The term “Backstory” hadn’t been invented yet when I set up and shot this cover photo for Street Rodder magazine in my driveway in mid-winter 1974. It turned out to be a great cover, largely because of Jim Hayworth’s wicked-chopped, pure hot rod ’32 3-window coupe with its rear slicks, chromed firewall, and Corvette Fuel Injected engine. It wasn’t until much later that I learned this was a highly successful theme (i.e., big-selling issue) for Hot Rod that they repeated several times (see the Mar. ’73 issue–blue car, similar garage, kid working in driveway, even the same toolbox).
But I was still a young cub reporter quickly learning the magazine business at that point. So I basically lucked out with this good cover–in more ways than one. Let me try to explain. The problem is, I can tell you how this cover happened, but I can’t tell you exactly why.
If you bought that issue back then, or have access to it now, one of the first things you would notice is that the bitchin’ Deuce coupe on the cover is nowhere to be found inside. That’s a big no-no in the magazine business, especially for car magazines. Why? Well, here’s the story, sort of.
Something else was planned for that cover. The trouble is, I can’t remember what it was, or what happened to it. In the mag business that’s called a story (or cover) “falling out.” It’s not uncommon, and too often it happens at the last minute. This was very last minute. We were on drop-dead-line, and had no cover. What to do?
Jim Hayworth and I were in the same car club, Times Past of Orange County, and lived just a couple blocks apart in So. Santa Ana. Anna and I lived in a small triplex, and that’s our driveway. The door that’s open is our single-car garage (in the middle, between the other two tenants’), and that’s my ’32 Chevy inside, still in original orange and under construction. And that’s my Sears 2-drawer tool box. (That garage, by the way, is where I built our ’49 Chevy pickup, which I painted in that driveway with a rented compressor and a borrowed gun–my first.)
So my spur-of-the-moment cover concept was a couple of car club buddies getting together to work on their cars in the driveway on the weekend. Although it had won plenty of show trophies in its day a decade earlier, Jim’s coupe was a bit worn and spent most weekends bracket racing at the nearby O.C.I.R. strip. As we said in the brief “On the Cover” column on the contents page, “It’s no $10,000 beauty, but a great example of the rods that Street Rodder represents.” I can’t remember if I gave Jim a day’s notice. My recollection is that I called him that morning and said, “By any chance can you bring your car over here today for a quick cover shoot?’ and he said “O.K.” I don’t know if it was just luck that he wore the blue shirt, but it helps make the photo.
This was Dec. of ’74, since our magazines had a 3-month lead time, and covers had to be turned in first. It was a typical overcast winter day in SoCal, which made filtered light for a better photo, and I was using a cheap (borrowed) 12-shot twin-lense camera, on a tripod, with a big strobe for “fill-in.” Here’s the kicker. I probably hadn’t taken more than 12 shots when the overhead clouds opened and poured rain for the rest of the day. So this last-minute cover turned out great, and made it on the magazine, but it was pure luck all the way.
While we didn’t feature Jim’s coupe inside the mag, the tie-in was that I had done a 2-page article showing how Jim was salvaging a very cut-up, floorless, ex-drag ’32 roadster using the few repro parts then available, plus some salvaged from other wasted bodies. These are excerpts from the story. He traded two good ’49 Mercury taillights for what you see in the first photo.
But wait. There’s more to this cover story. When this issue hit the newsstands, and wended its way over to England, I got a surprising call in my small, sparse editor’s office. In a very British accent, the voice on the other end said, “Hello, this is Jeff.” Of course I replied, “Jeff who?” And he said, “Jeff Beck.” Having gotten similar calls that were bogus, first I ascertained that, yes, this was the Jeff Beck. I think I mumbled something to the effect that he had probably called the only hot rod magazine editor who knew who Jeff Beck was (because I was heavily into blues music by then, and guitar in general). But his attention was fixated on the chopped blue coupe on our current cover, and seriously wanted to buy it. So, knowing Jim, I told Jeff right off that he’d probably sell him one of his kids before he’d sell that coupe. There was no way.
However, this led to further discussion on Jeff’s part, and he said that what he really wanted to do was build a ’32 like the one in American Graffiti. Exactly like it. That meant a chopped 5-window. I said I’d see what I could do. To make a long story short, I found that pinstriper Ron Foreman had a flathead-powered, full-fendered, chopped 5-window for sale, arranged for Jeff to buy it and ship it to England, then visited him there a year and a half later and photographed the yellow clone he’d built, himself, for another Street Rodder cover (see the Nov. ’76 issue). But that’s a whole ‘nuther story for another time.
The part that amazes–scares–me about this current cover story is that it occurred nearly 45 years ago. Gad! There’s much more to the Jim Hayworth story from back then. He built the 283 I finally put in my Chevy pickup, and then installed it at Terry Berzenye’s Specialized Auto, where I photographed the swap and did a story you can still find on the internet: “V-8 Juice for your Stovebolt.”
But the pertinent question, the mammoth in the room, is…Does Jim still have his Deuce? Of course. Just as I told Jeff, he’ll never part with it. I completely lost contact with Jim for years, and nobody saw the chopped 3-window, until fairly recently. Somebody happened by Jim’s house when the garage door was up. There was a yellow Bug-eye Sprite inside, and a primered ’72 El Camino in the driveway, but he immediately recognized the chopped blue coupe, even sans fenders, talked to Jim, then contacted me.
So I called Jim a year or so ago, and he said, sure, he still had the coupe. He had torn it down to put a new, better frame under it, and he was planning to make it a hiboy, but progress was slow because he was working on the El Camino, the Sprite, the house, and other things. Since I had recently retired, I had no venue to photograph or write about this car. But when we started this column, this was one of the first stories on my “to do” list. It just took me a while to get down to deepest Orange County, connect with Jim, and actually see the car again for the first time in four decades. I certainly didn’t expect it to look this good, and original.
Briefly, Jim bought it in 1961 for $350, shortly after five guys, filled with beer, cut the top late one night. They did a surprisingly good job, which Jim finished as you see it. The car was full-fendered and Olds-powered, and Jim got it running that way to start.
This upholstery was done by Erickson Top Shop in Santa Ana in 1963, for $89.30. Jim has receipts. And this was just at the time black upholstery and button-tuck were replacing white tuck-and-roll.
The ’56 Dodge Royal Blue, a popular hot rod color, was sprayed in enamel by the local Pontiac dealer in 1964 for $30. Jim has obviously kept the car indoors all the time he’s had it. The wheels are the same Shelby slot mags seen on the ’75 cover.
Jim switched to a 283 Chevy with a 3-speed early on. By the ’70s he was running an LT-1 350 with this ’65 Corvette fuel injection and aluminum-sprayed Tri-Y headers, with a Muncie 4-speed, but his quarter mile times were limited to 13.20 at 100mph by a tire-spinning unlocked ’50 Merc rear. This is a fresh, stouter 350, and Jim now has a narrowed 9-inch in the back on reinforced ’37 radius rods.
Yes, that’s the same Deuce roadster body Jim pieced together in ’75, buried in his well-packed garage. The new original frame now under the coupe came with this body. Jim added boxing and new crossmembers. The filled Deuce grille, Betz-louvered hood, dropped headlight bar, bumpers, and front fenders are all in the equally stuffed garage attic. The best news, in my opinion, is that Jim has now decided to put all these pieces back on the car, to keep it full-fendered, just like it was.
When? Well, he’s not sure. He was planning to get the El Camino done first, but, maybe….
However the thing I know you’re really dying to ask is, how much would it take to buy this garage jewel? Are you kidding? You gotta be kidding.