! Senoritas y Senores ~ Vaya con Dios Siempre !

Thou Shalt Drag ~ “Big Daddy” Roth Lives ! A California Genius in his Heyday • 1963

Although this Modern Day Badass Hot Rod was not built in California ~ The Style it Embodies is completely a la Ed “Big Daddy” Roth 1963…

And California-Style It Is…Having seen, owned & been exposed to A Lot of Hot Rods, Federico had to admire Blown to Be Wild for the Sheer HotRod Audacity, Craftsmanship & Total Big Daddy RothNess of a Monster Car Come to Life ~

Though we now use any manner of digital technology to create Modern Art, preserve Nostalgia, Pop Culture & Retro-Everything, ( which I am Shamelessly Guilty Of ), One of the Most Iconic California Pop Maestro MasterMinds, Mr. Ed Roth, like Mssrs. Matisse, Picasso & Dali before him, gazed for the most part Wholly and Phantasmagorically Into the Future. None of these Neo-Artistes sat and lamented on Things ‘Back in the Day’, but completely without the aid of computers or digital devices of any kind, Roth created a FantasyLand of FantasticNess we now Worship as California High Art …and Rightfully So ~

Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth building "Mysterion" in his Maywood, Calif. shop, 1963

Big Daddy embraced a wholly original technique d’art. Using Plaster of Paris to create a master shape for his Outlandish California Creations, he would hand form a molten batch of Goo into a hardened Futuristic Shape and cover it all with FiberGlass, a relatively new media technology developed during World War II. What would begin as a Big Mess on the floor, Roth would transform into a Rolling Renaissance Machine, like “Mysterion” above, built in 1963 and “Beatnik Bandit”, below in 1960.

DisneyLand and the Nice Kids had Mickey, Roth and the rest of us had Rat Fink, 1963

Roth's Beatnik Bandit - controlled by a central 'Joystick', (no steering wheel) and hand-blown bubble top, 1960

” In Africa I had got this fantastic idea for a fiberglas car when I saw a picture of Henry Ford beatin’ the trunk of one o’ his new ’41 Fords with a sledge hammer and it wouldn’t dent. Ya could’a knocked me over with a feather. It was also very cheap! It could also be done by people with little or no talent and I had both. It seemed too far out for my brain so I just dismissed it ’til I saw the LIFE article. In ’57 I started playin’ with ‘glas’. I got some of the gooiest messes ya’d ever wanna see. My pants are always ruined by the end of each day, but in them days I’d have to throw ’em away each day. Shoes was good for about 4 days before I’d throw a coat of black paint on ’em.”

“First I had the frame which was your basic ’29 Ford rails and fitted this junk Caddy engine into (junk but ran good). I knew fiberglas existed but couldn’t get anyone to help me (except Dirty Doug later on) so I was gonna make me a body outa wood like the Shadoff Special guys’d done. But it was too complicated and besides, wood and me don’t jive! So I went to the local lumber yard and got some casting plaster (which is gross ’cause it dries so quick) but it was cheap and better’n wood.”

The Shadoff Special ~ Bonneville Speed Week, 1953. Body of fiberglass over a wooden 'buck' or frame, built by Dean Batchelor. One of the most successful 'Streamliners' of its day.

“Makin’ the buck was no problem. Guys in Detroit was usin’ clay since the early 20’s but clay was a buck a pound. Forget it! Plaster was a buck for 100 pounds. I used that! Then I covered the plaster with this messy, ooey, gooey stuff. I mean, like, it just ran into this big pile of mush on the asphalt. It was devastating.”

From “Hot Rods By Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth”/Roth,Thacker 1995


Early Big Daddy – hand airbrushing Monster Shirts, pre-Fame and screenprint days. Above right, Justifiably Proud Big D with Outlaw, 1956-60. His 1st FiberGlass car, and its Offspring, the Revell licensed model kit of it you can still buy today.

Roth's "Outlaw", at an early 60's L.A car show, his early airbrushed T-shirts on display

The Original "Outlaw" Revell model kit ~early 1960's

Gazillions of the model kits were made of several Roth creations..and for a while at least, in His Heyday, Big Daddy was makin’ Big Bucks..He had literally Created a Monster and Mysterion defined the Early 60’s California Hot Rod Era ~

Big Daddy Roth model kits ~ every hip kids' 'Must Have' in 1965 for just $2Bucks !

Big Daddy outside his Maywood shop, circa 1960

Roth built Most of his Masterpieces along with producing his T-shirts at Roth Studios, his very Low-Techy Mad Scientist’s Laboratory on Slauson Avenue in Maywood, an L.A. suburb. Revell American produced model car kits that featured the “Beatnik Bandit” and “Road Agent”. Other model kits included “Rat Fink” and the gang, a group of hot rodding monsters. During 1963 Revell paid Ed “Big Daddy” Roth a one cent royalty for each model sold. In 1963 Ed brought in $32,000 that year in royalties, that’s a lot of model kits…

Big Daddy Ed, The Old World Craftsman, built his California Creations almost single-handedly in his small shop, heating and blowing Plexiglas Bubble Tops for his Masterpieces in a pizza oven, like some Mad Venetian GlassBlower Time Travelling to Shakey’s ~

Roth's Shop in Maywood, his Ol' 55 & plywood form for one of his Pizza-Oven 'Bubble Tops' out front

Roth at work on Mysterion at his shop, 1963

Mysterion fiberglass body shell under construction, 1963

Later On he got so busy he hired a few Dedicated Employees, guys like Dirty Doug, Robert Williams and Ed ‘Newt’ Newton, who drew most of the Cool Monster T-shirt designs. Years later, Roth would work with Moldy Marvin, who carries on the Roth Legacy, maintaining ‘All Things Roth’ to this day.

Roth was Getting So Big he started printing Catalogs – Perfect Reading During 4th Grade Math Class…

BDR at the Office ~ Drag 'T' ,Rat Fink Hat & a Sea of Silkscreens behind him...Dress for Success !

I'll be Upstairs Doing My Homework, Mom

His lightweight, rear-engine Space-Age Road Agent, used a rear-mounted Corvair engine and ultra-light construction, you’ve gotta love those StarTrek pods on the sides….preceding the StarShip Enterprise, which wouldn’t be seen on the new T.V. show Star Trek for another 2 years…

Big Daddy, no Average Beatnik – demonstrated a Stroke of Pure Genius completely devoid of Modern Technology….i.e. arguably the first use of what we know as ‘RGB’ color in a non-printing application, with the lighting on his Orbitron, below, 1964. An excellent article on Orbitron is here :

http://www.ratfink.org/orbitron/history.htm

Roth's Orbitron ~ lost for years, and found recently outside a Mexican adult bookstore & restored...ever heard the term 'RGB' with relation to computer color? Roth's 3 headlights produced a white beam, in 1964. Roth felt the car was "a failure at the shows..." for not having its chromed Corvette engine exposed.

Big Daddy Monster Shirts just $2.49 ! (in 1965)

Big Daddy had a family to support. He had quit his job as a Window Display artist at Sears-Roebuck and financed his Custom Car Creations work through sales of the ‘Monster’ T-shirts, travelling around to various Custom & Hot Rod Shows and related events for years, parlaying his designs into lucrative licensing agreements with Revell, for the Model Kits. Today we think of the T-shirt, with any manner of design on it, to be anywhere from ‘Designer’ couture – as in a simple black petite ladies T-shirt with ‘Prada’ on the front, to a 12 year-old’s latest Volcom ‘Surfwear’ 18-color-cool-for-a-week-design.

Every time you see some ‘Metal’ or ‘Punk’-flavoured design or ‘Urban’ streetwear, and All the Kids and Half the Adults are ‘rocking’ Cool Skulls-this-or-that, you’ve got Big Daddy Roth to Thank, because he Did it First…

Roth did his original shirts by hand, graduating to silkscreens in one to 3-4 colors, a contemporary of Mr. Andy Warhol with regard to screenprinting technology. Considering a Warhol screenprint is now worth several hundred-thousand to millions of dollars – at the same time Big Daddy was knocking out hundreds of screenprints, all the while producing 3-dimensional full-size Rolling & Driving Works of Art.

Genius at Work ~ Roth and "Rotar", motorcycle-powered hovercraft, 1965. Would it fit Obama's programs to develop 'alternative energy' today? Quite possibly.

Another often overlooked aspect of Big Daddy’s Intellect were his sometimes subtle to blatant messages to Us Kids on the subjects of Anti -War, Question-Authority,  yet showing Respect to Soldiers, Servicemen & Country, Government, Cops, The Establishment & encouraging us to ‘Stick It to the Man’.

Of course it was All in Fun and he was just Covering All His Bases. This was 1963-1965, Vietnam was still relatively unknown to the Average Kid, but the Big Kids knew, and Roth was speaking to them too ~

Semper Fi Do or Die ! Most of Roth's best T-shirt art was done by an artist named Ed 'Newt' Newton

Although Roth knew Full Well – Kids were his Audience, his Army in America and We Were the Future …

…he wasn’t always so Popular with the Parents..but in Retrospect – through his Crazy California Ways, his Humour with Tongue Firmly in Cheek and his Unmistakable Genius, maybe he was Right…and perhaps now one can ask – have we Learned any Lessons he was trying to Let Us in On ?

2010 SmartCar or Big Daddy's Surfite ? 900 lbs., 40MPG ~ Ed Roth, 1964

I was In The Presence of The Great Big Daddy Roth Twice. Once at the young age of my Peers in the photo above, at an L.A. Car Show, watching Roth airbrush T-shirts, just like in the photo up top there, by himself working away, covered in paint ~ a cloud of enamel haze around his head.

He obviously made an impression, as 10 or 15 years later, I was now a young Graphic Designer/Sign Maker sharing a studio not entirely different than Roth’s above with an early partner, whose Dad was Head of the Graphics and Sign Shop at Knott’s Berry Farm. Big Daddy was working there at the time, toward the End of his Career. So of course we went to see him, and I was Beside Myself. Walking into this archaic wooden, very rural-style shop left over from the Early 30’s Days of Knott’s, my expression upon meeting him was no doubt like those of the boys in that photo above, a Jaw-Dropping Idol of mine. I had been One of Those Kids. Roth had managed to Pinstripe, Flame, Scroll and Letter – in tiny script practically the entire surface of the Shop Interior with Big DaddySpeak.

Famous Flames ~ The Tom McMullen 'Deuce' Roadster ~ Flames by Roth

With a wry grin, towering over me – he shook my hand and chatted with us for a few minutes, before mounting his Equally Vintage Cruiser Bike, also completely BigDaddy-ized with Perfect Pinstriping and Dazzling Druid Decoration on every inch of metal surface, as He Rode off on yet another Fantasy Mission into the California Sunset ~

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20 responses

  1. wallace

    “Ill be upstairs doing my homework… mom…..”

    classic article… I love this stuff

    April 21, 2010 at 1:29 am

    • I got Great Grades in Pop Culture & Monster Rods…not so much in Algebra,
      sorry Mr. Hand ~ FH

      April 21, 2010 at 1:33 am

  2. I met his son Dennis at Pomona. “little Big Daddy” as he was known.
    A cool guy jus like his Dad. Ed Roth and his family and friends, have made thier mark on tradional,California street machines that will last forever.
    I am proud to have been a part of this lifestyle. Mikey Daniels

    April 22, 2010 at 10:24 am

    • could someone correct my website address to show it as above? it needs the www. i think.
      also if i could offer a picture for it would b kool. mikey

      July 24, 2010 at 9:02 am

  3. Really Good Blog! Lot’s of really great info here…

    April 23, 2010 at 1:03 am

    • Thanks MM,

      your approval means a lot…I was one of those Roth-crazed Modeler kids…with a full miniature model workshop in my room..B.D. worked hard for his Super-Cool achievements and looked out for all us little Finks back then…all the best ~ FH

      April 23, 2010 at 1:19 am

  4. Frederico,
    Very cool daddy -O. Ed was a very cool guy. My Dad ( Don Treece ) gave Ed his own small out building at the farm to work in and I would always spend time hanging out with him there while he ate lunch and lettered all at the same time. He was at a low point in his life at that time but by no means was it the end of the career. I drove out to see him years later in Manti Utah and we went out to lunch. At that point he was still creating custom cars and doing road show with his son Dennis. He was living the dream .
    Check out http://www.ghosttownsigns.com for more photo of Ed.

    April 28, 2010 at 2:48 pm

  5. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian, iwspo.net

    May 23, 2010 at 12:58 am

  6. If only more people could hear this.

    May 29, 2010 at 10:23 am

  7. Great post! Thanks Federico!!!

    July 12, 2010 at 6:10 am

  8. Doug Macpherson

    I was a Big Daddy fan and model builder.The man was a rare genius.

    January 27, 2011 at 7:52 am

  9. PhilDeGrave

    Nice. I grew up two doors down from the Roth’s in La Mirada. I have two heroes from my grade-school years that I still admire, and that’s my buddy Ed, and Leonardo DaVinci. The Former being the modern-day version of the latter, IMO.

    February 4, 2011 at 11:33 am

    • Harlan Lebo

      Hey Phil. I just moved to La Mirada, and didn’t know that Ed once lived here. Would you mind telling me where? It would be nice to know if I’m close to where The Man lived (If you want to do this privately, please reply on my e-mail address, hlebo@yahoo.com.) Thanks, Harlan

      September 20, 2012 at 10:36 pm

  10. Sketch V

    Anyone know if that bottom Roth decal was done by Robert Williams?

    February 15, 2012 at 12:40 am

  11. Yes I do Believe that Robert did that one, As I remember there are 3 different versions.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:57 am

  12. Thanks for writing this, the man that owns the shop in maywood was talking to me about ed big daddy roth.

    May 3, 2013 at 5:29 am

  13. Thanks for posting this great article, the guy that now owns the shop in maywood was telling me theres still original art work in the back of the shop.

    May 3, 2013 at 5:31 am

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