Kenny Howard, aka Von Dutch, and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth are two household names amongst custom car enthusiasts. In fact, Roth’s products and “Wierdos” t-shirts are still in circulation today. To learn more about one of the biggest names in custom culture check out Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s homepage here. Their contributions to the art form have become its foundation. Their legacy stands as a beacon of inspiration to those seeking to etch attitude onto their rides and push the boundaries of customization.
Von Dutch // Introduction
Von Dutch was born on September 7, 1929. He was the quintessential renaissance man of mid 20th century America. Amongst his talent as a pinstriper he was also a skilled motorcycle mechanic, artist, knife maker, and gunsmith. Von Dutch’s roots in painting extended back to his father Wally Howard, a Los Angeles sign painter. By the age of ten Von Dutch was able to paint and letter at a professional level.
Some of his most infamous works include the flying eyeball logo and the work he did on his “KenFord” truck. According to the eccentric Von Dutch, the flying eyeball was a homage to ancient Macedonian and Egyptian culture as well as a representation of his belief in reincarnation. This logo is a synopsis on the nature of custom cars. We chop, weld, and swap parts from the bones of old rides in order to breathe life into a new entity.
The “KenFord” truck was a living sermon on the cycle of reincarnation. It was a combination of Von Dutch’s ’56 Ford frame and the cab of a ’47 Kenworth semi. Although he referred to his daily driver at the time as the “Raunchy Utility Vehicle” his ability to create clean outlines and define contours turned a blue collar work horse into a regal coach that echoed back to times where extravagance and craftsmanship went hand in hand. Though he rejected fame and fortune, Von Dutch’s efforts undoubtedly spurred a revival of pinstriping and custom art.
Ed Roth // Introduction
Ed “Big Daddy” Roth was born in Beverly Hills on March 4, 1932 and grew up in Bell, California. During high school he was enrolled in both auto shop and art, two electives that would define his career within the hot rod world.
Roth is most famous for his creation of the hot rod caricature “Rat Fink” and several out-of-this-world customs. He experimented heavily with fiberglass and utilized it during the customization of his most infamous rides. Through extensive self-marketing, he became a pioneer of the low brow art form associated with the culture.
Von Dutch and Ed Roth were completely different from one another; Von Dutch was a minimalist while Ed Roth used notoriety to drive customs towards the mainstream eye. Despite their extreme differences in character it is their shared passion and personal dedication for the craft that has solidified them as icons amongst custom car enthusiasts for generations to come.
Through dedication and persistence, these two Godfathers of custom automotive art spawned many apprentices and continue to influence automotive art around the globe. For some more reading also check out Lindsey Fisher’s recent article on Robert Williams, a contemporary of Ed Roth, and founder of Juxtapoz art magazine. Roth’s legacy of wild and grotesque art lives through men such as Williams today.