ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons is no stranger to the automotive world with a car collection like no other, including cars like “CadZZilla”, which we featured in last month’s Hot Rods You Should Know feature. But there is one car owned by Gibbons that is by far his most famous ride to-date and that car is none other than the chopped 1933 Ford coupe known as “Eliminator”.
If you don’t know what Eliminator is, well, you haven’t done much listening of rock music since the 1980s or digested mainstream media like the rest of us have over the last few decades. Eliminator is one of the most famous hot rods out there, so much so that even decades after its creation, hot rod enthusiasts instantly recognize the car. More so, many, MANY clones of the car have been produced in the market, making it nearly impossible to have never seen a coupe like the famous ZZ Top car.
Yes, Eliminator is in fact nearly as famous as its owner, having been featured on two of ZZ Top’s album covers, appeared in a handful of the band’s music videos, toured the country alongside Gibbons, along with at least one clone said to have been commissioned by Gibbons just for appearance reasons, and appeared in pretty much every hot rod, street rod and custom magazine on the planet, not to mention dozens of TV shows, movies, and automotive productions over the year. Eliminator is also credited with inspiring two of ZZ Top’s albums, one of the same name as the car, Eliminator, which came out in 1983, and the follow-up album Afterburner, which was released in 1985.
This car IS a big deal. But the reason you should know about the Eliminator coupe goes far beyond its international fame.
With its debut came a whole new era of custom cars, radical enough to set them apart from the mainstream but traditional enough to unite hot rod and street rod enthusiasts alike. Eliminator also helped bring what some consider a dying hot rod culture at the time to the famed “MTV Generation”, helping propel the custom hot rod world to where it is today. Few other hot rods have had such a lasting impact on the industry!
So what makes the Eliminator so special? Well, aside from it’s legendary owner and resulting fame, the car offers several key “ingredients” of a note-worthy hot rod. The build of Eliminator was originally inspired by the Pete and Jake’s coupe from the movie The California Kid and is a true steel 1933 Ford, not a fiberglass replica of the classic Ford model. Having been inspired by The California Kid car, Gibbons brought on Pete Chapouris (the Pete of Pete & Jake’s) to do some consulting on the car, which was ultimately built by Don Thelen of Paramount, California’s Buffalo Motor Cars with a Pete & Jake’s custom chassis, complete with a dropped tube axle, 4-bar front suspension and a Ford 9-inch rearend underneath it.
Other defining features of the car include a 3-inch chop, custom 3-piece hood built by Steve Davis, ’34 Ford headlights, classic ’39 Ford teardrop taillights, and of course, the iconic red paint scheme with custom “ZZ” graphics, designed by Kenny Youngblood. Under the hood, you’ll find a So-Cal Speed Shop-built SBC 350ci V8 with a single four-barrel carburetor, tied to a Turbo 350 transmission for reliability sake. And yes, that means the car is more than just a show piece.
It’s said that while some groups struggled with the introduction of music videos in the late 1970s and early 1980s, ZZ Top turned to what they knew best — rock and roll, cars and attractive females– for their music videos and their efforts paid off big time!
While Eliminator certainly played its part in the early music videos of ZZ Top, including for songs “Gimme All Your Lovin”, “Legs” and “Sharp Dressed Man”, the hot rod did get driven and enjoyed as a car should in the 80s after it made its industry debut. In fact, in the early 80s after the car appeared in its first ZZ Top music video, Gibbons teamed up with Chapouris in The California Kid car and Jake Jacobs (the Jake of Pete & Jake’s) in a custom 1934 Ford Coupe and the band and friends cruised Sunset Boulevard for Eliminator’s “maiden voyage.”
Later on in the 80s, Gibbons drove the ’33 Ford cross-country from L.A. To New York with one of the music video girls the band used, Kymberly Herrin, and Allison Ohnstede along for the ride. In a 2007 feature about Eliminator on the Gibson Guitars website, Gibbons stated that the trip took the group 10 days and all they had to do was fill the car up with gas and it was good to cruise in the fast lane!
Gibbons still owns Eliminator and the clone of the original car he had commissioned to help meet the demand for all the appearance requests the car and Gibbons got following the car’s initial music video fame. The original Eliminator now resides at the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where rock fans and hot rod enthusiasts can get a glimpse of the famous ’33 coupe year-round.