The end to one of our industry's living legends came early one morning. He was one-half of a pair of brothers who ruled the custom car world from the late '50s through the '60s. With the death of Mike Alexander, the A-Brothers are no more. Between Mike and Larry, his older brother, they formed the team that was the Alexander Brothers. (There were four brothers, with Larry being the second oldest and Mike being the youngest.)
From Mike’s earliest years he was always interested in the design and the hands-on buildin
For starters, anyone who has enjoyed a lifetime living, breathing, doing, and reading about the car culture surely knows of the A-Brothers exploits. The sheer volume of their work is impressive as they built three Don Rider Memorial Award winners and as of today nine of their cars have been restored, with eyes on several more. The number of famous builds is arm's length long and many of these cars reached iconic stature—not the least of which is the Clarence "Chili" Catallo's Deuce coupe that garnered much attention as the Little Deuce Coupe of Beach Boys' fame. How about the 69er, a '34 Ford Cabriolet, sometimes referred to as the sister car to the Little Deuce Coupe, belonging to Don Vargo and built by the A-Brothers? It too has enjoyed a lifetime of fame and attention. And what about Bob Massaron's Venturian, collaboration with legendary designer Harry Bentley Bradley built by the A-Brothers and another of their Ridler-winning efforts. And my personal favorite, the '31 Ford pickup that the brothers used to begin their business, and it graced the pages of STREET RODDER years ago, Grasshopper. I could go on but you get the picture—so to speak. The brothers were prolific and their builds have stood the test of time.
Anyone who knew Mike knew that he was a hot rodder's friend. He was always gracious and would talk to you about your car or one of his builds for hours on end. He always had a good word to say and didn't dwell on the negative. At least I never heard him utter an ill word about anyone. Although I'm sure he would have liked to on occasion, but he was too gracious.
The A-Brothers in their earliest years were also fans of drag racing as well as building c
Mike picked up his sheetmetal talents while working in his father's one-car garage and while he and his brother were only in business for about 12 years each continued to apply their talents and craft within the auto industry for a lifetime.
While I came into the magazine business well after the heyday of the A-Brothers I did have the incredible experience to stand in the shadows and watch the process that would eventually become Vision 33. The project began with an American Speed Company Speed33 convertible that Mike wanted to restyle and build into an effort that would end up at the Detroit Autorama and compete for the Ridler. Mike's goal was Detroit in 2010 but as all hot rodders know nothing with any of our builds ever goes off according to plan. It wasn't until 2012, the 60th Detroit Autorama, that Vision 33 would be complete. It was here his efforts were recognized with a Pirelli Great 8 award.
I would go over to Metalcrafters (Fountain Valley, California, where Mike Jr. spends his waking hours) and spend 30 minutes to hours on end watching senior painstakingly dedicate himself to a true labor of love. He would often start at 5 a.m. (yes, a.m.!) and work until 10 p.m. He would grab a meal, a few hours of sleep, and begin the process over the next day—seven days a week. Frankly, I became exhausted chronicling his daily exploits. I may have taken several thousand photos during the build but the amount of work Mike put into that car was staggering. I should mention that I never once heard him complain. In fact, every day was a new beginning and he would start out with the same enthusiasm. It was infectious as I found myself getting up early to stop by, no matter how little time I spent. It was fun to see the process, especially the mind games—thinking through how a modification should work and having no idea if it would until it was complete. I was thoroughly amazed watching and listening to Mike work through the mechanical problems he had to overcome in order to make something work. It was a lesson in building hot rods that I will never forget.
Mike was accommodating to his fans by signing autographs. It was also fun to see him at ev
Mike was a longtime friend of Chip Foose, yes that Chip!, and he worked on the design with Mike, which included a full-size drawing that hung on a wall in the work area where the roadster was built. You could look at the scale drawing and watch the car come to life before your eyes. Truly an amazing experience.
One of my favorite quotes was put to paper by a much more famous author, Sarah Ockler. "In your entire life, you can probably count your true friends on one hand. Maybe even on one finger. Those are the friends you need to cherish, and I wouldn't trade one of them for a hundred of the other kind. I'd rather be completely alone than with a bunch of people who aren't real. People who are just passing time."
I believe it could be said of Mike that while I'm hard pressed to fill a hand's worth of digits, he on the other "hand" didn't have enough. Only Mike could tell us who were his true friends but from where I was parked I could see and count many who thought only the loftiest of ideals about Mike. He was one-of-a-kind both as a hot rodder, but more importantly as a friend.