California has long been called the Birthplace of Hot Rodding…
In his Book, The American Hot Rod, Iconic California Hot Rodder Dean Batchelor illustrates that, while the ‘Classic Hot Rod’ may have been a ’32 Deuce Roadster with a Hot Flathead, the Real California Hot Rodders knew of, Appreciated & were Enthusiasts of all types of MotorSport – Sports Car Racing, Dry Lakes, Motorcycling, Drag Racing, and all that entails. Mind you, NASCAR had not even been founded on the beach at Daytona when Mr. Batchelor and many other California Hot Rodders were going about the Business of Speed ~ so here, an ongoing Gallery of Images of some of the most Badass Hot Rods and the Californians that Shape the Sport ~
Although there are so many California Men & Women that define the term ‘Hot Rodding’, there are a few that have excelled far beyond their original California HotRod Roots to become International Icons of MotorSport. Santa Monica, California Boy Phil Hill was the First (of only 2) Grand Prix Formula 1 World Champions for the United States ~ Considered by many to be the Pinnacle of MotorSport. Phil Hill accomplished this in 1961. Long Associated as a Driver for Ferrari the Iconic Italian Scuderia run by Notoriously European Elitist Enzo Ferrari. For Phil Hill to be recognized as one of the Drivers in an Era Completely Dominated by European Drivers & Teams, to win Grands Prix, much less the World Championship in that atmosphere is a True Testament to Phil Hill’s Driving Skill. In 1960 he won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, for Ferrari, The first Grand Prix win for an American driver in nearly forty years, since Jimmy Murphy won the 1921 French Grand Prix. His Primary Career Victories are Simply Astounding for any MotorSports Driver in any form of the Sport ~
- 24 Hours of Le Mans (3) : 1958, 1961, 1962 12 Hours of Sebring (3) : 1958, 1959, 1961 1000 km Buenos Aires (2) : 1958, 1960
- 1000 km Nürburgring (2) : 1962, 1966 F1 Italian Grand Prix (2) : 1960, 1961 F1 Belgian Grand Prix (1) : 1961
One of the Most Talented, Winningest & Versatile California HotRodders Ever ~ Dan Gurney.
As a driver, Gurney scored Practically Countless Victories in the sports car races at Daytona, Sebring, the Targa Florio, the 1000 km at the Nurburgring and Le Mans. He won four World Championship Grand Prix races, in France, Belgium and Mexico, three additional Formula 1 races, seven USAC/Indy Car road races and five NASCAR 500 Stock Car races. He was twice runner-up in the Indy 500. Gurney has the distinction of being the only U.S. citizen in the 100 year history of Formula 1 racing to win a World Championship Grand Prix in a car of his own construction.
Dan Gurney’s All American Racers is the only constructor in the U.S. that has designed and built a winning F1 grand prix car, The Gurney-Weslake Eagle. A variant of-winning Indianapolis 500 car and a winning sports car. The All American Racers’ factory team employed 66 drivers winning 78 victories, the “Indy 500,” 83 pole positions and eight Championships.
The HotRodder’s Hot Rodder ~
In the 1950’s & 60’s of California HotRodding, there really were no Corporate Sponsors or Big Paychecks. Guys like Mickey Thompson built what they had and ‘Run What They Brung’ to Pursue Speed, often with very little budget. Mickey Thompson built, ran and financed a Succession of Successful Hot Rods in Drag Racing, Off-Road and his Pursuit of the Land Speed Record at Bonneville.
He developed a brilliant career as both a driver and an Innovative Automotive Technician; later as a designer, manufacturer and seller of racing and performance equipment. In addition to being a Drag Racing Champion, Mickey Thompson set more speed and endurance records than any other man in automotive history. He is credited with designing and building the first slingshot dragster in 1954, moving the seat behind the rear axle to improve traction when the existing racing tires proved unsuitable. A change so momentous in the Sport, it would not happen again until Don Garlits introduced the Rear-engined Dragster in 1971. Thompson also was noted for being the first manager of Lions Drag Strip near Long Beach, California in 1955.
In his long career, Thompson raced everything from stock cars to off-road vehicles and engineered numerous competition engines. He went into the performance aftermarket business in the early 1960s and then, in 1963 he created “Mickey Thompson Performance Tires” that developed special tires for racing including for Indianapolis 500 competitors.
Thompson founded SCORE International in 1973, a sanctioning body to oversee off-road racing across North America. He and his wife Trudy formed the “Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group” (MTEG) which ran an indoor motocross and off-road vehicle racing show and competition that brought the sport from the back-country terrain to stadiums in the heavily populated metropolitan areas.
The Fastest Man Alive…
The Spirit of America
Incredibly Driven California Hot Rodder Craig Breedlove was Driven to Pursue his Quest as Fastest Man Alive in 1962. In Pursuit of the Land Speed Record ~ Breedlove set out to Build and Field the Fastest Car on Wheels, The Spirit of America. Breedlove was and Is to This Day so Incredibly Driven to Build the Ultimate Bad California Hot Rod, he built it in his garage, simultaneously putting on suit & tie while pursuing Big Financing to Keep his Project Alive and meeting with Suits from Goodyear and Shell Oil. In a Succession of Cars, Breedlove Won & Lost & Won Again his Quest for Fastest Man on Wheels –
The Spirit of America was the first of the modern jet-propelled record breaking cars, built with a narrow stream-lined fuselage, three wheel chassis, and most significantly turbojet engine. Like most of the other competing vehicles the engine was ex-military, the first Spirit had a General Electric J47 engine from an F-86 Sabre and was tested at Bonneville Salt Flats in 1962, where difficult handling resulted in failure. Before trying again a new stabilizer was added and a steerable front wheel.
Breedlove set his first record on September 5, 1963 at Bonneville, the first man to set an average speed of over 400 mph during a land speed record.
With 5,000 pounds of thrust, The Spirit wasn’t just pretty, it was fast. On Oct. 5, 1963, clocking a two-way average of just over 407 mph, Breedlove brought the land speed record back to the United States for the first time in 32 years. He broke records with Spirit of America until October 1964, when, at more than 500 mph, his chute snapped off. The car overshot the track, smashed through some telephone poles, skipped across a saltwater pond and sank like a stone. Breedlove walked away wet, but unscathed, and with a record — 526.28 mph. He’s the only driver to nearly drown while setting a land speed record.
A new Spirit was built over 1964-65 to attempt to beat Arfons, dubbed Spirit of America – Sonic I a four-wheel design with a much higher rated GE J79 engine originally from an F-4 Phantom, the same type as that used by Arfons’ Green Monster. Competing for the LSR over several years with Arfons ended with Breedlove setting the record at 600.601 mph (966.574 km/h) on November 15, 1965, a record that stood until 1970. The Sonic I is currently on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum, California.
After a lengthy break from world records Breedlove began work on a new Spirit in 1992, eventually named the Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV. The vehicle is 44 ft 10 in long, 8 ft 4 in wide, and 5 ft 10 in high (13.67 m by 2.54 m by 1.78 m) and weighs 9,000 lb (4 t), construction is on a steel tube frame with an aluminium skin body. The engine is the same as in the second Spirit, a GE J79, but it is modified to burn unleaded gasoline and generates a maximum thrust of 22,650 lbf (100.8 kN).
The first run of the vehicle in October 28, 1996 in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada ended in a crash at around 675 mph (1,000 km/h). Returning in 1997 the vehicle badly damaged the engine on an early run and when the British ThrustSSC managed over 750 mph (1200 km/h) the re-engined Spirit could do no better than 676 mph (1088 km/h). Breedlove believes the vehicle is capable of exceeding 800 mph (1,200 km/h).
Breedlove sold the Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV to Steve Fossett, holder of many sailing, ballooning and other aviation records, and the car was undergoing rebuilding in hopes of some preliminary shakedown runs in late September 2007 at Bonneville. However, Steve Fossett went missing in early September 2007 while scouting for alternative land speed record venues in Nevada, and his body then later recovered.
To Be Continued…
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 ~
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.
” 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.”
“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.
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 ~
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 ~
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…
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 :
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.
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 ~
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 ?
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.
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 ~