Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
An interesting and informative book on traditional rod and custom car builders is Hot Rod Kings, by David Perry and Kevin Thomson. The book is 9 ½ inches in width and 11 ¼ inches in height. Hot Rod Kings is a hardbound book in a quality cloth binding along the spine and a nice dust cover jacket. The price is $34.95, which isn’t bad for a hardbound book of this quality. Be sure to keep the dust cover jacket in good shape as it gives the book a first class appearance. Otherwise the book is a drab looking black with white lettering. Hot Rod Kings was published by MBI Publishing Company, a subsidiary of Motorbooks, in St Paul, Minnesota. The ISBN # is 13-978-0-7603-2738-8 and you can order it through most bookstores or call Autobooks/Aerobooks at 818-845-0707. Hot Rod Kings is printed on high quality, heavy bond, waxed paper and this makes the photos stand out in rich texture. There are 160 pages, with a Foreword by rock legend and car lover, Billy F. Gibbons. Kevin Thomson writes the introduction and then there are ten chapters, one for each of the car builders who are portrayed. Following that is a list of acknowledgments, a one-page history of the authors and an adequate and complete index. Kevin Thomson is the writer and a fan of the car culture and music scene. He is also a music songwriter. David Perry is the photographer and has collaborated on many other books. There are 230 color photographs, 8 posters, 4 drawings, 2 black and white photographs and 21 off-tone photos. Perry does a good job of altering some of his photographs so that they appear to be color and yet fade into off-tones.
Hot Rod Kings is an effort by the authors to portray the traditional styles of custom hot rod building. They have chosen eleven men to write about and honor. The book is a visual feast and the writing is adequate, but the readers keep asking the question, “why these custom car builders?” What is it that drew the author and photographer to these particular men? Who are they and where are they located. Perhaps the authors intended to touch just the surface and leave the discovery to us. Custom car building has been around since the first car was junked and then recovered. It changes from style to style as new men and ideas are formed and new tastes are developed. The word traditional in the full title of the book rules out rat rodders and suede builders. Traditional custom building in the sense that these cars are meant to be built and sculpted in ways that have come down to us through the history of the automotive age. Traditional in the sense that they are the best that can be done and still be a hot rod that one can drive on the streets. Don’t look for addresses, phone numbers or email addresses. The authors are giving you a visual feast, not an ad for exceptional car builders. Search the text and the photos for details if you must, but Perry and Thomson are creating a book meant to inspire, not send you out to purchase a hot rod.
It’s not important to enumerate the chapters. Each car customizer gets his own chapter. They authors also honor one trimmer/upholsterer. The first person to be reviewed is Cole Foster, who owns Salinas Boys and works out of Salinas, California. Cole's father is the famed dragracer and dragster builder, Pat Foster. Cole builds traditional motorcycles as well as hot rods. Scott Mugford owns Blue Collar Customs and his shop is located somewhere in Northern Sacramento. As the shop name implies, Mugford is comfortable with the work that he loves so much, but he never envisions himself as a street rod shop. The Kennedy brothers, Joe and Jason, grew up in Southern California and were influenced by the So-Cal Speed shop. Their work is 1940’s street rods and their music is 1980’s punk rock, with traditional California surfboards hanging from the ceiling of their Pomona shop. Mercury Charlie Runnels and Sean Johnstun operate out of Austin, Texas. Charlie builds and customizes and Johnstun creates stunning upholstery designs for cars and bikes. His Fat Lucky’s pinstriping designs in leather steal the attention away from the cars. Keith Tardel owns Rex Rod & Chassis, a shop somewhere in northern California. Keith followed in the footsteps of his father, Vern Tardel and their tastes run all the way to Bonneville Salt Flats racing. Rudy Rodriguez operates out of Orange, California. He has done some serious chopping and his cars reflect a traditional Southern California look to them. Rudy is a family man and his wife and sons reflect a car culture that is deeply felt by them. Mike Smith owns California Hot Rods, and he also has a wife and two young sons imbued with a love of hot rodding. Located in Sonora, California, Mike’s style is neat and tidy, like his business. Jimmy White owns Circle City Hot Rods in Orange, California. He left Boyd Coddington in 2002 to open his own shop and builds clean looking hot rods, with a special emphasis on his chassis work. Gary Howard is the last of the star custom car builders and color is his passion. His shop is located in Weir, Texas, just outside of Austin. His 1950-60’s cars are exceptional and the paint schemes are top of the line. Hot Rod Kings doesn’t explain why these men were chosen to represent the traditional hot rod designers and customizers. However they found these artists, they chose very well.
Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS2@JUNO.COM.