In Memoriam: Great Hot Rodders We Lost In 2017

The start of 2017 was tough for hot rodders with the loss of two giants in the world or rodding and customizing. Just two days into the new year saw the passing of Nick Arias Jr. Less than a week later, the hot rod world was shocked when “everyone’s friend,” Pete Chapouris passed away unexpectedly. Losing these two legendary icons in an extremely short period put everyone in the community on edge. No one wanted this trend to continue.

Even in a graying market, no one wants or expects to see their heroes leave the hobby they helped to build. Sadly, the next legend to pass on happened at the end of February when Covercraft’s founder Bob Lichtmann died just two days prior to his 92nd birthday.

A few months lapsed before the rod world was again shook to the core with the passing of Vic Edelbrock Jr., in June. As one of the high performance community’s most popular figures, and one of the original founders of the SEMA organization, his loss was felt by many. SEMA lost another one of their key figures when Steve McDonald passed away in September, at a very young 56 years of age.

While the year was devastating with such great losses, the community continued to soldier on, teaching new enthusiasts about the traditions and camaraderie the hobby embraces. These characteristics generated in the sport are due in large part to the leadership of the icons that we lost in 2017. To close out the year, we pay our respects to these men that left us in the past 12 months.

Nick Arias Jr.

Nick Arias Jr. (January 20 1929 – January 2, 2017)

One of Southern California’s original post-war hot rodders, Arias grew into a major performance parts pioneer and manufacturer. Friends with other SoCal hot rod luminaries like oe Pisano, Ed Iskenderian, Frank Venolia, Juan Fangio, Harry Warner, Lou Senter, and Lou Baney, Arias raced the dry lakes and drag strips with his friends. He was a founding member of the Photons as well as the Screwdrivers car clubs.

Arias obtained a share of the Venolia Pistons company before striking out on his own. He is known for developing a state-of-the-art Hemi-head conversion for big-block Chevys in 1972. Arias pistons and cylinder heads were cherished by racers and the company developed a large following in the drag racing community before dominating other motorsports like tractor pulling and drag boats.

Arias was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame, International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, and several other Halls of Fame. He passed away on Monday, January 2, 2017.

Pete Chapouris.

Pete Chapouris. (December 16, 1944 – January 6th, 2017)

Another true industry legend, Chapouris was part of the Southern California hot rod culture starting in the mid 1950s. He established himself as a leader of the culture in the 1960s with his understanding of performance engine building and body fabrication and welding. His popularity hit the mainstream in 1973 when one of his Ford coupe builds was put on a magazine cover next to his friend Jake’s yellow Ford coupe. Because of the popularity of the covershot, the two builders opened their own shop, Pete and Jake’s Hot Rod Parts.

Pete then conquered Hollywood when his ’34 coupe was featured in the Martin Sheen movie, The California Kid. Chapouris served as Vice President of Marketing for SEMA while building cars for everyone that wanted a real hot rod. Winning almost every trophy that was available, Pete even won the Pebble Beach Concours award – unheard of in the hot rod world.

Chapouris revived the famed So-Cal Speed Shop and was tasked to build a series of land speed record cars for GM Performance. He will long be remembered for the cars he built, the mentoring he did, the service to the hobby, and a man that changed hot rodding for everyone. Chapouris died of complications from a stroke on Friday, January 6, 2017.

Robert Lichtmann.

Robert Lichtmann. (Feb 22, 1925 – Feb 20, 2017)

Bob Lichtmann, the founder of Covercraft Industries LLC, passed away only two days before his 92nd birthday. Beginning the company with a single employee in 1965 by manufacturing custom-patterned car covers for European sports cars in a 1,500-sq.-ft. shop, Lichtmann grew the company into a dynasty. From a mere 30 patterns at the start, Covercraft now has patterns for almost every car made today, and the ability to custom make a cover for any vehicle.

The company has over 700 employees and the facilities are located in five states, with three manufacturing facilities that total nearly 300,000 square feet. Over the years, a variety of automotive specialty products were added to Covercraft’s line, including SeatSaver, LeBra and Colgan Custom masks, the Canine Covers pet travel line, DashMat, floor mats, UVS100 sunscreens, powersports covers and ADCO RV products.

Vic Edelbrock Jr.

Vic Edelbrock Jr. (August 23, 1936 – June 9, 2017)

One of the industry’s premiere visionary professionals, and an icon for high performance, passed away after heading the company that his father founded for over fifty years. He took over the company at 26 years of age when his father died of cancer in 1962. Inheriting the Edelbrock Corporation with 10 employees, annual sales of $450,000, and $200,000 in the bank. Vic Jr., built the business into a multi-million dollar industry with it’s own development department and assembly lines with more than 700 employees working three shifts.

Vic Jr., guided the company in many new and different directions, including product lines that included carburetors, camshaft kits, and other engine accessories. The key to the company’s self-sufficiency was in the foundry that Vic had built from scratch in San Jacinto in 1988. Understanding that controlling the quality of its aluminum castings was critical to the company’s long term success. He often attributed the company’s growth in the 1980s and 1990s to controlling their own destiny by building the foundry. Edelbrock has been inducted in numerous Halls of Fame.

Steve McDonald.

Steve McDonald.  (1961 – 2017)

A member of SEMA’s executive team, McDonald served as the Vice President of Government Affairs for the organization. Presiding over the legislative and regulatory issues for the automotive industry for over 20 years, he was responsible for helping to create the SEMA Action Network (SAN), he helped to draft model state legislation covering a multitude of issues like vehicle titling and registration, exhaust noise, inoperable vehicles, altered heights and nitrous oxide.

Most recently McDonald played a key role in the passage of the federal replica car law and industry efforts to enact the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports (RPM) Act. He passed away unexpectedly on September 26, 2017, at the relatively young age of 56.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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