Former HRM Editor A.B. Shuman...
Former HRM Editor A.B. Shuman (left), author of Cool Cars, Square Roll Bars, and Curator Ken Gross (right), interpret the Right Coast Rods exhibit to a capacity crowd on opening night. In the foreground is the '32 five-window that George Veracka has owned since he was in high school. To the right are the roadsters of Bob Bateman (owned by Al Engel), Tommy Foster (owned by Richard Munz), and the ex-Joaquin Arnett/Andy Granatelli '34 three-window, owned for over half a century by Bill Couch.
Vintage hot rods are hot. What the late-Boyd Coddington liked to call "our ancestor cars" continue to attract and inspire today's builders. There's been a great collection of these '50s-era cars on display in upstate New York.
The Saratoga Automobile Museum, located half an hour's drive north of Albany, in scenic Saratoga Springs, New York, is in its 10th year. Over time, they've presented everything from fine classics and storied sports cars, to collections loaned by generous enthusiasts, like Nicola Bulgari, Jim Taylor, Dennis Dammerman, and Jack Gillette.
A few years ago, the museum exhibited Real Hot Rods, Straight from the Street, a tribute to the locally based Rolling Bones Hot Rod Club, two of whose members, Ken Schmidt and Keith Cornell, received national attention after they built a pair of mean-looking '32 Ford three-window coupes that became known as "the wicked sisters." The response to these seminal coupes, and a subsequently built '32 highboy roadster, prompted both men to quit their "day jobs" and open the Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop in Greenfield Center, New York.
For students of East Coast hot rodding, "new" cars with their low stances, hammered tops, bulldogged front ends, and heavily patina finishes evoke memories of hot rods built back in the '50s. It seemed fitting, when it was again time for hot rods at Saratoga to honor historic cars from the East Coast and Midwest, to pay tribute to their regionally popular practice of severe channeling, and display one of the latest Rolling Bones' shop's efforts, so museum visitors could see and appreciate the origins of the genre.
Brandon Salls did all the...
Brandon Salls did all the killer artwork for Right Coast Rods. His photo collage captures the best of the East in the '50s, with the roadsters of Sonny Mazza (top left), Shuman Brothers (top right), Norm Wallace (lower right), and Ted Wingate (lower left). Who says the East Coast didn't have roadsters back in the day?
Here's a bit of rodding history with an East Coast focus: Although hot rodding arguably began and flourished in California, the practice quickly spread cross-country, accelerated by the explosive growth of Hot Rod
magazine, which started in January 1948. Ten years later, a Feb. '58 Hot Rod cover story featured prominent East Coast rods. HRM
's editors reported that they were very impressed with the quantity and quality of cars they saw.
Right Coast rods always had a distinctive look. Because their hop-ups weren't raced at the dry lakes, hot rodders who lived east of the Mississippi often opted for enclosed cars, and they could perform many streamlined alterations without worrying about being moved up in competition classes. Most East Coasters (myself included) wanted roadsters, but given our severe winter weather, enclosed coupes and sedans were more practical, and for that matter, more available. Channeling a car (cutting out the floorboards and lowering the body down over the frame to achieve a sleeker silhouette) was cheaper, more expedient, and easier to do than chopping a top and frame Z-ing.
Hoods were usually optional on East Coast cars, no matter what the weather. The East even had its own Hot Rod magazines like Rodding and Re-styling and Rod Builder & Customizer. The mid-to-late '50s, what TV called the "happy days," represented the peak ... and that's the period that's being showcased in Saratoga. Thanks to its proximity to the heart of the automotive industry in the '50s, the State of Michigan also produced some great hot rods. The Detroit Autorama, now in its 60th year, is still going strong. So we've included a few Midwest-based cars, first because they were sensational, and also because car owners from the two regions occasionally competed against one another at the famed Joe Kizis Autoramas in Hartford, Connecticut; Springfield, Massachusetts; and many other venues.
As the Saratoga Automobile Museum's Curator, and author of The Art of the Hot Rod and Hot Rod Milestones, it was left to me to gather up a select group of historic East Coast and Midwest hot rods, many of which have been restored or are well-preserved. Several of the cars on display hadn't been seen together in half a century. For nostalgic East Coasters, as well as hot rodders from all over the country who remember them, the Saratoga show has been a trip down memory lane.
The '32 Ford is clearly hot rodding's favorite car, so this exhibit, while not all '32s, is skewed toward Deuces. Call them East Coast cars, or the more modern term Right Coast Rods, they're unique, iconic, loud, fast, and hot.
The opening wall sets the...
The opening wall sets the stage for Right Coast Rods. That's the former Andy Kassa coupe before Kassa channeled it, axed the fenders, and hit the show circuit. That car was on display at Saratoga, along with 14 others, for Right Coast Rods. Restored a few years ago with its Cyclops nose, it has been "backdated" to look the way it did when I saw it at the Hartford Autorama in August 1958. I've still got the program.
Many decades separate the...
Many decades separate the heavily patina'd '32 three-window (left) of Richie Whalen, built last year by the Rolling Bones Hot Rod Shop in Greenfield Center, NY, and the restored ex-Fred Steele/Don Spinney '27 T (right) that's now owned by Bob Collins of Woburn, MA. Whalen's coupe will fool you. It appears to have been dragged out of a barn last week. Fred Steele flat-towed this T to Los Angeles in 1962, and then joined the L.A. Roadster Club. Finished with a Tijuana tuck 'n' roll interior, the roadster was photographed for a trio of '60s-era record album covers.
There were several well-preserved...
There were several well-preserved oldies at Saratoga. But Richie Whalen's chopped Deuce three-window was not one of them. Ken Schmidt and Keith Cornell of the Rolling Bones have gotten patina down to a science. The drag link for the Schroeder steering in this coupe looks decades old. It's brand new.
The Veracka family has owned...
The Veracka family has owned this five-window Deuce coupe forever. It was father George's high school ride. His son, Scott, maintains it now, and they bring it to the Ty-Rods Old Timers' Reunion each year. With its cracked lacquer, button-tufted Naugahyde interior, double front whitewalls, six-carb 425-cid Cad mill, and weathered paint, it looks like a ghost, for all of us who remember it way back when.
The late Sebastian "Sabie"...
The late Sebastian "Sabie" Rubbo's channeled '36 Ford roadster on a '40 Merc frame was built from a wreck, like many early rods. It's a hot rod in front, and a custom in back. Sabie drove it 400,000-plus miles, including to the first NSRA Nats. Owner Lenny Biondi restored it. You can put your arm in that lustrous black lacquer, right up to your elbow. The triple seats are from a Boston area streetcar.
Ron and Laura San Giovanni's...
Ron and Laura San Giovanni's Altered T roadster was the Cam Carriers' Club (Branford, CT) car. San Giovanni restored it a few years ago, took it to Hershey, and won Junior and Senior honors in the racing car class. Safety touches are few; that was the way we were.