Eric Clapton's Ford coupe

I’ve been saving these photos in my files for about 10 years. And while it might be a bit of a stretch, I think they are relevant at this time for at least three reasons. The first relates to the “Shirt Thing” column I did a few weeks ago, basically talking about how much my wife, Anna (aka Bill’s mom), has been involved in all of this, and obliquely mentioning that she has taken a lot of good snapshots along the way. Well, she took all the photos in this column (to prove it, you can spot geeky me in a few of them).

The second is that the Grand National Roadster Show was last weekend. And the finished photos of these two subtly customized vehicles were taken at the GNRS, in Roy Brizio’s display in 2010 and 2011, during the brief and only U.S. appearance of each. I’m sure very few of you have ever seen them.Eric Clapton's Ford coupe

The third, and most pertinent, has to do with the GNRS Hall of Fame. More specifically the Hall of Fame lunch–now dinner. I can’t remember exactly when I started getting invited–as a journalist covering the show–but probably with the return of R&C in ’88. The lunch was a very small deal, with maybe 50 people and a buffet table, held in a little back-room of the Oakland Coliseum, and Anna came with me. It was a pretty intimate group, and Anna loved it because, as she put it, “It’s where I get to see my hot rod buddies.” People like Andy and Sue Brizio, Ed Roth, Blackie Gejeian, Greg Sharp, Dennis Varni, Frank and Kathy Livingston, and so on. Of course this HoF lunch/dinner has grown, with two to four new members each year, and especially since the show has moved to Pomona. I got inducted by Greg Sharp in 2006. And the big highlight of this year (especially for Anna), was that Bill got inducted…by me!

Here’s how this all ties together. In my short induction “speech,” I pointed out that Bill didn’t derive his considerable car-building skills from me. It was mostly self-taught, through trial-and-success, during 13 years of apprenticeship, training, and finally mastery at Roy Brizio’s renowned rod shop. That’s where these two vehicles were built, by Bill, for regular Brizio customer Eric Clapton. Not only did Anna get finished photos, she got some in-progress ones, too (during Christmas visits in ’08 and ’09).

First off, I have to admit I don’t know Eric Clapton at all. I’ve never met him, interviewed him, or even done an article on any of his cars. Bill only saw him a few times at Brizio’s (most of the suggestions and modifications on these cars were approved by long-distance photos or emails). But Bill said the shoebox project started one day when E.C. saw Bill’s black-primered ’50 parked in front of the shop, as usual, and tried to buy it. Bill told him “Uh uh, you want something better than that to start with, and preferably a coupe.” I don’t really know who suggested what to start, but I think most of the subtle, but extensive, modifications came from Bill. They’re typical of his work.

Briefly: to start, this coupe wasn’t much better than Bill’s sedan. All the floors, as well as lower body sheetmetal, had to be replaced. They threw the frame away and replaced it with an Art Morrison chassis, this one fitted with a Roush engine and right-hand steering. Since he had to make new floors, as well as wheel tubs, Bill channeled the body an inch or so. And it’s not obvious, but he chopped the top 1-1/2 inches, too, retaining and reshaping the stainless trim. Then he not only hid the hinges, but lengthened the front of the trunk lid about halfway to the roof, reducing the huge sail panel on these coupes. Finally (I’m not sure if it’s done yet in these photos), he angled the hood and fenders down about 1-1/2 inches at the very front, by angle-trimming the front fenders at the door. Besides the usual shaving, frenching, and grille mods, the other big job was reversing the dash (after these pics, he added more gauge-pods to match the clock). Of course paint, upholstery, chrome, and other finishing details were handled by Brizio’s usual go-to’s. Since this isn’t a regular car feature, I didn’t gather more info.Eric Clapton's Chevy pickup

Same goes for the Chevy pickup, which was finished and shown the next year. The bodywork on this one isn’t nearly as extensive, the major modification being the reshaping of the hood and front fenders to fit a ’49 Ford bumper and matching–Eric Clapton's Chevy pickup with Bill Ganahlthough mostly handmade–grille. Bill said he had to hand-form not only the parking light housings, but also the lenses, on this one. And as you can see from mom’s in-progress photo taken in Roy’s shop earlier, they tried a couple of other easier-to-do Chevy grille treatments before deciding on the more difficult, but more striking, Ford look. I didn’t get many more details than this because, to be honest, I didn’t get much more than a few minutes viewing time with either of these projects, while at Brizio’s shop or in the show.Eric Clapton's Chevy pickupI never even saw the hood open on either one. And as far as I know, neither have any of you, because as soon as the show was over, each was taken to the docks, sealed in a container, and shipped to England. I’ve heard that Clapton drives the pickup some. But to my knowledge, neither has been to another show or event, featured in any British or European magazine, and definitely not one stateside. You can thank super-proud mama Anna for the glimpses you get here.