Drifting far away from rat rods, but remaining of the theme of extreme personalization, I'd like to focus on Beatnik Hot Rods. To many, Beatnik rods are considered the ultimate in imaginative design, with shapes and colors that literally look out of this world. To understand these cars though, you have to look at the people who built them--namely: Beatniks.
Beatniks are an outgrowth of the 1950's and early 1960's 'Beat Generation,' who were basically the rebellious youths of their day. Personified in the writings and life of Jack Kerouac, beatniks had all the makings of great hot rodders; they were counter-culture youth longing to express themselves and possessing huge amounts of artistic and creative talent...combined with the free time that comes with being an unemployed or slightly employed disgruntled teen or twenty-something. Beatnik rods were designed to transport the user and viewer to another place, more mentally than physically. Unlike rat rods, which are ruggedly utilitarian, Beatnik rods were alien and unworldly. Even more so, the use of original parts was uncommon, almost every part of the car was fabricated, much of it from an old material fairly new car building-fiberglass.
The true pioneer, icon, and greatest champion of Beatnik rods was hot rod builder and artist Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth. Roth, a Southern California child of the Beat Generation started his career painting pin stripes and flames. It was during this time in the late 1950's that he developed an icon that still lives on to this day: Rat Fink. The unofficial mascot of the Beatnik rod (and most every other hot rod, save for the ultra modern, high tech, and expensive rods I'll talk about tomorrow), Rat Fink was a crazed, hideous rat-like creature with a penchant for burn-outs. Also in the late 50's and early 60's, Roth created a bunch of vehicles that fit the Rat Finks wild persona.
Unlike anything that had ever been seen before, Roth's hot rods were based on the usual bits, mostly 1920's and 30's Fords, but were bodied with strange and wild fiberglass bodies topped off with eccentric pearlescent paint jobs. Roth also was one of the first designers to put a bubble top on a hot rod, something that had become increasingly popular among jet-age automobile designers. With exotic names like 'Beatnik Bandit' and 'Mysterion' and looks that were wild enough to stand above the rest by attractive enough to be adored by the masses, Roth capitalized on the phenomenon with a series of t-shirts, models, and posters that are still popular today.
The style the Roth pioneered and championed still lives on now with some hot rodders. Recently, a freshly completed 1955 Ford Custom called the 'Beatnik Bubbletop' sold at auction for a touch under $400,000 (see lot 141). Roth's cars are currently on display at the Petersen Museum in LA call Ed "Big Daddy" Roth: The Original Rat Fink. It is definitely worth checking out if you are in the area. Also, for a comprehensive list of Roth's show cars, check out MrGasser.com.
Tomorrow I'll look at Kustom Kars and the growth of the modern 'ultra-rod.'
Pictures, clockwise from lower left, are of the 1960 Beatnik Bandit, the many faces of Rat Fink, the 1959 Outlaw, the 1963 Mysterion, Carl Casper's Hemi-powered 'Ultra-Rod,' and a a 1933 Ford Hot Rod by Ron Price and painted by Ed Roth.