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
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