Archive for the 'history' Category


1955 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer Convertible

Ever have one of those cars that keeps breaking down, no matter how many times you restore it?  Rebuild the engine, the transmission blows.  Replace the rearend gears, and the driveshaft U-joints wear out.  Every time you fix it, you think “that’s it, it’s all done, it’s ready to rock cruise night,” just in time to have something else snap.

Chrysler owns one of those companies.

As anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows, Chrysler was recently “saved” by President Obama’s help (and money).  Before that, it was “saved” by Daimler-Benz.  Before that, it was “saved” by the Intrepid sedan.  Before that, it was “saved” by Lee Iacoca and the K-car/minivan.

1955 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer ConvertibleThis is the Dodge Custom Royal Convertible, a.k.a, “The Lancer.”  It was the highest trim level available, and was also the most rare.  This particular specimen is only one of six allowed into Canada with its Super Red Ram Hemi engine.  Of course, back in those days they didn’t call it a Hemi.  The 270-cubic inch V8 had a double rocker shaft, so old guys like your Grandpa called it a “double rocker.”  While pushing this car to school.  Uphill.  Both ways.  In a snowstorm.

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40 Years of Hot Wheels, Part 1

September is supposed to be a miserable time of year for kids.  Summer is over, the hot weather is gone, and it’s time to get back to school.  However, there is one September that children the world over weren’t quite so blue.

On September 7th, 1968, the Mattel toy company released sixteen tiny little cars, based on both actual vehicles and imagined customs.  Among these was a front-engined VW Beetle, a Barracuda, Mustang, a modified T-bucket known as the “Hot Heap.”  Most famous among these first sixteen cars was the “Custom Corvette,” a miniature third-generation Corvette.  The reason behind the toy’s fame?  It was released several months before the public ever got their eyes on a real, actual third-generation Corvette.

The “Sweet Sixteen” as they have come to be known, had many features specific to those years.  For example, there were no lines indicating where the doors were, like the modern versions.  Chief designer Henry Bentley Bradley felt they would be invisible at that scale, but kids still complained about the linear lackings of their new toys.  Starting in 1969, the lines were back.

The first Hot Wheels also featured a plastic “bearing” in each wheel.  Basically, it was a cheap plastic bushing between the axle and the wheel that helped the toy reached speeds of a scale 200 mph.  The first cars also featured a torsion bar suspension and a red circle around the wheel.

In just a few short months, Hot Wheels became a runaway success.  Mattel was so impressed with their new toy’s success that they hired designer Ira Gilford away from Chrysler, who helped design and release 25 more cars in 1969.  Among them was the ’31 Woody, predecessor to the ’40’s Woody that has been in constant production since at least the early 80’s.

Also among the 1970 releases was the Twin Mill, one of the first Hot Wheels to be re-created as a real-life car.  As the 30th anniversary of Hot Wheels approached, top brass at Mattel decided to put together the famous little toy as a full-size, fully-operational road-going car.  The Hot Rod God himself, Boyd Coddington, was picked for the job of creating it from scratch.  Design assistance was provided by Boyd’s former employee, Chip Foose.

Just as the car started to take shape, Boyd shocked the world by declaring bankruptcy.  The car was saved from greedy receivers at the last second, and set out to rust in Mattel’s back lot until the 35th anniversary of Hot Wheels rolled around.  That’s when Hot Wheels Director of Adult Licensing, Carson Lev, stepped in to oversee Twin Mill’s completion.  The car came together in time for the 2001 SEMA show,where it was presented to the gearhead public for the first time.  It was also the first time that Twin Mill’s original designer, Ira Gilford, laid eyes on the full-size car.

As for the toy-sized Hot Wheels, the bearings were ditched in 1970, and the torsion bar suspension was replaced by a more reliable (yet far less awesome) straight axle wedged under a piece of plastic.  Although these were technically major modifications-a complete revamping of all two mechanical systems-kids were far more concerned with the new cars and designs coming out.  By the end of 1970, 43 more designs had been released, with another 50 coming in 1971.

Sadly, the economy decided to ruin everyone’s fun.  Increased inflation forced Mattel to cut back on costs, and 1972 only saw eleven new cars were released.  Things got a little better in 1973, with a total of 24 cars released.  However, sales were still slow, threatening the entire Hot Wheels franchise.

Tune in next week to find out how Hot Wheels pulled through this rough patch, and became every kid’s “first car.”  And in the following weeks, we’ll take a deeper look at how a tiny chunk of die-cast white metal could came to become such a big part of the gearhead world.


History of the Corvette part 5: Giving a middle finger to the competition

One of the most celebrated aspects of American heroes is the way they’ve given the middle finger to their antagonists.  It started before they were even a country, when the Yanks gave Britain the middle finger over unfair taxation in the form of the “Boston Tea Party.”  Sometimes it even takes on literal meaning, like the infamous “Bush flips the bird” video that made its way around the internet a few years back.

So it’s no surprise that Chevy’s fifth generation 1997 Corvette did just that to the competition.  The venerable supercar was designed from the ground up to be a solid convertible, with the option to put a roof on it.  As a result, Continue reading ‘History of the Corvette part 5: Giving a middle finger to the competition’


History of the Corvette part 4: From Braun to Brains

When the time finally came to replace the third-generation Corvette, Chevy engineers put every bit of technology into the 1984 ‘Vette.  Everything from a new type of plastic on the body panels, to the first TPI fuel injection, to a digital speedometer went into building GM’s next supercar.  In fact, they put so much effort into the 1984 model year Corvette, they forgot to release a 1983 model.

That’s right, the awesomeness of the C4 Corvette was so intense the factory actually had to take time off to get ready.



Corvette History Part 3: The Best of Times, The Worst Of Times

The third generation of Corvette was an exercise in contradictions.  It had some of the better marketing, what with all the special edition and pace car versions, yet it had one of the worst public debuts.  Some came with an engine so powerful that the actual horsepower isn’t known, yet most would have their asses handed to them by my mother’s Nissan.  And while this generation would pump out the second rarest version, it would also set the Corvette’s all-time sales record.

It all got started back in 1966, when the Chevrolet company dropped off the 1967 ‘Vette for safety testing.   Continue reading ‘Corvette History Part 3: The Best of Times, The Worst Of Times’


Corvette History part 1: A legend is born

This week not only kicks off a new web address––it also kicks off our 7-part series on the Chevy Corvette, from C1 to C6 and beyond.


Name a car that has the lasting power of the Corvette-that is, name a single model of car that’s been produced continuously for 55 years.  One that’s kept the same configuration, without being humiliated with the optional station wagon, “sport wagon,” crossover wagon, or any other body style of the week that Detroit pukes up.  The ‘Vette is a car that whose power, attitude, and most importantly, style, has stood up on its own for over half a century. Continue reading ‘Corvette History part 1: A legend is born’


Big, Bad & Purple

No, it’s not a Barney the Dinosaur re-run.  This purple hunk of Detroit sculpture is Clarence Zabolotny’s ’51 Ford “Custom.”

Clarence’s car was originally built by Bill Chartier, near Selkirk, Manitoba.  The car itself started out as a 1951 Ford Coupe, but has since been transformed into the beautiful machine you see here.  It’s received the usual chopping & stretching treatment to the roof and headlights, and what appears to be a re-sculpting of the hood as well.  Laying cutting torch to metal to accomplish this is a rite-of-passage for the “lead sled” scene, an initiation process that traces its roots to the original legends of hot rodding.

One of the earliest pioneers were Larry and Mike Alexander, best remembered as the Alexander Brothers.  Larry, the older brother, started tinkering with cars as a young man, before joining the army in 1948.  While he served his country, Mike picked up his first hot rod-a ’32 Ford three-window, which was promptly traded for a ’41 Ford Coupe.  The car had its doorhandles and trim shaved which, although it wasn’t the first, still made Mike a pioneer in the Kustom world.  After both had served a tour of duty for Uncle Sam, the two began repairing cars out of their father’s garage in their spare time.  Over time, this became a full-time venture, which led to the brothers becoming automotive legends.

However, the greatest contribution to Lead-Sledding was made by someone who wasn’t happy with his new car.  Sam Barris (no relation to George Barris) went to the local dealership to pick up his shiny, new 1949 Mercury Coupe.  Even though the ’49 Mercs and Fords heralded a new age in automotive engineering, Sam still wasn’t happy with the roofline-and he intended to fix it.

What resulted was the first recorded “Top Chop” on a ‘sled, a car that reputedly still pops up from time to time.  Sam’s influence didn’t end there, however.  His later contributions to the cause of hot rodding were fondly remembered by his peers, who immortalized him decades later in “The Rose,” a customized 1951 Mercury Custom.


Of course, it’s the paint that makes these cars really sparkle.  And it was thanks to the efforts of one Joe Bailon that we have “six-inch deep” colours covering these picture-perfect rods.  According to Joe, he was driving at night when he was inspired by the tail lights of another car.  “It was so pretty…  I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have the whole car the colour of the taillight?”  What followed was ten years of experimenting before finally inventing a process that leads to the dream colour, which he named Candy Apple Red.  And just like top chops, the process has become standard in lead sleds, as well as the lowrider and general hot rod populace.

That’s it for this week’s article, but come back next week as we celebrate something special:  Our new web address, at!  And to kick off the name change in style, we’ll be doing a 7-part series on the Corvette, starting with the C1, going right through to the next generation of The General’s All-American supercar, one generation per week.

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Required Reading:

The Leadsled Blog:  Not a car site, but a well-titled blog from artist/illustrator Dominic Bugatto.

Hall of Fame:  Alexander Brothers in Custom Rodder magazine

Runnin’ With The Rat Pack:  River City Rad Rodz Car Club featured in Willy’s Garage

Required Listening:

The Creepshow:  Burlington, Ontario-based Hellbilly band.  It’s what you listen to in a lead sled.

The Creepshow official website

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