Scratch 'n' Sniff

I’ve mentioned Ed Roth several times the course of this without really telling you about him. And I want to, because he, more than any other of the customizers, has kept alive the spirit of alienation and rebellion that is so important to the teen-age ethos that customizing grew up in.  He’s also the most colorful, and the most intellectual, and the most capricious. Also the most cynical. He’s the Salvador Dali of the movement—a surrealist in his designs, a showman by temperament, a prankster. Roth is really too bright to stay within the ethos, but he also stays in it with a spirit of luxurious obstinacy. Any style of life is going to produce its celebrities if it sticks to its rigid standards, but in the East a talented guy would most likely be drawn into the Establishment in one way or another. That’s not so inevitable in California.

I had been told that Roth was a surly guy who never bathed and was hard to get along with, but from the moment I first talked to him on the telephone he was an easy guy and very articulate. His studio—and he calls it a studio, by the way—is out in Maywood, on the other side of the city from North Hollywood, in what looked to me like a much older and more run-down section. When I walked up, Roth was out on the apron of  his place doing complicated drawings and lettering on somebody’s ice cream truck with an airbrush. I knew right away it was Roth from pictures I had seen of him; he has a beatnik-style beard. “Ed Roth?” I said. He said yeah and we started talking and so forth. A little while later we were sitting in a diner having a couple of sandwiches and Roth, who was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt, pointed to this huge tattoo on his left arm that says “Roth” in the lettering style with big serifs that he uses as his signature. “I had that done a few years ago because guys keep coming up to me saying, ‘Are you Ed Roth?’”

From The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline BabyTom Wolfe, 1965


Kustom Kulture

Von Dutch, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Robert Williams and Others

Check out the hyperdelic life and times of Von Dutch, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Robert Williams and other Kustom Kar Kommandos in this thoroughly researched and lavishly illustrated exhibition catalog. Read superb essays explaining how the cultural ephemera of Southern California’s hotrodders, beachcombers, surfbums, beatniks, bikerboys, cholos and glue-sniffing suburban hobbyists coalesced into the Kustom aesthetic. Gape at page after page of amazing scratch-and-sniff icons such as Ed Roth’s Rat Fink, a puke-green, humunculoid rodent speed-demon. Ponder over intriguing bits of trivia (did you know that Robert Williams was raised by a lesbian couple?). And ignore the occasional pathetic or inappropriate artworks by latecomers to the genre (Judy Chicago?). The editors are also to be commended for refusing to wallow in pointless “high” versus “low” culture arguments. All in all a pretty great thing, but where is Erich Von Zipper? MG

Publisher: Last Gasp
Paperback: 95 pages

Moon Equipped

David A. Fetherston

Two eyeballs are the logo for this famous racing-car parts company of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and all the hot rods and race cars of the time could be seen sporting the two eyed decal of Moon Equipment. Dean Moon started by building hot rods behind the family restaurant (Moon Cafe) at a young age. He began hanging out at the Hula-Hut Drive-in in Whittier where the Hutters hot-rod club started, and became a member. Hot rodders from all around L.A. would go there to learn speed secrets from Moon, and eventually he officially opened shop behind the cafe, and Moon Automotive was born. With his brother Buzz he started tuning cars for money, then began working on a line of high performance car parts such as a first big seller the Moon aluminum racing fuel tank. Other big sellers were a foot-shaped gas pedal and the famous Moon disc wheel covers. In 1957, Moon had a Disney commercial artist draw the eyes as we know them today. Then, in the early ‘60s, he started on a series of race cars for which the Moon name would become immortal. DW

Publisher: Classic Motorbooks
Paperback: 128 pages

Police Cars: A Photographic History

Monty McCord

Normally I don’t like to see a police car at all, but this book is the best way to see them, in photographs. Covers the entire history of the police car, from horse-drawn patrol carriages to present-day cars with many detailed black-and-white photos. Quite a few limited-edition vehicles, as well as a Ferrari said to be “donated” by (i.e., confiscated from) local drug dealers in San Mateo, CA. Some motorcycles too. DW

Publisher: Krause
Paperback: 304 pages

Weird Cars

Edited by John Gunnell

The most absurd cars ever—loads of black-and-white photos of functional and not-so-functional cars of all kinds. Cars that double as boats, cars with many headlights, cars from famous films and, yes, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobiles. (The oldest known Wienermobile is a 1952 model. In 1988, six new Wienermobiles were made.) A category for every letter in the alphabet from “Artistic Autos” to “Zany Cars.” DW

Publisher: Krause
Paperback: 304 pages