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Red Dragon Karate Rod

Words & Photos: Paul Garson

For millennia, the dragon has served as a pivotal symbol in Asian cultures, signifying the disciplined blending and power of body, mind and spirit. That area of the world is also seen as the nurturing ground for a variety of martial arts: judo, karate, aikido, kung fu, taekwondo and others. The rat rod seen here bears the inscription “Red Dragon Karate,” three words that lead us to some serious martial arts history.

 

Red Dragon Founder

Scott’s father, Louis, sits aboard his 1965 “turtle tanked” Sportster around the time he opened his first karate studio in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania before moving to SoCal to work with on films with martial artist Chuck Norris.

More than 50 years ago, Louis Casamassa began his martial arts training. A decorated U. S. Marine and policeman, he would go on to found Red Dragon Karate in 1965, and also the American Kung Fu Federation (A.K.K.F.). After years of traveling throughout Asia, he brought home to the U.S. his own distillation of powerfully effective martial arts techniques and began developing a system and network of training studios, opening the first California studio in 1972 in Covina. Some 15 Red Dragon studios are now established in the Southern California area.

Bearing that name, this uniquely designed 1935 Plymouth 4-door sedan has served to focus attention onto that martial arts history, and certainly opens the door to anyone interested in learning more about the training system. The car appears at events piloted by Scott Casamassa, one of Louis’ sons, who is also a martial arts instructor; his Red Dragon studio is located in Pomona, CA, and is also the corporate headquarters for the organization.

 

Father and Son

Scott, who also enjoys wrenching on cars, introduced us to what he calls the Red Dragon Warrior and its unusual history, which began when it was newly purchased from the L.A. area Plymouth dealer in 1935. After this it found its way north to San Francisco, rolling up and down the city’s hilly landscape into the late 1950s. At some point, the owner decided to seek greener pastures and migrated to Oregon, leaving the Plymouth to languish away, abandoned outside in the elements for the next 40 years, where it faced wind and storm, but also some outrageous misfortune. Seems it became the locals’ favorite target for anyone wanting to take a potshot or two. The car took some heavy hits, uncounted bullet holes leaving their indelible mark… but also adding to the car’s overall patina, especially if you’re in the rat rod frame of mind. When asked if he ever counted the number of bullet holes, Scott says, “I would guess over 100…and I left them all as is.”

The car’s next milestone event, so to speak, took place in 2010, when in exchange for cleaning up the debris surrounding the property in which the Plymouth sat, one Aaron Port became the new owner. And he had plans for the car. Firstly, he trimmed off two of the four doors, turning it into a coupe and then lowering the roofline nine inches, also shortening the wheelbase by a foot. Work proceeded on the frame, prepped and painted green and channeled to accommodate the new semi-sleeker body. Nudged into the revitalized chassis went a 351 cu. in. Cleveland V-8 (produced 1969-74), matched to a C-6 transmission and 9-inch rear end salvaged from a Ford LTD.

A year later, the project transferred over to its current owner, Scott, who had his own vision for the car’s transformation into a representative of Red Dragon Karate.

The motor was refurbished by Paul and Carburetor Carl of San Dimas, CA, who helped dial in the single 4-barrel carb. The dash sports the basics: a tach, temp and oil gauges, and there’s no horn - not that one would be needed, considering all eyes would be on this car.

Focused on making the interior more accommodating, Scott adapted a pair of 1969 van seats, then built a custom rear seat behind which he installed a custom spun aluminum 10-gallon fuel tank, while the rear suspension is modulated by an air bag system. It’s got an Old School Suicide Front End, meaning no shocks and no brakes; the rest of the front end components are taken from a farm tractor, but plenty of stopping power is provided by the car’s hefty rear brakes. The car’s also relatively light.

Scott had some handy help from several of his car club friends, including the paint chores sprayed by Big Chris and work on the top and interior by Ted, both guys from San Dimas. Ted also created the spider web metal artwork on the rear windows.

Scott’s design plan to create a Red Dragon Karate theme car included the incorporation of several traditional martial arts weapons, so the car has in effect become a rolling weapons platform displaying the nunchaku (“chain sticks”) made famous by Bruce Lee, a pair of sai (metal pointed baton/piercing daggers for dealing with sword attacks), the metal balls and chain of the manriki or kusari-fundo, while two kama or curved sickle blade weapon serve as door handles. There’s also a pair of tonfas (wooden baton weapon now popular with some police departments), and of course a Samurai sword.

When asked if he had any complaints from the local authorities, Scott says, “I’ve been pulled over twice, but both times the officers just wanted to check out the car and see what it was all about.”

Asked about whether he takes any passengers, he says, “Sure, some of my students, and when my two daughters, both now in college, were in junior high I used to pick them up at school in the car, but they got embarrassed because by the time they came out, there were like twenty people taking pictures. When they got into high school, they finally said, ‘Please Dad, don’t pick us up again in that thing.’”

Summing it up, Scott says, “It started out as a crazy idea, to make kind of a theme car with all the weapons we teach as part of it, but it worked out well. It took about a full year from when I first got it until completion, with my buddies and me working on it at the studio in Pomona. I bring it to every event we go to - all our tournaments, including our twice annual Black Belt Showcase - and people like to take photos of the car and our students. I have had it now for ten years and it still runs great.”

 

Cross Cultural Graphics

Asian style lettering design shares space with a traditional rat rod Maltese Cross image, plus some good ol’ American bullet holes.

 

Radical Roof Rack

Those two long black shafts serving as a roof rack are actually martial arts fighting staffs called … as in Stow with your . In the back of the car there’s a custom seat, with real karate black belts fashioned into seat belts.

 

Top Trophy

Serving as the hood ornament is a martial artist executing a side thrust kick (yoko geri kekomi), which is actually part of the Martial Arts Black Belt Hall of Fame award honoring Scott’s famous martial arts master father, Louis Casamassa.

 

Watch Out for the Low Kick

Another karate figure “guards” the front end. Note solid front axle and no shocks. Asked how the car handled, Scott says, “Fine…especially if you’re on a smooth road.” Tires are fifteen inchers.

 

Hot Stuff

Fiberglass wraps help keep the open straight pipes from getting too hot. A custom radiator with always-on electric fan keeps things cruisin’ cool at a constant 225 degrees.

 

Star Power

The 351 Ford’s Edelbrock air cleaner sports a shuriken, a sharp-edged throwing star popular with ninjas.

 

Artwork with Clout

The manriki is a traditional weapon, a chain connecting to metal weights - simple but effective.

 

Stopping on a Dime

While the front end is rock solid, no shocks and no brakes, the 11-inch big anchors on the rear slow down the Red Dragon when called for; plus, the car is relatively light. Note the red-handled sai placed in front of the driver’s door; another is bolted to the other side of the car.

 

Caught in the Web

Scott’s artistically inclined buddy Ted helped fill the rear window space with some very stout steel spider silk. The top mounted fuel gauge has a rat rod traditional Von Dutch eyeball and pinstriping decoration.

 


Club Emblem

Tony, Scott’s buddy and fellow car club member, added the plaque/badge.

 

Have Samurai Sword/Will Travel

The sword fits nicely over the rear window. Not to worry; all the weapons are securely welded to the car.

 

Back Up

Scott likes to pack his bicycle on the roof rack just in case. At this angle, you can see the mass of bullet holes peppering the sides and rear of the car.

Wheels were one of the few things painted on the car, and match the red and black interior. The rest of the car is au naturel in a way only time can create.

 

Get a Grip - No Door Locks Needed!

Scott has added a pair of kama replacing the door handles. Car-jacking is not considered a threat in this case. You can find more info about Red Dragon Karate at www.reddragonkarate.com.