Beaulieu Hot Rod & Cus­tom Drive-in Cus­tomis­ing leg­end Andy Saun­ders guides us around a new ex­hi­bi­tion of his cre­ations, in­clud­ing a spe­cial Peu­geot 403

Andy Saun­ders’ cus­toms cel­e­brated at Beaulieu Hot Rod & Cus­tom Drive-in

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents -

The open­ing of the first ex­hi­bi­tion ded­i­cated to the work of Andy Saun­ders, hot-rod­der and one-off car-builder ex­traor­di­naire, co­in­cided with Beaulieu’s an­nual Hot Rod and Cus­tom Drive-in day. Andy Saun­ders & the Art of Kus­tom runs un­til Septem­ber. The man him­self took us on a tour of his cars, and un­veiled his lat­est cre­ation, ‘Metropo­lis’.

A saunter with Saun­ders

‘I was still fin­ish­ing off this Peu­geot 403 at 10:30pm last night!’ says Saun­ders of the For­ties car which forms the ba­sis of Metropo­lis. ‘It had been in a field in France for 50 years, and in­cred­i­bly the Peu­geot fac­tory mu­seum has no record of it hav­ing been built. It’s prob­a­bly be­cause it dates from a time when the in­vad­ing Ger­man forces req­ui­si­tioned the Peu­geot fac­tory to build cars for the Axis pow­ers. It was in a very poor state, but I could tell by the roofline that it wasn’t Peu­geot’s fac­tory de­sign – it’s be­lieved to be the work of a Ger­man coach­builder.

‘Be­cause of this, I wanted to re­flect its joint French and Ger­man ori­gins. My fi­ancée, Max­ine Xavier, took ten weeks to com­plete the mu­ral in­spired by Fritz Lang’s Metropo­lis on its bootlid. It cost me more to com­mis­sion that from her than it did to buy our en­gage­ment ring!’

The Peu­geot is rel­a­tively re­strained and closer to its orig­i­nal de­sign than some of Saun­ders’ ear­lier cre­ations, but in the ex­hi­bi­tion you can see the evo­lu­tion of his think­ing, as he ex­plains, ‘When I found it I was go­ing to call it Lu­cifer, and would have made it a Fifties-in­spired, Amer­i­can-style cus­tom pick-up. But since restor­ing a Cord 810 as ‘Tetanus’ – so called be­cause it was so rusty when I found it that I said I wouldn’t touch it with­out a tetanus shot – I’ve re­ally come to ap­pre­ci­ate the art of the Thir­ties art deco-era coach­builder. I had to come up with a new style that re­tained that sense of pe­riod el­e­gance.

‘That said, there’s still an aw­ful lot of cus­tomi­sa­tion that’s gone into its de­sign. The roof was fab­ri­cated us­ing sec­tions of new Mini doors, and the rear ac­tu­ally uses the rolled lower edges of a VW Mi­crobus’ side door. Be­lieve it or not, in all th­ese years of build­ing cars I’ve never ac­tu­ally learned how to do proper rolled edges, but some­times another car has ex­actly what you need and it’s just a case of adapt­ing it.

‘Al­though th­ese cars are my own cre­ations in terms of de­sign, I’ve al­ways worked with my dad to bring them about – and it’s ap­pro­pri­ate that I men­tion him on Fa­ther’s Day! He’s a far bet­ter pan­el­beater than I am and has been in the car body­work busi­ness all his life. As well as de­sign­ing the cars, I sup­pose what I’m best at is work­ing out how to achieve each as­pect, find­ing so­lu­tions to bring them about, tak­ing and mod­i­fy­ing bits of other cars and blend­ing them all to­gether as seam­lessly as pos­si­ble.’

Some of the cars in the ex­hi­bi­tion have been unseen for decades. ‘I’ve just re­stored Mini Ha Ha, my first ma­jor cus­tom job,’ Saun­ders says of the rad­i­cally short­ened two-seater Mini that’s re­put­edly ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing wheel­ies in re­verse. ‘I re­ally en­joyed do­ing that – it was the first project I was known for, back in 1983, and was my daily driver for a while. I think it also shows the in­no­cence and sense of hu­mour that de­fined the Eight­ies cus­tom-car scene.

‘Another car peo­ple won’t have seen be­fore – not up close at any rate – is Sa­line War­rior, a rac­ing Re­liant Rialto which was built on the TV se­ries

Panic Me­chan­ics, then sold to a buyer in France who gave it a space­frame chas­sis and a tuned Suzuki GSX-R mo­tor­bike en­gine and ran it at the Bonneville Salt Flats. It’s the first time any­one in this coun­try will have seen it. Another one that’s come out of hid­ing is In­de­ci­sion, which I built in 1985. It’s based on a 1976 Citroën CX and in­spired by Seven­ties sci­ence fic­tion. To bet­ter re­flect this, in 2004 I re­painted it in heavy met­alflake sil­ver, with Seven­ties com­puter-graphic-style badg­ing. It’s been in a pri­vate col­lec­tion ever since.’

Nash Air­flyte Am­bas­sador

Sven Larsen’s orig­i­nal-spec­i­fi­ca­tion Nash in nearmint con­di­tion stood out amid a field of heav­ily mod­i­fied hot rods. It’s back on the road again af­ter a pe­riod of as­sorted nig­gles. ‘The body­work was re­stored in Cal­i­for­nia in 1994, then it was put into a mu­seum in South Dakota, and I bought it on Vancouver Is­land in 2011 – but it needed a lot of me­chan­i­cal work be­cause it hadn’t been used for a long time,’ said Larsen.

‘The en­gine needed re­build­ing – ev­ery­thing was leak­ing, so it turned into a rolling restora­tion dur­ing those golden pe­ri­ods when it would run, and a typ­i­cally static restora­tion in be­tween! I’ve just re­placed some dried gas­kets and solved an oil pump leak and it’s as good as it’s ever been now.

‘I’ve amassed all the pe­riod ac­ces­sories for the car too. Nash was fa­mous for sell­ing its cars as camper­vans with built-in beds, called the Nash Twin Bed. A set of in­sect screens fit over the win­dows, the seats fold com­pletely flat, and the air mattress comes in a card­board slid­ing tube that also dou­bles as the pump!

‘There are only 150 Nash Air­flyte Am­bas­sadors world­wide, and this could be the only one in the UK – it’s cer­tainly the only one the club knows of. The model came out in 1949, and lasted un­til 1951 when they re­designed it with tail­fins and it looked like one of Franken­stein’s cre­ations. Peo­ple of­ten think that they’ve seen one, but it’s usu­ally a cheaper Ram­bler, which looked sim­i­lar but wasn’t as lux­u­ri­ous or stylish.’

REO Fly­ing Cloud Coupe

Al Parkes’ REO, on show in the UK for the first time, is not only the sole ex­am­ple in the coun­try, but also some­thing of an ac­ci­den­tal hot rod. ‘It’s been in our fam­ily 70 years, since my fa­ther bought it when it was 10 years old,’ said Parkes. ‘It was orig­i­nally his daily driver, and be­came the fam­ily clas­sic when the kids out­grew it. I re­tired to the UK in 2013 and the car came with me as a rolling shell in need of restora­tion.

‘The re-engi­neer­ing with the Chevro­let V8 was be­cause the orig­i­nal en­gine with its two-speed trans­mis­sion was only ca­pa­ble of 40mph so I wouldn’t have got it over from Kent to­day, and find­ing REO parts to main­tain it is im­pos­si­ble.

‘Dur­ing the restora­tion we de­bated the reengi­neer­ing as a fam­ily many times, but we went with the V8 be­cause we wanted to use it. To raise money for the con­ver­sion I sold the orig­i­nal en­gine to an REO owner in the US, whose own orig­i­nal en­gine blew up not long af­ter, so that was timely!’

Saun­ders takes a de­served sit down in ‘Metropo­lis’ ‘Mini Ha Ha’ es­tab­lished Saun­ders as a cus­tom builder in 1983

‘Tetanus’ (front) was a rust-rid­den Cord be­fore its cus­tomi­sa­tion

‘In­de­ci­sion’ – there’s a 1976 Citroën CX un­der there some­where...

Sa­line War­rior, a rac­ing Re­liant Rialto and Bonneville veteran

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