Running Cars are More Fun

I’ve had my share of project cars, most of which didn’t run when I got them and several more still didn’t when I sold them. Time and time again, I’ve let the spastic and unruly thought of, “Must have _____!” overcome the harsh reality that I already have too many projects. The car guy side of my brain is quite the salesman, easily burying any rational thoughts such as: “When will I find the time to work on this?” “What about the other three cars in the driveway?” and “She’s going to be mad at you!”

Time. That is really what it all comes down to. Every year I spend more hours behind a desk, stuck in traffic, or on an airplane. Painfully, that means less time in my garage and less occasion to work on my cars. The once abundant shop time of my youth has all but dried up—an inevitable fact of life. Honestly, I’m OK with that, and rather than putting down the wrench—something I doubt I could do if I tried—I’ve instead changed the way I approach project cars.

When you only have a few hours to enjoy a hobby, you best make the most of them. For me, that means slipping behind the wheel and going for a drive in one of my old rides. Currently, my 1970 C10 is the only one of my many projects that can do that since it actually runs—a state of being I intend to keep it in. Because of that, I have developed a new appreciation for projects I can accomplish in a heavily constrained timeframe. Whereas I used to look at the finished product, what the car would be overall on that far off day of completion, now I see the beauty in weekend projects. A disc-brake swap, suspension upgrade, or go-fast goody that I can enjoy the next day (rather than when the entire car is finished) has become an enjoyable escape.

While I have far too many cars hidden under tarps, living in driveway space borrowed from friends, or squeezed into comically small spots of backyard, having one that is a driver is paramount to preserving my love of old cars. Every time I slip behind the wheel of the C10, I’m instantly transported into a world of nostalgia. The sound of the small-block barking to life, the smell of the sunbaked vinyl, and the feel of the thin, cracked steering wheel in my hands is chicken soup for this gearhead’s soul. It never ceases to reinvigorate my passion for what I do. In a sense, my one driveable project car provides the motivational fuel for the others.

While my Nova gasser project sits on a homemade roller dolly with no front end, suspension, or interior, who would have thought a tired, old C10 would be my motivation to finish it. A running car has a personality that no project on jackstands can ever match. If you have a deficiency of hours to enjoy our automotive hobby, a running car is simply more fun.

Craigslist is a dark place, filled with affordably awesome things that I can’t/shouldn’t buy.”

These are just a few of the many project cars that dominate my backyard.
These are just a few of the many project cars that dominate my backyard.
Sometimes, I think my pup, Isky, enjoys rides in the truck more than I do.
Sometimes, I think my pup, Isky, enjoys rides in the truck more than I do.
It isn’t much to look at, but this ratty C10 has been good to me over the years, so much so that I’ve owned it twice.
It isn’t much to look at, but this ratty C10 has been good to me over the years, so much so that I’ve owned it twice.


Posted in Interesting Stuff, Restoration Tips

HOT ROD Interviews Troy Ladd of Hollywood Hot Rods

Eight years ago Hot Rod wrote about Troy Ladd just as his Hollywood Hot Rods shop was gaining prominence and establishing itself as a thriving business. Now it’s well established, a thriving business and producing cars like its “Mulholland Speedster” practically from scratch. But it’s still in the same old, slightly ramshackle small building in Burbank, California.

HRM] So what’s surprised you most about the hot rod building business?

TL] I could have never imagined the evolution of what I started then until now. It was year two when I talked with you before and it was a passion and a hobby that I really wanted to turn into a business – you just hope for survival. I never comprehended growing to the point where we’re known, and have actually impacted the industry. On the other side, it’s the evolution of the art. I didn’t realize how my artistic vision would develop over the years.

HRM] How many are working at the shop?

TL] Seven at the shop. Plus me, plus an office guy. So there’s nine total.

HRM] Are you making more money selling T-shirts, or building cars?

TL] We’re one of the very few shops that make money building cars – building hot rods. A lot of shops have paint businesses or sell things like front ends. Or they have someone with money backing them. We literally survive and make money just building cars, period. T-shirts and stuff like that are nice little bonuses. That’s how I get paid sometimes with that ancillary money.


HRM] When someone commissions a car, that’s almost like entering into a marriage, isn’t it?

TL] I prioritize the art. I have to make a living, but I don’t do business with people that have personalities I can’t get along with. Just because you have money doesn’t mean you’re going to get a car from us. We have to have a relationship. I’m a partner in the car. There’s a lot of time, energy and passion that gets invested in a car that doesn’t show up on an invoice. It’s about trying to build the best thing we can build, and that’s what excites me.

HRM] Are you building cars for the same customers over and over again? Or are you getting new customers all the time?

TL] A little bit of both. We don’t have a single sugar daddy (for lack of a better term) for whom we build cars over and over. Typically it’s not a guy with a big collection. I do a lot of work for just regular guys who just want a cool car. Not Hollywood types at all.


HRM] What’s the one skill that’s most important to the business and the art?

TL] That is a tough one. I couldn’t identify only one. Welding is huge. Especially with the amount of sheetmetal shaping we do. But probably it’s having a clear picture of the overall goal in a project and being able to manage toward that goal. With Instagram and social media you see so many people posting weld porn. “Look at my welds!” or “Look at my metal shaping!” That’s all amazing, but a lot of times that guy can only do that one thing. That one thing doesn’t build a car with an artistic direction and image and package.

HRM] What’s the worst part of being in your business.

TL] Money. If I could build cars for free, that’s the best thing I could do. I’m an artist and I want to build the best piece of art that I can build regardless as to what I have available to me. Which is funny because I have a degree in business and know that’s wrong.

HRM] It seems you’ve grown to where you consider yourself more and more an artist, and less and less and businessman.

TL] Yeah. That would be the case. That’s been a surprising evolution for me.

HRM: You’ve been on TV a few times. Has that paid off? Or just been a hassle?

TL] I like TV. We’ve always done documentary-type stuff. Not tool throwing sitcoms. It’s a pain, but it helps to stay in the public eye. From a business standpoint, always keeping your brand on the lips of people, that’s just basic marketing.


HRM] How much time are you investing in social media?

TL] I tried to resist for a long time. There’s a Hollywood Hot Rods Facebook page and I have one and there’s Instagram. I take a picture with my phone and links to all three. So I put very little into it, but I have a legit Instagram page and things.

HRM: So what is your favorite tool?

TL] Pullmax. I do really like the plasma table, but over the years we’ve accumulated drawers of dies for the Pullmax. To make a door jamb, most hot rod shops would bend a few pieces and weld the edges. We actually have door jamb dies that we can run the metal through. It’s almost like extruding in a way. There’s never a weld on a corner. We do a lot of really creative things with that machine.

HRM] Is there a tool you find has been a waste?

TL] If you keep your sights set on the goal, you have to use everything available to you. That’s every type of tool, every process, every creative idea. Sometimes people get so hung up on their own particular skill that they lose sight of that.


HRM] Have you actively campaigned for a Ridler Award or America’s Most Beautiful Roadster?

TL] We have competed for AMBR I think five times. But we’ve never done a trophy hunting campaign. And campaign is a good word for it. If you want to compete for a trophy, that’s a different kind of car and a different kind of build. It’s a lot more money. But I’m not really interested in that. Our cars are nice cars built to drive. But if that’s something you’d like to do, and you’re happy with a really nice parking spot and a jacket, if that’s a bucket list item that you get to live the rest of your life excited and happy that you got to do, we will support that wholeheartedly. But don’t get caught up in the drama of needing to win. If a guy is going to be pissed off afterwards if he didn’t win, I don’t want any part of that.


Posted in Interesting Stuff

Mad Max: Fury Road’s Co-Writer Gave “Wacky Races” the Wasteland Treatment

Before Max became mad, before the V8 interceptors fell into extinction, there was a cartoon known as Wacky Races, a late-1960s Hanna-Barbera creation that featured (as you can guess) wacky-looking racecars battling it out every episode for position. When DC Comics decided to rebirth the slap-stick racing series for a Mad Max-inspired comic, they called upon Mad Max: Fury Road co-writer and storyboard artist Mark Sexton to draw up the early concept art for their new series.


With Wacky Races, each car was as unique as its driver, which stretched from likes of the conniving Dick Dastardly and Muttley the Mutt, to the Southern Belle known as Penelope Pitstop, to the cave-dwelling Slag Brothers. Each machine had its own set of weapons, and arbitrary performance advantages, and the show felt like Wile E. Coyote at 100 mph. While the show ran for just 5 months between 1968 and 1969, it had a resurgence in the 1990s with the advent of TV stations like Cartoon Network, which re-ran episodes with regular programming.

Sexton grew up with the legend of Mad Max living on VHS tape, with the totalitarian R-rating inviting him into the allure of the blower, the violence, and the machines of The Road Warrior. Years later, in 1999, Sexton was called into the hallowed halls of George Miller, the creator of the Mad Max series, to discuss a project that he was working on. Sexton was only told that it was about a dancing penguin, but that meeting would end up with him staring at four words written on Miller’s office: “MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.”


“I did end up working on the dancing penguin movie, Happy Feet, following the animated adventures of Mumble and spending five years designing the white and blue world of a digital Antarctica,” Sexton told DC Comics. “But before that eventuated, I spent two glorious years sitting in that big room with George, co-writer Brendan McCarthy and vehicle designer Peter Pound and we boarded the crap out of a wild, totally insane story that the world is just discovering now.”

He worked with Miller to build out the framework of Fury Road through storyboard over the next two years, until his role with Miller had essentially ended when the storyboarding process was over in 2001. Thankfully, Sexton planted a seed in Miller’s head about a comic series to supplement the return of the Mad Max universe, and 14 years later, they created a series of prequels in February of 2015 under the helm of Vertigo, DC Comic’s more “R-rated” publishing arm.


At this same time, DC reached out to Sexton to draw up the concept art for another post-apocalyptic storyline they were working on: Wacky Raceland, a play on “wasteland” that mixes the bizarre machines of Wacky Races with the death, destruction, and chaos of Mad Max.  DC went on to produce Wacky Racelandwith art by Leonardo Manco, and on sale at the time of this writing with new issues.


Posted in Interesting Stuff

Live the Drag Week Dream With Mike Wenzler’s Nitrous Camaro up For Sale

Mike Wenzler’s ex-Pro-Stock 1987 Chevrolet Camaro is an old school-lover’s dream Drag Week car, and it’s for sale on Racing Junk after taking 2nd in Unlimited during HOT ROD Drag Week 2016, presented by Gear Vendors. All jets and wrenches with this 598-inch big-block Chevy, which runs in the 7s thanks to a wealth of nitrous from the three-stage system.


 You can read the nut-and-bolt details in Thom Taylor’s feature, but in short, this nitrous-huffing Camaro is an actual Pro-Stock car that was made street legal after spending its early life in AHRA Top Sportsman, and the chassis fabrication was handled by Willie Rells in San Diego, and it was prepped for Drag Week by Wenzler over a two-year period. The car has competed in two Drag Weeks, surviving both to place second in Unlimited in both 2015 and 2016.
A Merlin-block with Dart Pro heads are stuffed with nitrous from the Merlin tunnel-ram and dual Dominator 1050 carbs, and the combo uses port, plate, and fogger stages to dial in as much power as needed. The drivetrain is supported by a Rosler 210 Pro Mod trans which is backed by a Gear Vendors overdrive unit to supplement this seven-second street car’s 4.10 gears on the highway. Amazingly, Wenzler says the combo pulls 10 mpg while towing its Drag Week trailer!

Posted in Events, General Motors, Interesting Stuff, Racing News, Stuff For Sale

“Dandy” Dick Landy’s AWB 1965 Dodge Coronet

While “Dandy” Dick Landy’s injected AWB 1965 Coronet is the car everyone seems to remember most, it was the dual-carb, magnesium-intake, aluminum-head Hemi with 41-inch Doug’s headers that got the ball a rollin’. As part of Chrysler’s altered-wheelbase, factory-racer formula (rearend moved 15 inches forward, front moved 10 inches forward), this Dodge had a 111-inch wheelbase that redistributed the assemblage of lightweight fiberglass body panels more rearward for more overhang and better traction. A pushbutton Torque-Flite channels the power to the rear. A big-pinion snubber and stiff springs tame the rear axle on acceleration. At the time of this photo, Landy’s Coronet was running low-10s. Before the story on this car hit newsstands, the injected model was tested and given Chrysler’s blessing. There are a number of photos featuring the injected car in the Car Craft archives.


Posted in Automotive History, Ford, General Motors, Interesting Stuff, Mopar, Racing News

SRT8 Daytona Clone Is Done, But NC Won’t Let Him Drive It!


Back in January, we first told you about Steve Mirabelli’s crazy project: Take the body of a thrashed 1968 Dodge Charger and set it on top of a totaled-out 2006 Dodge Charger SRT8. [] Add a ’69 Daytona nose and wing, convert the rear glass to a flush Charger 500 backlight, and you’re done. Sounds simple, right?

It sure got the public’s attention, because such a “simple” task like mating a classic body style with the chassis and powertrain of a modern performer opened a lot of minds. Why in the heck couldn’t you have the best of both worlds? The drop-dead gorgeous lines of Dodge’s most recognized car ever—the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona—with the power, safety, and fuel economy of a late-model 6.1L Hemi Charger SRT8? The problem everyone realizes at first, however, is that the track, wheelbase, and cowl height of these cars is different and needs to be reconciled very carefully, and not just from a visual/design standpoint, but from a structural one too.


Fortunately, Mirabelli has a mad set of skills, as he’s a NASCAR race car fabricator for Hendrick Motorsports in the Charlotte, NC area. For decades, Mirabelli has been creating and repairing some of the world’s fastest machinery, so while the modernized Daytona project isn’t exactly a cakewalk for him, it’s the closest thing to a cakewalk. As you peruse the photo galleries from our original story, and the update we brought you in February [] and the most recent one in May [], you begin to see the sheer complexity of melding the shape of the Daytona with the mechanicals of the SRT8. Operations like fabbing the HVAC ductwork, cowl area, hideaway headlights, trunk, fuel filler, fender vents, and interior leave one speechless, except for maybe expletives like, “dayum!”


The photos we bring you here are a quick refresh of where this project started, some late-stage fabrication, a trip through the paint shop, final assembly hiccups, and the photos from the finished car in Steve’s backyard.

But one big problem remains: what exactly “is” it? We know what it is, but the NC Department of Motor Vehicles may have the last laugh. As we cars guys have come to discover in varying degrees is that on most days, our government hates us. Why we can’t just behave, pay our money, and drive the same cookie-cutter Toyota Camry? On better days, state governments merely tolerate us as a source of revenue and jobs. So while most of us would’ve taken the easy road of dropping a late-model engine and trans in an old body, Steve melded the two to the point that NCDOT wants to call it a 2006 model-year car. Going the high road and building the safer, more fuel-efficient car has bought Steve a whole closet full of hurt, proving that once again no good deed goes unpunished. Will Steve get North Carolina’s blessing to drive it on the road, or is he banished to doing Dukes Of Hazzard donuts in his backyard the rest of his days?


We’ll let you know in the final installment! Stay tuned!


Posted in Drivetrain, Interesting Stuff, Mopar

Everything you Need to Know About the Mid-Engine “Zora” Corvette

The infamous mid-engine Corvette has been the stuff of lore for decades. Yeah, prototypes and concept cars have snaked their way through the Corvette’s history, but we’ve never seen more commitment than now. With the new Ford GT in town, GM can no longer ignore the call for true supercar status in the form of a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive Corvette. This isn’t to say that the Corvette will leave its blue collars behind, as the traditional front-engine format we see now is expected to continue, but the mid-engine “Zora” is likely to become Chevrolet’s new halo car.

“But isn’t the Z06 already a supercar beater?” Well, yes, it’s always punched a few weight classes higher than its MSRP would suggest, but the Corvette has been the every-man’s sports car, and the design has always restrained itself to stay there. So, with the opportunity for a lower, leaner, meaner Corvette — here’s what you need to know.



Detroit News reported last August that the Zora is slotted in the product line-up for 2018, while the C7 as we know it will continue until 2021. Motor Trend also expects the front-engine Corvette to be sold alongside the Zora to retain the brand’s affordable world-beater, as the mid-engine package will likely jump well above the sacred $100,000 pricepoint.


This is Chevrolet’s answer to the Ford GT, in short. With no natural competition on the homefront, and with the front-engine Corvette placing itself firmly as the affordable world-beating sports car, GM never found a reason to commit to a production mid-engine platform — despite the decades of test mules and concepts starting in the 1960s with Zora Arukus-Duntov’s CERV program. With the Ford GT rolling into the streets next year, which utilizes the mid-engine packaging for its incredible aerodynamic efficiency and light-weight construction, GM can’t let their neighbors one-up the Corvette’s domestic status as the top-dog American performance car.


A front-engine layout is not ideal for creating an aerodynamic shape due to the long nose-to-windshield distance needed, and overall weight can be reduced with the tighter mid-engine packaging. Analysts also theorize that the mid-engine layout opens the Corvette up to the option of using an all-wheel-drive drivetrain, possibly hybrid-electric driven, with the newly liberated front space — but at this point that’s pure speculation.

Additionally, moving the Corvette up a slot in price point allows for a wealth of new materials and technology to be used in the chassis itself. This isn’t to say that the Corvette hasn’t been on the bleeding edge of material science for GM, but with a higher pricepoint, the current aluminum space-frame can be dropped for a single-piece monocoque design for instance, resulting in better packaging with less weight. Additionally, a mid-engine platform makes it easier for engineers to play with 50/50 weight balance, which brings a wealth of handling advantages.


It’s expected that an LT-based V8 engine will sit behind the front seats, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the rumored twin-turbo mill making an appearance here, too.


Not entirely, as Cadillac may also split the costs of development to introduce their own mid-engine supercar. Who remembers the Cien concept? Cadillac’s Johan De Nysschen has hinted many times that the proposal is up for review, and a mid-engine Cadillac could theoretically demand a higher price than the Zora and help offset the costs of the new platform.


Posted in General Motors, Interesting Stuff