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Dave Fair's Mind-Melting Builds

Story and Photos by Paul Garson

Riverside, CA area based Dave Fair has felt the need for speed since day one, and has gone about experiencing it on a variety of levels. In the mid-80s he became one of first members of the now famous West Coast Customs, and also a member of the Desert Tin Car Club. He’s gone through a slew of cars of all shapes and sizes, including a 10-year stint as a stock car racer campaigning Outlaw Figure 8’s and Modifieds.

“After that I went another ten years pretty heavy into desert racing,” he says, “and eventually decided to rebuild the dune buggy I was racing at the time into a rat rod. I rode that around until someone wanted it worse than me and it went away, at which point I started building motorized bicycles with an early 1900s board track motorcycle look.”

Which way to the board track?

No need to worry about splinters; Dave’s gas powered bicycle is street legal. Styling cues are inspired by a variety of early 1900 racers which were basically bicycle frames plugged with motors, Dave just bringing them back 100 years later. Gas tank holds enough for about 40 miles. Dave is part of a club of vintage boardtrack racer-looking bicycles riders called Riverside Riders. Yep, just call them the Wilder Bunch.


While Dave was building them just for fun rather than as a commercial production enterprise, he named his retro-cool bicycles “REO” based on an early ‘50s lawn mower he had bought to work on its broken motor. But while he opted for new motors, he kept the REO emblem to brand his cycles. People began buying every one of the trick two-wheelers and he was enjoying building them, but the rat rod bug bit again, a hankering for something with four wheels. Somewhat oddly, the donor car he had in mind was no Ford or Chevy, but a British-made 1965 Sunbeam Alpine, a two-seater sports car like the car seen on the still popular 1965-70 TV series “Get Smart.”

“Before” – First, take one 1965 “Get Smart” Sunbeam Alpine.

The first Sunbeam was produced in 1953, the last of the Sunbeam Alpines built in ‘68. The example Dave acquired was basically a half rusted out shell, but he breathed new rat rod life into it.

So how smart was it to turn the Brit classic into a rat rod? Dave says he was trying to keep a semblance of the car so people could maybe recognize it, but tweak it a bit. “When I started, I turned it into a roadster pick-up because I didn’t have a trunk lid. Now the only original Sunbeam parts are the rear quarters, the doors and the cowl.”

But it was apparently enough for the DMV to accept and register it after the VIN was verified, a pink slip issued and insurance acquired… except at this point the car was only a shell sitting on Dave’s front lawn. No drivetrain, no doors, no wheels, no nothing, just a Sunbeam body with the whole body rusted off. Dave gave the build 30 days, but one thing and another and the project took on its own life, stretching out to nine months to finally get it on the road. Says Dave with a chuckle, “The same amount of time to give birth.”

The creative process involved a large roll of butcher paper on which to sketch, a 6x6 foot steep work table and a length of string that marks out the symmetrical center of whatever he’s building, car or bicycle, and Dave goes from there. In the case of what we’re calling the “Flying Chalkboard,” he had a Sunbeam shell and wanted to build the rest with an emphasis on “major over overkill.” After acquiring lengths of 2x4 inch rectangular tubing, he welded up the two main rails for the chassis configured to his preferred 3 ½ inch ride height for his cars.

“Before” Part II - Then take one Ford 14-passenger school bus (something like this one but worse for wear) and start harvesting parts.

Dave then adapted a one-ton axle for the rear end and a one-ton spindle on the front end, both from a Ford 14- passenger school bus that Dave found in Victorville, paying a grand for it and dragging it home where he also harvested the 351 cu. in. Ford engine, which he mated to a ’68 Mustang’s C4 transmission. Dave mounted the steering box from a one-ton van directly to the top of the front axle.

When we discovered the car at the recent Pomona Car Swap, it was literally fresh off the grill by a month or so, so just getting its sea legs. “So far nothing’s fallen off, and it’s a blast to drive because you feel like going a millions miles an hour when you’re only doing the speed limit… The wind’s in your face because you’re looking a few inches over the low windshield… and you can reach down and touch the pavement. The car is pretty much done; now I just need to let it rust some more.”

“After”– Now call it a Sub-Compact.

Definitely a ground-hugger, the 1800 lb. Flying Chalkboard can be slammed to pavement via its airbags front and back. If in the mood, Dave can raise the car just one inch and drive it. The umbrella stands fits into a special adapter built into the car. (Note the cool ’50 “propeller” Studebaker in the background, the scene being one of the Pomona Fairgrounds auto swap meet events.) Shocks help handle the front end, the heaviest part of the car.

Park bench on steroids

Dave’s rat rod doubles as a comfortable perch, but stay clear of wheel’s spiny sharp lugnuts... something maybe off Ben Hur’s Roman war chariot. Discs from the bus lock down the front end rolling 16 inch Continentals, hydraulics on the rear along with a pair of original Firestones.

Faux fire power

Via an adapter, Dave shrouded the underlying Ford  351 V-8 valve covers with vintage Chrysler Hemi Firepower covers for shock-and-awe visual impact. While the hood ornament once graced a 1954 Chrysler New Yorker, the radiator shroud was modified from a vintage Hunter Wheel Balancer machine and an old refrigerator freezer door. The old car headlamps, nice and rustry like Dave likes it, had been hanging on his wall for five years and now found a purpose.

Perforated unmuffled straight pipes snap, crackle and pop!

But the decibel range is relatively civilized thanks to the mildly tuned ex-school bus Ford engine lurking underneath, so no noise violations to date. The pipes actually extended another three inches into the port head, concealed by the faux Chrysler valve covers.

Sunny Sunbeam remnants

Those finny rear panels definitely say Sunbeam Alpine, although the bullet taillights are ’59 Cadillac. Note the table vise used to secure the car club plate.

Fine art detailing

A fan of the artist Von Dutch, Dave added a couple “Flying Eyeballs” to the car’s cosmetics, including the gas cap embellishment.

No A/C needed

The only window appointment is the cut-down windshield, its frame plugged with safety glass. Gauges in the center are for the air bags but “too new looking” for Dave, so he’s about to add some rat rod patina to them.  The race style steering wheel is from Speedway Customs and has a quick disconnect feature that facilitates getting in and out of the car.

Light at the end of the tunnel

That yellow transmission cover is actually a recycled fuel tank from a small yard tractor, while the seat bases are standard tractor pieces. Says Dave, “I found a guy who had 500-600 of them, repops from China, that he had left outside so they were nice and rusty. Then I made the seat backs with my beadroller and welder.”

The oversized gas cap hides Dave’s cup holder. The shifter handle was donated by a Jeep and matched to a ‘30s Chevy brake handle and B&M shifter.

Honey, I shrunk the Alpine!

Air cleaner artwork includes another Von Dutch eyeball staring at a toy model of a Sunbeam Alpine. The cleaner is a repop of a ‘50s Cadillac, so Dave gave it his “in rust you trust” treatment. Sometimes he sprays some hydrogen peroxide on the parts needing a helping patina hand.

Chalk one up for mobile art

Dave attached a chalkboard to the bed of his car and encourages everyone to add their own artistic expressions via the sticks of colored chalk he also provides. Says Dave, “I had a chalkboard on my last build, and enjoyed watching kids trying their hand drawing a car or flames or some pin-striping, so decided to add it to this build as well.”

Knee height, but not to a grasshopper

Air bags allow for pavement-kissing park and display stance.

Blast from Dave’s rat rod past - WunderKar

Some nine year ago, Dave squashed another car to the ground. After driving it around for four years, some guys from Germany just had to have it, so it’s now rumbling around Deutschland. Why Germany? The car was based on a 1958 BMW Isetta “Bubble Car.”  Dave did upgrade the tiny single cylinder for a hi-po V-8.

The donor car – believe it or not! And cute as a bug.

Initially an Italian design, the microcar first appeared in 1955 and was the first to sip 94 miles to the gallon. It became the top selling single cylinder (298cc) car in the world, over 160,000 made in several countries under license in Germany by no less than BMW.

Dave does two wheels too!

Radical 4-inch seat height offers a low center of gravity and close view of the ground whizzing by. The bicycle’s design seems to echo Dave’s slam-it-to-the-ground car theme. Motors are 4-strokes with centrifugal clutches and electric start.

Groovy from any angle

Another model produced by Dave, this one features a rear fender and handlebar mounted storage. Dave’s newest project is focused on a 3-wheeled bicycle trike, a 3/5th scale of the classic British Morgan 3-Wheeler car. Watch for it here.