COVER STORY: EYE OF THE BE­HOLDER

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Contents -

A Ply­mouth gasser “so ugly it’s bitchin.’”

You know the neigh­bor­hood car guy. Chances are, you are the neigh­bor­hood car guy. The one who’s asked for ad­vice on what car to buy, or what that strange noise is com­ing from the en­gine, or if he knows any­one in­ter­ested in buy­ing Grandma’s old clunker now that she doesn’t drive any­more.

Paul Soliz is the car guy in his neigh­bor­hood. Or one of them, any­way. You see, his neigh­bor­hood, the Los An­ge­les sub­urb of El Monte, has been home to more than its fair share of car guys, from Mickey Thomp­son to Pete Chapouris.

Paul cred­its his brother, Rudy, for in­tro­duc­ing him to fast cars, with trips to the orig­i­nal Ir­win­dale Race­way. It wasn’t long be­fore Paul was buy­ing cars and spin­ning wrenches, fix­ing (and hop­ping up) a suc­ces­sion of lo­cal iron, flip­ping most, keep­ing some. He’s lost count of just how many cars have passed through his hands. Maybe 100. He does know he’s owned only one new car, an ’85 IROC Ca­maro “that I lost in my di­vorce,” he says, laugh­ing about it now.

Paul laughs of­ten, and eas­ily, a man happy with his life. He’s re­tired from his day job as a fleet man­ager and spends his time work­ing on cars out of a three-bay garage tucked be­hind his mid­cen­tury sub­ur­ban home. Like most car guys, he’s a col­lec­tor, with parts stashed on shelves and in corners, and mem­o­ra­bilia from his

years of car build­ing and drag rac­ing hung on his shop’s walls.

Those photos are a handy vis­ual aid he uses to re­count the cars he’s had over the years. There’s a photo of Paul and Rudy with Paul’s high school car, a ’55 Chevy wagon. There’s his ’66 Nova boil­ing its hides, and the Willys pickup, called Strip Trip­per, that oc­cu­pies one of the garage bays. The other two slots are filled with a newly fin­ished Chevy II and a slow-slung (and mean-sound­ing) ’61 Pon­tiac Ven­tura called Strip Trip­per 2. Un­der a tarp out­side is a ’55 Hill­man un­der con­struc­tion, mocked up with a ’57 Pon­tiac rearend and straight front axle.

Paul’s cars have run the gamut: three V8 Ve­gas, a ’66 Chev­elle, three ’49 Chevys, even a ’72 Chevy short­bed pickup, rid­ing high on a 3⁄4-ton frame and 44-inch tires. But his fa­vorites, clearly, are those with big-inch mo­tors and a straight axle lift­ing the nose.

“Ever since I was a kid, I al­ways loved gassers,” he ex­plains. “I’ve raced all kinds of cars, but I al­ways wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent.” Years ago, when old-school gassers caught his fancy, his friends didn’t get it. “‘Why would you want those old 1960s race cars?’ they’d ask me. ‘Those things didn’t work.’” But over time, as Paul brought his gassers to cruise nights and drag races, mo­men­tum built, un­til “cars started com­ing out of the wood­work,” he says. He’s far too hum­ble to sug­gest that he re­lit the flame for gasser en­thu­si­asm back in the mid-1990s, but he was cer­tainly a ma­jor spark for the move­ment.

Of all the cars that have passed through his busy garage, this ’50 Ply­mouth busi­ness coupe is a def­i­nite keeper. He first spot­ted it at the Pomona swap meet in 1995, where he knew im­me­di­ately, “I gotta have that thing.” He traded an all-orig­i­nal ’49 Chevy Style­line Deluxe for it.

Part of the at­trac­tion was nos­tal­gic. “My gram­mar school prin­ci­ple drove a ’50 Ply­mouth busi­ness coupe,” he re­calls, “and that’s why I fell in love with it. It brought back mem­o­ries.”

But he also saw it as a di­a­mond in the rough. “There was some­thing more to it than just an ugly old car. It’s so ugly it’s bitchin’, you know? I had a vi­sion of what it was go­ing to be when I bought it.”

Paul soon learned the coupe had some lo­cal his­tory. Back in 1968, its then-owner brought it to Blair’s Speed Shop in Pasadena for some gasser-style mods. The Blair’s treat­ment in­cluded a front sub­frame fabbed out of rec­tan­gu­lar tub­ing, with 40-inch leaf springs hang­ing a dropped axle. In back, a ’57 Pon­tiac rearend was fit­ted with lift bars that helped the car scrab­ble for trac­tion.

At Blair’s, the car got the roll­bar that’s still in it and the snaky head­ers that still peek out from the wheel­wells, though to­day they’ve been treated to a fresh white ce­ramic coat from Cap’s Pow­der Coat­ing in Fresno.

Paul doesn’t know if the car was ever raced. He hasn’t found any records or old times­lips. When he bought the car in 1995, it had the “X A GAS” li­cense plates it still wears, lead­ing him to be­lieve it spent some time at the strip, but there’s no proof. Those plates, by the way, led to a long­time friend­ship with an­other El Monte lo­cal, Robert Rey. Robert, whose deep ties with the gasser community en­able him to put to­gether gasser dis­plays for car shows around South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, wanted those plates for his own Ford Pre­fect gasser project. When he learned they weren’t avail­able, he did some sleuthing to find out whose they were. As you might imag­ine, he and Paul hit it off; Robert says if he’s not at Paul’s shop, Paul’s at his. (Paul was among the con­trib­u­tors to the blue Stude­baker Lark

be­long­ing to Robert’s son Se­bas­tian that was on our gasser is­sue cover a year ago [“Blue Bird,” May 2017]).

Paul wasted no time get­ting the Ply­mouth run­ning, pay­ing more at­ten­tion to its me­chan­i­cals than its ap­pear­ance. A num­ber of en­gines and trans­mis­sions have been in and out of the car, as he’ll take com­po­nents from one of his projects and try them out in an­other. When Steve Mag­nante wrote about the Ply­mouth in the Aug. 2000 HOT ROD, it was run­ning a 454/TH400 combo; to­day, there’s a 427 with real-deal Win­ters alu­minum heads un­der that tall tun­nel-ram backed by a Pow­er­glide.

Paul drove and raced the Ply­mouth in its primered, patch­work state for about three years. He was mo­ti­vated to paint the car af­ter a friend re­moved the fac­tory trim, leav­ing be­hind 52 holes—later 52 rust spots—in the Ply­mouth’s gray sheet­metal. At some point in the car’s life, some­one had painted the un­der­side of the trun­k­lid or­ange, so Paul chose that color for the car’s ex­te­rior. The same “friend” who re­moved the trim (he’d pre­fer to re­main name­less) looked around his shop and found a quart of or­ange paint that he mixed with a gal­lon of white primer, and voil‡. At first, the car was painted just from the cowl back. The front fend­ers and one-piece fiber­glass hood were painted later, which is why the col­ors don’t quite match.

Paul’s Ply­mouth has be­come a fix­ture on the Socal rod­ding and rac­ing scene. And be­yond: The Jalopy Journal’s H.A.M.B. named it one of its “11 Fa­vorite Gassers,” putting the or­ange High and Mighty among the likes of Stone Woods & Cook, Ohio Ge­orge Mont­gomery, Big John Maz­ma­nian, and others. Paul is be­yond hon­ored to be a part of that group.

That’s a heady place, and even more spe­cial when you con­sider that Paul still races the car, and he drives it on the street. Be­fore he re­tired, he would drive it to work on Satur­days. “If the weather was good, that baby was on the road,” he says. He’s a reg­u­lar at the Thursday-night Ir­win­dale drags and for the Mooneyes events held there, he’ll drive it to cruise nights and shows, and he takes it up to Famoso for the March Meet and Hot Rod Re­union. He runs with a group of like-minded car own­ers and was wear­ing a T-shirt with their “Out­law Gassers Socal” name when we pho­tographed the car.

Mag­nante said in his 2000 HRM story the Ply­mouth’s best quar­ter-mile e.t. was 11.71. To­day, it’s a 10.60-se­cond run­ner, aided by the new mo­tor and bet­ter rub­ber—hoosier DOT slicks—grab­bing the pave­ment with an as­sist from those old-timey Blair’s lift bars. “Old trac­tion tech and new rub­ber tech, that’s what gives me those wheel­stands,” Paul says of the Ply­mouth’s ten­dency to moon­shot.

“Hey, if you can’t use it, you can’t abuse it.”

> Be­neath the fiber­glass lift-off hood made for Paul by buddy Bruce Board­man is a big-block Chevy based on a 427 block fit­ted with early 427 “snowflake” Win­ters alu­minum heads un­der vintage Mickey Thomp­son valve cov­ers. Niel Niel­son of En­gine Dy­nam­ics...

> Blair’s cut off the front of the Ply­mouth’s frame and grafted on 2x3 rails to hang the leaf springs and dropped axle. Those are Moroso shocks, and the Cor­vair steer­ing box is just vis­i­ble on the other side of the rail. > Blair’s in­stalled the ’57...

> “This thing would sit even higher if it were a straight axle!” Paul says about the dropped axle. Wil­wood disc brakes on ’49 Chevy spin­dles are a rel­a­tively new ad­di­tion. “When you go faster, you have to slow quicker.”

> The rac­ing buck­ets were in the Ply­mouth when Paul bought it, and the roll­bar was done by Blair’s in 1968. The side win­dows are Plex­i­glas, while the wind­shield and back win­dow are the orig­i­nal glass. That’s a vintage Sun tach on the dash­board, and a...

> Paul’s Ply­mouth is a unique com­bi­na­tion of early 1950s Chrysler de­sign, 1960s gasser mod­i­fi­ca­tions by Blair’s Speed Shop, and a con­stant tun­ing ef­fort by Paul to make it a driver that will also run mid-10s on the strip.

• WORDS: DREW HARDIN • PICS: WES AL­LI­SON • CAR: PAUL SOLIZ

> Yes, Paul drives a car with a spool and slicks on the street, reg­u­larly mak­ing the round trip to and from Ir­win­dale for the Thursday night drags and Mooneyes events. The 10-inch Hoosiers are DOT tires, and “so mushy” they com­pen­sate for any rearend...

> The en­gine’s com­pres­sion is pump-gas friendly, though Paul does mix the 91-oc­tane with 112-oc­tane race fuel. Front tank is a vintage Eelco piece. Robert Rey, who joined us for the shoot, told us the quick way to tell an Eelco tank from a Moon tank:...

> Paul in­stalled old-fash­ioned hood latches to hold the trun­k­lid closed, as it tended to open dur­ing quar­ter-mile blasts. No junk in this trunk; it’s all busi­ness. Here, too, are the most ob­vi­ous rem­nants of the Ply­mouth’s orig­i­nal paint color, though...

> Tom Clark let­tered the nod to the his­toric speed shop. And while C/gas is painted on the C-pil­lar, Paul runs the car in D/gas.

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