I think it was one of my Instagram readers who mentioned recently that a photo reminded him of cruising Angelo’s on State College in Anaheim. I hadn’t thought about that in quite a while. But we lived in Anaheim from ’77 to ’84–in fact Bill was born there–and Angelo’s was just a little more than a mile away, straight down South St. to State College. I wasn’t working for a magazine at the time, just freelancing and doing a couple of books, but as soon as I heard about the happenings at Angelo’s Hamburgers, I cruised over to see what was going on, and to get some photos of the action. I loved nighttime photography, which was pretty tricky to do in those days of film cameras, especially outside using mostly available light. My set-up included a 35mm camera, a tripod, and an on-camera adjustable flash.I’m not really sure how or when the Angelo’s cruises started. There was a loosely organized group at the time called the Orange Country Cruisin’ Association–which has gone on to do much bigger things–and I understand they arranged with Angelo’s to hold the cruises on each first Friday of the month.
Now these weren’t cruises in the sense that cars were parading up and down 4-lane State College Blvd. Nothing was blocked off, and as far as I could see, no police were ever involved. Angelo’s has a large, well-lit parking lot of their own, and so did businesses on either side, which were closed on Friday nights. So it was more like today’s early morning Cars ‘n’ Coffee car gatherings, except these were on Friday nights, the cars were all hot rods and customs, and Angelo’s served beer and burgers. They even had skating car hops for quite a while. So the deal was you cruised in, found a place to park, got out and checked the other cars, then went inside to get something to eat and drink, then came back out to check out more cars, maybe answered questions about yours, hung out as long as you wanted, then split to let someone else cruise in to do the same. It was all very casual, spontaneous, organic–fun–for participants and onlookers of all ages. Nobody directed anything. No guards or cops, no burnouts down the boulevard, and no racing challenges that I heard of.
One thing I was afraid might ruin it was that Hot Rod magazine did a cover story on it. I forgot exactly what they did, so I dug that issue out of my files to check it out. A cover, plus a color 2-page spread and 4 pages of black and white. Such articles had earlier wreaked havoc with huge crowds and cops on Ventura Blvd. in the Valley and Whittier Blvd. in East L.A., leading to eventual shut-downs and anti-cruising laws. But, thankfully, this never happened at Angelo’s in Anaheim. I’m not really sure when it started, how long it lasted, or why it stopped. So I double checked the date on that issue of HRM: April 1982! Wait a minute. It couldn’t have been that long ago. That’s nearly 40 years! Can’t be. Sheesh, this is history already. So let me just make this mostly a photo essay (with a little surprise at the end…of course). Remember these were the days of film cameras, and when magazines still printed lots more black-and-white than color. So I shot photos accordingly, as you will see.It was also a somewhat pivotal period in hot rodding. T-Buckets, as you can see, were still popular, and most hot rods had horsepower. These weren’t drive-across-country street rods with CBs and back seats or trailers. These were drive-to-the-burger-stand-and-back Friday night hot rods. In this case a nicely done big-block powered brass T with mechanical Hilborn injection and no brakes on the polished mag 12-spokes. And these young guys dig it.
That’s Donny Hampton arriving with his wife in his black T-bucket sporting one of his own 6-71 blowers that he used–straight from this car–to win Hot Rod magazine’s Street Blower Shootout just a few months later.
This was also just the beginning of the retro-rod movement, initially promulgated by the older guys who did it back in the day. That’s Dick Courtney, who grew up in the area, driving a Hallock V-windshield ’29 roadster that duplicated the one he built in 1950. At the far end is Tom Leonardo with some of his family in the original flathead A hiboy that was built in 1940 and which he still owns and drives today.
The lime green ’47 Ford with the Carson top is one I put on the cover of Street Rodder magazine when I was trying to promote the return of traditional style full and mild custom cars. The black Deuce hiboy was built in exact traditional style by Dick Pickerel, with a hi-rise twin-carb 276-inch flathead, white Kelsey wire wheels, and white T&R to offset the home-sprayed black lacquer. You’d never know it had a ‘glass body.
To steal a line from Hemingway, a cruise night like this was a moveable feast. Go in and have a burger and a beer, and when you came out the scenery was changed. Or just hang around long enough outside, and cars were continually coming and going. That white lowboy A roadster looks like Bob Carr’s, but I don’t think it is. The red fendered Deuce next to it was Narod’s.
Of course, you never knew who or what might show up on any given Friday night. The black and white really doesn’t do justice, but that’s an obviously young Steve Coonan with the quintessential maroon Deuce roadster he had just recently acquired from Barry Lobeck.
That’s John Buttera’s then-teenaged daughter Leigh arriving in the needle-nose track T her father had recently acquired from Don Varner. There were two of these, quite similar, both with Ford Capri V6’s, but this one was built by Varner and Ron Covell. The other was Tom Prufer’s. Don’t know where either is now.
These certainly weren’t Street Freaks, or Pro Street, and Pro Touring hadn’t even been dreamed of yet. The nicely done fastback Mustang with the big blower and carbs would probably be called a Street Machine at the time, if you needed a label, but I just considered cars like this hot rods of later vintage.
On the other hand engine swaps–especially big engines in little cars–have always been a staple of hot rodding. During this time V8 Vegas and Pintos were popular, available, very affordable, and fast. Where have they gone?
This tough little Anglia just pulled up to the curb out front to see what the haps were that night. With its chopped top, rear slicks, big blown motor, and nice paint, this might be a true triple threat car: drag, show, and street. It’s obviously on the street here, and I never saw a trailer parked anywhere near Angelo’s on cruise night.
Rods definitely outnumbered customs, as they always have. But this much-chopped Merc shows that most anything might turn up. This one had a slightly dinged ’56 Chrysler grille, and I once had the owner’s name written in a notebook, but that’s long gone. However, it’s a perfect photo to remind us how styles have changed since the ’70s. The Merc would still be in style, but I’ve never seen it again.
Now for the little surprise. State College was a 4-lane boulevard, so the old white house, set pretty far back on its lot, right across the street from Angelo’s wasn’t very obvious or apparent. So very few of the Friday night cruisers noticed it or had any idea of the considerable hot rod history that had occurred there. They certainly couldn’t see the two old garages out back where many a historic hot rod had been built.The house belonged to Marvin Webb, a first-class hot rod builder who could do everything from chassis, to metalwork, to final paint. And his house and backyard shops were a gathering place for Anaheim’s notable rodding contingent of the ’40s and ’50s, including Dick Kraft, Stan Betz, Chuck Potvin, and friends who would drop in often from L.A. such as Art Ingels. In fact, most of Kraft’s cars were built here, such as this “blue car” roadster with the Ingels nose and grille and a young Dennis Webb behind the wheel. I just noticed that these negatives are of a larger size than any of my cameras used, so they must have been given to me by Marvin. I have shown at least one picture of this car racing at El Mirage. On the back of this proof sheet, however, is my long-ago written note: Early Kraft roadster (’47-’48). Car was wrecked in front of house shortly after picture. Kraft flipped it. That’s what Marvin told me.This photo shows three roadster projects in front the the corrugated tin shop Marv’s son Dennis still uses today to do wonderful hand-fabricated tinwork. That’s Marv’s much smoothed and modified V-windshield Model A on the right, plus a very nice track-nose ’27 T nearing completion for a customer, and a ’23 just getting started.In this slightly later photo, Marv’s roadster is briefly painted white, while Dan Busby’s beautiful black T is lacking only headlights and its V-windshield before heading to the first SCTA Hot Rod Show in L.A. where it was displayed. You can see the house on the left, and the original “T garage” which obviously served as Marv’s spray booth. Marv’s roadster raced at the first Bonneville Nationals in ’49, with a young Don Edmunds (also from Anaheim) driving.This amazing little roadster was built by Marvin specifically to take to the 1st National Car Show in Indianapolis–on this trailer. He not only built the whole car in the garage behind it, including one of the first uses of new ’49 Merc caps on chrome wheels, but he even hand cut and formed every louver on it. It won a first place trophy at the show, and on the way home, at a gas station in Hastings, Nebraska, someone saw it and had to buy it. So it was never seen in magazines, or anywhere else.
So how did I meet Marvin, get these photos, and learn this history? Let’s go back to 1977.
I happened to be driving down State College Bl. in my ’49 Chevy pickup, when I looked to my right and saw this red primered, chopped, straight, full-fendered ’32 3-window sitting in this scruffy front yard with a for sale sign tacked to it. I of course slammed the brakes and pulled to the curb. Fortunately I had a camera with me (as usual). And as I was gawking over the short fence, Marvin wandered out, asked if I was interested, and invited me in for a closer look. The car was exceptionally nice. Had a ’40 trans and column shift, dash nicely reworked for a large oval gauge panel, a bellhousing adapter for some OHV V8, dropped axle, even an upholstered seat. The price was under ten grand, but way more than I could pay back then. But when he heard I had worked for rod mags, he really brightened up. “Ever heard of Dick Kraft?” he said. “Sure,” I replied. “Well he just found this down in Mexico, and brought it up here to sell. You remember his Bug dragster?” Of course I did. “Want to see it? It’s right around the corner.” He led me around another tin building, and there was most of the Bug, less engine, tilted up against the wall. It turned out Kraft was rebuilding it from various A and V8 parts, though a few were original, such as the gas tank, and I think the seat. He did eventually get it finished and it’s now on display in the Garlits Museum.
So that’s how I met Marvin Webb, got to be pretty good friends with Dick Kraft, learned the history of that old white house across the street, and even got some rare photos and negs for my collection. Don’t know who got the cherry ’32. But that’s the nose of my pickup at the curb. The two V-shaped poles behind the bed of the mini truck behind it hold up the Angelo’s neon sign. The cruises hadn’t started yet, but they would soon. Of course they’re now long gone–as is Marvin–but Angelo’s is still there, same as ever, serving hamburgers and beer. And so is the old white house across the street. Dennis’ son and family now live in it, and every weekday Dennis comes to pound, form, and finesse sheetmetal–mostly aluminum–in that same shop where his dad and Art Ingels taught him how to do it. It’s old, and he’s getting on himself. I’m glad to say he’s done some wonderful work for me. And as for the next chapter of this story, we’ll just have to wait and see.