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GNRS 001AA

Suede Palace
Grand National Roadster Show
L. A. Fairplex at Pomona, CA
Jan. 28-30,’11
Story by Richard Parks and Photographs by Roger Rohrdanz

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 Richard Parks and Roger Rohrdanz

John and Annika Buck are the promoters for the Grand National Roadster Show (GNRS), held at the Los Angeles County Fairplex, in Pomona, California every January.  The GNRS has grown and branched out to include activities that center around hot rodding.  One of the activities that have sparked great interest among young people is the traditional hot rod exhibits in the Suede Palace.  It is a huge Quonset-type building from the 1930’s that is used to house nostalgic hot rods and hot rodding culture from the 1940’s and ’50’s.  The term suede has to do with the style of the hot rods exhibited.  These are the more traditional style of hot rods that most of us are familiar with; cars put together as best as we can make them from junkyard parts.  They have only a primer coat of paint but not a finish coat.  Sometimes a bit of rust shows through and there is very little chrome finish anywhere on the vehicle.  The Suede Palace is a throwback to a time when young people made do with what they could create on a very small budget.  Today that means much the same thing, only some of the old and original parts are a bit pricier than they were back then.  Also, the traditional hot rodder lives in the past, even though he or she might make concessions to having to work in the present.  Many traditional hot rodders have homes that are made to look like those constructed in the 1940’s and ‘50’s.  They wear a style of clothes and makeup from that period of time.  Even their furniture mirrors the Golden Age of Hot Rodding.  They call it the Rockabilly Era and the music and dancing is pure early Elvis Presley.

     The first thing that is evident at the Suede Palace is the energy level.  Most car shows are sedate and well organized.  But the traditional hot rodders are a swirling mass of young people and those who like to feel like they are still young.  It is a maelstrom of activity with lively music that is far too loud for our health and a jive beat that is toe tapping good.  The young girls wear dresses that were in vogue in their grandmother’s day and it looks real good on them.  Their lipstick is blood red and has names like Cherry, Fire Engine, Chartreuse and Ruby.  Their stockings are nylons and yes they are held up by garter belts.  What are garter belts?  Well for a large number of younger readers there is a jargon that needs to be learned if you want to relive the Greatest Generation of the late Depression and World War II Eras.  The guys wear jeans and white t-shirts with the sleeves rolled up to be able to put a pack of cigarettes tucked wickedly away.  They were rebels at heart way back then and rebels today.  The Suede Palace is one of the first places that I come to and it’s one that I tend to spend a lot of my time at as well.  John Buck put Axle and Celeste Idzardi in charge of running the place and they do a spectacular job.  Axle is a gruff, no nonsense kind of guy who has the respect of all the exhibitors.  Talking to Axle is like going back in time when there was always a hot rodder who had to take charge.  You can ask Axle a question, but more than likely he will decide that the question really was stupid and simply walk away.  Axle is in charge and there is much to do; he doesn’t suffer fools easily.  But he and Celeste know what they are doing and the show reflects their skillful control.

     I met Chuck Small at the Suede Palace.  Chuck is a member of the Gold Coast Roadster & Racing club located in Buellton, California and also the Los Angeles Roadster Club for many years.  He told me that the next Gas-UP Party and Dry Lakes Racers Hall of Fame will be held in the late Spring of this year.  Chuck was a fellow board member of the North American Timing Association (NATA) that tried unsuccessfully to get permission to run land speed time trials at Vandenberg Air Force Base before the terrorist attack in New York City.  That attack ended our efforts to secure the base for racing.  Kent Reppert II was back at the Suede Palace with his wild and irreverent art work that the younger generation loves.  He has turned a scraggy wolf and ghastly rat into a counter culture art form.  “This is one of the biggest shows of the year for me,” he said.  “I did very well at last year’s GNRS and overall I did very well in 2010 in a down year for most.  I just create more affordable art for people and my style stands out,” he concluded.  Reppert’s work isn’t quite like Roth or Williams, but it does have that Mad Magazine style to it.  Sometimes it can be rapacious and raucous, with a moral tale to tell of a counter-culture and somewhat anti-hero.  Josie Stahl was back with her business, Charlotte’s Web, and said that last year was good for her and she has this feeling that 2011 will be even better.  Ray and Vanessa Estrella were selling ‘40’s style Hispanic and Rockabilly clothing under the Pachuco Zoot Suits branding.  This is their third year at the GNRS and last year was a good year for them.  They do 20 to 30 shows a year and will be at the Viva in Las Vegas show in April during the Rockabilly weekend.  That show is wild and far out and attracts all the extremes.  It’s a show not to be missed. 

     The next vendor was a very talented young lady; Mitzi Valenzuela Cardenas and she is the owner of Mitzi & Company.  Mitzi has her own photography studio in San Dimas and also creates wonderfully sexy pin-up calendars, just like grandpa used to hang on his garage walls.  Today those calendars are even accepted in the house by grandma, though back then they were considered risqué.  Not any more, as wives, girlfriends and significant others go to Mitzi’s studio to be photographed in that boudoir style photography that is appealing, but not revealing.  It is more about mood, Mitzi said, than skin.  In Mitzi’s booth were two models.  Megan O’Mary will be in the pin-up contest later in the day.  She has appeared and modeled at the Johnny Cash Music Festival in Ventura, California, the wild Huff-O-Rama in Colton, California and was Miss Mooneyes 2010.  Dinah Derosa was the other model and she was Miss 2010 Billetproof Queen, and the cover model for the band Hula Girls.  She was a go-go dancer in Costa Mesa, plays the guitar and loves to paint.  You can see her at thehulagirlsband.com.  Dinah is one of the more well-known Rockabilly models and calendar pin-up girls.  With Mitzi was Jorge Vargas, a photographer who shoots modeling sessions and his daughter, Samantha Vargas.  Jorge has been a photographer for 15 years, and worked for newspapers, also as a graphic design artist and for the last six years as a fashion photographer.  “I love what I do, but it’s a lot of work for the photographer and for the model and it isn’t as much fun as people think it is.  Each photographer has his or her own style and we are hired to do calendars, ads, marketing based on what the client wants,” he told me.  Based on the skimpy clothes and bathing suits the models either have to put up with extreme heat or cold weather conditions.  It looks glamorous and the calendars, magazines and books show pretty models, but it’s hard work.

     Burke LeSage came by to say hello.  Burke began land speed racing when he was only 16 years old in the early 1950’s.  At the time you had to be twenty-one years old to race.  That didn’t stop Burke then and he is still excited by the world of speed.  Dick Martin wrote a story on LeSage that will be appearing in the April 2011 issue of Rod & Custom magazine.  He is a member of the prestigious Dry Lakes Racers Hall of Fame and will soon be attending the 2011 Gas-UP Party where he will accept the plaque on behalf of his long-time friend, Jack Calori, who has passed away.  Mike Basso is a photographer who worked for a number of magazines and has been with Ol’ Skool Rodz, a traditional hot rodding magazine that has a great impact with young hot rodders.  He told me how the depressed economy has resulted in lots of layoffs as the magazines cope with the financial downturn.  “Media publications are phasing out a lot of the little guys in the photography business,” he said.  Many photographers and writers are trying to make the switch to the electronic media with varying success.  My Baby Jo is a company that is trying to keep going and has been at the GNRS since before the downturn in the economy.  The owner said that she has no complaints so far and has made it through this far with an assortment of old style hats, fedoras, dresses, Pendleton shirts, coats, shirts and ‘50’s stylish clothing.  They also sell a wide selection of hair pomades for that slicked back hair look.  The Pasadena Roadster Club exhibited a number of cars.  This club was a force back in the 1930’s and ‘40’s and could be seen at the dry lakes, drag strips and in road rallies.

     Another artist with a following among the young is Doug Horne who has an art style that takes cartoon art to the edge.  I met Mark Waldman who owns Gasoline Gallery, selling a variety of t-shirts and clothing.  His main store is in El Segundo and he is opening an outlet store in Japan where traditional hot rodding and the American culture of the 1940’s and ‘50’s is very strong.  “Japan almost does America better than we do.  They live a retro Americana that we have largely forgotten,” Mark told me.  He is looking for a recovery in his sales in 2011 and will be at the Mooneyes Show in December.  Mark promotes the California Screamin’ car show in El Segundo on May 14, 2011.  This will be the 6th Annual show and the streets will be blocked off in order to park cars.  He expects around 5000 spectators to show up.  Mark is always a vendor at the GNRS and does about 8 shows a year.  His favorites are the GNRS, L. A. Roadsters, Mooneyes, Primer National, Back to the Beach and Santa Maria.  With Mark was pinstriping artist Three Sheets, also known as Jason Janes.  Several booths down was a very unique artist called Big Toe and with him was Audrey Moorehead.  She explained that Big Toe specialized in blue and green Tiki exotica art.  “He has been a painter for 30 years, but this is his first year as a vendor at the GNRS,” she added.  I remember Big Toe from the Long Beach Motorama and the art exhibit that he organized with about 15 local artists.  The exotic and somewhat erotic Polynesian motif reminded me of the velvet paintings of the 1960’s that were so popular.

     Dick and Beverly Martin walked by and said hello.  Martin is a long time reporter, writer and photographer for a slew of old magazine titles and recently did a story on land speed racer Burke LeSage.  He put on a reunion recently for Tom Medley at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum that was a great success and brought back so many memories of the young at heart Hot Rod magazine cartoonist, who popularized the character Stroker McGurk.  Martin’s next story will be on Tim Timmerman and then A. J. Watson.  Outside the Suede Palace but still within the spirit of traditional hot rodding was Pinky Star, a rock ‘n roll clothing boutique owned and run by a very talented young lady by the name of Andrea Perez.  Her store is in Covina, California and this is her second year selling merchandise at the GNRS, though she has been in business for nine years.  Other shows that she likes to sell at include the L. A. Roadsters Show and West Coast Customs.  She also organizes and promotes her own show called the Pink Parlour Festival, which will take place on March 27, 2011 at the Santa Anita Racetrack.  It’s an art and crafts festival for female artists, hence the name Pink Parlour.  There will be all-female bands, variety show, food, crafts and a fashion show.  This is a great opportunity for you guys to take your special lady to a show that is all about the ladies.  They go to car shows with us and isn’t it time we went to a women’s festival with them.  This will be their third year and Andrea told me that the gals will also put on a singing, vaudeville, burlesque and vintage fashion show.  That should get the guys interested.  Andrea graduated from Cal Poly Pomona in business and she is always looking for business opportunities, including website sales. 

     Fabian Valdez was also in another building, but he too embodies the spirit of the traditional hot rodder.  His garage is called Vintage Hammer and he is a master car builder and customizer.  With him was Lauren Chiles who told me that this was Fabian’s seventh year as a participant in the GNRS.  “The shop is in Yucaipa.  Fabian will be exhibiting at the Lone Star Round-up in Austin, Texas on April 1-3, 2011.  He hopes to be ready for the start of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) season in May at the dry lakes and later in the year at Bonneville Salt Flats,” she told me.  Fabian has built a great roadster to run at El Mirage.  Lauren is a hairstylist and loves to ride horses and go to the dry lakes to see Fabian race.  I ran into Jay Ohrberg, Ron Martinez and Gene Winfield.  Ohrberg has built many fabulous show cars for the movies and car shows.  Martinez sold a retail movie business to Jay and is a Sidewinder car club member in the SCTA.  Gene Winfield is the ultimate hot rodder and car builder.  Gene is going to have his own TV show, called The Gene Winfield Rod & Custom TV Show.  Filming is set for this spring and will take Winfield all over the country and to Afghanistan where he will build a car with the help of our troops for the people in that country.  Winfield also has a part in the new hot rod movie called Deuce of Spades, by filmmaker Faith Granger.

     The Mooneyes booth was run by Chico Kodama who introduced me to two lovely young ladies, Robin Walker and Riley Schnitz.  “Mooneyes exhibits at about 25 shows a year, including SEMA, Viva Las Vegas, Mooneyes, L. A. Roadsters, the March Meet and California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, the Good Guys car show in Pleasanton and Del Mar, the GNRS and others.  Three of their favorites are Mooneyes, GNRS and the L. A. Roadster Show.  Shige Suganuma is the owner of Mooneyes and bought the company from Dean Moon.  Shige used to be a dealer for Moon and had a good working relationship with Dean.  After Moon’s death Shige bought the company from the Trust.  The accessory market is growing and a good branding (name) is vital according to Chico.  Another booth worth noting is the L. A. Roadster Club.  They have been an important supporter of a number of organization and shows.  They can always be counted on to help out and they put on their own car show in June on Father’s day.  It is always on Father’s day and many a wife or girlfriend has accompanied their car guy to the show as their gift to their special man in their life.  The club has always had a tight restriction on membership; usually no more than 30 to 40 members and each person had to have a roadster.  It’s a tight club and they work and vacation together.  Their car show and swap meet is world famous among hot rodders.

     The Long Beach Motorama will hold its second annual car show on September 30 through October 2, 2011 at the Long Beach Arena.  There will be Kustoms, hot rods, motorcycles, historical survivors, street rods and muscle cars from 1969 and earlier.  Besides plaques and trophies there will be cash awards.  Trace Edwards is the promoter and can be reached at www.LBmotorama.com.  Jerry Lee Lewis will headline the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly car show.  This will feature many old bands, toe tapping music, pin-up and calendar contests and Kustom and hot rod cars.  Jive dancing, a burlesque show, ‘50’s fashion show and the famous Tiki pool party are just some of the scheduled activities.  Check out their website at www.vivalasvegas.net.  The West Coast Kustoms Cruisin Nationals car show will have its 30th annual event in Santa Maria, California on May 27-29, 2011.  The event is open for all pre-1961 cars and the pinstripers reunion and auction will be held.  See www.westcoastkustoms.com for more details.  The Petersen Automotive Museum is holding the Deuce Week from February 29 through March 3, 2012.  The event is in honor of the venerable ’32 Ford, a favorite of hot rodders for nearly 80 years.  There will be driving and shop tours and over 400 Deuce cars on display.  For more information see www.DeuceWeek.org.  The 7th Annual Rockabilly Road Trip will be held on July 16, 2011 by the Lifters at the Barona Dragstrip in Lakeside, California.  Pre-1965 cars will be on display, live music, drag racing, burlesque show, food and free camping.  See www.baronadrags.com.  The Deuce of Spades hot rod movie is now out on DVD and I have reviewed it for the website www.hotrodhotline.com.  It is a fine movie, as good as American Graffiti and a nice film for both guys and gals who enjoy the 1950’s hot rod scene.


Click on Photos to Enlarge

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The Suede Palace.  It is a huge Quonset-type building from the 1930’s that is used to house nostalgic hot rods and hot rodding culture from the 1940’s and ’50’s.

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– Mr. Suede Palace, Axle. Talking to Axle is like going back in time when there was always a hot rodder who had to take charge

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Inside the Suede Palace.

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Outside the Suede Palace

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“Greaser Alley”

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A pair of nostalgia Gasser drag racers. On the left is Paul Soliz’s ’41 Willys Pickup with a Hilborn Injected small block Chevy. On the left is Vic Youngs new, small block powered, ’52 Henry J called “Bad News II”.

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“Miss Loved” a beautifully massaged ’50 Ford convertible.

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Mike Dingillo brought his creative ’31 Ford Sedan from Whitter, CA.  He uses a 4-71 blown, 283 Chevy for power.

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You don’t see many ’27 Overland Wippets, and none look like Jay Pearson’s from Highland, CA.

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Interesting pickup?

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Eric Conner of El Cajon, CA. calls this his ’56 Austin “Taxi”?

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The graphics on Jason Mulligan’s ’48 Chevy Custom from San Dimas, CA are unique.

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Some of the vendors in the Suede Palace.

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Many of the girls sport a lot of “ink”. The blond is “Miss Rockwell”.

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Some of the very original awards.

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