Where The Hot Rod Passion Began

Making My Own Memories

By Brian Brennan

Somewhere in the deepest recesses of our minds lies that first impression of hot rodding. Doesn’t matter if it was at the curb in front of your house, your buddy’s garage, outdoor or indoor car show, rod run, drag race, or for the few the dry lakes or Bonneville. It’s where your imagination became “lit.” Having been exposed to all I have some experience on this topic.

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Where did your first love of all things mechanical and that of future hot rods begin? More importantly, have you shared your love of cars with someone much younger to help them gain all these life’s memories?

Read More: From Gasser To Show Car: A Candy Apple Red ’41 Willys

02 That’s Dave Cunningham’s (San Francisco) wild custom ’40 Ford sedan (front center) Yes that’s Norm Grabowski’s “Kookie T” (above) and (background) Carole Lewis’ scalloped ’56 Chevy
That’s Dave Cunningham’s (San Francisco) wild custom ’40 Ford sedan (front/center). Yes, that’s Norm Grabowski’s “Kookie T” (above) and (background) Carole Lewis’ scalloped ’56 Chevy. She was dating Dean Jeffries at the time so he applied his talents on several occasions to the custom Tri Five Chevy.

For me it all began one Saturday morning when my parents dragged me off to the local high school and there on the football field were all of these “custom cars.” (The Coachmen Car Club of Norwalk, California, came up with the idea and pursued it in 1954 using Norwalk’s Excelsior High School, and this site would become the focal point.) I had never seen anything like this. I wanted to go up and touch each one of them. I soon found out that wasn’t a wise move. The paint looked so smooth, it was as if it was “wet;” I just had to touch it. (A trait of mine that would get me into trouble for many years to come.)

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In speaking with all-things-automotive historian Greg Sharp, he tells me (he’s very old) that back in the ’50s and ’60s the guys would bring their hot rods and customs to the local one-day shows. (He too suffered from this almost uncontrollable desire to “wet”-appearing paint jobs.) There was a time in SoCal where the one-day high school car show ruled. Because there were so many of these shows it wouldn’t be long before the hot rodders would begin changing little things and sometimes massive redos to make their cars look different. It opened the door to winning more trophies and keep the public coming.

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My first memories lie in the one-day high school car show, but it wouldn’t be long before this was replaced with hands-on experience in my buddy’s garage, which immediately morphed into working curbside. It’s amazing what you can accomplish at the curb with a little enthusiasm, some but not enough tools, and a lack of knowledge that you either couldn’t or shouldn’t be working here!

It wouldn’t be long before I was making my own memories at Lions Drag Strip in Wilmington and then Riverside Raceway, and on and on. Once the spark is lit, the passion runs deep for hot rodding and it’s no wonder as we can share it with so many like friends.

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Read More: If at First You Don’t Succeed

03 Taken in 1960 on the show floor of the Grand National Roadster Show several years before the word “Grand” would be added
Taken in 1960 on the show floor of the Grand National Roadster Show, several years before the word “Grand” would be added, the rear half of Bud Lehner’s sectioned ’39 convertible is visible. Next door is Ed Roth’s “Excalibur” (later renamed “Outlaw”) with the top on … rare shot as it blew off during transport early on. Directly above the Excalibur is Don Tognotti’s ’55 T-bird minus top. Directly above Cunningham’s Ford is Ron Aguirre’s ’56 Corvette.

The pinnacle for me came when I met the likes of Tex Smith, Richard “Magoo” Megugorac, and countless others who showed me the road to enlightenment while driving my highboy roadster. To this day the most enjoyable times usually involve driving in the early morning or late at night. It’s these times that I want to share with other hot rodders of like experience but also with those who haven’t. If I can “light” the passion within one future hot rodder I’m confident our hobby will be around for generations to come. MR

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