Hot Rod Deluxe - - Roddin’ @ Random - • WORDS & PICS: MICHAEL ALAN ROSS • CAR: RUSS AVES


Sur­rounded by the tools, spare parts, mo­tors draped with can­vas, and mem­o­ra­bilia that have taken a life­time to col­lect sits the youngest mem­ber of the Clock­ers hot rod club from Cul­ver City, Cal­i­for­nia. At least in his mind he is. In re­al­ity, Russ Aves is 83 years old. But you’d never know it when he puts his foot on the gas of the three­win­dow Deuce he has owned for 68 years. When he does, you can still see the spark in his eyes that sig­nals mis­chief.

At age 15, when his mom was con­ve­niently out of town, Aves bought a “non­de­script” green ’32 Ford, stock “ex­cept for 15-inch wheels,” from Bless­ing’s Auto Sales on Wil­shire Boule­vard for $75. He says, “I was $35 short, so my neigh­bor not only loaned me the money, she signed a waiver for an un­der­age kid to buy a car. I had to get my friend Bob Clay­pool to drive it home for me. I didn’t have my li­cense yet.”

His mother “didn’t like the car idea too much.” For­tu­nately for Aves, he says that “a few months later, when I got my li­cense, she started giv­ing me a dol­lar a week for gas to drive my brother to school. So I guess that worked out.”

It was the be­gin­ning of a story that de­fines the man. His Deuce has been with him longer than any­thing in his life. It’s his best friend, his part­ner in crime, and the car that has thrilled any­one who has been lucky enough to take a ride in it or just see it rolling down the road.

The coupe has been through sev­eral in­car­na­tions in the last 68 years. It has been drag raced, was fea­tured in HOT ROD mag­a­zine in 1960, and has won mul­ti­ple awards at auto shows.

“There isn’t any­thing on that car I didn’t do my­self,” Aves says. This in­cludes the mo­tor, chan­nel­ing, the in­te­rior, chrome plat­ing, and the paint—ev­ery­thing right down to pin­strip­ing.

Within hours of own­ing the coupe, Aves stripped the fen­ders off and started work­ing. While still in high school, he chan­neled the car 2½ inches. He then in­stalled a Lee Ste­wart Dago axle, still on the car to this day, which he bought from a junk­yard for $10. It pro­vides an ad­di­tional 3½ inches of drop to the front end and gives the car its unique stance. “It was bent when I bought it, so I took it to shop class. With a lit­tle heat and a pro­trac­tor, it was good as new.”

Aves says, “Those pol­ished wish­bones you see on the car all started with a piece of pa­per and pen­cil in high school. I fi­nally made them at Santa Mon­ica Ju­nior Col­lege, where I learned to weld.”

He re­mem­bers paint­ing the fire­wall white by mask­ing it off and us­ing a sprayer he built from a glass jar and a mis­ter pow­ered by his mother’s Elec­trolux. Even­tu­ally he painted the en­tire car white with the help of his friends from the Clock­ers (named after the Clock drive-in in Cul­ver City where they used to hang out) with the same spray gun. Years later the car was painted a deep pur­ple color he had cus­tom blended.

When Russ wanted to pin­stripe the car, he couldn’t af­ford to have Von Dutch do the job. “I bought him a hot dog, and we climbed un­der the car. He showed me his craft as he pin­striped the rearend for me. I fig­ured out the rest from there.”

Aves learned how to do in­te­rior work while work­ing at a lo­cal Chevy deal­er­ship do­ing dealer prep and small re­pairs. “When it was time to do my in­te­rior, I bought a Singer sewing ma­chine from the L.A. city school sys­tem for $28 and made my own. The only de­tail in the in­te­rior I couldn’t do was the stitch­ing on the door pan­els. I had those done by a lo­cal shop. It’s best to know your lim­i­ta­tions.”

When Aves bought the car it had the 21-stud flat­head in it with an alu­minum pan. Since then the car has had sev­eral dif­fer­ent pow­er­plants, ev­ery­thing from a Stude­baker with a Caddy crank to the Ford Z-block flat­head it has to­day. The driv­e­train is ’39 Ford with stock ’39 link­age, a Schaf­fer clutch, and a short­ened drive­shaft made in Aves’ garage.

While he was work­ing at the Chevy dealer in 1954, Chevro­let an­nounced the new 265 V8 for 1955. “I couldn’t buy the mo­tor com­plete, so I bought it in pieces and as­sem­bled it my­self. Once built, I dropped it in the Deuce. It may very well be the first small­block Chevy ever dropped into a Deuce coupe. I still have the mo­tor stamped with the num­ber 1 in the block.”

Of course, stock wouldn’t do for Aves. He in­stalled an Edel­brock triple man­i­fold to ac­com­mo­date the three Rochester carb setup he wanted. “I then asked Ed Isk­ende­rian to build a camshaft for the car. Since the mo­tor had not been re­leased from Chevro­let yet, Ed had to cus­tom build it. I gave him the heads off the mo­tor so he could work out the proper valve ra­tios. That lit­tle ex­er­cise may well have been the start of the fa­mous E2 roller cam.”

In 1986, Aves felt it was time to go through the car again and make some up­dates. “I changed a few things in the process. I fell in love with a color I saw on a Rolls Royce. It was a rich deep green. I re­pro­duced the color by mix­ing cobalt blue and or­ange to­gether. It still bog­gles my mind that there is no green in the paint it­self.”

He re­uphol­stered the in­te­rior in dark brown leather. “While rum­mag­ing through a lo­cal junk­yard, I spot­ted a Mazda Mi­ata that had a re­ally cool steer­ing wheel and col­umn. It was a ban­jostyle wheel that re­ally worked with the vin­tage car. I topped it off with a Gil­more Oil em­blem I af­fixed in the mid­dle of the horn but­ton. That lit­tle piece re­ally fin­ished it off. It sounds like a crazy setup, but ev­ery­thing fits like a glove and of­fers the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of old and new with­out look­ing out of place. I also changed the win­dows to power and used Lin­coln win­dow switches that are very dis­crete and in­te­grated into the door pan­els.”

Aves cre­ated an elec­tric emer­gency brake us­ing a GM pow­er­win­dow-gear setup.

It was also time for a mo­tor change. “I re­ally loved the thought of putting a flat­head back in the car to bring it back to the way it was when I found it, but with a new twist. The car now has a Ford Z block in it. The Z block is a Cana­dian truck mo­tor flat­head with lots of torque. It has a Navarro in­take with four Rochester carbs. The dis­trib­u­tor is stock Ford, but those head­ers are all cus­tom.”

Aves also in­stalled an elec­tric an­tenna and a CB ra­dio, and “re­mote hood re­leases us­ing gas door latches that I re­lease with a small but­ton un­der the dash. I never like knobs or switches that stand out and end up giv­ing you a headache. I also in­stalled Corvette li­cense plate lights on the bot­tom of the doors that now act as cour­tesy lights ac­ti­vated by open­ing the doors.”

Russ Aves’ car rep­re­sents a life­time of work and con­stant en­joy­ment. It’s the cul­mi­na­tion of ev­ery­thing he has learned and an ex­pres­sion of who he is. This Deuce con­tin­ues to put a smile on the face of any­one who sees him com­ing or go­ing. But if you see him on the road, don’t be sur­prised if you can’t catch him. Once you see that spark in his eye, you know he’s bound to put his foot in it.

> Russ Aves’ three-win­dow coupe has gone through sev­eral in­car­na­tions since he bought it in 1950. The present­day ver­sion harkens back to the days when he bought it as a teenager, with a few con­tem­po­rary up­grades.

> Top­ping the flat mo­tor is a Navarro in­take with four Rochester car­bu­re­tors. “I went with the Rochesters be­cause those are the carbs I learned to work on back at the Chevy dealer when I was a kid. It’s re­ally easy for me to work on them and get them leaned out just right.”

> Aves has run a num­ber of en­gines in his coupe over the years. When he re­vamped the car in the 1980s he re­turned it to flat­head power, build­ing the mo­tor us­ing a Z block.

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