Our Cars--"Auto-Biography" of a Hotrodder
Robert Williams once said that customs are for getting girls, and hot rods are for getting rid of them. Having lost one too many clandestine blacktop races with my chick magnet Chevelle, at 17 I swapped it for this '67 Pontiac LeMans. Contrary to the bland "326" fender badge, it sported a 421 SD TriPower and M21 from a '64 Catalina. It would have been the fastest car in my high school if not for my brother's '70 Chevelle SS 454 LS-5.
College beckoned, and with it more sensible cars to park in the dorm lots. Those include a weak smog-choker '73 Nova SS, a '71 VW Bug, and an '85 Mustang 5.0 whose payments necessitated a two year diet of mac and cheese dinners.
When Grandpa died in '88 he left me the last car he ever bought, a red '76 Malibu coupe with only 18k on the clock. With marriage, there came the requisite succession of rational appliance cars and minivans which my kids customized with spit-up and spilled Cheerios. But even when they were little I endeavored to keep a frivolous fun ride on the side. There was the '69 Karmann Ghia convertible I bought from the original owner. When my infant daughter had colic, 2 a.m. rides in that Karmann seemed to be the only thing that would calm her down. That was followed by a '65 Corvair Corsa convertible with the 180-horsepower turbo.
As the kids grew I returned to my first car love, hot rods. As far back as I can remember I have always been obsessed with rods and customs; building countless plastic model kits, collecting the magazines, worshipping at the altar of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. It's a religion I inherited from my dad, a 50's hot rod greaser, and my grandpa, whose first car was a sporty Apperson Jackrabbit roadster. Some years back I bought this '59 Impala Sport Coupe from a Missouri acquaintance, which you can currently see cruising around the DFW Metroplex.
Later, these two: a '66 Buick Riviera lowrider and a steel '23 Model T roadster. The T was an early project of Orange County builder Rudy Rodriguez who has gone on to build a few cars for ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons. With a 300+ horsepower Chevy 350 and a curb weight of only 1,500 pounds, it is easily the scariest, white-knuckle-est car I've ever owned.
Hot rods and customs are the ultimate distillation of personal car taste, and each says something about its builder. In 2005 I finally had the chance to put my own ground-up imprimatur on a car. I located a rusty 1931 Ford Model A coupe in a barn in western Illinois. 20 months later, my pal Drew Didio and I finished it. The coupe is a homage to the custom street/show rod style of the early 60s, most notably Detroit's Alexander Brothers. At last count it contained pieces from 15 different cars, including a junkyard '59 Pontiac that contributed the 389 mill and dashboard.
But as every car fanatic knows, there is only one real basis for a hot rod: the 1932 Ford. The Duece. Bade by the gods, made flesh by Henry and Edsel. What Robert Johnson was to the Blues, the Deuce is to hotrod-dom. I recently had the chance to make good on a lifelong promise to myself and buy a steel Deuce 5-window body and frame. It's an old Chicago street racer from the 50s/60s, and Drew and I are currently resurrecting it with help from my 13-year-old gearhead son. The motor will be a blown '65 Corvette 327/365 hitched to an M21 4-speed. This will be the "keeper," the one I plan to drive to the Deuce Centennial in 2032.
I originally planned to be buried in it. But after my son's protests, I told him, "okay, you can keep it. Just lay a nasty burnout at the funeral."
Iowahawk, otherwise known as David Burge, writes political satire and essays on the glories of hot rods, lowriders, and other expressions of automotive art at http://iowahawk.typepad.com/.
--Cookie the Dog's Owner