Everyone's favorite flame-painter, Tim Phelps, is back with another article on his amazing flaming customs. If you missed the previous articles in the series, you can find them here.
This time Tim throws a bone at a terribly under-covered element of car culture here at Lamley: the Hot Rod. With our blah-blahing about JDM and other such delights, we have failed to cover the hot rod. We hope that will change over time, as my foray into the world of Ed Roth a couple of months ago started me on a mini journey into the world of hot rodding, pinstriping, and other shenanigans.
So you hot rodders out there, I am looking for experts to submit some articles on some of the best of hot rod diecast. Email us at email@example.com if you are interested. We need an education...
That education starts today, with this feature my Tim Phelps. Enjoy...
Here’s A Nod to Hot Rods! By Tim Phelps
I have included some flame history text from my book; Up in Flames: The Art of Flame Painting (MBI 2006). There will a quiz at the end. And the “final” is “Go paint some of your own!”
The 1932 FordAh, the prototypical hot rod, a fenderless '32 "Deuce" highboy coupe or roadster, dark in color with cryptic flames; add a slight chop to the windshield or roof; here's hot rodding at its very best! Stock pre-'32's came with 4-cylinder engines. The lightweight model T and model A bodies could be removed, to snugly fit now on the 1932 chassis with the new standard V-8. A stroke of genius or competitive drive inspired Henry Ford to put in the V-8, "We're going from a 4 cylinder to an "8" because Chevrolet is going to a 6!" The Lincoln division had already been putting one in their models for almost a decade. The rush to produce the V-8 for the '32's came with a price, numerous initial mechanical problems followed. Once these were worked out, the prototypical flathead V-8 engine remained in a relatively unaltered state until 1953 (of course, until rodders got a hold of them). With the stock V-8, a top speed of 78 miles per hour was achievable, quite a feat by 1932 standards. Once in a rodder's hands, the muffler was removed, exhaust pipes were straightened and multiple carburetors were added; this doubled the engine's output, resulting in speeds of over 100 mph. An out-of-the-factory Ford sold for about $435. Wrecked or discarded Fords eventually became plentiful in area junkyards, making them perfect fare for young men with shallow pockets and expanding dreams.
The 1933 model year continues to exhibit smoother lines but is fairly close in character to the '32s. Styling stock changes included a six-inch longer wheelbase with smaller 17-inch wheels, and streamlined grille, shell, fenders and hood. The models of '33 and '34 are virtually cosmetically identical. In creative rodders hands, with a chopped top, "Bigs and littles," big tires in the back, little ones up front, and fenders removed, this Ford becomes a different beast entirely. In all of its possible body reconfigurations, this year's offering has always been popular with customizers and rodders.
It is unknown who first flamed their ride—could it have been the cavemen—after all, didn’t they invent fire and the wheel? Crude attempts at flame painting can be seen in historical photographs of early racecars in the mid 1930’s. However, the art of “hot rod flame painting” began in the late 1940’s, in Southern California; racing and riding around in hot rods was a passion pursued by many young men. Some of the racecars they saw at the race tracks were decorated with graphics resembling fire and flames; they were painted to look just like World War I and World War II aircraft seen in magazines and on early movie and television news reels. While dreaming about taking these fast cars off the racetrack and onto the street, some teenagers began painting flames on their cars with brushes and house paint in their own driveways. They would drive their cars to school and show them off at the local hamburger drive-in. Anyone who saw these hot cars could not believe their eyes! It seems that this new fad became popular almost overnight.
In the beginning, Kenneth Howard (Von Dutch) developed a popular style of “Choppy flames.” His flame style resembled fire he observed and drew in his sketchbook at oil refineries around Santa Barbara, California. After he finished painting an automobile with a flame design, he used a specially tapered bristle brush to carefully outline a very fine line around the flame’s outside edge; this was soon to be known as pinstriping. Although pinstriping can be found on early Egyptian carriages, on fine automobiles of the 1930’s and on fire engines, it was Von Dutch who first made this painting approach very popular on hot rods. His pinstriping not only outlined his choppy flames but, also, was painted separately as squiggly geometric designs to decorate the hoods and fenders of cars. He even painted the undersides of car hoods, truck lids and inside glove boxes with flying eyeballs, squirming octopi, crawling insects and spiders, creating quite a monstrous and humorous motoring menagerie.
The heat from Von Dutch's spark ignited a generation of painters to come-- in the span of only a few years, flames began to appear on cars up and down the coast of California, each with an individual personality. As teenagers, Dean Jeffries developed "crab-claw" flames, Larry Watson created flames resembling leafy “seaweed” and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth became popular for his overlapping "flames within flames.” Traditional flames --those flames that have a symmetrical and smooth recognizable shape became the most popular style. Rod Powell, Art Himsl, Herb Martinez and Cary Greenwood, each would play a strong role in the development of this most popular form of flame painting. Jeffries, Watson, Roth and Greenwood have each passed; may they rest in peace.
Feeding off each other’s fire, this first generation of flame painters decorated their own and other people’s hot rods and custom cars with a variety of flame painted variations. Traditional flames became stretched into long and thin "streamers.” Barely able to be seen "ghost flames” and “silhouette flames” were the next variations to become popular. Not only did flame styles change but so did flame colors. What began as traditional color schemes of red and orange flames with white outline striping on black and dark color painted cars led to an exploration of every color imaginable in every combination. Who dared imagine blue, green or silver flames on a bright yellow car?
Now, some 60 years later, flame painting has further blossomed and expanded-- the artform has become extremely popular all over the world! Places like Australia, Japan, Sweden and Germany each appreciate and celebrate the beauty of art of flame painting. As an ever-changing artform, a variety of styles and treatments now include flames that look like pitted or pebbled rock, or slick and wet like water and spilled paint. Other painters paint flames that overlap with tentacle like branches weaving over and under each other with shadows and highlights into a delicate design. “Tribal flames” looking like medieval hatchets with round flowing shapes with sharp edges pointing in different directions, can be found on many famous hot rods and motorcycles. Some painters are even talented enough to paint “realistic fire,” flames that look like they are moving in a soft breeze or roaring off of a blazing out-of-control campfire. Lastly, flame designs are often combined with images of checkered flags, shredded metal and screaming human skulls and in any combination with the types of flames previously mentioned. Because the artform has gained higher visibility and wider attention, most recently, flame painters are being profiled at work in numerous magazines and on automobile programs on cable television. Because of its overwhelming and worldwide popularity, this is an artform that will never be extinguished!
As always, I hope you have enjoyed this entry and have become inspired to light your own fire. Feel free to contact me and this blog with your questions and comments. The next entry will discuss Kustoms.