ED “BIG DADDY” ROTH | RAT FINK KING OF SOUTH CALI KUSTOM KAR KULTURE

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

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Probably best known for his iconic “Rat Fink” cartoon creation (I’m personally not a fan of Rat Fink, or any rat for that matter…) Ed “Big Daddy” Roth (3/4/32 – 4/4/01) is synonymous with SoCal’s Kustom Kulture & Hot Rod craze of the late 1950s & 60s.   He had a deep bag of tricks– an all around renaissance man skilled as a barber, cartoonist, display merchant for Sears, and expert auto painter / customizer.   He’d been to school for auto engineering and served a stint in the Air Force from 1951-’55. After the service, Roth supported the wife and five kids workin’ for the man at Sears– until ’58 when Roth finally opened-up shop full-time (working with “The Baron” and his grandson Kelly) and was well on his way to stardom. Insane fiberglass bodywork, and intricate custom paint jobs were his speciality. Legendary Kustom Kulture contemporaries of Ed Roth’s included Sam & George Barris, Dean Jeffries, and Kenny Howard, AKA Von Dutch.

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's business card

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's business card

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth on a custom Harley-Davidson chopper.

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's shop

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's custom shop --Roth Studios.

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ed roth sticker

"SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FUZZ" --Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

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hot rods by roth

HOT RODS by ED "BIG DADDY" ROTH

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth custom hot rod --Beatnik Bandit '60. From Revell model car kits to being one of the first group of Hot Wheels created, the Beatnik Bandit is one of the most recognized custom show cars. Built on a 1955 Olds chassis shortened to 85 inches and powered by an Olds engine. Twin Ford Carbs sit on top the Bell Auto Parts blower. oy-stick steering control was the feature under the Bandit's custom bubble top. A fender mounted antenna operated the bubble top.

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

The Baron, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth & Kelly striped and scalloped dozens of customs like this '57 Chevy. Ed's brand new '57 Chevy with not only a wild flame job, but also a chrome tape striping job on the roof.

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth custom hot rod

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth custom hot rod --Outlaw '59. Outlaw was the first car that Ed created using his special plaster and fiberglass method. Ed originally named the car "Excaliber" (after his mother-in-law's family Revolutionary War sword that was used as the shifter) but changed it be cause people had trouble pronouncing it. Front wheels are open-spoke vs. the solid rims in the pics below.

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's Outlaw '59.

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Ed "Big Daddy Roth

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth behind the wheel of Tweedy Pie '64. Tweedy Pie was originally built by Bob Johnston. This 1920 Ford T-bucket was widened 3 inches and channeled over bobbed Deuce rails. Ed striped the car for Bob. Before selling to Ed, Bob swapped the flathead for a '57 Corvette engine. Ed added an Offy manifold and six carburetors, plus nerf bars and lots of chrome.

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Ed Roth Mysterion

Ed Roth's Mysterion '63 combined two Ford engines, two transmissions, plus two welded rear ends for the foundation. He got the idea for Mysterion from the multi-engine dragsters that he had seen at the dragstrips. Ed started out with the frame and then he created the front end with the offset headlight, the rest of the car came easily afterwards. Larry Watson painted it candy yellow.

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's Orbitron '64.  Orbitron as Ed put it "was a failure at the shows".  He beleived that covering the shiny '55 Chevy engine was to blame for its downfall. Inside features a TV, Cragar steering wheel, Moon gas pedal, Hurst shifter and a Dixco tachometer.  Ed got the idea to use the three primary colored headlights, so when they turned on and focused in one spot they would create a white beam.

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's Orbitron '64. Orbitron as Ed put it "was a failure at the shows". He beleived that covering the shiny '55 Chevy engine was to blame for its downfall. Inside features a TV, Cragar steering wheel, Moon gas pedal, Hurst shifter and a Dixco tachometer. Ed got the idea to use the three primary colored headlights, so when they turned on and focused in one spot they would create a white beam.

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Ed Roth Orbitron

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's Orbitron '64. Thought to be long lost, in 2007 it was discovered in Mexico.

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Read more about the Orbitron loss and subsequent 2007 discovery HERE.

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Ed Roth's Road Agent '65.  Road Agent was first of many of Ed's rear engine show cars.  Ed used a Corvair engine and a uniquely turned upside down Corvair transmission. Other features include a frame made from chrome moly tubing and a '37 Ford suspension with a single VW torsion bar.  ompleted in 1964 , Road Agent was shot for the cover of the April issue of Rod & Custom.

Ed Roth's Road Agent '65. Road Agent was first of many of Ed's rear engine show cars. Ed used a Corvair engine and a uniquely turned upside down Corvair transmission. Other features include a frame made from chrome moly tubing and a '37 Ford suspension with a single VW torsion bar. Completed in 1964 , Road Agent was shot for the cover of the April issue of Rod & Custom.

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ed roth hot rod

Ed Roth's "Beatnik Bandit" in green.

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth love & peace decal

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth love & peace decal

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth race? decal

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth race? decal

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth monster catalog

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth monster catalog

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Thanks to COOP666 for his great stash of Ed Roth scans.

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17 thoughts on “ED “BIG DADDY” ROTH | RAT FINK KING OF SOUTH CALI KUSTOM KAR KULTURE

  1. Good article, information I did not know. Wonder if he customed the “Munsters” car, it looks like the same style of car…

      • Ed “Newt” Newton did submit a design for the Munstermobile while working for Roth Studios.

        interesting notes… the chopper, “oink”, that Roth is sitting on was acquired at a police auction before being customized and the ’55 chevy gasser with the radiused wheel wells was ford powered.

      • I worked at Roth Studios during the summer of 1965 and it was really wild there. Hells Angels, movie stars, drag racers, Von Dutch, Watts riots, every day was an adventure. On weekends I would go with Skip Barrett (see card above) to car shows, the drags, fairs, and whatever to sell monster shirts, decals and hats out of a van.

        Roth was a very serious dude, not all laughs and giggles as he portrayed himself. In many ways, he was more creative than Dutch was. He could draw though and so could Newton.

        Skip claimed that he designed the coffin car. He was an interesting character so I somewhat believe him.

        The 55 Chevy gasser was Roth’s daily driver and it did have a Ford 427 in it. Ford gave Roth three engines and Roth used two for Mysterion and the extra went into the Chevy.

  2. Yeah, I saw all of the Roth cars when he and Von Dutch were working at Movieland Cars of the Stars in Buena Park Calif during the mid 1970s. As the picture shows of the green repainted Beatnik Bandit ( there at Movieland ), I always thought it was so ugly painted that color, but I got to see it again in the early 1990′s restored to it’s former glory, at the Laguna Museum of Art, Laguna Beach Calif, and Ed Roth’s personal truck was just outside the gallery, with signs painted on the truck for his pinstriping & lettering business. After that I would see him each year at the Route 66 event in San Bernardino Calif, right up until he died. He was a great Man with a terrific gift, and he will always be missed….

  3. Take me back to the sixtys , Berdoo , Rathole , man those were the days . Some of my fondest memories were of Big Daddy Roth & Hot Rod mag. R a t t f i n k , Ratfink ! Thoose big eyes in the corner of the windows , killer flames an vivid colors ! My older brother was way into this stuff so it filtered down to me at a ripe age of eleven.
    Gawd bless google for bringin’ me ‘home’ !

  4. I HAD THE HONOR OF HAVING HIM OUTLINE THE FLAMES ON MY 55 FORD F-100 AND JUST WATCHING HIM DO THIS WAS REMARKABLE. HE ALSO DID A ROSE ON THE DASH OF MY DADS 56 F-100 BIG WINDOW. I WAS VERY PROUD TO SHOW THIS AT VARIOUS CAR SHOWS AND SAYING BIG DADDY ROTH DID THIS TO MY TRUCK. HE WAS A REMARKABLE MAN AND A PLEASURE TO MEAT THE MAN.

  5. Hi Guys I thought you may like to here this story from England in the late 50 `s. There were only 2 very dedicated Hot Rodder`s in Grimsby we broke away from our motor bike gang & was hooked on American Hot Rods. my mate John Gilbey & me used to drool over your great Hot Rods in the American Mags anyhow I decided to send a money order across the pond for a Edd Roth sweat shirt, he had become one of my hero`s. I had no phone & there were no credit card`s. I sent a money order thru my bank.,3mths past bye & no sweat shirt so I sent dear ol Edd a strong letter asking for my money back. Still no reply, time goes by & I forgot all about it. Around 6mths after posting my money order I came home from work my Wife say`s ” the postie delivered you a real fancy brown envelope” Wow!!! I knew were it was from, my name & address was air brushed in Candy Colors also it was pin stripped all over. Man this was better than the crown jewels. I carefully opened it & inside was my sweatshirt with Wiedo driving a coupe, gearshift poking out of the roof, my mate John was green with envy. Also a letter of apolergie for not sending it sooner, my order had been lost. Im afraid due to several house moves the super brown envelope got lost & the sweat shirt just wore out. How times have changed, Ive now got a phone & a credit card & have just shipped over my 2nd Hot Rod from your Great Country. My last build up before I go to the Big Hot Rod Club up there, its a 35 Ford Pk Up. over the years Ive built a 32 Ford 5 window which is now in Costa Mesa CA & is still rite hand drive. A 34 Ford 5 window which is now in Sweden & a 35 Ford pk up now in Sweden, this one I regret selling so Ive just purchased another one from Concord CA .The 33 Ford pk up I built is in Birmingham England……Cheer`s Greybeard Limey Bri

  6. great pics! i had the pleasure of writing ed’s autobiography with him in 1991/92 ((confessions of a rat fink)…he was a wonderful man who put a massive demented dent in my young brain as a pre teen monster…

  7. Pingback: ARLEN NESS’ SECRET WEAPON DURING THE ’70s CHOPPER BOOM | JEFF McCANN « The Selvedge Yard

  8. The “Tweedy Pie” Roadster_________________

    1958 – I was 15 and my interest was reading hot rod magazines and customizing kit models. I went to a car show in Long Beach and was enamored by this little ’23 T purple roadster, took a photo using my mother’s Kodak 110.*not my photo

    The next month I created a totally fine reproduction of it with parts from various stock antique car model kits (there were no hot rod or custom car kits at this time). I was really into it, made wider rear wheels using 3 halves rather than 2, chrome thumbtack heads for “baby Moons”, a fat pencil and “green-stuff” body putty for the gas tank, sewing thread for engine ignition wires, custom mixed the purple paint. It came out totally cool. So I hitch-hiked it over to Ed Roth’s shop in Southgate ’cause I knew he had done the pinstriping and wanted to show him.

    He was totally impressed, and sat down and painted “Tweedy Pie” on its tiny gas tank (gratis) just like the big one. We talked and he gave me the owner’s Anaheim address and I h’hiked it over to show him, and drooled over the original in his garage.

    Weeks following I went back to Roth’s shop and he showed me how to pinsripe and gave me 2 of his older striping sword brushes. At home I passionately striped everything in sight: garage door hardware, lawn-mower, every painted surface I could find! I became the young striper for several local friends’ cars.
    Roth was so cool to me, just a kid. Sorry I never saw him again.

    In the following years he bought “Tweedy Pie”, tweeked it with a Chevy engine, quad headlights and rear nerf-bar, different wheels. Then he contracted with Revell to produce a kit model of it, one of the earliest for the burgeoning hot rod market. It was a wildly popular seller.

    Now I wonder how much he was influenced by my dropping by his shop to show off my little “Pie”?

    Sadly, when I went off to college, my mother threw out my entire collection of custom model cars.

    Dan Brown

    Mendocino, California

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