Photos by Larry Edsall
Through the end of this year, American Legends: Hot Rods & Customs is a special exhibition at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, where some of the country’s most famous rods and customs are set against a backdrop of artwork by Tom Fritz.
Born and raised in hot rod and custom-crazy Southern California, Fritz has been acclaimed for work that has been displayed on the lawn at Pebble Beach and in the U.S. Postal Service’s Muscle Car stamp series.
In one critic’s words, Fritz’ paintings “are a celebration of the memories and observations made since his childhood — a unique and sensitive interpretation of the emotion and beauty of power.”
The emotion, beauty and power of hot rod and custom cars is apparent in the Gilmore’s special exhibition, which had Dennis Lesky of the Ionia Hot Rods Shop serving as guest curator.
Immediately greeting visitors is perhaps the most famous of all hot rods: Clarence “Chili” Catallo’s 1932 Ford three-window coupe, which was featured on the cover of ‘The Beach Boys’ album, “Little Duece Coupe.” Not only is the car famous — before the album it was on the cover of Hot Rod magazine — but it has amazing history, built in Detroit by the famed Alexander Brothers, then modified when Catallo went to the west coast and worked with Barris Kustoms.
Among other stunning vehicles are:
- Gene Winfield’s (he also created the shuttlecraft for the original Star Trek television series and 25 of the vehicles for the movie Blade Runner) 1941 Ford “Taildragger” coupe, which served as a model for one of Mattel’s first-edition Hot Wheels;
- The “Big Daddy” Roth-inspired Futurian bubble top;
- Don Morton’s “Golden Bird,” a highly modified 1955 Ford Thunderbird originally on display in the Rotunda at Ford and later at the Detroit Autorama;
- The 1951 “Street Bandit” Ford T-bucket by Cotton Worksman and Bob Knaack with a 1951 Mercury V8 modified with hemi heads by Zora Arkus-Duntov, who is best known for his work on the Chevrolet Corvette;
- A tribute to the famed 1932 Veda Orr Ford roadster (Veda was one of the first women involved in hot rodding and land speed record runs; during World War 2 she sent a hot rod newsletter to servicemen overseas and started publishing her Hot Rod Pictorial two years before Robert Petersen launched Hot Rod magazine);
- The 1935 Ford “Crown Coupe,” the only car to win the International Championship of the International Championship Auto Shows title three times.