ROTH ON FIRE
Big Daddy History Remade at Galpin
WHEN I LOOK THROUGH OLD PHOTOS OF ED ROTH’S F-100, I NOT ONLY SEE HOT ROD AND CUSTOM TRUCK HISTORY, I SEE THE STRUGGLES OF AN ARTIST WHO WASN’T CONTENT TO FOLLOW THE MAINSTREAM, AND WHO WAS DETERMINED TO INWARDLY AND OUTWARDLY EXPLORE HIS OWN PATH. Ed Roth’s art wasn’t for everyone, but it hit some of us like a ton of bricks at an early age, and Rat Fink and the rest of the Roth Weirdos have become mascots for us outsiders.
But as “out there” as Roth’s art was, he still needed to put food on the table and pay the bills. And as much as his art was for himself, he relied on his patrons in order to keep it going. Being a starving artist isn’t an option when there are other mouths to feed.
A military man (Roth was honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force), barber, martial artist and family man by the time he was midway through his twenties, Roth had a fondness for many things, but he was his most creative when it came to anything on wheels.
In the ’50s, his work was starting to get attention through word of mouth, but the average Joe on the street didn’t yet know the Roth name. He had previously painted his ’48 Ford a bright red and plopped a giant papier-mâché head on it. You’d think that would have gotten him all the attention he needed. The problem was, everyone was focusing on that head instead of the pinstriping and lettering on the car, so unless you wanted a giant noggin on top of your ride, you may not have gotten the proper gist of the services that Roth was offering.
So, he sold his ’48 and picked up a new ’56 F-100 in early
1957, giving it a much more marketing-friendly set of crab flames (which were, no doubt, still a strange sight to see in 1957), pinstriping and, just for good measure, some crazy abstract paint on the dash and even crazier airbrushing on the tonneau cover. It was, in essence, a smorgasbord of Roth’s many paint-related talents, and a much better representation of what he was offering to the general public.
The truck’s makeover worked, and it indeed found Roth quite a few new local customers who wanted custom paint and/or pinstriping on their own vehicles. It even found its way into some magazines, which further helped Roth cement his name in hot rod and custom culture. However, he was never known to keep any of his vehicles for long, and he soon traded it in with less than 1,600 clicks on the odometer, wild paint and all.
Roth did see the truck at least once more, when the gentleman who bought it brought it back to him to have some lettering done, but it eventually disappeared off the streets of Southern California. And so the story seemingly came to an end, at least for the better part of 60 years.
Some of you might have seen the stories of the discovery of Ed
Roth’s ’56 F-100 online, or even right here in Street Trucks (“Word on the Street,” pg. 12, Dec. 2016). Early on, some people doubted that this was the actual Roth shop truck (that’s the Internet for you), for various reasons that would end up debunked before long. Make no mistake, with Roth historians and experts such as Beau Boeckmann, Dave Shuten and Aaron Kahan as part of the GAS (Galpin Auto Sports) team, great pains were taken to make sure that this was the truck.
For instance, it had been long-accepted folklore that
Roth had swapped in a Packard engine after grenading the original 272 Y-block, but this ended up being one of the bigger pieces of the puzzle that was bogus. In fact, the truck did end up with Packard power, but not until years after Roth had traded it in when its new owner Oliver “O.Z.” Bradshaw swapped in the 1956 Packard Golden Hawk engine after the 272 gave up the ghost while on the road in central California.
The truck would spend a few years back on the road in California, and it was even repainted a few times (gasp!) except for the grille, but O.Z. eventually moved his family to Paden, Oklahoma, in 1968. As luck would have it, the Studebaker engine also suffered an early death when O.Z. neglected to drain the water out of the block one winter, which caused it to crack.
The truck sat for decades, until O.Z. decided to finally part with it in 2016. The shortest version of the story is that it changed hands twice, with Beau Boeckmann of GAS eventually taking ownership. Many would agree that GAS is the authority on all things Roth, especially his custom vehicles, and with few exceptions was really the only place capable of getting the restoration absolutely perfect.
Not one to half-ass things, Dave Shuten, who heads up restorations at GAS, made some pretty heavy decisions to ensure the truck would be restored exactly how Roth had originally built it. That meant taking the truck back in time to 1957, before it even got its flames. That’s right, the truck underwent a complete original restoration, but it wasn’t “over-restored” to make it a flawless show truck. Rather, it was brought back to the condition it would have been in when Roth picked it up from the dealership. That didn’t mean that he’d skip any details, though. In fact, while the truck was finally being brought back to its former glory, the GAS crew reinstalled an original-spec 1956 272 Y-block Ford, which was built by Ross Racing Engines, since Roth never had that Packard in it.
The greatest example of this meticulousness, however, is the fact that the truck was actually resprayed in its original Meadow Mist Green before the Roth paint job was reapplied. Handling the monumental task of recreating the paint was a group of all-stars who have a passion for Roth’s work. Mike Lewis from GAS laid down the pearl white base, then Dave Shuten painstakingly taped off the areas to be sprayed candy apple red, again by Lewis. You’ll notice, however, that the engine bay and inside of the bed were left green, as Roth had done. Pete “Hotdog” Finlan then came in to apply the yellow outlines, green pinstripes and lettering in Roth’s unique style.
Continuing the process, former Roth in-house artist Robert Williams (yes, that
Robt. Williams) offered his expertise and recreated the
paint scheme on the dashboard, while everyone’s favorite Beatnik (well, except maybe for that James Hetfield guy) Von Franco channeled his inner Roth and airbrushed an incredibly accurate facsimile of the original artwork on the soft tonneau cover.
As mentioned, the truck was refinished to exactly how Roth had originally modified it, so it even intentionally wears a bit of overspray underneath. To finish up the exterior, a set of 1957-era JC Whitney aftermarket wheel covers was located and snapped onto the original Ford wheels.
Except for the painted dash, Roth left the interior pretty much stock, although he did install an aftermarket seat cover to better match the truck’s new exterior colors. Shuten’s resourcefulness and infinite connections netted some of the original materials used for those aftermarket seat covers, which Elegance Auto Upholstery used as a model to recreate a set perfectly.
Since being restored, the Ed Roth shop truck has been enjoying a much more pampered life than it had grown accustomed to, and spends its time among siblings in the Roth museum, which is located at Galpin Auto Sports. Lucky for you, the museum is open to the public by appointment. Start planning that trip to Van Nuys, California, guys.
... THE TRUCK UNDERWENT A COMPLETE ORIGINAL RESTORATION, BUT IT WASN’T ‘OVER-RESTORED’ TO MAKE IT A FLAWLESS SHOW TRUCK.”
THE DASHBOARD WAS ONE OF THE MOST CHALLENGING PIECES TO RESTORE, BUT THANKFULLY WORLD-FAMOUS ARTIST ROBERT WILLIAMS, WHO ONCE WORKED FOR ROTH, WAS ABLE TO HELP OUT. IT’S INTERESTING TO NOTE THAT WILLIAMS’ NEPHEW, AARON KAHAN, IS THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR...
ANOTHER ARTIST WHO POURED HIS HEART INTO THE TRUCK’S RESTORATION WAS VON FRANCO, NOTED LOWBROW ARTIST EXTRAORDINAIRE. HE ALSO WORKED WITH ROTH AND IS INTIMATELY FAMILIAR WITH ROTH’S WORK AND STYLE. HIS RECREATION OF THE TONNEAU COVER ARTWORK ON THIS...
FOR YEARS, IT WAS RUMORED THAT ROTH HAD SWAPPED A PACKARD MILL INTO HIS ’56 F-100, BUT THE SECOND OWNER OF THE TRUCK, OLIVER “O.Z.” BRADSHAW LAID THAT FALLACY TO REST WHEN HE SHARED THAT HE WAS THE ONE TO MAKE THE SWAP, YEARS AFTER ROTH HAD SOLD IT...
AS YOU CAN SEE, THE TRUCK WAS IN REAL BAD SHAPE WHEN IT WAS FOUND. IT’S A SHAME TO SEE SUCH A HISTORICAL VEHICLE SO BEAT DOWN AND BROKEN.
IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE THAT THIS TRUCK WAS RETURNED TO ITS ORIGINAL FORM BEFORE THE RECREATION OF ROTH’S PAINT JOB WAS APPLIED.
ASIDE FROM THE PINSTRIPED TAILLIGHT LENSES, THE GRILLE WAS ONE OF THE ONLY OBVIOUS INITIAL CLUES THAT THIS WAS INDEED ROTH’S SHOP TRUCK. IT HAD BEEN HUNG UP INDOORS SOON AFTER THE TRUCK WAS PARKED ONCE THE SECOND ENGINE WAS DESTROYED, AND IT STILL WORE...