NORM GRABOWSKI’S CUSTOM CORVAIR BIKE | SICK-AS-HELL SIX-PACK ON 2 WHEELS

norm grabowski

“Norm Grabowski”s monster– the Corvair-powered “Six Pack”. Neil East (another rodding icon), owned AutoBooks in Burbank, CA, and Colorado Carbooks here in Denver told me that Norm used to come to L.A. Roadster club meetings on the Six Pack, and he said Norm had no problem kick starting this bike, when it was time to leave. It had no electric starter!” –Irish Rich 

norm grabowski corvair motorcycle

Norm Grabowski’s epic “Six Pack” — an air-cooled, flat-six Corvair engine mounted on the frame of a ’41 Indian shaft drive with no transmission, just a clutch. Another future Kustom Kulture legend pin-striped the bike– Dean Jeffries. Irish Rich (whose website is the authority on old school builders, and is due a ton of respect for his own incredible work) saw this impressive bike himself back in ’65, and has chronicled it well. Norm actually built 2 Corvair-powered “SIx Packs” — the other mated with H-D tranny called “PP ‘n’ Vinegar.”

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‘YOSEMITE’ SAM RADOFF | KUSTOM KING FLAMECOLOGIST, STRIPER & SCULPTOR

yosemite sam radoff

‘Yosemite’ Sam Radoff started customizing cars at the tender age of 12 yrs old– way before he was even old enough to drive! That was back in the mid ’50s, and he went by handle ‘Little Sam’ then. Some 45 years later Radoff is one of the most respected flamers (I love his ol’ crab claw flame jobs), pinstripers, and metal sculptors the kustom kulture scene has ever known. Dr. ‘Yosemite’ Sam, PhD (Phlame Doctor) has also produced custom motorcycle and pinstriping shows across the country.

Despite his vast exposure, he is not widely a household name like Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth, Kenny Howard AKA Von Dutch, Dean Jeffries, George Barris, Arlen Ness— but those in the know recognize and respect Sam Radoff as being just as important. His legendary work and countless awards over the years speak for themselves.

yosemite sam radoff paint

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AMERICAN GRAFFITI | THE EPIC FILM THAT REIGNITED HOT ROD CULTURE

I was chatting with my friend Don about epic car films, and Two-Lane Blacktop quickly came up. He’s a major car and quickly segued to American Graffiti– correctly stating that it was the same ’55 Chevy (built by Richard Ruth of Competition Engineering of Sunland, CA) for Blacktop that Falfa drove in George Lucas’ classic American Graffiti. Well there were actually two ’55 Chevy hot rods from Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) that were used in American Graffiti (1973). Both were built using Richard Ruth’s own ’55 Chevy as the blueprint. Producer Gary Kurtz (Two-Lane Blacktop & American Graffiti) had visited Ruth who took him for a pulse-quickening ride in his big-block hot rod. That same evening Kurtz promptly ordered three cars from Richard Ruth– two exactly like Ruth’s, and one stunt car.

Two original cars would survive to live another day in George Lucas’ American Graffiti: 

Main Car 1– Equipped with a 427 crate motor, M-22 Muncie, 4.88 Olds rear, fiberglass front end, doors, and trunk lid, straight axle front suspension when built and later modified and used in American Graffiti.

Stunt Car– All steel-bodied car equipped with a 454 crate motor, TH 400 automatic, Olds rear of unknown gearing, modified for American Graffiti. It was used for interior shots as it was equipped with an auto tranny and drove smoother than a stick.

Shot of Mel’s drive-in from the 1973 classic, “American Graffiti” — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis Mel’s drive-in was actually out of business, and was reopened just for the filming of American Graffiti– then promptly demolished after filming was finished. American Graffiti was George Lucas’ semi-autobiographical teenage tale (Lucas grew up in Modesto, CA during the heyday of cruising and hot rods) that starred a treasure trove of young talent– Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips, and the list goes on. It also created a huge resurgence in American 1950’s & 1960’s culture–  inspiring a long string of films and TV shows, most notably “Happy Days.” Hot Rod magazine even listed the ’55 Chevy and ’32 Ford deuce coupe (the true stars of the film) at the top of their list of most influential hot rods of all time.        

Paul Le Mat in the George Lucas’ 1973 classic car film, “American Graffiti.” George Lucas had  the license plate on the ’32 Ford hot rod read: THX-138. This was a reference to THX-1138, his 1971 sc-fi flick. Later in his Star Wars saga, the yellow airspeeder Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan use to chase bounty hunter Zam Wesell is said to be a tribute to John Milner’s iconic coupe in American Graffiti.

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SHAWN DICKINSON ILLUSTRATIONS | SOCAL KUSTOM KULTURE KARTOONS

“Ghost Rider” by Shawn Dickinson

A product of SoCal, Shawn Dickinson grew up inspired by the surrounding counterculture of custom Hot Rods, Surfers, and the iconic art that was produced by the legends before him– you see the classic Rat Fink and Tiki influences that, in his hands, are at once timeless and fresh.  He got his chops as a cartoonist for the underground Untamed Highway, which was chock full of 1950’s Kustom Kulture. Dickinson went on to illustrate posters for Rockabilly and garage bands, not to mention numerous comic projects and commissioned works. 

I’m a big fan of the guy’s work.  As he describes it, Dickinson’s creations and medium are a throwback fusion of, “Imagery stylistically inspired by 1930’s cartoons (what I feel was the craziest era for cartoons), mixed with iconic imagery inspired by 1950’s & 1960’s rock n’ roll, cars, bikes, etc. (what I feel was the craziest era for all those things). And I still paint with watercolor and India ink.”  Love it.

Shawn Dickinson featured in Car Kulture DeLuxe Magazine

“Smooth” by Shawn Dickinson

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HOLLYWOOD’S INNOVATIVE KUSTOM KULTURE LEGEND | DEAN JEFFRIES

Dean Jeffries Pontiac GTO Monkees Car - Monkeemobile

Pontiac GTO Monkeemobile built by Dean Jeffries. The car was featured on the NBC network’s comedy television show “The Monkees” starring Davey Jones, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork. Created from two Pontiac GTOs, the visually radical Monkeemobile was an instant hit with fans of the show. This shot shows the dragster-inspired parachute deployed at Dean Jeffries Automotive Styling offices on Cahuenga Boulevard in Los Angeles. 

Legendary painter, customizer, racer, and stuntman Dean Jeffries is one of those guys whose soft-spoken nature has allowed other, more self-promoting figures (read: George Barris, the Don King of Kustom Kulture) to steal a lot of his thunder. Barris has tried to hire on Jeffries as an employee many times over the years, and Jeffries always rebuffed– preferring either to rent his own space, or work freelance. Their histories are forever entwined, and the tales of rivalry, and particularly Barris’ trickery, are the stuff of legend. Many of Dean Jeffries’ most recognized works (like the Monkeemobile, for one)– George Barris came behind and unrightfully claimed credit for them. It’s dumbfounding and downright sleazy– we’ll get to that later.

Dean Jeffries grew up immersed in Los Angeles auto culture– his dad was a mechanic, and next door to his dad’s garage was a bodyshop. The young Jeffries was drawn to the creative expression allowed in bodywork over turning a wrench (“too greasy!”) like his ol’ man– the bodyshop became his hangout of choice. After returning from the Korean War, he became buddies with another future legend of Kustom Kulture— Kenny Howard (AKA Von Dutch), and started pinstriping.

“We’d do freelance pinstriping on our own, then get together and hang out. I also worked during the day at a machine shop doing grinding. But pinstriping really took off then–I was painting little pictures and medallions on cars. My first job was pinstriping a boat. I didn’t have no shop back then. You were lucky if you got $5 for a whole car. If you got $25 in your pocket in a day you were King Kong. I thought it was great.” –Dean Jeffries

More than anything else, I’ll always remember Dean Jeffries for painting the infamous “Little Bastard” badge on the Porsche owned by his racing buddy– James Dean.

“For years Barris claimed he painted it– now he just says he can’t remember and somebody in his shop painted it. Sure. I used to bum around with James Dean. I wasn’t trying to be his movie friend. We just had car stuff between us. We hung out, got along together real bitchin’. But one day Dean asked me to paint those words on his car, and I just did it.” –Dean Jeffries

Love this pic. There’s the obvious knockout pinup, Carol Lewis (Dean Jeffries’ high school sweetheart in front of his ’47 Merc), posing for his pinstriping pleasure, but also check out Dean Jeffries’ paint box. “The Modern Painter Has Arrived.” It’s an incredible piece of work in itself.

“The above shot comes from a publicity shoot done ironically, at Barris’ shop, with George behind the camera. Jeffries was just out of high school, and Barris tried to hire him, but Jeffries wanted to sub-contract to Barris, so Barris cleaned out a storage area in his shop, and Jeffries based himself out of there. Pretty slick on Barris’ part– he could grab Jeffries any time he wanted a striping job.” –Thanks to Irish Rich for the story on Carol Lewis.

Carol Lewis’ custom 1956 Chevrolet– Dean Jeffries high school sweetheart.  –image via Kustomrama “It was Jeffries who was having dinner across the street from Barris’ shop when he spotted the smoke coming from the start of the disasterous Dec. ’57 Barris shop fire. He ran across the street and broke in, and managed to get Lewis’ 56 Chevy out of there before the flames got too out of control. Lewis’ Chevy was done in a similar style as Jeffries’ ’47 was.” –Irish Rich

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THE LEGENDARY STRIPER VON DUTCH | STILL ALIVE AND LIVING IN ARIZONA ’72

Having grown up a good chunk of my life in Arizona, it was of particular interest to me when my buddy from the internets and writer extraordinaire, Bart Boule, clued me in on this interesting bit…interesting if you’re into this sorta thing, that is–

“…Von Dutch had a studio in the netherlands riverbottom between Scottsdale and Tempe — where the amazing club JD’s was, that Waylon Jennings and the Waylors were in residency, so that cowboys and fratboys could kick each others asses when Paul Revere and the Raiders or Buffalo Springfield played there…”

This sent me on a quest to dig up whatever I could find on this lost chapter of Von Dutch’s eccentric & electric existence.  Then, what I’d been looking for turned up during a google image search (better than porn any day…heck, Von Dutch and “Big Daddy” Roth are my porn…), a long lost article, “Von Dutch is Still Alive and Living in Arizona.” Bingo.  It’s chock full of priceless, colorful quotes from hizzoner, Mr. Von Dutch– and written by his good friend, Bob Burns, for the March, ’72 issue of Road Rider magazine.

This was a time when Von Dutch had moved to Phoenix from California with his wife, Sheila, and their kids to “get away from the race.” He wanted no part of California any longer.  Dutch wanted to take it slow and easy– and do and honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay…

 


“Steve McQueen had the first two Honda Fours in this country– and he gave them to me to tear into and customize.”


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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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KENNY HOWARD | THE MASTER PAINTER & STRIPER ALSO KNOWN AS VON DUTCH

A young Kenny Howard, self-named Von Dutch, perfects his pin-striping craft.

A young Kenny Howard (Von Dutch) perfecting his pinstriping craft at Bud Ekins' shop, 1965.

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Before the cheesy namesake clothing and accessories line that threatens to destroy his cred forever, there was the self-invented and slightly mad genius Kenny Howard– better known as Von Dutch. He was a real Renaissance man– legendary custom painter, artist, motorcycle mechanic, and a skilled metal worker who hand-crafted his own knives and guns.  He had a strong aversion to money and felt it was detrimental to his art– which makes the clothing line even more of an ironic abomination.

“I make a point of staying right at the edge of poverty. I don’t have a pair of pants without a hole in them, and the only pair of boots I have are on my feet. I don’t mess around with unnecessary stuff, so I don’t need much money. I believe it’s meant to be that way. There’s a ‘struggle’ you have to go through, and if you make a lot of money it doesn’t make the ‘struggle’ go away. It just makes it more complicated. If you keep poor, the struggle is simple.“  –Von Dutch

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Von Dutch (Kenny Howard)

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