The Most Spectacular Show Rods Of The ’60s
Updated May 23, 2018
Show Rods were a phenomenon of the ’60s and inspired everything from the custom cars on TV to the very first Hot Wheels. Check out some of the best ever.
Show Rods were designers’ dreams, never to really drive on the road. Instead they expressed the builders’ creative, building rods like never seen before or since. Show Rods inspired custom cars that appeared on television, and were long a staple of the Hot Wheels line. In fact, of the first 16 Hot Wheels issued 25% were Show Rods. Read on to learn more.
One of the first Show Rods was constructed by “Big Daddy” Ed Roth. Named the “Beatnik Bandit” (Beatniks were a precursor to Hippies) it was built in 1961 as a project for Rod & Custom magazine. The Beatnik Bandit was immortalized by Mattel by making it one of the first 16 Hot Wheels die casts. One feature in the Beatnik Bandit that always attracted attention is that “Big Daddy” built the car without a steering wheel and used as aircraft-style “stick” to control the steering, brakes, and throttle. Built on a shortened ’50 Oldsmobile frame, it was powered by a supercharged Oldsmobile 303 CID Rocket Power V8, considered one of the first Muscle car engines.
The Illusion is a show car built by Dave Puhl that incorporated a dramatic asymmetrical design, with a brushed aluminum divider that ran the entire length of the car. The body was all hand-formed metal (no fiberglass here). It was painted with 25 coats of translucent gold and fit with yellow Plexiglas windows. The taillights were tucked up into sheet aluminum shrouds. Inside, all gauges were mounted to the driver’s right in a walnut-paneled, dash located insert. Power came from a Hi-Po Ford 289 engine. The front suspension was used Morris Minor torsion bars, Corvette spindles, and adjustable spherical rod ends. The steering system also came out of a Morris Minor. In 1971 the Illusion was the grand prize in the “The Aqua Velvet/Lectric Shave Custom Car Sweepstakes.” The winner took also won an all-expenses paid trip for two to the Indianapolis Speedway where he took delivery of the car and was able to drive it around the famed 2.5 mile oval.
The Silhouette was a futuristic show car designed and built by Bill Cushenbery, in fact it was the first scratch-built custom car to roll out of his shop. The Silhouette’s body was hand-formed of aluminum and mounted on a shortened Buick chassis and powered by a Buick “Nailhead” engine. By 1966, the Nailhead had been replaced by a Ford 427 V8. The wheels were fully exposed, but the angular body was heavily influenced by the space age. The Silhouette was fully operable, and equipped with controls both on the dash as well as concealed in the exterior trim to raise and lower the bubble top, open the hood and trunk, start the engine, turn on the lights, and operate the blower fans. Mattel included the Silhouette in its first series of models in 1968.
Dream Rod aka Python
The Dream Rod was designed by the staff of Car Craft Magazine in 1961. The first drawings of the car appeared in the October 1961 issue. It was brought to life by Bill Cushenbery (of Silhouette fame) to build the Dream Rod. The car was assembled from a very eclectic collection of components. The chassis is from a 1952 Jowett Jupiter with a VW torsion bar beam in front. The front fenders and doors are from a ’60 Pontiac, upper rear quarter tops are from a ’60 Corvair, the windshield and top are from a ’53 Studebaker, and the rear window is from a ’57 Borgward Isabella Sedan, but installed upside down. Power is from a 289 Ford V8. The Dream Rod was completed late in 1963, and went on from Bill’s shop to tour the custom car scene and in 1968 became one of the first of the “Sweet 16” Hot Wheels, renamed the Python.
Books have been written about Dean Jeffries, his accomplishments and innovations, but were going to look at just one – his first Show Rod the Mantaray. The basis was a former Maserati 4CLT Formula 1 car that had been used in the film “The Racers” then purchased by his then-father-in-law, a wealthy entrant of both sprint cars and sports cars. The Maserati frame, suspension, and driveline are clearly visible in photos taken during the Mantaray’s construction. What happened to the body and engine is a mystery unlikely to be solved (BTW, if the car were in original condition it would be worth about $5 million, but then it at the time it was just an obsolete race car). Jeffries then created a wire frame to shape the body by eye, tweaking and adjusting by eye as he worked. The body was then formed in aluminum around the wire frame. A Shelby 289 Ford V8, a gift or trade for work done at Shelby’s was installed, and the rest, as they say is history. Jeffries became an in-demand designer of specialized cars for TV shows and created the Monkeemobile and Black Beauty (The Green Hornet’s car).
The Deora, designed by Harry Bentley Bradley and built by the Alexander Brothers, is based on the COE Dodge A100 pickup. It was chopped, sectioned, and channeled to create the fully functional, futuristic-looking pickup. The back glass of a ’60 Ford station wagon was used as the windshield. The slant six engine and 3-speed manual transmission were moved rearward 15 inches, out of the cab and into the bed, covered by a hard tonnueau. Entrance into the cockpit is achieved by lifting up the windshield, swiveling the lower gate and entering through the front. Soon after Bradley joined Mattel and designed the original 16 Hot Wheels models, and of course included the Deora in the collection.
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