People often ask me how the STREET RODDER Road Tour series came about and how I was lucky enough to get "the best job in the world." As is the case with most projects, it started with a simple concept and through hard work and the contributions of many people, it was developed into a successful program.
In 1989 my wife, Mary Ann, and I started Classic Transportation, a company that handled nostalgia and automobilia items from a retail store in Youngstown, Ohio. We sold pedal cars, gas pumps, nostalgia signs, and clothing on a mail order basis. We also set up at street rod events around the United States and shipped merchandise around the world.
I had been involved with internal combustion fun my entire life. As a young boy in the late '50s I "helped" my father restore a '26 Model T Ford station wagon that had been in my family since the '30s. I spent my summers going to antique car shows. In the early '70s while I was in college, I operated a custom motorcycle business. In 1976 I opened Ohio Van & Truck Supply, specializing in van and pickup truck accessories and conversions, which we still operate today. Classic Transportation was an extension of my love affair with all things automotive.
When we started Classic Transportation, the interest in nostalgia and collectible automobilia was just beginning to become popular. Through our travels to events around the country, we got to meet a lot of people involved in the street rod industry. One of those people was then Editor Tom Vogele. I suggested to Tom that SRM should do an article about the pedal car customizing craze. He said it sounded like a good idea, but I seemed to be much more knowledgeable on the subject than anyone on their staff. He said that I should write the article. Okay, I was up to the challenge. I took pictures and compiled some stories on the different aspects of the pedal car hobby. In 1992 my pedal car article appeared in SRM. The following year I did an article about gas station collectibles. Classic Transportation built some custom pedal cars that were given away as sweepstakes prizes through SRM and Custom Rodder.
Throughout this period, although I owned a number of collectible cars (including a '55 Chevy, a '53 F-100 panel and Mary Ann's '67 Cougar XR7), I never owned a true street rod. We did have a very solid original '34 Ford four-door sedan that had been restored in the '70s. I had become acquainted with Barry Lobeck of Lobeck's Hot Rod Shop in nearby Cleveland, and during a discussion with Barry and Tom Vogele, we came up with the idea to "street rod" the Fordor and do a series of articles on turning a basic antique car into a safe, reliable, and reasonably priced (and fun!) street rod. Not necessarily a resto-rod, which had been popular in the '70s, and not a Pro-Street rod which was popular in the '80s, but something a little different. The "Presto-Rod" was born!
The three-part series on the build-up of the Presto-Rod was well received, and I put over 5,000 miles on the car its first summer. I was in love with street rodding! In the fall of 1994 I approached Tom Vogele, Tim Foss (then SRM advertising director), and Janeen Webb (from SRM ad department) with a concept: let's build a street rod using our advertisers' products and drive it to all 11 of the National Street Rod Association (NSRA) events around the nation. We would promote both the safety and reliability of the products we used and show people how much fun it was to drive street rods. They loved the idea. Tom suggested that we give the street rod away at the end of the summer tour to a lucky reader. The problem was that they were all busy putting together a huge magazine each month. Who was going to write the articles and drive the car to the events all summer long? It was at that moment that I smiled and raised my hand. As Paul Harvey says, "Now you know the rest of the story."
In the fall of 1995 at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, the Road Tour program was introduced to the world. Work had already begun at Lobeck's Hot Rod Shop in Cleveland on the '33 Ford three-window coupe that would travel to all 11 of the NSRA events. The tour coupe was put on display in the McMullen Argus booth. The Redneck fiberglass body was in primer and sat on a Just-A-Hobby rolling chassis. Under the hood was a Summit Racing 350 Chevy engine. After the show, it was taken back to Lobeck's for completion and the application of the signature PPG Bonneville blue paint with two bold white racing stripes running from tip to tail. This innovative graphic was created from a rendering by artist Darryl Mayabb and would soon become very recognizable in the street rod world.
The first year was extremely exciting as the tour coupe traveled 27,000 miles around the United States to all 11 of the NSRA events. With a number of co-drivers traveling with me on some legs of the Tour, I spent 82 days on the road from May until October. The coupe performed flawlessly. Without the aid of a trailer or a support vehicle we put in many 700- to 800-mile days without missing a beat or a meet! At the end of the summer a name was pulled from all the entries, and at the SRMA banquet during the SEMA Show in Las Vegas (where the project had kicked off 12 short months before), the lucky winner was handed the keys to the '96 Road Tour coupe. The Road Tour had been an incredible success.
When we began the Road Tour program in 1996, we had not thought much about doing it twice. Our concern was getting it done once! The '96 Road Tour had been embraced by both the readers and sponsors. 1997 marked the Silver Anniversary of SRM. Editor Vogele and Ad Director Foss approached me with a plan: let's build a replica of Tom McMullen's famous flamed and blown highboy '32 Ford roadster and make it the Road Tour car for 1997. It sounded great to me. The '96 Road Tour had been extremely exciting, and I was ready for more. I had not really thought about the fact that the original McMullen roadster never had a top, and neither would its clone!
Lobeck's was again chosen to build the McMullen roadster replica. Starting with a Wescott's '32 roadster body, the Lobeck crew set out to duplicate one of the most famous street rods of all time. The end result was incredible. From the chrome-plated and drilled front axle, split wishbone, and the very potent, blown P.A.W.-built 350 engine to the unmistakable flamed paint, a twin to the original was created.
Vogele flew to Cleveland and piloted the clone on its maiden voyage to the NSRA East Coast Nationals in York, Pennsylvania. Proclaiming the roadster "road ready," Tom handed me the keys and wished me well as I headed to Springfield, Missouri; Pueblo, Colorado; Shreveport, Louisiana; the Nationals in Oklahoma City; Spokane, Washington; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Burlington, Vermont; and on to the finish line in Tampa, Florida.
It was a summer filled with open-air roadster fun! In 17,000 miles I got wind-burned, sun-burned, and--incredibly--during the entire summer I only got wet twice! The car again performed flawlessly. Since the roadster was so significant to the history and heritage of McMullen Argus, we had decided that this roadster would be put on display at the magazine's offices after the tour. What we did give away was a beautiful Ford-powered Hercules Motor Car Co. New Generation '34 Woodie. It was a Silver Anniversary to remember.
By the end of the 1997 Road Tour season people were not asking, "Are you going to do it again next year?" Rather, the question was, "What are you going to drive next year?" The readers let us know that they really enjoyed the Road Tour articles. They also asked if it would be possible for them to actually travel along with me on some of the legs of the tour. The idea sounded fine, and the 1998 Road Tour theme was, "Come along for the ride!" We contacted street rod manufacturers and shops along our route. We asked if they would like to host an open house the day before each of the NSRA events. It would be a gathering spot where we could be joined by other street rodders for the trip to the event site. It was a lot of fun and we had anywhere from five to twenty-five fellow rodders make the day-long trip to each of the events.
The car that we drove during the 1998 Road Tour had been a project that was headed up by then Associate Editor Jerry Slattery. Starting with a Downs Manufacturing '37 Ford phantom two-door phaeton body, Jerry enlisted the help of street rod builders in Southern California and assembled a fat-fendered beauty that had Ford power and was incredibly comfortable to drive. So comfortable that (with a little planning and a few varied routes) I was able to travel 27,000 miles in the tour tub, attend all 11 NSRA events, and actually drive in all 48 continental United States from May until October. It was a Road Tour first! At the end of the tour a name was drawn, and the now famous tour tub went to a new home in Buffalo, New York.
The gatherings at the various shops during the 1998 season were very well received by the readers. Many let us know that while they might not be able to travel along to the event, they did enjoy the chance to see the car and talk abut the Road Tour adventures. We decided to hold the open houses on Wednesday evenings and invite everyone in the automotive community to stop by. The Road Tour road shows were born!
Veteran street rod journalist, Brian Brennan, had come on board as the editor of SRM in 1998 and fully supported the Road Tour series. With Brennan's 30 years of street rodding heritage (coupled with the "new" trend of retro-rods), we decided to build a Gibbon-bodied '32 two-door sedan. It was a highboy style sitting on a Rod Factory chassis with Ford power under the hood and a five-speed transmission. Carl DuBow and the crew at The Rod Factory began the project and handed the rolling chassis over to Barry White's Street Rod Repair Company for completion.
It was a wild and wooly summer. We survived one or two minor breakdowns and one very scary accident in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the Road Tour Tudor was rear-ended by a mini truck! We met great folks along the way and made it through what could be called the "Reality Tour" as we experienced situations that are encountered by street rodders everyday. The attendance at the road shows was growing and the open houses were becoming a Road Tour tradition. After the adventurous summer, the bright red Tudor sedan was won by a lucky reader and went to a new home in the state of Washington.
It was time to take street rodding into the next millenium. The idea was to build a roadster the way that Tom McMullen would have built one in the year 2000. The "M2000" concept was born! A McMullen roadster for the new millenium: state-of-the-street-rodding-art, but with the McMullen roadster tradition. Constructed by Lobeck's Hot Rod Shop, the M2000 used a Downs Deuce roadster body on a Just-A-Hobby chassis. It was a black and flamed '32 roadster with a Moon tank up front. The similarities to the first McMullen roadster ended there. For suspension we used Heidt's "SuperRide" frontend, and their new independent rearend, which smoothed out the highway ride.
For power Ida Automotive built a Lunati stroker 383 Chevy with Holley's new Pro-Jection fuel injection system. We even had a Pioneer global satellite tracking system. The M2000 was a street rod modern marvel. The roadster was dialed in, but what we could not control was the weather. Of course, the McMullen roadster had no top and we spent many hours in the rain, sun, and cold. The car performed flawlessly and we survived the elements. At the end of the 2000 Road Tour the M2000 went on a winter-long tour of the indoor car show circuit with the World of Wheels. It would then go back to the McMullen Argus headquarters where it will be on display next to the 1997 McMullen-roadster clone. The pair of Deuces shows where our hobby has come from and where it is going.
2001: BACK TO THE BASICS
It has been an incredible five years of Road Tour adventures. The chance to have a brand-new street rod constructed by professionals using all of the best parts and products that our industry can provide is a dream come true for any street rodder. It is fun to see these dream rods come to life on the pages of SRM. But the reality is that most street rodders do not have the pros build their cars. Most street rodders do not have an unlimited budget to work with.
This year we are building a street rod the way that most folks have done it. We went out and found a clean '36 Chevy two-door sedan that had been somewhat restored a few years back. Now we are going to turn it into a safe, reliable, and (most importantly) fun street rod on a budget! It is the very same concept that I had used with my Presto-Rod project in 1992. Brent at Fatman Fabrications performed a number of chassis modifications. He lowered the car for that street rod stance. P.A.W. built a 350 Chevy engine, and the car will be finished at Jim Swan's CarFab shop in Charlotte. Wade Hughes of Hot Rod Flames (Cincinnati, OH) will spray on the Ohio-style flames on the car. We are going to try to use as many of the original items as we can that came with the Chevy. Stay tuned and follow along with us on this fun project as Road Tour 2001 gets "Back to the Basics."
The Road Tour began in 1996 with a Lobeck-built '33 full-fendered three-window coupe. The
The distinctive Road Tour coupe was driven to all 11 NSRA events that season without missi
The second Road Tour season coincided with the Silver Anniversary of SRM. We felt that the
Again Lobeck-built, the McMullen roadster clone's Wescott's body was powered by a blown P.
It was fat-fendered fun in 1998 as the tour tub traveled to all 48 continental states over
The Road Tour has taken me to many beautiful places over the years. None can compare to th
The Road Tour took on a retro look for 1999. The Gibbons '32 Tudor body was set up on a Fo
The summer of 1999 held many adventures for the Road Tour. The tour sedan made it through
With the significance of the year 2000, we decided to take street rodding into the next mi
The McMullen look was there with the signature flames (heated up for 2000), its black Down
For 2001 we have decided to take the traditional route to build our ride for the season. W
We enlisted the help of the folks at Fatman Fabrications in Charlotte, NC, for the install
It has been a five-year adventure of a lifetime on the Road Tour. We are not done yet! The