Archive for the ‘ Culture ’ Category

THE FLEETING MOMENT OF BARBARA ROUFS

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

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By the early Seventies, drag racing in America had really changed from what most consider its Golden Age in the Sixties. The beautiful FED (Front-Engine Dragster) had been replaced by fuelers with the motor behind the driver. Tire technology had improved to the point that tire-smokers weren’t smoking tires anymore, but were hooking hard on launch and sticking to every inch of the improved track surfaces. The wooly Fuel Altered class had been largely replaced by the Funny Car – basically, a stretched fiberglass homage to a currently offered pre-smog muscle car strapped over a lengthened wheelbase Altered. Hair grew long, shorts got short and bras got burned.

And it was in those years that a mystery girl named Barbara Roufs hit the scene as a trophy girl for events put on at tracks in Southern California by new sanctioning bodies like Doug Kruse’s Professional Dragster Association. Barbara embodied everything that the early Seventies drag racing world put into the world: that ironing board-straightened hair, the Sixties-vestige go-go boots, easy-breezy freedom tank and a tan to kill mere East Coasters.

We don’t know what happened to Barbara after those too-few years of photos, but our next call is to photo guy, Tom West. We have a feeling he’ll tell us. In the meantime, enjoy…

THE REBIRTH OF COOL

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

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In the mid-Nineties, the Lounge Movement that was percolating in L.A. among young hipsters finally hit the surface in some marginally big ways: “Swingers” had been released in theaters, the “Ultra Lounge” CD compilation had started its rollout by Capitol Records, Atomic magazine was gearing up for its first issue and Otto Von Stroheim was publishing his Tiki News to international acclaim. Lounge rode the Retro wave that the first true Rat Rod underground had stirred up and there was just a ton of cross-pollination that manifested itself in some great ways – and we’re still benefitting from it some twenty years later.

The general freakout among young twenty-somethings over mid-century American popular culture was a force to be reckoned with in that just-pre-web era: Swing music, tiki, revival hot rods, vintage clothing, mid-century furniture and interior design…it was all just cast-away stuff that was cheap and plentiful. Sure, a fella had a long search for XL sizes in front of him if he was trying to squeeze into a late-Fifties Penney’s sharkskin suit, but there just wasn’t a ton of competition at the second-hand stores and Goodwills for the stuff. Yet.

And one of the great rediscovered treasures of Lounge was the cover girl for a dozen Martin Denny albums, Sandy Warner.

Denny’s first instrumental record was titled “Exotica” and the name became the tag for the style of music that Les Baxter had first introduced to the brand new tiki lounge concept in 1951 with his “Ritual Of The Savage” album. The islands of the South Pacific that returning WWII vets had grown to love so much while on active duty had inspired Tiki culture in Southern California and it spread over the post-war U.S. like a blue flame across a Scorpion Bowl. And the soundtrack for it all was a collection of exotic instrumentals, complete with wild animal calls and waterfall sound effects.

It was all about fantasy. Tiki had less to do with the culture from which the name came, but the nomenclature of Space Age Pop and Exotica sure did fit the bill: lounges in new suburbs complete with thatched interior roofs and running streams and lit torches, girls in well-placed coconuts, guys in active-wear slacks and Hawaiian shirts-of-many-colors, blue drinks goosed with so much alcohol they begged to be set on fire…the music in the background just had to support the escapism of the day. And Sandy’s stunning beauty, combined with her ability to seemingly shape-shift among record covershoots, made her a perfect choice to represent the scene.

Warner was not only a model, but an actress and vocalist in her own right. She made a career out of dozens of album covers, bit parts on television series into the Sixties, a few more major roles in film and even her own record. Through it all, she was adept at changing her entire look from gig to gig and even Denny, himself, once had a hard time recognizing her in the audience at one of his shows when she called him over to her table.

As far as we know, Sandra is still with us. Where? We have no idea. But we’re working on that. But the girl of Exotica, Tiki, Space Age Pop and the face on faded album covers in just about every self-respecting hipster’s LP collection is alive and well in her mid-century trim. We’re constantly searching for the Sandy of our generation, but there’s just no girl who could ever replace her.

THE NEW HOTRODDING

Monday, March 11th, 2013

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In the late Fifties, the hot rod scene was a little more than ten years old and it was all jumpin.’ Engines were being built to go as fast as possible and the magazines of the era – the only medium that was effectively reaching this crowd – were reporting that it really didn’t matter what vessel they were bolted into. Hot rods, salt flats racers, dragsters, minibikes, go-karts…and even boats.

Now, the boat thing was a natural fit for the Southern California lifestyle that hotrodding was born into. It didn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense to the guys building hot rods, say, in the southern states or regions of the country with ‘traditional’ winters, but by the early Sixties, the drag boat was a force to be reckoned with.

In the December ’65 issue of Rod & Custom, three months after Hot Rod ran its first and only hot boat cover, an article on Chuck Craig’s Aqua Craft was introduced with, “This boat, along with many others, is an example of the ‘branching out’ of many car builders into the hot boat field.” And that summed up what was happening in those days: custom car builders, fiberglass kit car companies, speed parts shops and dragster brands were all dabbling in multi-purpose flat bottom boats that could be used for drag racing, water skiing, lounging, partying and showing. Just about everything a hot rod was used for, but on the water.

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THE IRON ORCHID

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

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The West Coast has the AMBR, the Midwest has the Ridler Award. This time every year, with the weather just slightly less shitty than it was a few weeks earlier for the Detroit Auto Show, the Detroit Autorama hosts its show at the old Cobo Hall downtown, just like its done for the last sixty years.

And the Ridler Award, named after Don Ridler – the Autorama’s first promotor, has been the centerpiece of the show since the year after his untimely death in ’63. Now, the major difference between the Grand National Roadster Show’s AMBR and the Ridler is that there’s no restriction to the type of car eligible for the Ridler. Hell – fire trucks, roadsters, Pro Stocks and muscle cars are just a few of the winners over the years. The main prerequisite is that the car is being shown for the very first time.

And that brings us to the car that Dave Shuten and Beau Boeckmann entered for this year’s Ridler: a bitchin’ ’34 5-window coupe named the “Iron Orchid.” We love all kinds of cars, as long as they’re done well – and what Dave and Beau pulled off in this car is about as perfect a mid-Sixties early show rod recreation as we’ve seen.

See, by around 1965 or so, hot rod shows were becoming more sophisticated: people were becoming less and less satisfied with just a hot rod being shown, simply because the idea of a hot rod wasn’t the outlandish, counterculture menace it was just fifteen years earlier. By this point, there was an entire subculture with its own catalogs and magazines and sanctioning bodies and rules, for fuck’s sake. By ’65, folks were all, “Yeah? What else you got?” So, the concept of the show rod – a car purpose-built to win a car show instead of running flat-out on the salt – was hatched. And the earliest show rods were cars that looked like they could still be driven off the show floor, albeit carefully over the mirrors so the upholstered fenderwells wouldn’t get scuffed, compared to the phone booth/Pink Panther/funeral coach/bathtub/bunk bed theme rods that took over late in the Sixties.

Which brings us back to the Iron Orchid. Darryl Hollenbeck’s paint is just the tip of the perfectly faded paneled iceberg and we guess what we really love about it is its simplistic adherence to that earliest of show rod treatments: small block dipped in white pearl and chrome, white diamond tuck-paneled every-galldang-thing, a colored plexi-paneled something-or-other, a set of polished Halibrands and (for chrissakes, we can’t figure out why so many others get this wrong) a period-correct pairing of big-n-little BIAS PLYS. Let us repeat that: BIAS PLYS.

We say, if you’re gonna do it, do it right. Dave did it right. And, as always, there are a ton of people involved with something like this and since we haven’t talked to Dave or Beau about the car yet (they’re just a little busy at the moment), we haven’t gotten the full list of contributors. But we hope they win the Ridler this year, if for no other reason than to prove that the generation preparing itself to take over the old-guy slot in car culture hasn’t forgotten what got it interested in this stuff in the first place – which never included A/C, tilt wheels, radials or TPI motors. A boy can only hope.

GNRS-BOUND: BREAKING IT DOWN BEFORE BUILDING IT BACK UP

Monday, March 4th, 2013

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It hurts, sometimes.

When you realize you have to take a few steps back to take a few more steps forward, it just…well, it just pains us a little. But that’s OK – when you’re building something completely custom, this is the kind of shit that takes place. Sum of its parts and all that.

Such as it is, we have to admit that it’s kinda neat to see all the parts of our Model T coupe preened over and carefully oiled down in fresh layers of their bare-metal skin. We heard a story once, of the design team at Ford as it was preparing to come up with the latest version of the Thunderbird a few years ago. As this story went, the head of the design team wanted the crew to come up with something ‘newstalgic:’ a new Thunderbird that harkened back to the first ‘Bird that people just fell in love with in ’56. So, in order for the team – people who, we’re assuming, weren’t even alive when that first car hit the showroom floors – to understand what made people love the first Thunderbird so much, he had each of them go down to the vaults, pull out a ’56 T-bird and…wash it. By hand. To fully understand the car, the designers had to literally get their hands all over the car. Feel the contours and complex curves. Understand the porthole removable top. Appreciate the grille and the headlight bezels. Get their fingers wedged into the rear bumper where the twin pipes exit. We completely get it.

Is that little story true? Who knows. And really, it doesn’t matter: the meaning of the story makes sense and it’s what we were thinking about as we got our hands on every part of the T one more time. It’s important to understand every bend of the frame, every groove in the rails, every drilled bracket Conder maniacally tacked into place. It’s important. The DNA that goes into this car is essential. Sum of its parts and all that…

THE CRAFT MOVEMENT

Friday, March 1st, 2013

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“I quit. I’m out. I’m moving to England to sweep his floors.”

Those were the words of a good friend of ours, who happens to be a very talented graphic designer, after he posted a video of David Smith plying his handlettering craft. 1) We’ll leg wrestle him for the broom and 2) it got us to thinking more about the craft movement that we’ve been expounding on for a few years now.

David Smith is a fucking haboob of talent when it comes to the near-lost art of handlettering and page illumination. Watch the video below, try to erase John Mayer from your consciousness and focus on the absolutely awe-inspiring process Smith puts himself through for his craft. Just a mindblower…


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Of course we love Smith’s work. And what we love even a little bit more is that there’s a pretty incredible movement he’s a member of, happening just below the surface of paved Wal-Mart parking lot acreage and Starbucks stores inside of Starbucks stores. It’s a place where denim jeans are made pair by pair, hot rods are willed into being, mid-century tiki lamps are recreated by hand, custom motorcycles are built by the year instead of by the hour, paint jobs on customs take a little bit of your soul, photographs are still printed by hand and really really good whiskey is an art. The Craft Movement is alive and well, but you’re gonna have to get away from the strip malls and the Olive Gardens and the casino lobby tattoo shops and the bar at TGI Friday’s to find it.

But trust us: when you find it, you won’t ever walk into a Wal-Mart again. Like, EVER.

THE UNDERGROUND ART OF THE CB CARD

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

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No secret we love the Seventies. Since we’re the generation that’s now looking back on our childhood in the light of nostalgia, just about everything from our childhood (uh, the SEVENTIES) is now worth something. Toys, cars, art, lunchboxes, t-shirts, choppers, trucker hats, movie posters, model car kits…where do we stop?

And here’s another great example of underground folk art to start collecting before the ironic-savvy hipsters in the skinny jeans and WKRP t-shirts get their hands on it: CB radio cards.

In the Seventies, the CB radio craze swept the nation in some wonderful ways. And if you were on a CB, you were most likely a trucker, a kid or a subversive anti-government conspiracy theorist. Or a combination of all of them. At the time, the Citizens Band radio network was an amazing spiderweb of, well, citizens who were able to communicate with each other just beyond the reach of the gubment. And that was a place that was sorta like the Wild West: guns, women, lawlessness, drugs, alcohol…sounds a little like the longform version of an acronym for a department of Homeland Security, actually.

And what a great place the CB world was. It drew all ilk of characters and wild personalities, not the least of which were the long-haul truckers of the pre-Iran Hostage era. And that wonderful soup of characters, personalities, miscreants, ne’er-do-wells and longhaired-friends-of-jebus that was not only the stuff of legend that Hollywood figured out about a decade into it, but really helped shape interstate commerce of ideas, Jack (kinda like what you’re reading all this because of, right?). All this amazing stuff manifested itself in no better a way than the CB card: a business card, of sorts – and analog dirty joke email, if you will – that was handed out similarly to the way email addresses are passed in person-to-person contact these days.

The CB card was not just a way to pass handles and channels, though. No, these cards were part Tijuana Bible, part pulp paperback cover, part truckstop bathroom rubber machine art, part Mad Lib, part graffiti, part personal diary. There was no better way to express your own personal ambitions, sense of humor and political opinions than packing just about everything that meant something to you onto an oversized business card with your handle and channel in that analog world of “Smokey And The Bandit” and C.W. McCall.

Underground artists like Hustler Of Idaho, Crackerjack, Papa Bear and 2 Bit are just a few of the well-known names who could be called upon to wrangle up a unique card for just about any handle who could find them.

What we love so much about these cards is that CB radio culture not only stitched people together just under the surface of American popular culture in the late Twentieth Century, but that this underground society also fostered folk art like this to communicate ideas and pass along messages that meant more than just an airwave nom de plume (handle) and channel to be reached on (or QSL card).

Here are just a few of our favorites, but for a dazzling collection of CB cards, go lose yourself for a few hours at myQSL. Just fantastic. Really.

GIRLS OF YORE: DIANE WEBBER

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

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Every once in awhile, we stagger across a proper candidate for our “Girls Of Yore” series who just blows our minds a little. The kind of girl you just have a hard time believing actually existed and she makes you wonder why you don’t know a girl like her who’s living this kind of life right now.

Marguerite Empey is that girl.

Now, a girl who lived the kind of life that Marguerite lived in the middle of the last century would absolutely have a few names. And in Marguerite’s case, most people would probably know her as Diane Webber. And Diane Webber lived, kid.

Born in L.A. in 1932 (good year – try to find a pair of decent 1932 CA license plates for under a couple hundred bucks, these days) to actor/songwriter/movie producer parents, Marguerite grew up in the heyday of Southern California after her parents divorced (it was recorded that her dad referred to her mom as a ‘dumbbell’ and her mom answered that with “too old, fat and lazy.” Some things never change). As a 16 year-old high school kid going to the fabled Hollywood High, she no doubt got a few rides in Model A roadsters or coupes (or, at the very least, offered rides – hey, just let us go with this, mkay?) to school and was a fairly active ballet student. As these things usually go in Los Angeles, it was only a matter of time till she was approached by a photographer for some portrait work as a ballerina – some of her first work in front of the camera.

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2014 GRAND NATIONAL ROADSTER SHOW-BOUND

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

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We were over at a good friend’s garage right before Christmas last year and got to talking about all the reasons why we weren’t gonna be at this year’s Grand National Roadster Show. Now, for the uninitiated, the GNRS is really what kicks off the year for hotrodders: it’s a full-on party out on the edge of L.A. with some of the best hot rods, customs and bikes that set the tone for what the world looks like to gearheads. And for more than a few of us, getting a car to the GNRS is a Biden-sian big fuckin’ deal. Heady stuff, for sure.

Now, if you’ve been following us for any amount of time, you know that we’ve been building our own hot rod for what seems like about a thousand years: a ’27 Model T coupe with a ’53 331c.i. Hemi and some other goodies. Welp, we threw down the gauntlet last Christmas to make a run at next year’s GNRS.

It’s long overdue. For such a small car, there’s a ton of hand-fabricated stuff on it and since none of us had ever built a hot rod like this before and since we’re all visually driven to the point that function follows form on this thing and we ran out of money long ago, well, it’s just taking a while…

We’ve even seen some “copies” of our T that were built in mere weeks, put on the road and forgotten about just as fast. Of course, we’ll tell you that they weren’t copies at all: an unchopped T runnin’ a Hemi does not a better car make. So, every time someone would run up to us and be all, “Hey, man – somebody built your car…when you gonna stop fuckin’ around and get yours done?!?! I’da had 4 of yours built already, dude…c’mon already,” we just smile and nod and realize that we can’t even begin to explain why that other car is nothing like ours at all and why it’s taking so long to finish.

So, come along with us as we get this thing done. Like they say in the construction biz, “It takes 10% of the time to do 90% of the work. And vice-versa.” The body’s been pulled off the frame for the hundredth time. The motor’s been yanked once again. Machine shops have been chosen. Priests are on-call. Yesterday’s coffee is warmed up. Again. Wives have been notified. A new Pandora channel named “They Forced Me To Hate” has been stocked with tracks (thanks for the inspiration, Chopper Dave). It’s ON.

SWIMSUIT MODEL = PINUP MODEL = HOT ROD PINUP

Monday, February 18th, 2013

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Remember waaaaaay back during the Summer Olympics in London when Australian hurdler, Michelle Janneke, tripped us all up with her starting line dance habits? No? Too far back, huh? Well, here’s a little refresher from an earlier race, set to a Eurotrash club classic (as all Olympic sports should be):


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Well, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue team never forgot. And Michelle ended up in this year’s Swimsuit Issue for it. Now, we can totally dig what SI is up to because we love working with models who aren’t working models and turning them into hot rod pinups: not only are the shoots more fun, but there’s something inherently gearhead about transforming something from the expected to the unexpected. We’ve often talked about people being ‘human hot rods’ and as goofy as that sounds, it really does make sense: a factory-gennie Cadillac built for the express purpose of luxury and comfort turned into a chopped and low and so-cool-it-hurts taildragger makes the same kind of sense to us as transforming a world-class hurdler into a stunning swimsuit model. Cars and girls. Girls and cars. Makes the world go ’round.


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