Every story has a beginning; it’s the middle and the end that are in question. Well, the middle and end of this story have already been written on many pages, in many places but it’s the beginning—the man and the car—that make this story so interesting.
Tom McMullen was discharged from the U.S. Navy, he served aboard a submarine, and now it was time to get on with life. The McMullen roadster that is iconic in stature is nothing more than a ’32 Ford highboy roadster that any number of hot rodders over the years has built—but why this roadster? Why is this the roadster that so many rodders look to as The One; the one that gave birth to so many dreams? A question that has as many answers as there are hot rodders. And knowing that, here is just one of many stories.
This roadster appeared everywhere from TV to the movies and record album jackets, like Shut Down, a compilation of great hot rod music; Drag Beat, more off-beat hot rod music; and Competition Coupe (yep, two roadsters on the cover, oh well) by the Astronauts. It was on the cover (Hot Rod and Popular Hot Rodding back in the day, or in modern times on STREET RODDER) and was featured in between the covers of many titles. It also appeared as part of the STREET RODDER magazine cover logo for years. It’s been reported that the car appeared in the Life of Riley television series and later would appear in a publicity photo featuring Nick Adams, who was starring at the time in a TV series titled The Rebel. It even spawned a #2 and #3 roadster, along with a clone.
According to Jim Clark, a hot rodder himself who was a lifelong friend, coworker, and confidant to Tom, the first published article about the roadster was in the Mar. ’61 issue of Custom Rodder magazine written by Curt Hamilton. Unfortunately the text has errors (who would ever imagine a magazine article with an error?). Some of the mistakes revolve around the price he paid, that he built it, that Tom installed the first Chevy V-8, and details about the drivetrain and suspension. Most of the “misspeaks” have been corrected over time.
It was reported that Tom purchased the roadster in 1958 for $650 from a local truck driver. According to a recent conversation with Clark he says: “Tom actually bought the car in July 1959, as Tom wrote in his personal scrapbook. The car was bought from a truck driver who lived in another apartment where he was living. That apartment was located on Leffingwell Avenue in Lynwood [California] at the end of the alleyway from George Barris’ shop on Atlantic Boulevard. Tom was moving from that apartment to the house in Compton that weekend in August 1959 when I met him and assisted in the move.
“The roadster was built in 1953 at Don’s Trim Shop in Norwalk with a well-equipped Flathead. One article claims that there were three owners before Tom but I can find no evidence of that. Pat Ganahl’s article in Rodder’s Journal covers the original story on the car before Tom bought it pretty well. He interviewed the first owner, Chuck Karnatz, and the people who built it. He says that the car was bought in 1958 because that was the story he had been told. Others have also repeated this because they had no way to verify when he actually bought it. I have photos of Tom’s son, Mike, sitting on the tonneau and in the custom pickup that Tom sold so that he could buy the roadster. I also have a photo of Mike when he was 2 months old in January 1959. So the July 1959 date is the accurate date of purchase. Hope this helps to clarify some of the history.” (Well, there you have a bit more insight into the earliest beginnings of the McMullen roadster, and many thanks to Clark.)
From here Tom took it to an upholstery friend by the name of Don Hudson, located in Downy, California, to have some new stitchwork applied. Hudson immediately recognized the car and told Tom about the car’s earlier life originally powered by a Flathead and it was around 1956 after several owners that the roadster ended up with a 283 small-block Chevy and a ’39 Ford closed driveline. It wasn’t long after that Tom found himself in a drag race with a Corvette that left Tom staring at taillights. Off came the two-barrel and on went six Stromberg 97s. (If one is good, more must be better, philosophy.) Well, it should be noted at the same time Tom thought it a good idea to build an “unbeatable” small-block. He took the 283 and bored it to 4 inches and installed a Reath 1/2-inch stroker and ended up with a 352-inch SBC. Topped with the six Strombergs the roadster really was a beast.
That didn’t last long as the roadster caught fire one night while driving home with L.A. Roadsters club members from an event in Long Beach. It “coughed” and caught fire, burning the hood, grille, cowl, and firewall. At this time he was a member of the L.A. Roadsters and had become friends with LeRoi “Tex” Smith. It was early in Smith’s publishing career and he was working for Hot Rod and had connections that would prove beneficial for Tom. Smith talked Tom into painting the roadster with this “new” green paint—metalflake. The paintwork was handled at Cerney’s shop but it was a learning curve that wasn’t mastered. It was the first of the metalflake paintjobs—at least in California. (When dismantling the car decades later at Roy Brizio’s Street Rods to undergo a ground-up restoration an interesting find occurred. Tom had stuffed newspaper into the doors, between the outer skin and inner skeleton, and on this newsprint was green metalflake (see photo on page 82). Another interesting tidbit, the newspaper was dated June 19, 1960. That was a Sunday—Father’s Day. Irony or coincidence, it was most definitely a strange twist of fate.)
At this time Tom was driving the car as his daily driver and weekend racer—a characteristic that stayed with Tom and the roadster throughout their partnership. He was attending college and would eventually get a job at Beckman Electronics in Fullerton, California. But he had no money so the “freebee” was accepted. Tom would go on record as saying, “I hated that paintjob, and it was a big mistake.”
All good things come to an end and the 352-inch Chevy gave up the ghost one night coming back from an L.A. Roadsters run. The motor shoved a rod through the pan. The block was saved and a stock 283 crank was used, and when all was said and done Tom ended up with a 301-inch SBC with six carbs and a set of chromed Caddy wires were added. This was also when Tom decided it was time for the green metalflake paint to vanish and fresh black lacquer paint would be added.
It should also be noted the roadster was still running an early Ford driveline with a Halibrand quickie centersection. Shelling axles, clutches, and trannies was a common occurrence. Tom became so proficient at changing these pieces that he could do any repair work in 30 minutes or less, always keeping spare parts and tools at the ready.
Well, it was time for an engine replacement and since the green metalflake was beginning to show through the “new” black paint Tom figured it was time for him to learn how to paint and spray his first ever paintjob.
In Tom’s own words this is what happened next, the look all of us remember today as the iconic hot rod: “This time I decided to do something different to the car. The metalflake under the black paint was showing, so I stripped the entire body back to bare metal—what a chore! This was to be my first paintjob. Once in black I took the car over to Ed Roth to have some wild flames laid out. Roth laid them out in 1/8-inch tape. I drove the car home and painted them myself, then Roth pinstriped around the flames. American mags replaced the wire wheels, the engine received a 4-71 blower, and the interior got a new flat dash with a full set of Stewart-Warner gauges and a Bell wheel. A functional pressurized Moon tank and pump were fitted ahead of the radiator. In this new trim the roadster made its appearance on the cover of the Apr. ’63 Hot Rod magazine.”
At this time Tom also made significant changes to the chassis with the addition of a Klentz quick-change with quarter-elliptic springs and boxed the ‘rails. A Muncie four-speed was added along with a blown and twin carb Chevy 327 sitting in front of a chromed firewall.
The interior also underwent its first upholstery change since 1954. Out was the black and white and in was the white with orange diamond Naugahyde upholstery. The black paint was also freshened, which meant that Tom also sanded on the flames. He made sure to leave an outline so that they could be replicated. However, this time the striping was applied by Kelly of Compton. This is the way the car appeared on the cover of Popular Hot Rodding magazine via the photos taken by Smith. This was the sixth time the roadster had undergone a rebuild.
In the making of the roadster’s legacy it managed to establish an A/SR record at El Mirage at 167 mph, set a personal best quarter-mile speed of 118 mph, and reach 138 mph at the Riverside half-mile drags. The day of the dual-purpose car, street and strip, was coming to an end. The roadster had its heyday as a competitor but was still a sight to behold.
While the roadster was achieving fame Tom had started a company called Auto Electric Engineering that specialized in wiring of hot rods and boats but it lasted two years. At this time Tom was also involved in a motorcycle (chopper) accident. A lady in her car thumped him pretty good and he couldn’t get around but had to make money.
As Clark tells the story he would place a welding blanket on Tom’s lap and would hold various steel pieces and Tom would weld. Mostly sissy bars for choppers at first but then it was a hardtail (rigid Harley rear frame component). With Auto Electric Engineering having vanished but the checking account still in place the money gathered from Tom’s freelance magazine articles and the sale of chopper parts was placed into this checking account. Hence, A.E.E. Choppers was born. The chopper business was very successful and the more time Tom invested into the motorcycle business the less time he spent with hot rods of any kind and the roadster was relegated to a corner of the shop.
The roadster would see other powerplants, such as a 427-inch big-block Ford (wedge motor) that pumped out 850 hp through an Art Carr–prepped C6 auto. This swap and other stories about the roadster appeared in a series in Popular Hot Rodding in 1967. It was in this iteration that Tom sold the car via a classified ad in the Jan. ’70 issue of Hot Rod. (It was one year later that I met and started working with Tom and Smith. With the car still fresh in Tom’s mind we would talk often about hot rodding with all conversations eventually getting back to the roadster. The roadster was influential to me as a young hot rodder and I couldn’t hear enough of all the stories Tom had to tell. Smith on the other hand had written about this and countless other hot rods and it enabled me to have an insight that serves me well to this day.)
And that was the beauty part of the beast. The roadster was a formidable competitor at the quarter- and half-mile drags, dry lakes, Bonneville, and on the street. It set records at El Mirage with speeds topping out at 167 mph. If your likes were more along the lines of asphalt the roadster would win its class at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona with a 12.98-second pass at 109 mph.
It was everywhere. Far more than any other ’32 and maybe more so than any hot rod—ever. The car earned its keep and if it were possible to figure out how much money it made for its famous owner, we’re confident it would be a staggering sum. Tom raced anywhere and everywhere and it didn’t take much, a few Benjamins and the race was on—street or strip. Tom raced often on the street but what’s surprising is that he didn’t end up in jail because of it.
Its Finest Hour
Granted, we at the STREET RODDER offices are partial. We like to think the finest hour for the long and storied history of the McMullen roadster occurred when it appeared on the Apr. ’04 cover, having emerged from its freshly finished restoration at the hands of Roy Brizio Street Rods.
But we will admit that the covers of Hot Rod, Popular Hot Rodding, and the article in Rodder’s Journal #32 (what else?), and its specialty book titled Deuce are grand moments indeed. In person the greatest recognition may have occurred in 2007 when the roadster appeared on the lawn at Pebble Beach garnering Third in the highly competitive Historic Hot Rod Class.
In the end the roadster is a representative of our hobby turned industry. And if that is true then the showing at the Grand National Roadster Show in 2007 in the widely anticipated and well-received 75th anniversary of the Deuce display was a grand moment indeed.
The man or the car, which came first, did the man make the car or did the car make the man? As each of us builds our hot rod to suit our own imagination so I imagine we will each answer the question.
And So Ends an Incredible Tale
To say that Tom McMullen lived life on the edge would be an understatement of immense proportions. In the short time that I, or any of us, knew Tom he did everything, and I mean everything, to the “Nth degree”—and then some. It was this “pedal to the metal” approach that was both a quality and a curse. (What would you expect from someone who served onboard a submarine?) It allowed him to try things others wouldn’t and in turn it brought him fame and fortune and it brought him a short life. Although Tom was always about the excitement, the risk factor, I doubt he would have traded it for a shortened life—then again, maybe he would have. He was always going “100 miles an hour” and so he was on his last day.
Tom, 59, and his wife, Deanna, 42, were killed in a private plane crash on February 12, 1995. (Tom and Deanna met back in the days when Tom was just starting Tom’s Fun Run through STREET RODDER magazine for local rodders to have an event that would allow them to drive their cars around various back roads and see the sights of a then much younger and less crowded Orange County. I believe it was Tom’s Fun Run #3 when he introduced me to Deanna, she was 16 then and as they say the rest is history.)
During the year before Tom’s death his life was filled with many newsworthy items. His partner in McMullen & Yee Publishing, Ken Yee, died on February 12, 1994. (Yes, one year to the day before Tom’s death.) But there was more. The negotiations for the sale of McMullen & Yee now fell to Tom and his lawyers and for a brief, very brief, time Tom was back in charge. (The courts placed William “Bill” Porter in charge of running the company on a day-to-day basis until all was resolved between the McMullen interests and that of the Yee family and K-III.) The sale of the publishing company wasn’t finalized until June 7, 1995, well after Tom’s death, with K-III purchasing McMullen & Yee Publishing for approximately $55 million. Although at the time of Tom’s death he was already aware he was to become an even wealthier man and that’s where he would get the funds required for his next venture into publishing.
It was during the summer of 1994 before his death that Tom had gotten back with Tex Smith and they were hatching plans for a book company—not magazines but books. It turned out that Tom had signed a non-compete clause, which is typical in these sorts of business transactions, and was preempted from publishing magazines but could do books. According to Smith it was only weeks before Tom’s death that he and Tom met in Idaho and went over the subject of the first books, where the material would come, and who the staff would be. The first book was going to be on the life and times of Tom up and until that time. (More on that for another time.)
Then February 12, 1995, arrived.
Tom had told Smith that there was business on the East Coast and that after stopping off in Wiley Post, Oklahoma, for plane maintenance Tom would again come by Idaho and put the plans in motion for the new publishing company.
On February 12, 1995, at approximately 5:21 p.m. (Central Standard Time) Tom’s twin-engine Rockwell International 690A airplane crashed during an approach to Wiley Post Municipal Airport, near Guthrie, Oklahoma. He and Deanna were fatally injured. The flight originated at Colonel James Jabara Airport, Wichita, Kansas, and was en route to Wiley Post. It was here Tom had made an appointment for planned maintenance, which was to be conducted at the Gulfstream Aerospace Technologies Service Center. Further delving into the records reveals that Tom was also scheduled for flight simulator refresher training at their Learning Center. (A word on the call letters of Tom’s plane. The code, tail or fuselage number, for aircraft in the United States always begins with the letter “N.” After this point think of the number as a plane’s license plate—or in the case of Tom’s airplane a vanity plate, as the letters and numbers had significance to him—N69TM. He kept this tail number or a portion on many of his planes. You figure out the rest!)
According to the National Transportation Safety Board report the final transmission contained the following remarks: “The pilot contacted Oklahoma City Approach Control approximately 5:15 p.m. and according to radar data, the airplane was descending through 12,800 feet above mean sea level (MSL). Approach control then advised the pilot to ‘descend at pilot’s discretion’ to 3,000 feet. After the pilot informed approach that he ‘broke out’ of the clouds at 5,400 feet, the airplane continued to descend to join the localizer approach to Wiley Post. Approximately 5:20, the pilot informed approach that he accumulated ‘some clear and rime’ ice during the descent. Thirteen seconds later the pilot made a distress call and stated, ‘We’re in trouble, we’re going down.’ A female voice also transmitting from the airplane stated, ‘We are in trouble, we are in severe trouble, we’re going down.’”
Two minutes after initial departure, Tom reported that he “lost” his autopilot and flight director, further adding to the severity of the situation. Wichita Air Traffic Control Tower asked him if he wanted to continue the flight, or return to Wichita. Tom declined to return.
Witnesses to the crash reported that they saw the plane doing what they described as aerobatic maneuvers. It was determined that at that time Tom was probably trying to “shake” the rime off of the plane’s wings.
Tom’s airplane at one point was travelling at 309 mph (268 kts) and decelerated to approximately 106 mph (92 kts) upon impact in a wheat field near State Highway 74 and Waterloo Road in Guthrie, Oklahoma, in southern Loan County. According to the NTSB it reported rime (ice) had built up on the wings causing the plane to lose lift.
As is the case, the NTSB invested the crash and in January 1996 issued a report stating that the cause of the accident to be: “The pilot’s failure to maintain adequate airspeed due to airframe ice, which resulted in a loss of control. Factors contributing to the accident were the pilot’s continued flight into adverse weather, his failure to obtain weather information either before or during the flight, and the icing conditions.”
Tom was a risk taker and this wasn’t the only close call he had with his planes and bad weather. Years earlier he flew through a hail storm that caused so much damage to his F-86 jet that the Feds grounded the plane due to the extensive airframe damage caused by the storm. Tom tells the story that as he exited the clouds in a “flat spin” (or as it is referred to as a “death spin”) he thought it was all over but then he was able to regain control of the plane.
There were others too. I had two experiences with Tom. The first one we ran out of fuel on final approach to McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. Feds didn’t take too kindly to that one. And on one other occasion there were Tom, Jim Clark, Steve Stillwell, and I flying to Lincoln, Nebraska, on our way to a motorcycle show. He had to fly over the storm at approximately 20,000 feet. It wasn’t a problem for the plane or Tom, as he had oxygen but the rest of us found ourselves a bit “starved” for air. That’s when I learned about Tom’s lack of filing flight plans and checking the weather ahead. Smith once told me that he would never fly with Tom because of his lack of respect for what could happen. (Smith was an Air Force jet pilot during the Korean War era and understood the good and the bad about flying. He also said if I valued my life I wouldn’t either. Well, at 22 years old I was more fearless than smart.)
The roadster today sits in the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum at the Fairplex in Pomona, California. It is currently owned by a Canadian hot rodder and car collector, having purchased the roadster from the Mecum Auction in November 2012 at the Anaheim Convention Center for a stunning $700,000. At the time of the sale the car belonged to Texas hot rodder Jorge Zaragoza who worked in unison with Roy Brizio of Roy Brizio Street Rods of South San Francisco, California.
Zaragoza knew he wanted Brizio to restore the car; it was only a matter of obtaining it from Don Orosco of Monterey, California. The roadster was purchased from Orosco the week after the L.A. Roadsters Show in June 2002. It looked the same as it did in the May ’82 issue of STREET RODDER when it was featured as part of a history story on the car.
Prior to Orosco owning it, the car belonged to Phyliss Lovesee, who at the time lived in Laguna Hills, California. She and her husband, Richard, originally obtained the car while living in Riverside, California. Before that, the car spent time at Gene Winfield’s shop. It was the Lovesees who had the car rebuilt at Chuck Lombardo’s California Street Rods. At this point, the roadster was black minus flames with a tan interior and had a mundane small-block and TH350 tranny. The famous black California license plate (GHF 475) was removed in favor of a vanity plate but the original plate was kept, which is the way the car stayed until the Roy Brizio Street Rods restoration. (We believe it was Albert Baca who purchased the car from Lovesee and who then sold it to Orosco.) (Editor’s note: Chris Shelton, writer and researcher supreme, tells us if you look closely at photos of L.A. Roadsters cars that were in the club at the time of the McMullen roadster you will note there is similarity, or sequence, in member’s plates, lending credence to the story several of the club members got their plates at the same time.)
Brizio started the restoration with the following original parts: body (hood, doors, decklid, radiator shell), Deuce gas tank, dashboard (minus gauges) with the original Ed Roth pinstriping (we now know it was Kelly of Compton who traced over the original stripes), tonneau cover, windshield frame, Deist parachute, front suspension (drilled I-beam axle and split wishbones, radius rods, spring, shackles, and shocks), and the very recognizable license plate. Of the significant original parts missing were the frame, engine, transmission and rearend, interior, and, unfortunately, the Moon tank.
The restoration project took one year. Aside from the staff at Brizio’s there were also the likes of Sid Chavers of Santa Clara, who brought back the famous black and white interior; Micky Galloway of Brentwood, who straightened out the tin; Darryl Hollenbeck of Concord, who applied the deep black paint (which rests beneath the Art Himsl flames that were pinstriped by Rory); Bruno Gianoli of San Bruno, who built the period-correct ’62 small-block 327 Chevy V-8; and Sherm’s Plating of Sacramento, who handled the chrome plating.
In Brizio’s efforts to recapture the Apr. ’63 Hot Rod appearance there were some mechanical changes that had to be undone. The most notable was to place the Model A spring forward, yes, in front, of the rear axle. Tom positioned the Model A spring in front of the rear axle but the car suffered severe wheel hop while under hard acceleration so he converted the suspension to a pair of quarter-elliptical springs. •
Tom had a series of cougars over the years. After work I’d go over and feed a pair of them—Spoke and Cibie, named after parts commonly found on choppers of the day. I knew when I couldn’t see them they could see me—an uneasy feeling—but it was fun. While they were “kittens” they’d run around the office, but at a “point” were moved to Tom’s property in Yorba Linda to an outside compound.
My favorite picture of Tom; a lot of people knew Tom but I’m not sure he had many friends. Here he is in his “happy days” posed here with roadster #3. A few years later (February 12, 1995) he and his wife would die in a private plane crash.
This is the inspection where Tom had to hold onto the brake pedal and the officer would see if the car would move (staged photo).
Fritz Watson supplied this photo that was taken by Charlie Karnatz (owner of the car) and Watson’s dad at the Norwalk State Hospital (for the mentally challenged) around 1955. It is rumored that Bella Lagosi (of silent film fame) was there at the time. The car was used in the TV comedy show Life of Riley before Tom McMullen bought the car.
A little closer look of the early days of the McMullen roadster in Lynwood, CA, about to get an early wax job.
This photo originally appeared in Street Rodder in the Apr. ’75 issue and shows a young Tom before heading west to find and make his fame and fortune with his custom shoebox Ford.
In the early days Tom was forever racing the car; it was taken to San Fernando Drag Strip for a movie shoot. According to Jim Clark, this photo was taken after they repaired the highly recognizable brackets for the split radius rods.
Here is the roadster in the metallic green, painted at Cerney’s Paint Shop and Tom was persuaded by Tex Smith to paint the car at a Hollywood Bowl event. We think it looks pretty good. Photo was taken in October 1961.
Tom wasn’t big on facial hair but here he has the beginnings of a mustache. This photo taken (January 1962) by Smith showed off the new Caddy wire wheels he was just getting ready to install along with the new blown small-block.
Shod with new Caddy wires and a blown 327 small-block (replacing the destroyed 352) have the street roadster beginning to gain its unmistakable identity. Note the rear long plate mounts for the split wishbones are removed.
The long plate mounts for the split wishbones, front and rear, are still on the car so this is an early drag race photo. Jim Clark tells stories on how he would have to tighten the nuts and bolts all the time on these plates.
The corner of Monterey and Santa Rosa in Pismo Beach circa 1962; an L.A. Roadsters run with Tom (outside lane) and Dick Scritchfield with his well-known ’32 nearest curb in front.
Andy Southard took this photo in 1962 and it shows Tom’s only child, Mike, asleep on the roadster floor.
Here is Tom and his wife, Rose, in 1963 back at Pismo Beach. Note the roadster now has the iconic look it has today with the flames, Moon tank, five-spokes, and the rear split wishbones are no longer attached via the long plates used back in 1959-60. This photo was taken after the famous Hot Rod magazine Apr. ’63 cover.
Tom was a member with the roadster early on then left the club and then rejoined around 1979-80 with a different car. The rearend then and now is a ’40 Ford with Halibrand quick-change centersection (complete with the Culver City backing plate) and original axles. The roadster was remembered as an L.A. Roadsters car.
What good is a chute if you can’t open it every now and then—on the street! The car is in its Hot Rod magazine cover trim but with the top up. Looks like Rudy Perez next to Tom so that would make this photo shot at Pismo Beach at a roadster event.
Well, every time you pull the cord the chute will need to be repacked, as shown here; 1963 Pismo Beach. Tom is squatting to the left while Rudy Perez to the right offers help.
This is the staged photo that so many of us know so well. Notice the car has a smaller Moon tank on it at this time.
Here’s a color shot of the packing of the chute from a later recreation of the famous “parachute on the street” shot. That’s Tom squatting in all white, while Rose is standing. Police must have been shaking their heads. Tom was never one to shy away from exhibition—on the strip or on the street. The parachute antics became legendary and repeated on more than one occasion.
An outtake from the Eric Rickman photo shoot (January 1963) that led to the Hot Rod cover. Carole Puhlman, who rode to work with Tom, posed for this and the cover photo. (Tom worked at Beckman prior to starting A.E.E. and then eventually the starting of his motorcycle company—A.E.E. Choppers.)
Photo was taken in April 1963, as the Hot Rod magazine cover was on sale, showing Tom having a good time, and poking some fun at himself, with gobs of wiring and no place to put it!
Tom’s wife, Rose, was a very good driver. Here she is doing some between-rounds maintenance at the dry lakes.
Note the roadster at El Mirage where it has gone from the yellow and black lettered license plate to the then-new black with yellow letters and different call letters—the ones found on the car today. Tom is at the back of the car while Jim Clark is on the passenger side with his back to the camera. The lettering on the back of the coveralls notes Auto Elec Eng, which would later become an acronym, A.E.E., for Tom’s motorcycle company—A.E.E. Choppers. The car improved the B/SR record and would hit a speed of 167 mph.
Jim (left) and Tom (right) at a trade show for Auto Electric Engineering. Tom truly was excellent at running electrics throughout a car. One of the early hot rod harnesses. (The roadster is hiding in the background.) The brochure that played on the roadster’s fame was used on the flyer for the trade show.
Tom realized the cache’ the roadster had garnered on its own through all the publicity and the many places rodders had seen it perform. He used the car in brochures, magazine tech articles, and other areas where he could promote the beginnings of A.E.E. After his motorcycle accident he spent more time on chopper parts.
What a great moment this had to be with Wild Rose taking her victory lap after winning at the Winternationals. Rose piloted the roadster to times in the high 12s at 109 mph to win their class. She was always a good driver with quick reflexes and Tom was never hesitant to put her behind the wheel.
We told you Rose Genusso (who later became Tom’s wife) was a good “shoe”. Here she is getting ready at an NHRA event. Tom (left) and the partially visible car to the right that was Tom’s and was the tow vehicle. What we want to know is how in the heck did Rose get all of that bouffant hairdo under her helmet?
Tom and Rose met early on during her drag racing career. Tom is standing on the passenger side overlooking the engine compartment. Note the name of the car “Wild Rose”. Now look at the remainder of the car’s lettering. Tom had a sense of humor.
Tom has a broken leg, which is why he’s standing in a “funny” position behind the 427 Ford with a 6-71 and Enderle injection. (It was the broken leg received from a motorcycle accident that led to him making “sissy” bars for choppers, which led to fame and fortune with A.E.E. Choppers motorcycle company.)
A.E.E. Choppers (at the time located in Buena Park) would become the company that would provide Tom with the resources needed to gather a great deal of notoriety and wealth. That’s Ed “Big Daddy” Roth (right)looking over his Candy Wagon trike.
Tom is fitting the new tow bar to the roadster. To this day the car has both prominent tow bar brackets sticking off the framehorns.
Tom used every chance he could to get his latest plane on the cover of one of his books. In this case, this photo appeared as part of a cover shot for Street Chopper magazine, and other titles.
The end had come. The ad as it appeared in the Jan. ’70 issue of Hot Rod. Tom would lament, “One of my biggest mistakes was the day that I placed this ad.” (Note the address: This was the address for Street Chopper and was the home of A.E.E. Choppers. Street Rodder wasn’t produced in this building but at the next address.)
Tom at the controls of his Rockwell twin-engine Commander: This was the plane that he and his wife would perish aboard on February 12, 1995.
This Cessna sported the latest in paint from Molly. Tom would fly anywhere at the drop of a hat. This day we ended up at Bonneville.
It’s a U.S. military jet (F-86 from the Korean War era) that Tom had purchased from a private owner in Canada and brought back to the states. Tom once flew it through a store and the airframe was so damaged that the FAA grounded the jet and that was that.
Pictured is Brizio (at driver door), Bill Ganahl (son of the long, tall, skinny former Street Rodder Editor, Pat), Jeff Connolly (passenger side motor), and Ryan Campi at the front in the beginning stages of the restoration at Brizio’s shop.
Another piece of history was the parachute—remember the photo of the roadster with chute in full bloom?
Tom had filled the doors with old newspaper at the time it was painted metalflake green (which he always said he didn’t like) on a suggestion by LeRoi “Tex” Smith for a paint article.
When the car was taken apart nearly 50 years later to be restored to its greater glory at the shop of Roy Brizio Street Rods the date on the newspaper was noted—Father’s Day 1960, several years before the L.A. Roadsters had begun the event that will celebrate its 50th show anniversary in 2014.
As it leaves the stage of the Mecum Auction a private buyer from Canada purchased the car for $700,000. Now that’s a lot of cash, but it is a lot of history.
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