield
laments. "When the muscle cars
came out people could JUSt go
to the dealer and buy almost a
custom car. You could get the
four on the floor. bucket seats.
and dual exhaust. All the stuff
we were doing the factories
started doing." In fact these
reasons explain the demise
of the hot rod that grew up
alongside the custom car.
As long as custom cars
and hot rods exist their
pioneers, advocates, and
followers will continue to define
golden ages But no future
golden age could even aspire
to offer what the one between
1960 and 1965 yielded Typical
for things .that burn brightly, the
last golden age of the custom
car burned quickly, leaving a
legacy never to be experienced
ever again
>"Predicta", a '56 Thunderbird in its former life, put Starbird on the map in
1960. Monogram immortalized the car as a 1/25-scale model after Starbird
restyled the nose and painted it ruby red.
>Despite-or perhaps because ofDarryl Starbird's location far from
the famous West Coast shops, he
consistently reinvented the wheel. At
one point he replaced the steering
wheel altogether with a stick, thanks
to a '57 Chrysler coaxial power
steering box.
>Starbird jockeyed for the 1963 Tournament of Fame with a car radical even by
the day's standards. The three-wheeled, Corvair-powered "Futurista" boasted a
tape-driven automation system that opened and closed the canopy and started
and stopped the engine, among other things.
Darryl Starbird
If one thing consistently captivated' America's imagination in the
'50s it was the jet aircraft Whether by tactical dominance during
the Korean War or by its ability to transport people and things long
distances in short time, the jet promised to usher in a sleek new age
of performance.
Darryl Starbird cleverly capitalized on this narrative by adapting
the jet's second most recognizable feature to cars its molded-plastic
canopy Simply applying these bubbletops transfOrmed ordinary cars
to extraordinary machines seemingly capable of suborbital flight
But Starbird's contribution extends well beyond the cars he
built Ultimately he graduated to show promotion, a career that's
benefitted the show-car industry JUSt as much as it's benefitted him.
Of course that doesn't keep him from building a car every now and
then. He is a customizer after all.
>Just as Ed Roth did, Wilhelm aspired
to build something along the lines of
aT-bucket but entirely original. He
did, only he built the "Wild Dream"
from more traditional aluminum.
Drivetrain parts aside Wilhelm crafted
everything down to the wheel covers.
>A customized Jaguar was unusual but a customized Jag race car was on
another level. Among many other things Wilhelm clipped the top and restyled
the nose of Andy Anderson's Paxton-blown XK140. Built in the mid '50s, stored
in the '60s, and rediscovered in the New Millenium, this Pebble Beach Concours
winner remains a preserved example of Wilhelm's craftsmanship.
>Despite his time-intensive reputation
Joe Wilhelm was no less prolific.
He played a part in dozens of cars
and his willingness to do anything,
including race cars (Jewel T AA/
Altered) and street roadsters,
underscores his versatility.
>Richie Feliz commission~d Wilhelm to restyle his '36 Ford. It met great success
as the Mark I Mist but Wilhelm later bought it, restyled it lightly with a sportier
feel, and reintroduced it as the Mark Mist GT. Like Cushenbery's "EI Matador" it's
identifiable despite its lack of its uniquely '36 Ford hallmarks.
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>Scale-model manufacturers, just like
their full-scale counterparts, jockeyed
for attention. Lone-wolf Starbird
famously went with Monogram, a
deal that resulted in a series of bigger
1/8-scale kits like the Big T. He built
the full-size version as a sort of proof
to which the modelers referred.
Joe Wilhelm
Custom-car builders are notoriously superficial. given to lavish
attention almost exclusively on the things visible from a car's velvetrope barrier For that reason Joe Wilhelm stood out A perfectionist
to his core he invested himself in details well beyond the surface. It's
a work ethic that earned him the somewhat pejorative nickname
"Slow" Joe.
But the time invested in a car justified itself in the finished
products; Wilhelm's cars consistently won sweepstakes and in one
case got his name on the America's Most Beautiful Roadster trophy
Although slightly less radical than his nearby contemporary, Bill
Cushenbery, Wilhelm's work could be classified no less complex,
something he proved by building that AMBR winner's body from
scratch, in aluminum no less.
Wilhelm was unique in another way: his wife, Marion. She deserves
the credit for not just urging him to go into business for himself
but actually working on the cars herself. Together they showed the
world JUSt how mature and finished a custom car could be.
>Customizers are unconventional by definition but Dean Jettries stood out even
by those standards. He painted and restyled but he was just as comfortable
behind the wheel of sports cars (he kept fast company, Steve McQueen and Troy
Ruttman to name two).
>Jettries made his mark in paint in the mid '50s, a period where more
enthusiasts personalized their newer cars with paint rather than attempt to
restyle the more complex body shapes. His girlfriend, Carol Lewis, owned the
ultimate test bed: this '56 Chevy.
>But Jeffries was more than skin deep. Discontent to ride in someone else's
design Jeffries modified his Porsche Carrera, a car exceptional tor its race-bred
four-cam engine. Purists sneered but the judges loved it, awarding it frequently.
Dean Jeffries
Tom Wolfe owes a debt of gratitude to Dean Jeffries. His
decision to drop metallic flakes into his paint cup put the flake in
the streamline baby. And that flake's ability to transform the most
ordinary cars into dazzling bursts of colors is what put Jeffries'
name on every custom enthusiast's lips
A painter who knew no bounds Jeffries also helped popularize
pinstripes, flames, scallops, monsters, and a whole host of other
designs. His professionalism, likeable nature, and proximity to
Hollywood put him in every star's little black book. But it was a wildbody show rod built upon the remains of a European race car that
made Jeffries impossible to ignore
And that was only the beginning. The cars he restyled-the GTO
for The Monkees and the Imperial for The Green Hornet-made his
work recognizable nationwide. even if he didn't get name credit
Dean Jeffries turned ordinary cars into movie stars. •
>A sports car enthusiast at hea~t1 it was inevitable that he choose a race car
tor the bones of his special. He ouilt the "Mantaray" on one of Maserati's 17
Birdcages, a reference to the intricate network of chassis tubes. Its ability to not
just drive but drive well made Mantaray stand out among its peers and testified
to its creator's priorities.
30
SRP I STREET RODDER PREMIUM / streetrodder.com
>This one's for Jeffries, who died in May 2013. It shows the Monkeemobile at
his shop in 1967 ostensibly for maintenance or possibly just some publicity for
a Rod & Custom story. If this doesn't register then look it up. You'll get a good
chuckle about revisionist history.
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