Ed Roth was a man of many talents: painter, pinstriper, airbrush artist, fabricator. He was also a great self-promoter. Roth understood that an artist working in obscurity would likely starve. Success meant getting the word out about your skills.
In the early 1950s, Roth bought a 1948 Ford, painted it red, lettered it with the name of his business and phone number, and adorned the roof over the back window with papier-mache head and hands. Sort of a bizarre take on the old “Kilroy was Here” cartoon.
But, as he told Tony Thacker in the book Hot Rods by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, that head “drew too many complaints.” So in 1957, he bought a light green 1956 Ford F-100 pickup. Roth repainted the truck white and adorned it with red flames and added a tonneau cover with a monstrous airbrush job on it. He then used the Ford as his rolling business card.
From Ed to O.Z.
Roth didn’t own the truck for long. Oliver Bradshaw (who goes by O.Z.) spotted it on a car dealer’s lot in Bell Gardens, Calif.—not far from where Roth had set up shop in Southgate—and bought it, flames and all, in late 1957.
“It had probably short of 1,600 miles on it when I bought it,” O.Z. said. Not long after picking up the truck, someone stole its airbrushed tonneau.
“It was a canvas or…cover painted with an engine block with a hideous head and some hypodermic needles sticking out of it,” O.Z. recalled. “Somebody liked it and stole it. By the time I met Ed Roth that cover was long gone.”
The two met when O.Z. took the truck to Roth’s shop to have his own name lettered on it. Instead, Ed painted the words Rinky Dink on the truck, as he told O.Z. the truck had “a rinky-dink style of paint on it.”
Internet stories about this truck claim that Roth put a Packard engine in it, but that’s not the case, O.Z. said When he bought it, the truck still had the stock Ford Y-block V-8 under its hood. But on a trip to a friend’s wedding in Fresno, the engine’s rear seal “went out, and it was losing oil. I wanted to change engines before I went back to Los Angeles.”
In a garage in Salinas, O.Z. found an engine out of a 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk. “They couldn’t seem to sell it because it was a heavy motor,” O.Z. recalled, “but they could sell my Ford engine rather quickly. So I put the Packard in my pickup.”
O.Z. drove the truck for a number of years, still sporting Roth’s flamed paint, before making some changes. “It was 1966 or 1967, I’m not sure,” he admitted. He sanded off Roth’s paint, removed the hood emblems, filled the tailgate, and then repainted the truck with a custom batch of white primer mixed with cobalt blue to make a powder blue hue. The truck’s grille survives, still wearing Roth’s original paint job, because O.Z. chose to remove it. He’d planned to replace it with a tube grille.
“Later on I sanded that blue paint down and painted it forest green the way it is now,” O.Z. said. Careful examination of the truck’s nooks and crannies reveals all of those different colors, right down to the factory green.
O.Z. moved to Paden, Okla. in 1968, and took the truck with him. “We didn’t drive it much when we got [there],” he said. Blame “stupidity on my part,” O.Z. added. To prep the truck for winter storage, “I took off the radiator without draining the water out of the block. The water froze and cracked the block.”
And so the Ford sat in a barn—”retired from the highway,” as O.Z. put it—for decades. Keeping it company was a 1931 Pierce-Arrow and a 1951 Kaiser Manhattan.
Just Had to Have Them
Nearly 50 years after parking the Ford, O.Z. decided it was time to sell some of his cars. “The man who delivers my propane saw them and just had to have them,” he said, “so I let them go.”
As it turns out, that propane truck driver’s route also included St. Cloud Classics, a specialty car dealer in Chandler. He told Larry Braswell, St. Cloud’s owner, about the 1931 Pierce-Arrow and 1956 F-100 for sale in Paden. Braswell went to check the cars out, and he learned from O.Z. the truck had once been featured in Car Craft magazine. “But he didn’t tell me the truck was owned by Ed Roth until after I bought it,” Braswell said. “That’s when he brought out the magazine. He wasn’t aware that Roth was as big a deal as he is. All he knew was that it was in Car Craft in 1957.”
Braswell transported the Ford and the Pierce-Arrow back to his store (the Kaiser is still with O.Z.) and debated what to do with the historic pickup. “We’re on Route 66, and we talked about restoring it to promote the business,” he told us. “But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Galpin would do a better job of restoring it. And it really needs to be seen.”
Galpin to the Rescue
You don’t have to be a Southern Californian to be familiar with the Galpin name. Starting with a Ford store in 1946, Galpin Motors has grown to encompass a network of car dealerships throughout the San Fernando Valley. It’s also home to Galpin Auto Sports (GAS), which builds and restores significant hot rods, customs, and muscle cars (the Iron Orchid coupe and Grasshopper tribute are among Galpin’s creations). Galpin also displays many of these creations in a museum adjacent to its Ford dealership.
Included in that museum is quite a collection of Ed Roth’s custom vehicles and memorabilia. Larry was well aware of the collection, so he contacted Beau Boeckmann, president of GAS, and offered to sell the truck to him. “I could have made more money sending it overseas, like to Japan or Australia. But I wanted it to stay here.”
Yet Boeckmann turned him down, thinking he wanted too much money for the truck. “So I decided to put it on eBay one time,” Braswell said. “If it didn’t sell, then we’d restore it ourselves.”
Among the individuals who spotted the truck’s online auction was Michael Lightbourn, whose passion is to ferret out rare and significant cars considered lost to time. It was Lightbourn who discovered the remains of Roth’s Orbitron in Juarez and eventually sold it to Boeckmann. Like Braswell, Lightbourn considered buying the truck and restoring it himself. But he reached the same conclusion as Braswell. The historic pickup truly belonged with the rest of the Roth collection at GAS.
“When I sold the Orbitron to Beau, I knew it was going to the right home,” Lightbourn said. “It would be the same with this truck.” So he talked to Boeckmann and Dave Shuten (who does much of the resto work on these cars for GAS). Eventually, Boeckmann told Lightbourn to “[g]et it done.” Lightbourn contacted Braswell and closed the deal. The two then met in Socorro, N.Mex., for the handoff. Shuten then picked up the truck from Lightbourn in El Paso, Tex.
The pickup was photographed in the GAS museum, where it was parked next to the beautifully restored Orbitron and other Roth memorabilia. The next day, Shuten and his crew immediately began the process of return the truck to its former glory in preparation for a debut at the Grand National Roadster Show. Tony Lombardi, who does much of the mechanical work for Shuten and GAS, will build a correct Y-block for the truck, likely with some period speed parts. “I never knew Roth to leave an engine alone,” Shuten told us, “but I need to dig further to find out what this engine had on it.”
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