If the Minions had a dream car, the banana-yellow Mysterion would be it. Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and his UFO-like show car may be long gone, but the famous bubble-top custom has been fastidiously resurrected by hot rodder Jeffrey Jones. He built this running and driving Mysterion as a tribute to Ed Roth’s ingenuity. The project quickly evolved from an idea to build a simple replica, to Jones forming an acute passion (bordering on obsession) for the Mysterion as a whole.
Jones aspired to recreate Ed Roth’s Mysterion since its cryptic demise. “I wanted to extract the excitement from the original while creating a fully functional vehicle,” he explained. It didn’t take long for Jones to discover that the Mysterion was one of the most famous, least documented cars from the Golden Age of customizing.
The only helpful hints were a Revell 1/25-scale model kit, the cover of the September 1963 Rod & Custom Magazine, a 1965 school library book, “Here Is Your Hobby: Car Customizing” by Henry Felson, and an article in Car Model Magazine’s October 1964 issue. Later in his research, the Internet’s introduction brought inaccurate information, but gave additional clues to the car’s history.
Ed Roth’s original 1963 Mysterion was a free-form piece of art, sculpted purely by eye. However, Roth’s show car was built without the inclination to be fully functional, unless it was intended for a legless alien creature. The seat’s headrest is shoulder-height and the steering wheel touches the bottom seat cushion.
Another oddity was the radiator mounted inside of the cockpit, hidden under a fur-covered panel with the radiator cap sticking through the interior’s upholstery. If the engine ran long enough to get hot, the Mysterion would be in danger of singeing its own fur.
On To The Build!
We spotted Jones’ magnificent Mysterion at the LA Classic Auto Show and had to find out how someone could flawlessly create a vehicle so intricate. To start, Jones referenced old photographs and took clues from the Revell model to estimate the build’s dimensions. His in-depth calculations revealed that the original frame construction wouldn’t withstand the weight of a single fully intact 390-cid engine and Ford Cruise-O-Matic transmission while in motion.
“The original frame’s lack of strength is what ultimately caused the car’s demise,” Jones explained. Instead, he built a durable 2-inch by 4-inch steel hot rod-style inner frame. He then simulated the original’s decorative dragster-like Swiss cheese frame rail design with pre-polished 16-gauge stainless steel to cover the rugged frame. Functionality was a priority, so Jones added several inches of clearance and coil spring suspension. “The goal was to make the car as lightweight as possible while also being adequately rigid for road use,” he explained.
At first glance, the yellow Martian has twin 390 V-8s, but only one of the two hearts has a beat. Jones hollowed out the passenger side engine block and utilized the space to conceal the alternator. To save weight, the passenger side transmission was not installed. A cross belt joins the two engines to make the dummy engine appear functional while the single V-8 is running: perfection.
Let The Artistry Begin
Ed Roth used very little wood to guide the form of the original body. On the contrary, Jones was forced to use precisely measured wood forms to achieve his goal of a road-ready vehicle. He first constructed the entire body with a complex wood frame, and then covered the frame with window screen. A lightweight plaster/vermiculite mix formed the figure. The Mysterion’s sides had no geometric shapes as guidance, so Jones plastered and sanded each contour to perfection using only the best measuring tools: his eyes. Once the body mold was complete, Jones coated it with fiberglass and body filler, and then block sanded, filled and primed it until every detail appeared perfect.
Jones built the Cyclops headlight from a 1962 Plymouth Fury headlight rim, and reverse lights from a ‘40s Ford were molded to the sides. The rear top digit that rests on the bubble top finalizes the look. It was created separately and attached after the iconic top was perfected.
“Blowing the bubble top was the most intimidating part of the build,” Jones expressed. It was actually created early in the process so the upper body could be fitted around it.
Jones adroitly constructed a wood pattern to shape the bubbletop, and then hired a professional company to mold it. “I watched as they heated the plastic in their oven. After that, a couple of guys laid it on the felt bed of a huge hydraulic press,” he reminisced. “The operator lowered the wood pattern mounted in the press, turned the air valve, and voila, a plastic bubbletop!” Jones initially expected to feel high levels of stress and anxiety, but once the process began, the only emotion present was pure excitement from completing a large piece of the puzzle.
Complex builds don’t come without trials and tribulations. Thankfully, Jones followed his gut and had two tops made despite the extra investment. As it turned out, despite his careful handling during the install, Jones forgot to peel the masking tape after the blue candy tint had set. When he peeled it off a week later, a piece of urethane came with it, which ruined the uniform film. He removed the first bubble from the frame, glued on a new rubber rim on the second bubble, and then fitted it to the body.
It’s All In The Details
After framing in the cockpit, Jones made several of the curvy, more complicated interior panels from fiberglass. “Duct tape makes super fiberglass patterns,” he declared. Flat panels like the floor, kickboard and back panel were made from plywood. Soaking one-eighth-inch door skin plywood in water, then clamping it in place over the framework to dry and harden formed other panels. Once joined, Jones applied a layer of mat and resin for strength, and then installed lush fur upholstery to complete the look.
Interior gadgets include the infamous TV, which works as a facade to cover the electrical panel for the car. The TV had to be halved and the internals discarded in order to fit properly, much like Roth’s version. Jones also built the iconic space-age bucket seat solely by look and feel. An original Cragar steering wheel couldn’t be found, so Jones modified a similar modern wheel to replicate the original.
Jones’ favorite interior feature is the off-the-shelf Eelco cast aluminum dash panel, identical to the one Roth used. “It was a lucky find,” he grinned. “I haven’t seen one before or since I found it on eBay.” Period correct Stewart Warner racing gauges replace the panel’s original 4,000-rpm tach and 80-mph speedometer, and two small switch panels were added.
Wheels are the glue that holds the entire outfit together. The Mysterion’s wheels and tires, like the rest of the car, are completely custom. Jones followed in Roth’s footsteps and took styling cues from the drag racing world. The fabricated front wheels are wrapped with 3.25-inch by 16-inch motorcycle tires. For the rear, Jones mounted new vintage Inglewood Pos-A-Traction slicks to modified vintage Rader wheels. He cut a couple of grooves in the tires, and they pass as “legal” cheater slicks.
Jones’ journey cultivated unforgettable memories, such as meeting influential people and discovering the Mysterion’s secrets. His adoration for the car only grew upon its completion. Luckily for us, he documented his magnificent Mysterion tribute build and the car’s detailed history in his book, “Ed Roth’s Mysterion: The Genesis, Demise and Recreation of an Iconic Custom Car”. The book provides an exquisite combination of history and shop class combined with a full investigation of the Mysterion’s rise and fall. Even after he brought the Mysterion to life, Jones continues to learn about Ed Roth’s work; “No version of the car will be correct due to the lack of reliable information, so there is much to be learned. Each replica is a personal interpretation of what the original must have been like.”
If people love a custom car, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become a part of their soul. The Mysterion, among other Roth creations, is a part of Jones’ soul.