April 24 1961 Sports Illustrated cover The Amazing Hot Rod Cult

When I wrote my book on Ed Roth back in ’03, I relayed a story told by Tom Kelly about how Roth started his “Weirdo Shirts” by painting caricatures of the members of the Drag Wagons club, with their cars, on their sweatshirts. At a local car show someone took a photo of one member leaning over the open hood of his Model A, with the same caricature painted on the back of his shirt. He said the picture came out so good they put it on the cover of a magazine–“Nothing to do with cars or hot rods, Field and Stream or something like that.” I said in the book I couldn’t find such a magazine, but I showed the Apr. 24, 1961 cover of Sports Illustrated, which showed two guys in Roth weirdo shirts leaning over the engine of a T-Bucket to highlight a story on “The Amazing Hot Rod Cult.” What I had no clue then, and didn’t know until after Doyle Gammel had read the book and told me, was “Hey, that’s me on that cover, the guy on the right, and that’s my Olds-powered ’15 Dodge.” More on this in a minute.

But speaking of clueless, I have to admit to some inaccuracies in my prior column on Miles Masa’s model cars. I did tell you that I was relying on 35-year-old foggy memory and–given my current state of retirement–I strongly prefer this to work-like research. So, a few model-savvy readers wrote to tell me that some of the custom models I showed were built from kits, including some of the custom parts on them, not from Promos as I had said. Plus a couple found the Tim Boyd SRM Modeler’s Corner column and the Scale Auto Enthusiast article I wrote (Sept/Oct ’85), stating what was what, plus the fact that Miles’ collection numbered some 350 models(!), about half being Promos. Again, thank you for setting me straight, and thank you for all your letters. I answer as many as I can, and I do read them all.

OK, back to today’s topic. This is another one that has been sitting in my files for several years, and I’m pretty sure the story has never been told. I assume most of you know the Doyle Gammel name, long attached to the–yes–iconic Cordovan Brown chopped ’32 3-window coupe that has a near-incredible history of its own (see TRJ No. 29), now restored, owned, and well-driven by Bruce Meyer. But that famous Deuce coupe was a brief chapter in Doyle’s hot rod life.

Doyle Gammel

If the 1960 photo above looks Roth-inspired, there’s good reason. Doyle said he and a buddy rode their bikes over to the Baron, Roth & Kelly “Crazy Painters” studio on Atlantic in South Gate often to watch these guys work. In notes Doyle sent me 10-15 years ago with these early photos, he says, “A flood of memories here. I think I may have lived a rodder’s dream from 1956-1964. Lots of memories of Roth, Moon, Shelby, Grabowski…what a lucky S.O.B. I was (and am).”

Doyle Gammel T bucket

He can’t remember why he switched from the Deuce to the T grille, but he says: “Here’s the lowdown on the S.I. cover: The car was the front half of a 1915 Dodge touring car that I found in a sand wash in Arizona on a duck hunting trip. I chopped the windshield, filled 37 bullet holes. Seats from a Go-Kart. Painted it Omaha Orange (with some red) mixed by Stan Betz. Wood pickup bed hid Moon tank and battery. Motor was a ’55 Olds with Racer Bown cam, 4-barrel, ’39 trans and closed driveline. Bought engine from Dean Moon. Built headers in high school metal shop. I was 16-17.

Doyle Gammel 1961 trophy
Doyle shows off a hefty 3rd in Class trophy at the ’61 WinterNats car show at the Great Western Exhibit Center. Still in high school, he was already working at Moon Equipment.

I took the car to Roth for pinstriping at his studio in Maywood, and while Ed did his thing, a journalist from S.I. was there doing an article on the hot rod scene in SoCal. He asked if we (my buddy Bill Snodgrass and I) would pose next to the car with Roth Crazy Shirts on, which they gave us. That’s me on the right.”

Quite surprisingly, Doyle goes on to say that he never saw this Sports Illustrated cover (or knew that the story ran) until he saw a copy at the 1973 L.A. Roadster Show swap meet. He added, “That’s also where I saw my old coupe for the first time since selling it in 1964. It was black [or dark brown], called ‘Dad’s 32,’ had a big block in it, 4-speed, and Corvette rear. Never saw it again until Tom Schiffilea got it and painted it purple.” But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Doyle Gammel chopped Model A

Young Doyle only kept the Dodge-Bucket about 9 months before trading it for this orange, chopped Model A that had a punched-out 283 Chevy with six 97s while still in high school. This photo is dated late 1961.

Roy Gammel on the cover of Hot Rod magazine

But since this is a cover story, this is the apt time to show this well-known cover, also late 1961. That guy in the Moon shirt looking over the Potvin-blown Chevy that he built for Dean’s new Moonbeam dragster is none other than Doyle’s father, Roy, who worked at Moon’s for 10 years as chief engine builder and crew chief. That’s how Doyle also got a job at Moon’s, where he worked for about five years. This was a heady time for hot rodding, not to mention Moon Equipment Co. Just one of the many enterprises Doyle was involved in there, with his father, was the design, building, and testing (in adjacent oil fields) of the first A.C. Cobra with Carroll Shelby. Doyle says he remembers picking up the bare aluminum A.C. roadster at the docks, helping to fit it with the new smallblock Ford V8 and 4-speed, and then painting it at least three different times to make journalists (and readers) think more than one had already been built. But that’s another story for another day.

In the meantime, just before graduating from high school (in ’62), Doyle built a more contemporary version of a T-bucket, using a steel ’22 T body, much-shortened ’29 pickup bed, Model A rails, and a dual-quad 283 Chevy. Bill Hines did the bodywork (including welding the door shut) and painted it pearl orange. Martinez did the black buttoned upholstery. Doyle Gammel T bucket

With this car Doyle became the youngest member of the L.A. Roadsters at age 18. Above, it is seen at a Roadster Roundup, as featured in the July ’65 issue of Hot Rod, posed with his new wife Jane. What they didn’t know then was that Jane was about to become pregnant, and a T-bucket with welded doors was not an acceptable form of transportation for mothers of unborn children.

Dick Bergen Deuce coupe

Dick Bergen / Doyle Gammel deuce coupeSo that’s when and why Doyle made a deal with Dick Bergren to trade his T straight across for Dick’s completed, classic Deuce coupe–Dick really wanted to become a member of the L.A. Roadsters, and Doyle decided he needed a more comfortable car with wide-opening doors. In fact he’d only had the car a couple of weeks, and Jane was already a couple months pregnant, when these photos were taken by Eric Rickman for the Dec. ’63 issue of Rod & Custom.  Notice a discrepancy in dates? Yes, that’s the way magazines used to work (when there were magazines…). Hot Rod sat on the color feature of the T for nearly three years before running it.

In fact, Doyle didn’t even have the Deuce by then. He only kept it a couple of years. In that time he said he had Ed Roth pinstripe it (which appears to be done in these photos). He replaced the fuel injected 265 that was in it with a much stouter F.I. smallblock built by his dad. And he had the T.J. button-tuft interior redone in 1-inch black pleats, Martinez-style. Why did he sell it? You probably know the deal. He was a new father, with new bills to pay, and hot rods didn’t fit the family plan. Of course he had to quit the L.A. Roadsters when he got the coupe. The good news, however, is that Doyle is back into rods and customs, big time. He rejoined the Roadsters in ’95, and is currently quite active with a radical, red, big-block-powered ’32 hiboy. Plus he’s got an equally radical chopped ’50 Merc in the garage that he drove cross-country on the first two R&C Americruises.

And that Amazing Hot Rod Cult? Well, I’m pretty amazed it took until 1961 for Sports Illustrated to notice it. It had already grown from a cult to a fad by the time Hot Rod magazine tapped into it in 1948.  It might have stumbled a bit in the early ’70s, and there are some crying about the same wolf today. But having just attended the Grand National Roadster Show with more than 1200 rods and customs filling the L.A. Fairplex, plus well over 10,000 swelling the 50th NSRA Nationals, and especially all of the new builds being turned out of numerous shops, large and small, not to mention from home garages by builders both old and young, I remain quite optimistic. How about you?