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“The California Kid” (The Back Story) Part 2


This is where we left off last month: Carol has always been patient with my car addiction, but especially so during this particular build. Money was tight as my pals and I worked on the car every available free minute. I had lots of help on the car. Guys like Richard Loe and Dick Randal came by when an extra hand was needed. Blair’s engine builder, the late Buddy Lottsberg made my 302 small block Ford a screamer. Vaughn taught me how to use the louver press. And Dale Caulfield handled the major body work and paint.

I met Rod & Custom magazine’s Gray Baskerville through Bob Langton, a mutual Pasadena friend. It was Gray who came by my house on a rainy afternoon to see the car that actually started my friendship with Jim “Jake” Jacobs. Once Jake and I became acquainted and R&C editor Bud Bryan got involved in the build, our coupes were headed for the cover of the magazine. Little did I know then that the now famous “coupes issue” would change our lives forever.

A shot of the car, still sporting its original paint job and Reyes flames
Here’s a recent shot of the car, still sporting its original paint job and Reyes flames. If you want to see more of the “Kid” just go to a search engine online and type in “California Kid” and hit “images”. You will be amazed! (Photo courtesy of the Pete & Jakes.)

They say that timing is everything. Well, in my case it couldn’t have been more true. The notoriety of the November 1973 issue of Rod & Custom not only helped Jake and I start our business (Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Parts), but that cover shot of the coupes happened to catch the eye of TV and movie producer Howie Horowitz.

He was producing a made-for-TV project at Universal Studios and he was looking for a car to play a key role along with the movie’s star, Martin Sheen. He had come up short and with only four days left before he was to start filming. That’s when he saw the cover shot and I got the call. Jake and I headed out the next morning and by that afternoon the coupe was cast as “The California Kid”.

They used the car for two weeks and turned my pristine hot rod into a real “stunt work horse”. The driving chores were handled by Jerry Summers (The French Connection) and the stunts were coordinated by Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit). Jake was “hired” on as the official rod hot advisor and babysat the coupe for the duration of filming. We were treated like kings by the cast and crew; it was one of the most exciting times of our lives.

One of my friends, while looking at the coupe after filming and eyeballing the damage, asked would you do it again? My answer—in a heartbeat.

The car just never stops giving. It’s been over 42 years since this saga started and she is still giving to this very day. Like I said earlier, creating the car changed our lives forever. So I hope you enjoyed the “The Back Story” as much as I enjoyed telling it. Also, you can read first part of the story here: “The California Kid” (The Back Story) .

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2016 print issue of the Drive Magazine.

“The California Kid” (The Back Story)

The Wheels in Motion Story Continues…

I have been involved with cars all my life, more specifically rods and customs. But this story is not as much about me as it is the hot rod coupe I built for myself that became known as – The California Kid.

During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s the “T-Bucket” craze had swept the country, and me along with it. I had a great little car that I built in my dad’s garage and just had a blast tearing up the local streets of Southern California. But there was something missing. I guess I was looking for a more basic ride. Maybe a hot rod that would conjure up the early days of hot rodding. A hot rod that could have been part of the stories I heard as a kid being exchanged between my dad and his pals out in the garage.

The more I thought about it, the better the California Kid got. It would have to be a coupe. After all, my two favorite cars were the Les Hawkins “15oz. Coupe” and Gary Wagner’s legendary chopped, full-fendered street racer. Both cars were ’34 Ford “Hemi”-powered coupes and the baddest of the bad!

The coupe on the day we picked up in Glendora, January 1st, 1972.
The coupe on the day we picked up in Glendora, January 1st, 1972.

As luck would have it, I had mentioned my idea to Randy Troxel. Randy was a local drag racer and really had the pulse of what was going on in the valley. He told me he had heard about a chopped, full-fendered ’34 3-window that was stashed in a Glendora garage. He also said it would be a tough sale, as the guy really did not want to part with it.

We made contact and after what seemed like years (actually just two weeks) the deal was made. I bought the car on News Year’s Day of 1972 and moved it to our backyard garage in Temple City. I sold the “T” and kept the drivetrain, which included the wheels and tires. I now had all the pieces I needed to get started on my dream car.

About that time, I quit my job at Clayton Mfg. Co. (my dad’s alma mater) and went to work for Phil Lukens at Blair’s Speed Shop in Pasadena. My wife, Carol, and I had a house, two small children (Nicole and Peter4), a ’67 VW and ’50 Chevy Bel Air. At the time, leaving a secure job and heading out into the hot rod world did not seem right to most people, but it felt right to me.

Again the timing was perfect. It gave me the opportunity to hone my skills as a chassis builder, and at the same time get the coupe a pedigree. I made lifelong friends while working at Blair’s: Phil Lukens, Eric Vaughn, Pete Eastwood, the dearly departed Bob Goldsmith, and Jim Ewing. Phil was the boss at Blair’s (now owner); Eastwood and I were the chassis guys; Bob was on the front counter; Eric ran the machine shop; and Ewing—well, he was there for color. It was a special time and we enjoyed every minute of it! Stay tuned next month when we continue the story of the California Kid.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the August 2016 print issue of the Drive Magazine.