Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Custom 1956 Ford F-100 Restored
Rescued and Restored
Perhaps best known for creating the bizarre, oversized hot-rod-driving caricature Rat Fink (and many others), famed artist, cartoonist, and car customizer Ed "Big Daddy" Roth was born in Beverly Hills, California, in 1932 and grew up in the nearby Los Angeles suburb of Bell to become a major player in Southern California's hot rod and “Kustom Kulture” of the late-1950s and 1960s. And in 1957, he bought a new ’56 Ford F-100 pickup truck.
It was Meadow Mist green as delivered, but he painted it white, covered it in bright red flames, and striped and lettered it to use as a rolling business card. But he didn’t keep it long.
By the end of that year, “Roth sold the truck to Oliver [O.Z.] Bradshaw, who eventually replaced the stock powerplant with a Packard engine,” says Aaron Kahan of Los Angeles auto dealer Galpin Auto Sports (GAS), which owns Big Daddy’s truck today. “In the late-1960s, he sanded off the flames and painted it powder blue, followed by dark green. Then he moved to Paden, Oklahoma, in 1968, where it sat untouched until it was found in a barn almost 50 years later! Luckily, O.Z. stashed away the original Roth-painted grille, which ended up being the main piece to confirm the truck’s historic pedigree!”
But it was much more than the grille. “The taillights were there, and all the knobs on the dash that Roth had hand-painted when he did the artwork on the dash, overspray in areas from the original flame job, and where he had painted the inside of the truck except for the dash,” says Dave Shuten of Galpin Speed Shop, which restores and rebuilds the dealership’s collector vehicles. “I even found a dash plaque in the ashtray from the Renegade Car Show in Long Beach in 1957, and I have footage of Roth at that show.”
In early 1959, Roth opened a shop at 4616 Slauson Avenue in Maywood, California, about 8 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, and began airbrushing and selling Weirdo T-shirts at car shows and in Car Craft magazine. By the summer of 1959, Weirdo shirts had become a major craze, and that same year, he created The Outlaw, a highly creative fiberglass hot rod that was featured in Car Craft and other magazines and starred at numerous hot-rod and custom-car shows. That was followed in 1961 by the Beatnik Bandit; in 1963 by the Ford-powered, twin-engined Mysterion; in 1964 by The Orbitron; and in 1965 by The Road Agent and the Surfite surf buggy. The Surfite even played a role in Beach Blanket Bingo, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, and Village of the Giants with Beau Bridges and Tommy Kirk. Then he began customizing motorcycles, started his own publication called Choppers—the first magazine about custom/chopper motorcycles—and built the first known VW-powered trike, his first of many.
During the 1970s, he worked for Brucker's Movie World and its "Cars of the Stars" display and for Knott's Berry Farm as a sign painter and artist. Brucker said that Roth had a knack for seeing how things fit together and could build something in a few days that might take others a couple of weeks.
Roth remained active in hot-rodding and counterculture art his entire adult life and gained a second burst of fame in the late-1980s, especially after the Laguna Art Museum Kustom Kulture show, “which put a name on the art movement that included and inspired so many people since the late-1940s,” Kahan says. A Rat Fink Reunion was started in the late-1970s by legendary Kustom Kulture artists Robert and Suzanne Williams as a Roth Studios employee reunion and by the early 1990s had grown into a major event.
At the time of his death in 2001, Roth was working on an innovative compact-car hot-rod project, and the following year was named one of the "50 Who Made a Difference" at the 50th annual Autorama custom and hot-rod show in Detroit. Five years later, he was honored as Autorama’s 2006 "Builder of the Year." Since his death, a second Rat Fink Reunion has been held on the first weekend of June in Manti, Utah, where he lived in his later years with his wife, Ilene. She created a museum with displays of his art and other memorabilia to honor him, and his son, Darryl, collects and displays his father's work.
Which brings us back to this special truck. After it was found in that barn, it was briefly owned by Larry Braswell, who put it on eBay. Michael Lightbourn bought it on behalf of GAS president Beau Boeckmann, who had wanted it for his Roth collection ever since it was found. It was documented and featured in the January 2017 issue of Hot Rod Deluxe magazine, then torn down to its bare frame for a complete restoration back to stock condition led by Shuten, then customized and painted exactly as Roth did in 1957.
“To do it right, I had to restore it back to a brand-new ’56 green pickup truck, then customize it the way Roth did,” Shuten says. “All the overspray from the white got into the places where it was supposed to, and it was still green underneath, behind the cab, and in the bed—just like originally. Otherwise, it was fairly easy. It was basically a stock truck with just a couple of tiny modifications and the paint job, so it was mostly about getting the paint job accurate.”
“The truck is truly restored as accurately as possible,” adds Kahan. “That is why parts of the original green paint show, and things weren't masked off perfectly to allow some overspray to happen.”
The team at Galpin even contracted famed Kustom Kulture artist Robert Williams to replicate Roth’s abstract painting that had once covered the truck’s dashboard. Bodywork and paint were handled by Shuten and GAS custom painters Mike Lewis and Manuel Lopez. The pinstriping and lettering was recreated by Pete “Hot Dog” Finlan, the tonneau cover airbrushing by Von Franco, and the interior by Elegance Auto Upholstery.
Under the hood, O.Z.’s replacement Packard engine was removed, and Galpin Speed Shop installed a Ross Racing Engines–rebuilt, era-correct 272-cid Ford V-8 exactly like what was in the truck when new. “It is a date-coded matching stock 1956 Y-block with a single little carburetor, no speed equipment, no hot-rod stuff,” Shuten says.
A serious car collector with (as of now) some dozen Ed Roth cars—probably the world’s biggest Roth car collection—GAS’ Boeckmann also owns several other historic custom trucks, including Gene Winfield's restored shop truck, the Dan Woods ICE Truck, Trend Customs’ Trendero, the Backup Pickup and the Lil Redd Wrecker. This restored Ed “Big Daddy” Roth F-100 debuted at the 68th Annual Grand National Roadster Show in 2017 in Pomona and was photographed for Rodder’s Journal #75 for a story on its restoration. Its March 2018 Amelia Island appearance was its first at a major invitational Concours d’Elegance.