When we got back from our two-week road trip to Oklahoma to participate in the Gathering at the Roc–and visit several Western U.S. sites as well–I knew it had been at least a month since I had done one of these columns. Bill, Sabina, and Anna had taken plenty of good photos along the way (while I happily didn’t), so I intended to cherry-pick from all of them to do a report on our adventure. But I knew that would take even more time, and I figured I’d better do something simple and quick right away. However, as you saw last time, Sabina sent me a wonderful selection of her photos and videos within a couple days, and I knew that’s all I needed. Hopefully you agreed.
But before I saw them, I’d already thumbed through my files looking for a ready subject, and I quickly found it in a drawer labeled “B&W Prints.” That drawer contains more than 30 hanging files with tabs ranging from Rods, Drags, Customs, Bonneville, and Shows to Lowriders, Parts & Engines, Swap Meets, Odd Rods, and various types of “Misc.” And that’s just one drawer out of two 5-drawer cabinets. I have lots more B&W proofs and negs, plus color slides, than I do prints (but they’re the quickest and easiest to scan and download for this column), not to mention all the photos and research material for 20 books and–yikes!–50-some years of freelance articles. Yes, I’m an old fart. But this is all off the current topic. Old farts do that. Let’s get back on track.
The file I pulled, hanging between “Early Rods” and “Late Rods,” was ’60s Rods. Yes, they are in a category by themselves. However, as you will see in the following prints I grabbed, these are really late ’50s and early ’60s rods. It was a period of mild, yet rapid and significant change denoted primarily by hubcaps/wheels (wheelcovers, baby moons, chrome rims, mags), whitewall size (full, medium, pinwall, blackwalls), and upholstery color (white to black). Even by the mid-’60s these rods largely disappeared, replaced by factory Super Stocks, other drag machines (in the magazines), muscle cars, pony cars (Mustangs, Camaros), not to mention flower-painted VW micro-buses.
I love all sorts of rods and customs, but I have to admit that the types shown here are my favorites. That’s undoubtedly why I pulled this file and selected these photos in the first place. And, especially judging from what we saw in Woolaroc OK, this has returned as a preferred style by many rodders today. I’ve half-jokingly said since returning that if you didn’t have a black ’32-’34 3-window coupe, on a deep-dive rake, with really big and little tires on rare Halibrand wheels, you weren’t much there. Fine with me.
One last thing. Since these are some of my favorites, I’ve used several of these photos before, and you may have seen them. Yet there are others I know have never been published. More important, I’m glad to say there are lots of young, relatively new rodders who haven’t seen them, and tend to prefer the pre-’65 styles. That’s fine too. Besides, if you’re like me, you love looking at these rods plenty of times. So let’s do it.
I thankfully have several photos from this historic rodding event and I ran a color one in my last book with a caption saying: “I’m pretty sure it was Rod & Custom that ran a story on the L.A. Roadsters’ first cruise to Sequoia National Park. It was sometime in the early 1960s, and I’m surprised I can’t find the article because it made a huge, lasting impression on me. The thing is that these were all show-quality roadsters, which you didn’t see on the street then, cruising up the highway to the Sequoia redwoods, a route I knew well and loved. What could be better? But nobody had ever done it before. To me, this was the true birth of street rodding, in the best way.” Yes. But I was looking in the wrong place. I just found it in the Sept. ’61 issue of Hot Rod., only two pages near the back. It was the first meeting of the L.A. and Bay Area Roadsters, and Tex Smith called it a “hot rod road cruise” because the term “rod run” didn’t exist yet. I was also surprised to see the photos were by Neal East. More on him in a minute.
This is an even earlier gathering of mostly L.A. Roadsters (’59 or ’60 given background cars) at the once-famous Tiny Naylor’s drive-in on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. Dick Scritchfield’s ’32, front left, was still yellow (as he got it), with Tony Lamasa’s green, channeled (“Ricky Nelson”) car behind, both hoodless that day. No idea whose Hemi-powered, ’50s-style Model A is in front. Look at all the baby Moon hubcaps. I love ’em. Not so much the full Moons.
If you’re any kind of hot rodder, you’ve got to love this car and this photo. It’s Walt Price’s black, unchopped, simple, but perfect Deuce 3-window coupe. It’s not a show car. This is the type of rod you’d see on the street and parked in the high school lot (there were three in mine). Of course it’s the nose-dive rake that really does it. But elements like the smooth filled grille shell, dropped headlight bar, and solid hood sides punched with three rows of hot rod louvers that complete the look. I can’t pinpoint the exact year or where it might have been featured (quick and simple, remember?), but the white upholstery and running boards, along with medium whitewalls and ’55 Dodge wheelcovers, all indicate pre-’62, and the yellow CA plate confirms it. I remember a Chevy under the hood. The only unusual addition are the full chrome lakes pipes. It’s the only rod I’ve ever seen with them. But they just accentuate the rake. Fine!
You’ve never seen this image of Neal East in his chopped-top, metallic blue 5-window. More likely you’d know the high-angle photo of red-head Neal tweaking the bright gold Olds engine on the April ’58 Hot Rod cover (I’ve got that color 4×5 trans that Petersen threw in the trash years ago). It was Neal’s second Deuce coupe driver. The first was his college car in Utah. Someone else chopped this one, but Neal and his dad finished it in their Westchester, CA, garage. The wheel set-up we called “baldies and beauty rims.” They came between 3-bar Fiesta flippers and chrome wheels, and were the hallmark of my formative hot rod era. Did you notice the raised front bumper? No, it hardly detracts. Practical Neal did this after getting the front fenders backed into one too many times. It was a common problem for lowered street-driven rods.
I said there’d be more on Neal East. Here’s more. You know these full-fendered roadsters from the first full-size cover of Rod & Custom, Aug. ’61. For my story on locating the black Murphy Tiffany “40s-style” car with orange Kelseys and flathead, see my Lost Hot Rods II book. Though he didn’t build this one (Bill Woodard did), the brilliant bronze-gold Deuce was Neal East’s, who was an R&C staff member at the time. The article’s theme was how these show-quality cars were driven on the street, but in addition to its all-white upholstery and then-unusual chrome wheels, its completely chromed 3-carb 265 Chevy and full chassis (all but the frame rails) made Neal’s impractical, and he soon sold it. For its amazing full story, including being stolen and dumped in a river, then current restoration, see R&C Nov. ’95.
But it’s Neal East I really want to mention. Most of our hot rod living legends are now dead. But not Neal. Yes he is one, though not properly acknowledged in my opinion. Not only did he drive a Deuce to college, had cars on the covers of Hot Rod and R&C, been an R&C staffer, an L.A. Roadsters member, and covered the ’70s rod scene with Jack Stewart as the Stewart & East freelance photography team, but he also ran the well-known Autobooks bookstore in Burbank for years before moving to Denver in the ’90s and opening his own car books store there, plus building and driving a Modified T roadster today that has made at least a couple Denver-L.A. trips to Roadsters Shows recently. Plus I’d say his greatest achievement was acquiring the famed Doane Spencer Deuce roadster in the ’60s, finally finishing Doane’s uncompleted Mexican Road Race rebuild, but returned to flathead power, and with the handmade steel top Doane never used. Besides preserving this incomparable Deuce for decades, he drove it everywhere, including cross-country trips to Street Rod Nationals. On top of all that, Neal is just a great guy who I’m fortunate to call a good friend.
Dale Mack’s exemplary metallic blue 5-window was called a “Torrid Street Machine” in the Nov. ’63 R&C. That’s probably because of its dressed-out Nailhead Buick engine. But like most cars selected and photographed for magazine features, it’s a couple clicks above typical street-driven rods of the era, indicated by the chrome Bell front axle and spotless white underside. Actually, white wheelwells and chassis were a brief early ’60s fad, even for street cars, that required frequent spray-can repainting. You can see Bob Lee’s white headliner with blue piping, accompanied by white with blue rolls on seat and doors, plus blue carpet with white binding. Ah yes. The ’50 Merc caps were not common then, nor the cowl lights, radiator cap, and horn. But this is a classic late 50s/early 60s rod.
Here are a couple that were obviously street-driven, in never-printed photos. The Hemi-powered, mildly channeled ’29 A on chrome-reversed wheels and wide whites is a 3×5 snapshot dated Nov. 61. I forget where it came from, but this is a nicely painted, upholstered, and chromed rod. However, the high seat and steering wheel, black side pipes, and especially the ’27 T grille with a tall bird on top are not magazine feature qualities. On the other hand, the ’35 3-window and the ’59 Impala hardtop snapped at a dragstrip near Seattle around 1960-61 by my friend Bob Morrow are simple but totally bitchin’. The Ford shows white ‘boards and wide whites on chrome rims, while the Chev has new Rader wheels with the obligatory chrome cut-out cap right behind (in possibly white-painted wheelwells). But what makes both cars is the super-low stance, all around. Yes, they drove ’em this way.
Tony Spicola was a good Colorado freelance photographer who found show-quality rods, placed them in striking red-mountain settings, and liked to add people, in this case owner Vern Lawson and wife. With a chromed, tri-carbed Olds mill and white top, white inside, whitewalls, and all-white undercarriage, it’s a high-class example of the era. The only unusual–but nice–touches are the small front nerfs and fender-mounted headlights with no bar. It made Hot Rod’s feature pages in July ’64, where they called the color Grape Purple.
We can’t do early ’60s rods without showing the classic Doyle Gammel coupe. However, I just realized I only have B&W prints of it, and I don’t think it was ever shown in its Cordovan Brown color. I chose this high-angle view to stress the signature chopped and filled top, which is perfect. With the new polished magnesium American 5-spokes, Moon tank, and black upholstery, this is the epitome of ’62-’65 rod style. Although forever known as the Gammel coupe, and now fully restored in Bruce Meyer’s stable, Doyle got it pretty much like this, adding a built injected Vette engine with 4-speed, plus Roth striping. After his brief ownership, it led a multi-faceted life, most of which I assume you know, though a bit is still shrouded in mystery. Remember when it was purple with flames and a healthy big block? I liked it that way, too. But thankfully Bruce restored it, because there’s no better example of this hot rod era (with the possible exception of Tom McMullen’s roadster).
Although it’s been rightfully restored as the Bob McGee roadster, like it famously appeared cruising past USC on the Oct. ’48 Hot Rod cover, this subtly modified ’32 hiboy was owned far longer, and did many more things, while it was long-time L.A. Roadsters president Dick Scritchfield’s. Not only did it appear in features, ads, and event coverage in many magazines, it even set a Bonneville record and got the first Metalflake paint job. Perhaps most famously, it appeared in dozens of hot rod B movies and TV shows. So many, that when I asked Scritch where this still photo came from, he couldn’t remember. Turns out I recently happened to see an episode of “77 Sunset Strip” called “Chrome Coffin” (Dec. 29, 1961) and there it was in the opening scene, sans hood and windshield, drag racing fellow L.A. Roadster member Marty Holmann’s equally stripped, Kookie-style T, with the Deuce supposedly flipping at the end. Surprisingly, this was after Grabowski had sold his T, and Kookie was no longer parking cars–and combing his hair–at Dino’s and had joined the private eye firm next door as Gerald Lloyd Kookson III.
Speaking of the Kookie Car, which was finally liberated and restored last year, here’s how it looked after Dayton, Ohio’s, Jim “Street” Skonzakis bought it from Grabowski, obviously around 1960. Before taking it home, Skonzakis had Larry Watson paint it white pearl with candy red flames, and added chrome wheels, slicks, and new white upholstery. Soon, however, to win car show points, he had incredibly gooked it up with two injected blowers, weird quad headlights, dual slicks, high-back buckets, and those god-awful pipes. When I was able to contact him sometime in the late ’80s, Street proudly sent me this photo himself. But by that time he had hidden the car away from prying eyes, and kept it there the rest of his life. The saving grace was that the original Kookie T, basically unaltered, was still there under all the crap.
So speaking of Norm Grabowski and selling his famous T-bucket, this was its immediate replacement, a bright red ’25 T Touring. One of its few claims to fame was appearing on Hot Rod’s cover twice. First, it was on the multi-photo Aug. ’60 issue, which contained a 2-page feature on the car, showing the Model A bumpers, oval rear gas tank, and Bill Colgan button-tuck upholstery, but excluding “a ’48 Mercury flathead which will soon be replaced by Chevy V8.” The second was behind Marty Holmann’s black T-bucket on the March ’61 cover.. This photo, from the ’60 feature, was really a publicity shot for the B movie romp “Sex Kittens go to College,” starring the “luscious” Mamie Van Doren, seen at the wheel. Both Norm (as football hunk “Woo Woo Grabowski”) and this T played prominent roles, as Norm would go on to do as a character actor in numerous movies and TV shows. Surprisingly, and ignominiously, so did this T, somewhat reworked as the “star” of the short-lived and dim-witted TV show “My Mother the Car.”
As I said, I’m skipping over some photos I pulled because I’m running out of time and space. But I wanted to show a couple to demonstrate that there were many ’60s rods that went far beyond the cool style I’m emphasizing. I hate the contradictory term “custom rod” (though that’s what they really were). I’ll call them “show rods.” One of the best known was Clarence “Chili” Catallo’s Deuce coupe of Beach Boys album cover (and Hot Rod cover) fame. It started life as a Paxton-blown-Olds drag car, then got the custom nose, tail, and side fins, and painted black, at the Alexander Bros. in Detroit. Then he came to SoCal to go to college and had the Barris shop chop the top, with Junior adding bright pearl blue and white scallop paint (and of course, Barris crests). I doubt you’ve ever seen the upper photo where it has six carbs on the polished blower. That’s Dean Jeffries’ custom Porsche behind it.
You probably know it best as the Monogram model kit, but Dave Stuckey relentlessly recustomized his candy red Li’l Coffin ’32 sedan. I liked it best, before he chopped the top, in profile on a Car Craft cover. Darryl Starbird continued to rework it through the zany car show doldrums of the ’70s featuring rolling phone booths, outhouses, and bathtubs. Wasn’t pretty.
Speaking of ’60s show rods, I’m including these photos, which have been in this file for years, because I don’t know what it is. It looks like a ’34 Cabriolet, and I think it was well-known at least in the Midwest. The nose (in the trailer), tail, and fake side-pipes slightly resemble Catallo’s coupe. Did the A-Bros. work on it? One look at the clean tailpipes tells you that blown Olds engine has not been run, just cleaned and polished, as shown. Besides show rod, many called these “push cars.”
Can you stand one more? Are you getting queasy? Hey, these made magazine covers in the early ’60s. Painted a brilliant blue pearl (with white underneath) this was known as Midwest showman Ray Fahrner’s “Eclipse.” Besides all-white upholstery, period custom touches included Royal Master tires on Chrysler chrome wires, canted quad headlights, and–sure–dummy spotlights. I saw it at early Kustom Kemps meets in the ’90s, perfectly restored like this by master metalman Doug Thompson for collector Jack Walker. Thompson did much of the original metalwork on this car for Fahrner, and built the Hirohata Merc clone for Thompson. Here’s the clincher. It was a real 1932 Ford roadster pickup, the rarest Deuce model of all. Only 500-some were ever made.
Let’s get back to something better looking. I told you Tony Spicola found good Colorado-area rods to photograph, often with pretty girls, especially in then-skimpy bathing suits. At least this one has water and sand. Young Ray Dresselhaus’ metallic turquoise ’32 sedan, with its much-chromed chassis and lavish white roll and buttoned blue frieze upholstery was a nice street-drivable show rod. It got four pages, including one in color, in the Feb. ’63 Hot Rod, then in Sept. ’64 Popular Hot Rodding. The best part is it still exists, full interior intact, in Colorado. See my Lost Hot Rods II book for more. This B&W shot was never shown.
Although it’s a shame to show it in black and white, here’s another typical Spicola shot. Jerry Volavka’s pearl-white ’31 A Fordor (yes, 4-door) was a somewhat overdone show rod, and the bathing beauty in high heels and beehive hair is standing next to it on an airport runway. Sure. But this is a pure early ’60s rod (’62 to be exact), with medium whitewalls on chrome-reversed rims with “Spider” bullet center caps, chrome tube nerf bars, bell-tipped exhaust (and front-fender cutouts with three chromed wing-nuts), not to mention the exaggerated rake. Of course the fogged paint accents are period, popularized by Ed Roth. In color, they’re a striking purple candy, and her bathing suit matches exactly. Up front was a completely chromed Nailhead Buick and a chromed firewall with twisted-chrome radiator supports. Yes, overdone, but fun.
This turned out to be a bit less simple and quick than I had planned (as usual), and as I said I did have to skip a few. But I think this gives you a good look at early ’60s rod styles–especially those dark, raked coupes like Price’s and Gammel’s. I hope you enjoyed it, and that it’s enough to last you a couple weeks. What should I do next? And, more than incidentally, I must mention how much I appreciate all your Gmails thanking me for doing this and how much you like it. I wish I could reply to all of them, but I can’t. So a big thanks from me to all of you. Check in again in two weeks. I’ll be here.