You know him, you love him and more importantly if you’re a lover of traditional chopped, channeled and sectioned custom builds you probably want to be him. Fresh off his dramatic unveil of Sophia at the Grand National Roadster show we caught up with John D’Agostino, owner of Celebrity Kustoms, at the 57th annual Portland Roadster Show and decided to attempt to crawl into his mind and see what makes him tick. This is Rod Authority’s “Five Questions” with John D’Agostino.
John D’Agostino: “You know, that is a really hard question to hit me with right off the bat, but I will try to simplify it. I like to try and build a better car every single time finish a car, so it’s a never ending cycle. So, if you ask me something like ‘what is your best car ever,’ it is probably my last build, which was the Sophia car, but I like to have a car that has a great silhouette. It’s got to have a ton of style to it. It flows from front to rear and it has exciting paint and bodywork that makes it stand out and be noticed.”
RA: Speaking of Sophia, that car seemed to have held a closer part of your heart than some of your other builds. All of your creations are great and we’ve all seen so many of them, including one of my favorites – the El Camino. I am a G-body guy, but Sophia seemed to have a bigger piece of your heart. What was it about this build that stood out and made it so special for you?
JD: “First off, it was a 62 series Cadillac in 1940, a very rare car. I have never seen one in 40 years of actually showing cars around the world. I have never seen one customized, so I wanted to create a car that had a lot of elegance to it. I like the word Sophia – Sophia Loren – so it is sort of a tribute to her elegance. The color means a lot. Going into the Ice Mint pearls, I had to get the right Ice Mint and we worked on that car, me and Oz Welch at Oz’s Kustoms, for about 3 months to create that color.
The chop is done very unique, similar to the old tricks that Barris did – with all-hand built moldings. The car has hand-built taillights, old school traditional even to the bumper guards, all molded running boards, a truly seamless body. All the fenders were widened to give it the presence we were after, it truly is an absolute stunning car. If I had to pick a favorite from the 100+ cars that we’ve built over the years, I would definitely say Sophia is number 1.”
RA: When people talk to builders that have made a name for themselves in the custom community, they generally talk about their greatest attributes. They ask if you’re are a great body and paint guy or whether you’re an amazing welder or fabricator. But you’re still the ideas guy, or shall we say designer?
JD: “I can do most if it by now but you know I rely on some of the best builders in the biz; like Oz Welch, Darrell Hollenbeck, Art Hemsell, Gene Whitfield, Barris Designs, but I would say that I am more of the eyes on design. I see something I like in my head and we put it on paper then go to work. I have somebody draw it for me, sketch it for me, then we start to build and I get some really true craftsmen, hall of famers, to actually build it with me. I let them do the work they are best at doing. I am there with them, doing changes as we go if we have to, but like I said I am the eyes on design to keep it true to the vision.”
RA: If there is something you could have changed about any of your builds, say either Sophia or any of the cars all the way back through your history, is there one car that you wish you could have gone back and did anything different?
JD: “No. If I had to do it over again, I would probably do exactly what I did, build them just like I did, and I stick to the radical customs. Chopped, channeled, and sectioned cars are my true passion. I’ve done a few non-radical cars, like the ’61 Oldsmobile, the Golden Star Fire, the ’53 Mercury which weren’t too radical. They weren’t chopped, but they were still pretty exciting.
To me, paint means a lot. Paint is what brings people to the car. If you are in an arena and you glance and you see a color that just blows you away, you’re going to walk right up to that car. And when that car, when that paint looks great, you are going to look at the custom work on the outside, the custom mods and the bodywork, then if you’re still impressed you’ll look inside to see if it is well balanced. Paint means a lot and silhouette and flow means a lot to the overall presence and style. It aboslutely must have the right stance, and overall I feel pretty happy with the builds we’ve done over the years.”
RA: Last question, what do you think are the future trends of pure custom builds? We see a lot of trim coming back and a change in metal coming back. Troy’s ’57 Buick at Detroit had all the trim in nickel. What are your thoughts on what the future trends are going to be for true custom hot rods that you build in the future?
JD: “Well that is another hard question, so you saved the best for last huh? Well, if you look at my career and builds, what do I build? Traditional radical customs. The cars that are basically wide whites, apple to the spotlights, pearl paint, candy paints, etc. I personally like traditional styles. Even though I look at contemporary cars with 22-inch wheels etc. I still prefer the old-school style and builds.”
RA: (Laughing) Yup, you’re the wire wheel guy – everything’s got to have wires or caps.
JD: “Yeah, definitely. Like I said, right now, looking at my Caribbean that we built back in 2001, Oz Welch and I, and this car has been in so many shows around the world, probably 100 + shows, 25/30 different countries, and it still looks like the first show, the Grand National, when I showed it in 2001, very exciting car and it is great to be here with it.”
Bonus: Let’s just throw this out there as an extra – The cars that stand the test of time are the cars that you probably love the most. Where do you think Sophia will be 50 years from now? We might be gone. We might be in the dirt. Where do you think that car will end up?”
JD: “Sophia will never be forgotten. I’m telling you, when I showed it at the Grand National Show, the debut show, I had so many people come up and say, ‘John, you really outdid yourself. All of your cars are exciting but this one just is at the top of the list.’ and I thought I would never compete against the Gable Packard in 2004, the ’40 Packard.
It is a fabulous car. The Marilyn car, the ’53 Cad, the Elvis cars. There are two Elvis cars, which are 59s, but I would say Sophia – number 1. Probably number 2, would probably be the Caribbean here and at number 3, probably Stardust. But I believe Sophia will be one that sticks around for decades, and who knows where she will end up.”
And there it is folks – this has been “Five Questions” John D’Agostino. Stay tuned to check in on our next victim of Five Questions coming your way soon!