In the early days, hot rods were outlaws. Nowadays, though, they have become socially acceptable, something to sip wine over on the lawns of Pebble Beach. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Just ask Terry Cook of Deco Rides and owner/builder of the '39 Lincoln Zephyr "Scrape" about their burgeoning popularity and pervasive commonality.
"Hot rods like '32, '34, '37 and '40 Fords are absolute things of beauty, but when I go to a big rod run and see literally hundreds of them, they all begin to look the same, like Xerox copies of rods built 50 years ago," notes Cook. "I crave any car that has the right look, but at the same time is fresh and different."
Coachbuilt Hot Rod Twist.
To counter this standard fare, Cook whipped up a whole new recipe: hot rods combined with classic automotive styling. For inspiration, he credits a certain group of stylists and a specific period of automotive history: "That's what changed my life, those kustoms built by European coachbuilders," he recalls. "Coachbuilt cars for concours events from '35 to '39, that was the apogee of automotive styling."
But he put a fresh twist on his old favorites: "We're dragging these 1930s classics into the 21st Century with a hot rod flavor, gusto and verve. In doing so, we're paying tribute to these great stylists and craftsmen," he insists. "I call them 'Tribute Rods'-we start with a classic and then smoke it over."
Rock Bottom Ride.
Although initially a car magazine editor by trade, Cook harbored a not-so-secret yearning to become a designer and builder. His first car, the aptly named Scrape, took more than four years to complete. Working with Ramsey Mosher of Ram's Rod Shop in Dover, Delaware, Cook started out with a design from E. L. Gregory, a '39 Lincoln Zephyr, and grafted on the nose of a '40-'41 model. While some purist collectors groaned at the thought of this cross breeding, other Zephyr fans applauded his efforts, and in fact inspired Cook to combine these two design elements into a "phantom" car that never existed in production form.
Building the car required a different chassis, a '78 Caprice wagon he purchased for $350, and stripped down to the frame. To achieve that signature stance, he hired Dave Cronk, who Z'd the frame at the flywheel area and lengthened it to fit the Lincoln's wheelbase. With the new rails sitting flat on the floor, he lowered the body onto the rails so it straddled them at ground level then welded the whole thing together. With the ride height now set at rock bottom, the trick would be to lift up the car enough to get it to drive down the road. That's where Mosher took over, literally from the ground up, consuming four years and 4,000 hours to complete the car under tight wraps.
Scrape went on to have an astounding effect on all who saw it. He recalls on two separate occasions the car received standing ovations as it pulled into the spectator area. And one of those wild applauses took place at an event where the competition included mega-buck classic and exotic sports cars.
While some of Cook's creations sell in solid six-figure territory (Bob Petersen, who founded the auto museum bearing his name, purchased Scrape for $275,000), he had the foresight to make molds off the body of the car he had designed so he could reproduce coupes, and a new convertible, in fiberglass composite. He went on to produce more than 100 bodies by his last count, which have sold all over the world, from Moscow to Dubai to Australia.
Even with all the accolades and demand for his designs, he's never let it go to his head. As one example of his sense of whimsy, note the outboard engine emblem on Scrape's engine cover.
"Evinrude-that's a joke," he chuckles. "Everybody takes their cars too seriously. Scrape has a small-block Chevy with just a two-barrel carb."
Cook includes some jabs in his other designs as well, such as the Bugnotti roadster. The name refers to famous Bugatti marque, along with a simultaneous negation of it ("not a Bugatti"). It's not only a play on words, but also a subtle dig toward Bugatti's corporate parent Volkswagen and its attitude toward reproductions.
Like most creative folks, Cook is restless about his designs, and his initial success with Scrape. "I'm two or three cars beyond it now," he admits. "I have a limited attention span." He's been going through an evolution, and now has an affinity for phantom coupes. He still has a soft spot for kustoms, though. "Scrape is the epitome of a my kustom era."
Taking that design to whole new level is a Sedan Delivery version, which transports a customized chopper bike inside, styled to match the car. The bike's front wheel serves as an armrest between the driver and shotgun front bucket seats. With a front-wheel drive platform that eliminates the differential hump in the rear floorboard, a motorized ramp can be used to get the bike in and out of the vehicle. The motorcycle is rolled onto the ramp, strapped in position, and then the ramp and bike are automatically retracted into the car at the touch of a switch. The rear door then closed automatically using linear actuators.
Cook says a car dealer from Dubai purchased the car at last year's Pebble Beach. Rather than displaying it on the grass with other show vehicles and the wine sippers, though, he simply parked outside the fence, within sight of a busy walkway. The lines were enough of a draw to gather a crowd.
The Bella Figura Bugnotti coupe also just debuted at the 2010 Pebble Beach to rave reviews. Produced by Cook's other company, Delahaye USA, this carbon fiber creation was inspired by the classic Type 57S.
The ever-restless Cook has a number of other projects in the works. "There are a dozen cars in my head," he reveals. One that's moving ahead is called the Sultan, inspired by the astounding artistic expressions of Saoutchik. This massive 17-foot long roadster boasts elongated, metallic spears sweeping down the sides, and its custom chassis features Corvette C5 running gear, along with a BMW V12 engine. Why a Bimmer?
"I'm not gonna put a freakin' Chevrolet in my car-then it's just another street rod," he exclaims, eschewing conformity. My whole deal is to build just a few great cars. There are no rules-let your mind roam free."