Automotive movies have grown in leaps and bounds by way of advances in cinematography, stunt work and visual affects since the 1970s. Some of the most famous and influential automobiles in the hot rod industry still have ties to Hollywood that reach back far before high-definition televisions and Blu-Ray players. The 1934 Ford 3-window coupe featured in the 1974 made-for-TV movie The California Kid is one such car, and a fitting subject for this month’s “Hot Rods You Should Know” feature!
The flamed 1934 Ford that starred alongside Martin Sheen in The California Kid is about one of the most iconic movie cars ever to have graced television screens. But the coupe was a note-worthy car even before movie producers got their hands on it.
Built by Pete Chapouris, of the later-formed Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Repair (later renamed Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Parts), the black 1934 3-window coupe was built in the early ’70s in the traditional hot rod style and pays homage to rodding’s beginnings, rather than the more contemporary customization trends widely utilized at the time. At the same time, Chapouris’s good friend, Jim “Jake” Jacobs, was also building a traditional 1934 Ford hot rod, now widely known as “Jake’s Coupe.”
In 1973, the two friends received one of the greatest honors ever bestowed on hot rodders even to this day — their cars were both featured on the November cover of Rod & Custom magazine. It was on this magazine cover that television producer Howie Horowitz saw Chapouris’s car and immediately knew he had found the perfect hot rod for his already scripted, upcoming television movie, The California Kid. As they say, the rest is history!
Bought by Chapouris with the roof already chopped, the 1934 coupe was fitted with a classic 302ci Ford V8 and an FMX gearbox by the traditional hot rod enthusiast. Other features like a quick-change rearend, Halibrand wheels and the iconic flame job by Manuel Reyes all played into the car’s traditional feel, an appealing yet, considered by some to be an outdated attribute of the build.
With the car’s starring role in The California Kid (as well as the release of the movie American Graffiti the same year), this way of thinking changed, with traditional-style builds once again becoming popular in the hot rod industry. The formation of Pete & Jake’s by Chapouris and Jacobs helped perpetuate this influence even more, providing not only a resource for quality automotive parts but also a baseboard for several other iconic Pete & Jake’s-built hot rods to be produced.
Changed just slightly for the movie, Chapouris’s coupe was fitted with non-functioning side pipes and a C-channel rear bumper, as well as having the Halibrands swapped out for period-correct steel wheels with Ford hubcaps for its television feature spot. Special “The California Kid” lettering was also added to the car’s door panels in the same color as the hot rod’s traditional flames, forever tying the car to its famous movie role.
Now, 42 years later, the car still remains intact and modified only by necessity with a Ford 9-inch rearend and some new chassis components over the last four decades, over which the car has racked up nearly 100,000 miles on its odometer. The car now resides in Peculiar, Missouri with the current owner of Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Parts, Jerry Slover, who purchased the company (and the car) in 1986, and moved it there from its original California home. Slover and his wife are said to take the car to a couple of car shows every year, between which, the car is on display at Pete & Jake’s headquarters now in Missouri, along with Jake’s Coupe.
Along with cars like the 1932 Deuce from American Graffiti and the 1958 Plymouth Fury from Christine, The California Kid coupe is by far one of the most noted cars in any hot rodder’s recollection of influences. Whether it is the love of the hobby or the affinity of traditional hot rod styling, if you ask any hot-rodder how he got his start, chances are The California Kid car will be at the top of their list.
With it’s traditional style, iconic flamed paint job over factory body lines, and famous movie star status, The California Kid hot rod has influenced generations of rodders and will continue to do so as the traditional build style continues on into the future. And that, boys and girls, is why this 1934 3-window coupe is a hot rod You Should Know!