Ken Kennedy has a unique view of his role in the world of hot rods. Sure, he thinks of himself as a hot rodder, but more importantly, he has assumed the role of curator. For many years, Ken has owned the '29 Ford rollin' phone booth known to hot rod historians as "Jake's truck." Jim Jacobs, nicknamed "Jake" and sometimes "Jitney Jake," has been in the hot rod world since Fred Flintstone put smaller rocks on the front of his ride to give it a California rake. Jake is the "J" half of the Pete and Jake's duo that has supplied chassis components to hot rodders for years. Although Jake and then partner Pete Chapouris no longer have an interest in the firm that bears their names, their efforts to bring products to the hot rod aftermarket were trendsetting, and the products they developed remain at the top of the industry.
Jake has owned the truck, with a series of different bodies, since high school, and after a stint working for Roth and a long period at Rod & Custom magazine, both the truck and builder became hall-of-famers in the Southern California car scene. Ken, a friend of Jake's since the '70s, acquired the truck and remains intent on preserving it in the condition, consistently renewed, that it was in when he purchased it. Ken is a conservator of hot rod history, and he takes his job rather seriously.
Jake was only four years out of high school when he went to work for Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, the Rat Fink king. In those days, the mid-'60s, Roth was leading the revolution to apply modern tech to old-school rods. As quiet as it's kept, Roth is the guy who really rolled the ball on the idea of the modern hot rod. Not only did he produce specialized bodies, unique paint schemes, and unusual design theories, but he also managed to keep the cars, although radical, in the cool range. Some of his contemporaries built wild cars, but they lacked the built-in cool factor that Roth was somehow able to imbue in his creations. What a place for young Jake to cut his automotive teeth! Surrounded by legends like Roth and his then partner The Baron and Robert Williams, considered by many to be the premier hot rod artist of all time, Jake fell under the influences of some of the most creative people ever to work together. No wonder he knows what's cool-he was there when cool was invented. Of course, his own energy level is very high, and with a very developed sense of combining his tongue-in-cheek sense of humor with his personal automotive expression, Jake has managed to create some very singular cars and maintain his coveted status as a professional hot rodder over the years.
Apparently, Jake has no fear of diving into projects. The truck has been a roadster pickup, camper bearer, and advertising vehicle as well as its final and current state. The version seen here is pure and classic hot rod. It has that old-timey feel, evidenced by the presence of the Moto Meter temperature gauge that rides atop the stock shell and the American Racing Torq-Thrust wheel that connects the rubber to the pavement. One wonders which marketing genius engendered the name Torq-Thrust. It is a product name that has endured and become colloquial at the same time. You hear the wheels referred to as Torq- Thrusts as often as the familiar "Americans." The design of those wheels has become the basic international standard for numerous examples that have echoed, in various permutations, that original five-spoke concept. In fact, the entire truck is a tribute to the "original hot rod," in every sense of the word.
Ken, who met and became friends with Jake on a riverboat ride during the '71 Street Rod Nationals in Memphis, Tennessee, is somewhat offended by guys who buy historical hot rods and try to enhance them with their personal signature "improvements." In Ken's opinion, this generally ruins a perfectly good car that would have been better left alone. Part of the heritage of this truck is that Jake built and rebuilt it several times, and when he finally finished what became the final version in '78, he felt it was just what it should be. One can only admire the diligence with which Jake pursued his goal of building the perfect truck.
In '78, after a few different incarnations, the version of the truck seen here emerged. The truck received a makeover that included an all-new Pete and Jake's chassis and a list of participants that reads like a who's who of street rodding. Jake enlisted the late and legendary Don Thelan to do metalwork and paint, and no less a personage than Eddie Martinez did the interior upholstery. Even though Ken has had those seats restuffed, the original Martinez stitchery and Ed's autograph under the seat remain in use. Jake installed the top covering with the help of his mother, Lena Jacobs, in '65. There is some speculation about who actually helped whom on that installation. When Thelan painted the truck, he asked Jake to pull the top fabric to facilitate the paint application. Jake refused, and wisely so; nobody wants their mom mad at them! The rich finish, still looking good, is the result of countless coats of lacquer, all hand rubbed-no machine buffing was done. Twenty-nine years later, the paint looks as good as new.
Jim Babbs built the radiator in the mid-'60s. It is unusual in that it is not pressurized. It uses distilled water only and keeps the engine running at a moderate 170 degrees in all operating conditions. It is a tribute to Babbs' skill that the radiator has never been repaired. Ya know, they just don't make 'em like they used to!
Although Ken has strictly adhered to his promise to keep the truck intact, he did make one minor alteration: He eliminated the radio. Not only does he enjoy listening to the truck run, but the straight pipes running through megaphones and the howl of the vintage Hal prevent any musical enjoyment that would normally entertain pilot and passengers. Ken thinks those sounds are sweeter than anything else anyway.
Owning and governing a piece of history is great satisfaction for Ken, but the real fun is in the driving. Ken recalls a trip he and his son, also named Jake, made from the Jacobs shop in Temple City to the '88 Nationals in Pleasanton. The Kennedys rolled the truck and Jitney Jake drove his red T-tub up Highway 1 along the California coast. The highlights of that trip included a stop at Ken "Von Dutch" Howard's studio/shop and switching vehicles back and forth so they could see the cars as they rolled that gorgeous stretch of highway. Ken's son was 12 years old, and Ken and Jake were, if not young, a lot younger than they are now.
Jerry Kugel, now famed as a chassis component pioneer, rebuilt the truck's engine in '78, and it is still running strong 80,000 miles later. A typical hot rodder, Kugel does it all, from building engines to complete cars, racing and street, and now he is entering the world of body manufacturing. Jerry, like Jake, Martinez, Thelan, and Pete Chapouris, is a part of the history of hot rodding. They are all guys who helped form and perpetuate the life and legend that is the hot rod universe. As with all great traditions, there are those who wish to enshrine the histories and artifacts that comprise the legend. That is a description of Ken Kennedy. He is a keeper of the flame, a guardian of tradition, a man who reveres the history of hot rodding and all of its examples and traditions. Hell, if he'd been around a couple of thousand years ago, he would have saved the pyramids!
The stock dash sports Stewart...
The stock dash sports Stewart Warner gauges, and the Mustang floor shifter operates the TH350.
Jerry Kugel, now of Kugel...
Jerry Kugel, now of Kugel Komponents, rebuilt the 327 SBC, and it is still going strong after 80,000 miles topped off with an Edelbrock intake, Carter AFB, and PerTronix ignition.
The steering wheel is more...
The steering wheel is more Jake handiwork resting on an early Ford column.
Eddie Martinez originally...
Eddie Martinez originally pulled the stitches, and Ken had the seats restuffed over the years, though Ed's autograph remains under the seat. The top covering was installed by Jake with the help of Mom (Lena) in 1965.