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A Golden (Hour) Opportunity – Ed Roth’s Hot Rods at Amelia

Close up of the front of Ed Roth's hot rod known as "Beatnik Bandit."

While out on the setup day for this year’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, I happened to stumble across the hot rods of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth being towed in and set up for the Concours. To top it off, it was the beginning of golden-hour, the perfect time of day to capture them in photographs as the sun went down. Here is a selection of some of the photos taken on that day.


Side close up of Ed Roth's pickup with "Pinstriping by Roth, $4. Hood and Deck."

Ed Roth bought this 1956 Ford F100, the first truck he’d customize, back in 1957 to promote his custom paint and pinstriping business.

Ed Roth's custom painted 1956 Ford F100This image just happened to be captured on the day of the Concours, but you can see the difference in how many people were there for the Concours this year and why getting to see these cars before most had arrived was such a special opportunity.

View of the interior of the 1956 Ford F100.

The truck was lost for a few decades after Roth sold it back in the ’50s. Roth passed away in 2001 at the age of 69, and the truck was forgotten. It had been painted over in green, used as a farm truck, and eventually left in a barn in Oklahoma.

Rear tailgate view of Ed Roth's custom Ford F100.

Only rediscovered a couple of years ago, it was restored by Galpin Auto Sports with new old stock parts, under the lead of Dave Shuten. It was in rough shape when it was found, appearing to be sort of matte forest green, but the results of the restoration speak for themselves. The pearl white paint really shines in the Florida sun.

Ed Roth's Ford F100 next to Ford t-buckets known as Tweedy Pie and Outlaw.

Next to the Ford are two Ford t-bucket hot rods; “Tweedy Pie” in Royal Triton Purple, and “Outlaw.”

Custom purple 1923 Ford t-bucket known as "Tweedy Pie"

Tweedy Pie is a 1923 Ford Model T roadster which was owned and built by James Robert Johnston. Its custom build was done by Johnston mainly between 1954 and 1956. In 1959 the engine was swapped from a flathead Ford to the engine from a 1957 Corvette.

Rear details of the t-bucket known as "Tweedy Pie."

Johnston came up with the car club known as the “Orange County Ignitors” as a way of getting around the rule in place at the time that he had to be part of a car club to show the car.

Close up detail of the pinstriping on Tweedy Bird.

Ed Roth pinstriped the car in 1958 and it would then go on to winning awards and being featured on the cover of Rodding and Re-Styling. Just before it was sold to Roth in 1962, the engine was fitted with a polished Offenhauser manifold with six Stromberg 97 carburetors.


Ford t-bucket known as "Outlaw."

Built on a 1929 Ford Model-A frame and powered by a 1950 Cadillac engine,”Outlaw,” was originally known as “Excalibur” because it had a sword for a shifter. Roth had acquired the Revolutionary War sword from his mother-in-law’s family.

Side view of the "Outlaw."This was when the light from the setting sun really started to look its best.

The car was later renamed to “Outlaw” when “Excalibur” was found to be too hard for people to say. Outlaw was Ed’s first show rod built with the technique of using plaster molds with fiberglass to build a custom body. It was around this time when Ed took on the nickname “Big Daddy” as a catchy way of selling the Revell model of the car. This particular example is a clone of the Outlaw, built by Fritz  Schenck, who is currently in the process of building a clone of the car below, the “Beatnik Bandit.”

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's Beatnik Bandit

The “Beatnik Bandit,” based on a shortened 1950 Oldsmobile chassis, was the first of Roth’s bubble top cars.

Side shoulder view of the Beatnik Bandit.

It was built in 1961 after Ed learned how to build bubble tops from Darryl Starbird while on tour with Darryl and his show car “Predicta.” Wikipedia also claims that the bubble top was inspired by the 1960 DiDia 150. Another piece of the Beatnik Bandit that was supposedly inspired by Predicta was its control system. As in the Predicta, steering, acceleration, and brakes were all designed to be done with the airplane-like tiller stick, though the car wasn’t really made to be driven. The engine could run and the steering and accelerator were supposedly demonstrated at shows, but it was a little too ahead of its time to really work in addition to the bubble top being too small for most adults to fit under while closed.

Close up of the front of Ed Roth's hot rod known as "Beatnik Bandit."

It’s powered by an Oldsmobile V8 topped with a Bell Auto Parts supercharger breathing through twin Ford carbs.

Rear three quarter view of the Beatnik Bandit.

Although Roth built the car,  Beatnik Bandit was styled after a drawing by Joe Henning with Roth adding the bubble top. According to Kustomrama, the original paint job was paid for in Rat Fink t-shirts. After years of touring with Roth and being painted over, Beatnik Bandit was restored by Harrah’s Automotive Collection and has since been on permanent display at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.

Ed Roth's tiny "Surfite" show car.

According to the Rat Fink website, the show car and surfboard-carrier “Surfite” was built in 1964 on an Austin Mini Cooper chassis, powered by a chrome-plated 1269cc Austin Mini Cooper engine (hiding under a cover in the front end). From a quote on “Dial B for Blog,” Roth reasoned that he could get more money per appearance of Surfite if it appeared in a movie. With that in mind, he drove it down to Sportsman’s Cove in Malibu. Roth was quoted as remembering “I got wind of a new movie Annette Funicello was making and she’s my all-time heartthrob. So I drove down and parked the Surfite next to Buster Keaton’s dressing room, pretending to be one of the cast. Buster Keaton was an old-time comic.” … “Keaton and I hit it off pretty good, so when the honchos came around, I’d start rappin’ with Keaton.” The word “rappin’” obviously had a different meaning in those days.

When the movie “Beach Party Bingo” came out, Roth didn’t see the Surfite and thought that he’d failed in getting it into the movie, only to notice it later in a split second shot in the background of a parking lot, behind Annette Funicello. Like many of Roth’s creations, it went on to be the basis of a Revell model kit.

The blue bubble-top car known as the "Orbitron."

Parked to the side of the Surfite was another 1964 build, the weird asymmetric bubble-top car known as “Orbitron.” The three headlights on one side, red, green, and blue, were inspired by the then-new technology of television. The idea, though flawed, was that the three would combine to form one powerful white light.

Orbitron parked next to Beatnik Bandit II.

Orbitron is another car which had been lost for years after going through the hands of several owners. In 2007, it was found in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico back in 2007, parked in front of an adult bookstore. In an article about Orbitron on Kustomrama, you can see that it was missing its nose and bubble top. They also mention that several reasons have been circulated for this. Orbitron had been driven around as a ride for a carnival owned by the same family that owned the adult bookstore, and the nose may have been removed to show off the chrome work hidden underneath. According to Wikipedia, Ed Roth did consider this car to be his one “mistake” because he had done so much chrome work to the car underneath and then just ended up covering it up almost entirely with the body. It would have shown better without so much fiberglass covering it up. Another theory is that it was removed to look more like a T-bucket. And a third theory is that it was just a mistake made by the then-owner trying to tow the car by its bodywork. No one really seems to know.

This is another car that ended up being saved by “G.A.S.” The car was bought from the owner of the adult bookstore and brought back to the United States where Beau Boeckmann of Galpin Auto Sports would purchase and restore it to its former perfect, yet imperfect glory. All of the original parts were removed and archived by Boeckmann. Many of the original hands that helped build the car were present to help with the restoration. The project was supervised by Ed “Newt” Newton, who had designed the car with Roth back in ’64. Original painter Larry Watson oversaw the application of the new “Candy Blue” paint which was sampled from remnants found in the car and sprayed by Watson’s former assistant, Bill Carter. Dave Shuten also had a hand in this restoration at G.A.S. as well as James Cleveland who was known in hot rod circles as “Jimmy C.” Although Jimmy C’s site is no longer online, some photos of the restoration can be seen in the Wayback Machine archive of the site.

In the years following the Orbitron, Roth took a break from 4 wheeled vehicles to work on custom trikes. He would build another 4 wheeled car in 1995, the Beatnik Bandit II, a tribute to the original Beatnik Bandit. According to the Rat Fink website, it normally sits next to the original at the National Auto Museum and its powered by a Chevrolet LT-4. Incidentally, if you want to read a funny story from the photographer who shot this famous car for Revell back in the ’90s, about the photo shoot with Roth, check this story out on Speed Revolutions.

Beatnik Bandit II

It was about this time that I had to leave to go see the unveiling of the Shelby Lone Star (check out the article if you missed it earlier), but on the way over I spotted the Mysterion being towed into place.

Custom car known as the "Mysterion."

When I later returned home after the weekend, I looked over the photos and realized that I believe that is Dave Shuten of Galpin Auto Sports behind the wheel of the odd-looking one-headlight bubble-top car known as “Mysterion.” Mysterion was built in 1963, and according to an old article in Hot Rod, this was a time when the NHRA banned what they called “exotic” fuels like alcohol and nitro. Drivers started compensating for the loss of power by stuffing two engines onto their cars. The extreme aesthetics of this inspired Roth to put two Ford FE-series engines onto Mysterion. After a hard life suffering under the weight of two Ford engines and transmissions and the frame constantly cracking along the way, the car was pretty much parted out and the body returned to Roth’s ownership Hot Rod quoted Bill Roach, one of the car’s former owners as saying “At one point while Ed was driving the car across country, he talked about pulling over on some interstate and setting the body on fire and calling the cops to report a spaceship crash.”

Mysterion being towed into place on the show field.It might be a clone, but it still turns heads like the original.

This example is a clone of Mysterion, built by Dave Shuten who Hot Rod says acquired the project by way of Ed Roth devotee Mark Moriarty. Shuten supposedly had to work very hard to finish recreating this famous car, scaling up old Revel models and measuring from old grainy cover photos.

If, like me, you were a child of the ’80s, hot rods and monster trucks were a big part of your childhood, so seeing this group of hot rods was like getting in touch with my roots. I didn’t really know that they’d be there at Amelia this year until the last minute, so it was a pleasant surprise. It was a huge honor to get to photograph these cars, not only together, but outside of a museum. Thanks go out to everyone who made that possible.

All images and video Copyright 2018 Hooniverse/Bryce Womeldurf