Archive for the ‘ Builders ’ Category


Thursday, June 13th, 2013

What’s awesome about car culture: nearly every week, it seems like there’s another barn find car with some great (and sometimes, mysterious) history that hits the social interwebs and we just can’t get enough of that. EVER.

What’s un-awesome about car culture: for every great car that’s rediscovered, there’s a shop or track or home or photo collection or other ephemera, essential to the history of this subculture, that’s lost forever.

While it’s certainly well-known to any gearhead with a sense of history living in L.A., we were turned on to Nomad Michael-From-LA’s snap of Ed Iskenderian’s old shop in Culver City a few days ago. He drives by the old shop on the regular and we soon found out that there are more than a few hotrodders who do the same thing. And it’s been standing empty for a long time.

Now, if you know anything about Culver City – an area of the greater Los Angeles basin – you know that it’s been turned into a pretty incredible hub of the art scene over the last decade or so, once the venerable Copro/Nason gallery hung a shingle in the sleepy burg back in ’99. Right now, there’s a higher concentration of good galleries in Culver than just about anywhere else in So-Cal. And what do we know about the cultural microscope as it turns toward a previously-unknown locale? Well, real estate becomes more valuable, of course!

When Ed Iskenderian – member of a fairly exclusive club of Armenians who moved to Southern California and helped create hotrodding as we now know it – started grinding cams for the high-performance crowd during the boom after WWII, he moved his shop a few times as demand for his bumpsticks (sorry, we don’t mean to sound like an issue of Street Rodder) grew. And during the “cam wars” of the early Sixties, when the magazines of the day hosted ‘droppin-bombs’ ads by all the camshaft suppliers fighting for top-grinder position, Isky was dubbed the “Camfather” and his place in history was cemented. And this, among other reasons, is why Ed’s Slauson Ave. shop is so important to car culture.

The fact that the shop Michael passes every week is still Isky-intact amazes us. The fact that it’s been standing empty for so long worries us. The specter of jacked-up real estate values around 6338 Slauson in Culver City makes us fret. The little shop behind the Public Storage and across the street from just another Del Taco and Dollar Tree needs to be saved by a hotrodder. It needs to be loved and revered and treated as a national treasure by the custom car universe. We need to be able to stop by the old Isky shop on our hot rod fantasy vacations when we visit the West Coast.

We’ve preserved much of our history, but we’ve lost much, as well. We need to save this place.


Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

If you’ve been following us long enough, you might remember a story we did for our GARAGE magazine years ago on Jim Savoy and his little Henry J street-n-strip racer. The only thing we loved more than the faded psychedelic paint was the “UNITY! RIGHT ON” speed shop decal in the rear window that was in about as good a condition as that old metalflake. It was the absolute bitchinest decal we’d ever seen on an old warrior and, long story short, we put Jim (the original builder) back in touch with the car and its new owner (Toby Maciel) all on 3rd Street in San Francisco’s Bayview District for one helluva reunion. Jim hadn’t seen the car in 35 years and folks just came out of the woodwork when photographer Jay Watson set up the sticks for a portrait session in the yet-to-be built lightrail trackbed smack-dab in the middle of the avenue. Good times.

Anyhoo, one of the things that always perplexed us was the graphics that were hidden beneath the picnic table-red panels on the doors. Jim couldn’t remember and none of the old-timers in the area knew, either. Only thing we heard was that it was something offensive enough to the dragstrip management that they made the Savoy team cover it up before they raced.

So, what the hell was on those doors? Welp, Nomad Scott Leber spied this shot of the car at Bako that’s been stamped as 2006. Which is interesting, since we shot the car in ’05 and we’re pretty sure those panels were still intact. But whatever – it looks like it says “________ _________ SOUL” and that lines up with the foggy bits we got from some of the people who remember the car tearing up the streets of Sucker Free in the early Seventies.

Anyone have any idea what this car was called? What was on those doors that offended track officials (the most un-offendable lot we could imagine)? Guesses?


Monday, June 10th, 2013

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Had a great time at the 18th annual Road Zombies C.C. picnic in San Jose over the weekend. Old friends, new builds, a few of our favorite cars we hadn’t seen in awhile…just a good time. And it was capped off with tiki drinks at Notcho Gonzalez’ Top Notch Kustoms down the street from the show. It was our first time at Notch’s shop and it was everything we’d ever heard about: his unbelievably bitchin’ tiki bar, a heap of rare speed parts, some WIPs we got a sneak peek at and even a perfectly-roached ’68 Charger with a great story behind it.

So, as we watched Pat Lash zip off in his freshly track-nosed roadster, we just had to take a flik to capture a good moment in time…


Thursday, June 6th, 2013

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We were over on the Hemmings blog this morning where Kurt Ernst reminded us that the film we’ve been hearing so much about as of late, “Snake And Mongoose,” is getting closer and closer to a release date.

Now, of course a little prejudice comes along with our two cents on this thing, but the real-life story of Tom McEwen and Don Prudhomme pitting their Funny Car teams against each other in the Seventies contributed so much to the popular culture of the day that its effects are still being felt all these years later…

Don (The Snake) and Tom (The Mongoose) were pretty fucking tough drag racers, each in his own right. Don had been making a name for himself as far back as the early Sixties when he was partnered up on the iconic Greer-Black-Prudhomme FED (with the bitchinest scoop to ever top a motor, as far as we’re concerned) and was the first guy to clear 250mph in the quarter-mile. Tom had been drag racing since the mid-Fifties and none other than Ed Donovan (of the self-named racing engines shop) nicknamed him “The Mongoose” in order to entice a few races against Prudhomme in 1964. After all, what’s the natural enemy of a snake, right? Drag racers. Always with the quick wit and the gallows humor.

It was McEwen’s idea to really make a go of the match race idea between the two teams and focus some marketing energy on appealing to the kids of the early Seventies. After all, it was the age of Evel Knievel toys and KISS comic books and Star Wars action figures – all of which hit the mother lode by turning on the purchasing power of a generation that wasn’t even old enough to vote yet. The Snake and The Mongoose made it rain for years with just the right combination of drama, tire smoke, wild paint and larger-than-life personalities, both on and off the track.

Tom’s persona and career eventually influenced another drag racer who decided to start his own bicycle company out of his garage in Southern California: Skip Hess’ budding young Mongoose brand basically created the BMX industry as we know it today. And Don is one of the winningest drag racers in the sport and has paved the 1320 for countless teams to make their way through the ranks of the wooliest form of motorsport to ever exist.

One of the characters in the yet-to-be-screened film, no doubt, is McEwen’s original late ‘Vette-bodied flopper. It sustained some damage during filming and Cole Foster – son of Funny Car hero, Pat “Bananas” Foster – got the job of lovingly getting the car back into show shape. And we were lucky enough to get our hands on it before it went back to the production company. Good times…

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Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

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Vintage D-fin longboards. Lowriders. Vintage BMX bikes. Skateboards. Cal Bugs. Customs. Hot rods. Music. Choppers. Boat races. Bikini girls. Sounds like the ultimate West Coast car show, no? All the great stuff that came out of California, all wrapped up in one glorious event. If we were to put on a show, this is what it would look like, believe that.

But…the CALFLAVOR show happens in Japan. That’s right, kids: JAPAN. And you know why it’s happening in Japan? Because the Japanese, like many other offshore strains of the car culture we’ve (sometimes unknowingly) exported over the years, look in on what we’ve done and love it so much…obsess over it in so much detail…nerd-out on every little thing we’ve ever done in ways we have a hard time understanding because we’re too busy actually living it…that a show like this makes all the sense in the world.

Of course they’ll put on a show like CALFLAVOR. They don’t hate tuners for their love of muraled-up lowriders and they don’t forsake a vintage Mongoose Motomag for a first-run Duane Peters deck. They don’t scoff at boat races from their Walmart lawn chairs perched beside their bagged shoeboxes (well, let’s be honest: they’ve got too much good taste to be seen with anything procured from a Wallymart). They love it all. Everything we made and invented and grew up with and designed and customized and left outside in the rain for way too long is absolutely cherished like a national treasure by the Japanese. And we fucking DIG THAT about them.

We love that they love it all so much. And what we also love is their wonderful Japanese-English-Japanese translator machine. Peer in and take a look around at the 2013 edition of CALFLAVOR show as the plans reveal themselves. We’re saving up for some Japan Airlines tickets as we speak…


Monday, June 3rd, 2013

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Good friend and tiki bar owner/historian/expert, Martin Cate, floored the drinking world on the West Coast a few years ago with his latest fiery watering hole, Smuggler’s Cove. Another tiki bar in San Francisco? Sure, why not? But it wasn’t just another. In a city with a rich history of tiki bars reaching back to post-WWII when returning G.I.s – flush with drunk-ass tales of the South Pacific and the tattoos to back ‘em up – cashed in on the ginchy fantasy world of Exotica, the concept of a tiki bar was nothing new. But Cate wasn’t building a typical tiki bar.

“Tiki” was a purely American cultural phenomenon that took hold as a form of escapism from the McCarthyistic Fifties – a fantasy land based on what the mysterious islands of the South Pacific might actually look, taste and sound like if the native folks were alcoholic white folks who sorta liked the jazz music of black folks and wanted a reason to go out in public dressed like Cuban folks. The tiki bar concept spread like a spilled Flaming Zombie from West to East in mid-century America, but fell out of fashion and into disrepair by the Eighties, waaaaaay unfortunately.

But with the advent of the Rat Rod movement and the Lounge scene in the early Nineties, Tiki came back. As we remember hanging out with Yankee Dave Walter years ago while he showed us his collection of contraband from the doomed Kahiki, it was clear that our generation was bent on re-lighting the tiki torch and incorporating it into our own version of custom car culture.

And that brings us to Martin Cate. He’d already gone gangbusters with his Forbidden Island in Alameda, CA, but Smuggler’s Cove was different: a rum bar based on the Caribbean Experience. Where Tiki had outriggers, Caribe had pirate ships. Totems? Dutch distillery ruins. Hawaiian shirts? Guayaberas. But what Tiki and Caribe always had in common was rum. And Cate knows rum. What he also knew was who he had to tap to build his Caribbean fantasy rum bar: Notcho Gonzales.

We just introduced you to Notch as part of the SFMOMA Maker exhibit last week, but it got us to thinking we hadn’t been back to the bar he helped Martin design and build. A two-story interior waterfall and vat-sized Scorpions? How could we not be in there every night? But what really got us was the June/July issue of Esquire and its Best Bars In America series: Smuggler’s Cove was billed as “…perhaps the nation’s reigning Tiki bar…”

Hands fucking down. What a hotrodder did for the Aliʻi of Tiki bars to build the adult version of “Pirates Of The Caribbean” could only be pulled off here in San Francisco. Smuggler’s Cove definitely deserves the Esquirian adulation and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how the worlds Tiki and custom car came together to do it. We love that shit.


Friday, May 31st, 2013

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The one feature of our Model T that attracts more attention than just about any other – good, bad and otherwise – is the front-end. And believe us, we DIG that shit. Plenty of car guys and hot rod builders have stopped dead in their tracks when they see it and just about drop their tri-tip sandwiches or spill their Diet Coors.

Conder designed the front-end suspension into a trick torsion bar setup based on our aesthetic direction. We like frame horns. We don’t like the look of a suicide front-end. We wanted to incorporate Ford 9N tractor radius rods because 1) we grew up on them and 2) we like the way their I-beam design reflects the look of the front axle. We also share Conder’s love for mid-Sixties fuelers, which ran super-simple torsion bar suspension way up front.

All those things contributed to what you see here: a torsion bar suspension that incorporates everything we just mentioned. No ugly leaf springs, no compromises, no shit.

Now, once Conder willed the original torsion bar into existence and we lived with it for awhile, he decided that the car needed a new one: a splined-end deal that provides near-infinite adjustment as the car settles and the front-end figures out where its most comfortable with that heavy Hemi on its shoulders. So, it was off to the venerable Norm Rapp (“Zoom-Zoom!”) Racing in San Francisco’s Excelsior District for a splined torsion bar, usually sold to vintage sprint car builders.

Much as we love watching the faces as we stand on the front-end and bounce up and down on it, showing how the custom front-end works on the car, we love it even more when Conder noodles over it and makes improvements as we move along with the build. We’ve got plans to move the water pump off the front of the motor and locate the alternator to a remote location, too – all in an effort to focus as much attention to this jewel of the car as possible.

Sometimes, it takes a combination of willful departure from the baggage of more than half a century of unwritten rules and an innate sense of what looks good to come up with something unique in hotrodding…


Thursday, May 30th, 2013

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As we dig into the new millennium, we’ve noticed that there’s a sort of steampunk-cum-dickensfaire-slash-freerangebackyardchickeneggs-meets-homebrewer sort of DIY movement that’s been totally embraced by the Gen-X (and younger) crowd. “Maker” is what they’ll refer to themselves as and on more than a few occasions, we’ve crossed paths with them and have compared notes: us on our banged-up iPhones, them on their super-stylie “Field Notes” and bespoke-sharpened rare-wood pencils.

They call us “makers” and we call them “artists.” Are we one and the same? Well, the art world is starting to think so. Enter the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and its latest exhibit, “The Making Of…” As part of this Maker exhibit, they tapped good friend and Nomad, Notcho Gonzales to showcase his studio and as part of the deal, invited him to park his ’35 Ford pickup, rockstar-style, right in front of the museum’s main entrance on 3rd street in downtown Sucker-Free. And if you know anything about parking in SF, you’ll know what kind of clout that really pulls.

So, one of the most well-known art museums in the land has recognized one of our best hotrodders as a Maker. Ain’t that just some shit? We guess it was coming: after all, hotrodders are arguably the original “Makers” – breaking down, redesigning and fabricating purpose-built machines to fit a particular aesthetic and lifestyle. Yep, we’re Makers. If that’s what it takes to get these generations into what we do, we’ll fly the flag.

There was a 3 block-long line to see Notch’s work as part of the “The Making Of…” exhibit when it opened this morning and you can see below how he treated the custom coffee-drinking crowd to a little razzamatazz, hotrodder-style. We hear there’s also a PBS broadcast feature in the works, so stay tuned for that, too. In the meantime, enjoy…

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Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

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Good friend, hotrodder and Chief Curator of the Oakland Museum of California, Phil Linhares, will be hosting an exhibit of ‘art cars’ next month during the museum’s Free First Sundays series. And one of the cars looks strangely familiar: a lowered van in the midst of a full custom treatment. From what we gather, it’s all based on the re-imagination of a ’63 Ford Club Wagon by local artist, Shawn Hibmacronan.

Bitchin. That’s what we say every time we see one of these early-Sixties vans customized and, especially, lowered: Bitchin.

And Shawn totally scored when he launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund, apparently, the last thrust of his van project. And it got us to thinking: when you present your custom car project as an important vision of artistic self-expression, you’ll stand a far better chance of funding that crucial last push to the turn-key finale with the help of complete strangers. NEAT.

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We figured Shawn saw the Econoline that came out of Conder Custom for Coby Gewertz called “Van Go” a few years ago and was inspired to do the same thing with the windowed version he’d been driving. After all, their studios are about 30 miles from each other here in NorCal and, y’know: same body style, same lowered stance, same attitude, same artful point-of-view…same overall approach. But, as we watched his Kickstarter video, we realized that maybe we were wrong:

“That was the initial goal: to get this thing as low as possible with the right stance, the right attitude, the right feel that’s so huge in car culture…it needs to look just right. I found that this was very challenging with this make and model and this is why it’s never been done before with one of these things…or at least in the way it should be done properly.”

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Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

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photos courtesy members of Randy Ayers Modeling

We just got news here at HQ that the #777 ’64 Belvedere of Marty Robbins has been found, restored and will be brought back to the circle track in Nashville on June 1st. Holy Shit.

Now, there are three things we love about Marty Robbins:
1. Country Singer
2. Mustache
3. Race Car Driver

How could the perfect storm of all that’s great about America converge in one single sack o’ bones? Welp, that’s what makes Marty one of our favorite guys. Now, we could go on and on about the monumental sucking carnage that modern-day Nashville has turned the Country Music industry into and how Marty was one of the last true Country greats, but we like talking about good stuff, so today we’ll stick to Marty Robbins the race car driver and the restoration of his Belvedere.

Marty ran more than a few cars over the course of his life, from dirt tracks to the NASCAR super speedways of the Seventies and early Eighties – one of his early five-window coupes even ending up on the cover of his “Devil Woman” album in the early Sixties. And as his recording career grew, his financial ability to compete in the driver-carries-no-cash era of stock car racing made for some great mash-ups between the two cultural movements that defined the American Experience of the later Twentieth Century.

In ’72, he ran about 15mph faster than his qualifying laps during the Winston 500 at the infamous Talladega Super Speedway in Georgia. After the race, he refused the “Rookie Of The Race” award because he admittedly screwed around with the Charger’s carb, removing the restrictors. His reason? He “just wanted to see what it was like to run up front for once.” We can dig it. Just another example of the kind of guy King Richard Petty described as “…good for racing…he’s just out for fun and he realizes that.”

And now, with the help of Marty’s son Ronny and racing legend Ray Evernham, Marty’s #777 ’64 Belvedere stock car that ran the 1967 season has been resurrected from near-certain doom. The iconic purple and yellow paint that graced just about every Robbins car has been brought back to life and with it, Marty’s good-natured approach to a sport that many take just a little too seriously.

Wanna see the Belvedere at its unveiling? Get to The Stage in Nashville on Friday night, May 31 and take some pictures for us. We’ll be here, listening to both sides of “Devil Woman” and trying to grow a mustache.