Ranking hot rods is an arbitrary business, especially when the rules are purely subjective. How does one rank such an eclectic group of machines when no one single category is applicable across the board? How do you rank a Boyd Coddington-built spare-no-expense custom against a hand-built steam-punk ’41 International rat rod pickup that is regularly beaten within an inch of its life on the autocross course?
While points went into the kitty for quality of paint, uniqueness of design and cleanliness of execution, we couldn’t rule out style, simplicity and even restorative quality. Basically, Editor Kevin Shaw and Associate Editor Sean Haggai – who were pounding the pavement at this fall’s Temecula Rod Run – went with their gut, and what they came up with was a pretty fair ranking of ten of the coolest street machines and cool customs to be present at this year’s Rod Run.
James Dana’s ’38 Plymouth
Rod Authority Associate Editor Sean Haggai spotted this clean machine early Friday night during the cruise-in portion of the show. It’s subtle pearl two-tone green paint glistened in the late afternoon sun and simply lit up for his camera lens. The five-window business coupe might not be the immediate go-to for most hot rodders, but the Plymouth’s lines were clean enough to win this year’s Editor’s Favorite.
Oddly enough, the original Mopar grille has been replaced with a vertical GM set of teeth, breaking up the otherwise keep-it-simple design of the ‘rod. The dash cluster too is a familiar one, it too being lifted from the General Motors parts bin.
Beneath the split bonnet is yet another betrayal to its Plymouth heritage, a stout 383-stroked small block Chevy backed with a TH350 and a custom Ford 9-inch polished to a mirror-like finish.
We have to tip our cap to James and his ’38 particularly as James insists on driving the bagged coupe regularly. No mere trailer queen, this suicide-doored ‘rod exhibits all the key attributes of a cleanly executed and real-world street rod.
Flawless is a heck of a claim to make, but we scoured this '38 Plymouth from head to toe and couldn't find a single thing to protest. Kudos go to James Dana for driving this 'rod as much as he does.
Gil Losi’s ’33 Boyd Coddington-Built “Ratster”
We know, we know. You’re thinking, “How could you possibly not give first place to a Boydster?” There were a couple of reasons, be them as small as they might be. First, this car is waaay outside of most people’s budget, and we just can’t give it the blue ribbon knowing that no expense was spared, especially in this day and age of do-it-yourselfers. Maybe that’s splitting hairs, but we have to award the little guy every now and then.
This machine has far too many cool attributes to list here, but we’ll give you the Reader’s Digest-version.
The ’33 rides on a custom, one-off chassis, a Corvette IRS rear with QA1 coil-overs, and Air Ride-equipped IFS front clip, Corvette brakes, and all riding on Boyd custom Ratster 16- and 18-inch dish rims. A Corvette LS6 is spooled by a Magnuson supercharger, making way more power than a ’33 Ford should have.
The body of course, is immaculate. Starting with a Marcel’s hand-formed steel and aluminum body, the whole skin was coated in custom-mixed “Ratster Gray” and hand-stripped by Dennis Ricklefs and Lil’ Louie. The interior is equally pristine, with a Marcel’s custom dash, and Custom Rod Gauges dials reading off the vitals. Oh yeah, and all the gauge faces are equally custom pin-striped.
The details abound in this exotic Boydster, and we could dedicate a whole feature article to this machine.
John Cowell’s “Smokn'” ’35 Ford Coupe
We went straight to the horse’s mouth on this one. John explained, “I sought out my dream car – a ’35 Ford 3-window coupe – but decided on a more afforfable complete 5-window. It was a rolling all steel body car with the interior still somewhat in tact. I began to purchase parts to build a driver and before I knew it 8 years had gone by. I turned it over to Keith Vander Meulen, owner of Image Street Rods in Santa Maria Ca.
“I powder coated a rebuilt 350 motor, TH350 trans as well as the Currie 9-inch posi rear end with 3.0 gears and the air bag suspension. Wilwood disc brakes, a Billit Specialties serpentine pulley system, Ididit chromed tilt steering column, Vintage Air A/C and heater, chrome wheels with baby moons from Wheel Vintique and whitewall tires from the Whitewall Candy Store.
“The all-steel complete body had a 5-inch recessed firewall from Bitchin and cowl scoop was filled for a “quiet” overall look. The car was painted in House of Colors black paint and black leather interior by Mike Wray of Cayucos as a custom Aluma Grill sits on the original frame. A Scotts Superslam front end was added to get the car down on the ground. After what seemed like the longest two years of my life, in March 2010 Keith and his talented crew had completed my dream.”
There’s no inch of this ’35 that isn’t so polished, so pristine that somebody couldn’t shave in its reflection. We really hand it to John for loving this car as much as he does. While many talk about their cars like loving projects, John truly speaks of his car like a child. You can’t fake that kind of sincerity.
The skull reflection you see in the dash is from the shifter, a testament to the time and care poured into John's meticulous polishing.
Dalton Hill’s ’67 Cadillac Coupe De Thrill
Editors Kevin and Sean fought over a handful of Cadillac’s at this year’s Fall Rod Run. There were more than a dozen gorgeous examples of the new school of Cadillac-borne lead sleds, but when the dust settled, Dalton Hill’s insanely green ’67 Coupe De Ville won out. Of course, Dalton’s Cadillac had a little bit of an upper hand seeing that Dalton owns Hillview Customs, a vintage Cadillac custom shop out of Lake Elsinore, CA.
Purchased in 2006, it took Dalton about a year to restore, despite it not a frame-off restoration. Beneath the hood is the original – although rebuilt 429 – which was bored 0.040-inch over and was slipped a far more raucous cam. Backing the 429 is a TH400 which gently glides through the gears; which is fine for Dalton, seeing that its his daily driver.
The Matrix Lime Green Pearl-painted Cadillac touts two 3-gallon tanks and two compressors to supply the stout airbag suspension. Dalton wanted to keep the big Coupe in one piece so he upgraded to disc brakes up front. Inside, the door panels, dash, and headliner were kept original, while the seats were reskinned in ostrich skin and the carpet was replaced.
This big coupe rides on some serious airbag suspension, requiring dual 3-gallon tanks and twin compressors.
For a driver, this glistening green Cadillac drew in onlookers from blocks away.
Win Wood’s ’64 426 Max Wedge Plymouth Fury
We had a hard time with Win’s ’64 Fury gasser. Win’s charcoal gray Max Wedge bordered on edge of muscle car, making itself a near disqualification for our “Hottest Hot Rods” criteria. But, the vintage Halibrand wheels, straight-axle and leaf spring front end and Sun Pro tach just screamed “Lion’s, 1964” to us, so we had to slide it in the running. In fact, it was so nice, we’d kick ourselves if we didn’t.
Win got into Mopars thanks – in large part – to Tommy Grove behind the wheel of the 426 “Melrose Missile,” as well as all the other Max Wedges of the day.
Win explained, “I found a ’64 Fury Max Wedge in Huntington Beach and decided to bid on it. Steve Patton, a Mopar fanatic well-known throughout Orange County, wouldn’t let me drive it because Steve had built the car to race.
“I repainted virtually everything under the hood. The radiator was damaged and needed replacement. Every brake component in the car was replaced except the front Wilwood disc brake calipers. I decided to keep it 1964 and go with a new single cup master cylinder unit. The engine, a .030-over 440 block has early 426 Max Wedge heads, 11.5:1 compression, ported with big valves and Harland-Sharp roller rockers.
“The cam is a Mopar purple shaft with .590 lift, J&E flat-top pistons, molly rings, solid lifters, Manton push rods, Milodon gear drive, Crane electronic ignition, Hooker headers to 3” exhaust and a Holley “Black” fuel pump. This combination produced 652hp on the dyno.
“The front straight axle, leaf springs, chassis modifications and solid engine mount plate were done earlier. The rear suspension has Mopar Super Stock springs mounted on top of a ’65 Plymouth, 8 3/4 Sure Grip rear end with 3.91 gears. The transmission is a ’65 727 push-button Torqueflite with a Continental converter and 3500 stall. The driveshaft length was altered to make it fit.”
While many would mistake the early '60s performers as typical stripped-down muscle cars, the '64 Plymouth - pre-HEMI - was rather surprisingly ornate. There are plenty of little details that make this nose-up gasser stand out.
Larry DeWeese’s ’59 Buick Electra
Much more so than the car, we could’ve hung out with Larry the entire show. Larry made it very clear that he could care less if he won anything, or that we even bothered to photograph his car. Larry, by all intents and purposes, has got to be the single-most pragmatic car enthusiast we ever met. “It’s just a car. It’s not like one of my grandkids or something.”
That’s not to say that he didn’t care for the awesomely retro-scalloped ’59 Electra. The Buick bubbletop was surprisingly stock save for a couple things here and there.
A large bore 455 Wildcat resided between the fenderwells, with the factory power brakes’ brake booster looming nearly on top of the left valve cover. The third owner of the teal and pearl white coupe, Larry saved it from 5 years of neglect beneath the Lake Havasu, AZ. sun and brought it home.
The prior owner had added the scallops and T3 headlights, while under Larry’s care received the lake pipes, white wall tires, rechromed bumpers as well as new hoses, a much-needed A/C recharge and interior touch up. The grille is amazingly intricate and deceptively stock. The modification was removing the cumbersome center piece, which blocked much of the grille’s detail.
Larry DeWeese's '59 Buick looked like it would be more at place cruising the main drag in 'American Graffiti' than sitting still.
Robert Morales’ ’50 Satin Chevy Pickup
Satin black appears to be the “new black.” Only a few years ago, everybody was leaving their cars in primer – usually applied with a rattle can – much to the chagrin of body shops everywhere. Thankfully, some smart painter got people all atwitter over satin colors and now body shops are full of hot rods again. Satin, similar to dull primer hues, hide quite a bit, particularly in the way of poor bodywork.
That isn’t to say that Robert Morales’ ’50 Chevy pickup had any need for a body dolly and a mallet. No sir. This clean and simple step side had some serious time and effort poured into it.
Laying low on airbag suspension, the ’50 hauler sported a throw-back ’80s Tuned-Port Injected 350. Key “rat rod” cues included the “Mexican Blanket” upholstery, minimal brightwork and regular driveability.
Robert’s pickup rolled on some throwback whitewalls with polished steelies and spearhead tips. We watched this ’50 Chevy pull into its spot late Friday evening and returned throughout the day Saturday until realizing that this truck definitely earned a place in our Top 10.
'50s trucks were in high demand at this year's Temecula Rod Run. In fact, picking just one came down to actually finding the owner to talk to. We had a couple other contenders that just might've taken Robert Morales' place had we only had a chance to talk to them.
Jordan Echol’s’53 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight
We can remember when our dad bought us our first “big kid” bike. That was a pretty big deal. Jordan’s dad, Michael went a little above and beyond a mere bike, and had this totally smooth ’53 Olds hand-built for his teenage son for his first car. We can’t help to wish Jordan’s dad would adopt us.
The Olds – while preserving a few key markers to identify the full-sized sled – has been meticulously shaved and smoothed to make the car into a prime canvas for all the gallons of two-tone purple that the ’53 is currently bathed in.
While not the same old Tri-Five, the ’53 Ninety-Eight doesn’t sport anything too exotic beneath that hundred-pound hood, just a good ol’ reliable small block Chevy 350 and a TH350 gearbox. The throwback Coker whitewalls are wrapped over simple steelies and some seriously smooth hubs.
Getting the Oldsmobile up and running was a bit of a soap opera. With much more work to be done, the Olds was scheduled to make its unveiling at an earlier show only a few hours away. In the final hours before the cutoff, the Olds was struggling to even drive up the steep loading ramp, the fuel pickup sucking air in the near-empty gas tank.
The pitch of the ramp gave the 350 fits, causing the crew from Xtreme Kustoms to scurry off and scavenge a spare gallon gas just to propel it up the loading dock. Even with all of the hullabaloo, the ’53 Olds took third place in its debut. Not too bad for barely making it onto the show floor literally.
Aaron Vukasovich’s ’41 International Rat Rod Pickup
We have to admit that we weren’t sure what this bad boy was when we first saw it. “Isn’t that a Chevy cab?” “It sure ain’t a Ford…right?” Yeah, neither Editor Kevin or Associate Editor Sean could figure it out. Thankfully, we got a hold of Aaron Vukasovich, who explained that the only thing remotely close to production remaining on this machine was the ’41 International truck cab resting on a completely hand-built chassis.
More impressive than anything was the time frame this low-slung rod was built in. Thrown together within 7 weeks, the cab was the only thing to remain from the original International rig. The rod rides on ’30 original Model A axles up front with ’48 split-wishbone leafs. Out back is a 4-link rear suspension with Bilstein coil overs holding up a 9-inch rearend with a pair of drums. Wilwood 4-piston disc brakes reside at the nose while an aluminum Strange 3rd member completes the 9-inch.
Propelling the rat rig is a 461ci, 0.030-inch-over bore big block Chevy touting a full hydraulic roller valvetrain and cranking out a very respectable 540hp at the back tires. Transferring all that “go” to the 9-inch is a grenade-proof TH400 with a full-manual valvebody. This rod ain’t anything to sneer at either, as it runs consistent 7.55 @ 97.15 in the 1/8th-mile, makes regular trips to the Viva Las Vegas show each year, has survived the 9-hour hike to Paso Robles and has even topped out at “about” 150mph.
The big block is a sure sign that this open-header monster is no pussy cat. The hand-made chassis is strong enough to handle 150mph runs to Paso Robles or take to the turns of the autocross course.
Harold Bohenek’s ’51 Ford Pickup
Seriously, this is our third truck. You’d think we’d have enough of these, right? Well, admittedly, we probably could’ve filled this whole list with pickups. We don’t really know whether its a surge in general popularity on the part of the public or the aftermarket, or if people are starting to realize that while original fastback Mustangs and Super Sport Camaros are drying up that classic trucks are still plentiful; but whichever it might be, we’re seeing a whole lot more rigs made into rods these days.
Harold Bohenek’s ’51 F-100 is a choice example of how the presence of a work bed is no disqualifier for our Top Ten Rods of The Rod Run collection. Rebuilt, refashioned and revised from the frame all the way to the roof, this Ford pickup is an insanely clean example of how to build a bitchin’ street rod from a workhorse.
The built small block Chevy beneath its hood touts just as much billet, chrome and polished stainless as any of the aforementioned machines on this list. Yeah, we know, you’re all sick of seeing 350 mouse motors in non-GM machines. We’ll admit we’re feeling the same way, particularly as so many companies are building reasonably-priced crate motors in nearly all makes.
Nonetheless, the execution of Harold’s F-Series was enough to draw us from half a block over, especially the gorgeous wood-planked bed, the cleaned-up tailgate and re-imagined dashboard. We’ve seen wilder street rodded-trucks, but few as uncomplicated and pristine, and that’s why Harold’s ’51 totals out our list.
The trick to clean customization is making your changes nearly unnoticeable. That's where this '51 Ford pickup excels. The subtle touches.