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Hot Rod Name Game


By John "Gunner" Gunnell

Vito Picone and the Elegants was the name of a rock n’ roll group that had a hit record called “Little Star” back in 1958.  Many “old schoolers” know the song, but only a few know that Vito belonged to a Staten Island, N.Y. hot rod club called The Drifters.

Vito owned a white Willys coupe and a brand new white 1959 Pontiac Bonneville hardtop. It was a big, white car, which may be why Vito painted a white whale on the tailfin and nicknamed the car “Moby Dick.”

Another Drifter had a silver 1958 Pontiac with lakes pipes, bubble skirts and a continental tire kit. The name “Misty” was brushed across the metal pare tire cover over a sketchy cloud. “Blue Indigo” was the name of a clean-looking ’57 Olds with the triple-carb J-2 option. Then there was “Wild One,” a maroon Shoebox Ford with yellow scallops all over it.

My friends and I liked these cars. We followed Vito and his fellow drifters around town on our bicycles. We knew the name of every car in the club and longed for the day when we could paint names on our own cars. (A few years later, a friend asked me to paint “Turtle” and a tortoise on his very sluggish ’59 Chevy ragtop. It didn’t come out really well and that was the last time for that.)

Lately, names - like those we saw 60 years ago—have begun popping up on vehicles at car shows. We first noticed this at the Car-A-Funda charity show in Fond du Lac, Wis., where a purple Ford 5-window had the name “Black Widow” on it. Nearby was a similar car with a Black Widows club plaque, but named “The Creeper.” The same show featured a ’35 Plymouth humpback sedan called “Ol’ Humpy” and a ’57 Ford with “So Rare” decorating its continental tire.

We saw other cars with names at other shows and started taking photos of them, which we’re sharing here. Traditional hot rod shows like Mississippi Mayhem, The Symco Rod & Kustom Weekend and Cheaterama seem like the best place to pick up cool ideas for naming a car, but some local events aren’t bad either. Fifties tunes, flowers and racing seem to inspire other ideas. One thing is for sure: The pin stripers who set up booths at some shows are keeping busy these days.