Hot Rod Magazine cover December 1956

To be blunt, the story behind this somewhat worn and abused Dec. ’56 issue of Hot Rod (from my collection) is that there’s no story at all. The well-staged high-angle photo of Chester A. Riley and Junior with Jim Griepsma’s Hemi-powered ’34 3-window coupe promoted an episode of the Life of Riley TV show titled “Juvenile Delinquent.” The story line is that Junior joins a hot rod club, sells his car, and buys a junk-pile ’32 roadster. When Riley checks it out, even the engine is missing, but that’s because Jr. and his club buddies are rebuilding it into a hot 3-carb flathead V8. Usual shenanigans ensue with the club losing their drag strip due to public complaints, Riley selling Jr.’s rod to a junkyard, then becoming a hero when he thinks he gets the aircraft co. where he works to donate an unused runway for a new strip (but doesn’t). However Wally Parks, the NHRA, and local police save the day, preaching “law encouragement” over “law enforcement,” and making the company heroes for donating the strip. Wally even appears briefly–and stiffly–on screen. Meanwhile Riley has to retrieve Junior’s roadster, which he has had painted shiny black, chromed, and upholstered before driving it up the driveway at the show’s end.

Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupe for The Life of Riley TV show

Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupe for The Life of Riley TV showThe colors on the cover are obviously enhanced. Above is one outtake of the cover shot from my collection, depicting Riley (William Bendix) supposedly teaching his son something about how to work on that big Chrysler engine. At left is a small shot of the set-up at Burbank Studios to get the high-angle photo. The very surprising part is that Griepsma told me the studio kept the car about three weeks to do this–and this shot not only didn’t appear in the episode, it had nothing to do with it.

Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupe for The Life of Riley TV show

Griepsma’s coupe only appeared in this one scene. Junior’s scruffy roadster is in the family garage, where three club members help him install the shiny, built flathead, and they start it up for the first time. It sounds good, so they shut it off and cut to this scene where two jump in the unidentified roadster, another gets in Griepsma’s coupe, and they blast off down the driveway and into the street. That’s it. The scene lasts less than 10 seconds, and it’s the only time these two cars are shown.

At least Griepsma’s coupe is featured on two pages in the center of the magazine (most of the shots are with a flathead engine, with no flames or pinstripes). Then there’s one page in the back of the book describing–promoting–the TV show and the fact it shows hot rodding and NHRA positively.

Don Hudson's '32 hiboy for The Life of Riley TV showIt includes this photo of Don Hudson’s (owner of Don’s Trim Shop, Downey, CA) ’32 hiboy, stating this is the “trim roadster” the boys produce “through time and effort.” If you look closely at the “junker” Junior starts with, you can detect that it’s this car (you catch a glimpse of its distinctive radius rods in one scene) but very thoroughly and effectively “weathered.” They even pulled the engine out, and added a dented grille. Of course this is the same roadster that appeared on Hot Rod’s cover a few years later with a 4-71-blown Chevy V8, a Moon tank, and lots of flames–yes, Tom McMullen’s famous roadster. But it was not seen in this show in this shiny and chromed form.

Hot Rod Magazine cover from July 1955       Bart and Helen Root's '29 roadster for The Life of Riley TV showInstead, the shiny black roadster Riley drives home–supposedly the same ratty Deuce Junior started with–has somehow morphed into a Model A. As he pulls up and parks in the driveway, the oval nerf bar and bobbed rear fenders clearly show this is Bart and Helen Root’s hot ’29 roadster, as was seen on HRM’s July ’55 cover. This, of course, is not mentioned in the article about the show.

I don’t think I ever watched The Life of Riley when I was a kid. Certainly not this episode. The reason I know so much about it is that I recently watched it, thanks to one of our readers who has made a hobby, for many years, of finding, recording, and collecting any TV shows with hot rod themes or featuring hot rods in some way. I knew about lots of these, but so far he’s got about 125 such shows copied on 31 DVDs. I had no idea there were so many. So he asked if I’d like a set, and of course I said “Sure!” The reason I’m not identifying him is that copying that many DVDs is a huge job that he can’t repeat too many times. I wish there were some way to feature more of them here, but it’s a different medium. I don’t have photos.

However, I do have lots of photos of Jim Griepsma’s ’34 coupe, and this becomes a whole ‘nother story. If you have my book Lost Hot Rods II, you know I did three pages on this coupe, showing its early stages and then tracking it down to the City Body Works in Bakersfield, CA, where I found it in pieces and primer, with some bodywork done. I also met Jim Griepsma there, and followed him several miles on small roads to his home/llama ranch in the Sierra foothills, where he had the complete Chrysler Hemi on a stand in his garage with all his tools hung on the walls (as he did in the ’56 HRM feature). But that was 10 years ago, and of course I wanted to find out what’s become of the car since then. Guess what? This has suddenly turned into another mystery.

Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupe

Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupeI was going to say let’s start where I left off, but let’s go back to the beginning instead. The active life of this hot rod only lasted 3 or 4 years. But Griepsma had an album full of photos that he let me borrow and copy. These crinkle-edge prints, as you can see, are dated Apr. ’56, and by this time not only is the car painted (a light yellow), upholstered, and much chromed, but the 3-carb Chrysler (a 354 bored to 392) has just been installed. Griepsma’s family was among the many Dutch dairymen who settled in Artesia, CA, and these photos were taken by Jim at the Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupefamily’s dairy farm. Jim was a member of the Renegades car club, technically based in Long Beach, CA, but including several young guys who lived on these Artesia Dutch dairy farms. Jim was also the only member, as far as I know, who had a hot rod, the rest of the Renegades being custom car enthusiasts.

Starting with a deeply channeled ’34 coupe he got as a teen in ’53, Jim did most of the work on the car himself, including the nicely chopped and filled top, in the family’s well-equipped garage/shop. However, he did have EdJim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupe Schelhaas bob the rear fenders, roll the pan, and fill the dash. Don’t know who did the upholstery, including the flat-on-the-floor seat. Note the new, “deep dish” Ford steering wheel.

Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupeThis is the dairy garage-shop, with its distinctive pegboard wall filled with neatly hung tools, where Jim built the coupe, first with a twin-carb ’41 Merc flathead. I assume that’s his young son, Curtis, both nattily dressed, as always.

Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupeMost of the photos for the ’56 HRM feature were taken earlier (with flathead) at the Lakewood Drive-in. Most California rodders would eschew a deeply channeled ’34 coupe with a ’32 grille, but the lines and proportions on this one look pretty good.

Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupe          Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupeAfter adding the Hemi, with more chrome and polish and bright red hoses and wires, Jim took the car to Barris’s for some relatively ugly–though minor–flames and some striping by Jeffries. Did I mention dapper? Yes, those are blue suede shoes Jim’s wearing.

Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupeHere’s a good rear angle with Jeffries’ striping. That’s a typical Renegades mild custom Chev at some parking lot show.

Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupe             Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupeAt a later show, parked next to George Sein’s “Flamer,” Jim took these color photos after Jim had Barris build a 3-piece hood with a flamed scoop.

Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupeThe final addition, seen at another outdoor show (note trophies already won), was one of Barris’s horizontal bar grilles. Then, in ’57, Jim took the car back to Barris for “fancier paint.” He said Barris took it apart, did a few things he didn’t ask for, such as fairing the door hinges, but then the infamous fire struck the Barris shop. Fortunately Jim’s car was in a different room, wasn’t damaged, but never got further work done or reassembly.

Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupe Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupe          Jim Griepsma's '34 3-window coupeSo this is how I found Jim’s coupe at City Body Works ten years ago. You can see Barris’s faired hinges and grille. You might also notice that Jim started to add a narrowed 9-inch rear at some point, and had added rear wheel tubs. He said this shop was supposed to paint the car a brighter yellow.

Jim Griepsma in his garageThen Jim took me up to his house and small llama farm in the foothills where he showed me the original red and chrome Chrysler Hemi,Jim Griepsma garage now sporting four 97s. And surprise, surprise–look what’s covering the walls. There’s no question that Jim’s a neatnik, and his hanging tool set had grown to cover three walls at that point. But remember, this was ten years ago. Now things get mysterious.

I started on this a couple weeks ago. I dug all these photos out of my files for the book, along with my notes I gathered at the time. First thing I did was call the phone number I had for Jim, with some doubts. Yep, no longer in service. I checked obituaries for Bakersfield. He wasn’t listed there. I had a card from City Body Works, so I called there, and got a recording saying “We’ll call you back when we’ve got time,” or some such. No call back. So I searched for a Griepsma in Bakersfield. It’s not a common name. Somehow I came across a listing for a Jim and Curtis Griepsma Garage or body shop. In fact, it had the name “Renegade” in it somehow. So I went to that site, and there were 3 or 4 photos of the coupe, up on wheels of some sort, with the engine (looking just like the photo above) installed, along with the grille. Some parts of the car were a bright yellow, but others were primered. I can’t remember, I only saw it once. But it looked hurriedly assembled. I can’t remember if there was an address. But there was no phone number; there was only a box to write a text message. So I did, saying who I was and hoping to follow up. No reply. Nada.

It gets better…or worse. I found two phone numbers for Curtis Griepsma on line–neither good. I tried finding the shop again, on the net. Nothing. I tried calling the City Body Works to see if they knew where the car went. Their number is now “No longer in service.” So I went back to the web, searching for several name variations of the Griepsma shop (and photos) I had found. Absolutely nothing. Vanished. Very weird. Frustrating. But, as far as I’m concerned, end of story. Sure, that car’s somewhere. Might turn up. But meanwhile I’ve got new column topics waiting in line like jetliners trying to land at LAX. Stay tuned to see what comes next.

P.S. It looks like as of this morning (3/22) the Renegade Hot Rod Shop has their web site back up, and my ace internet manager Sabina not only found it, but added a link to it, so you can click on it to see even more photos that they have added of the current state of the Griepsma ’34. However, they still list no address, phone number, or contact name, just a box where you can leave a text message. I still haven’t gotten a reply to mine.