WHEELS IN MOTION: STORY OF THE CALIFORNIA KID
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.
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.