Ride ʼEm, Wreck ʼEm, and Never Check ʼEm

 DECONSTRUCTION OF A COUPE

By Thom Taylor | Photography by Bob Hines & Bob Rothenberg

Originally Published & Printed in TRJ #17

Bob Rothenberg shot this photo of Eastwood’s coupe a few years prior to the dismantling. The paint was then shinier and the real magnesium Halibrand and American Standard wheel combination were on loan from “The California Kid.” 

 In June 1979, the deuce coupe that, according to Peter Eastwood, defined his early years was dismantled for the purpose of upgrading the chassis. Because this took place in the parking lot of Pete & Jake’s in Temple City, California—the hub of the San Gabriel Valley’s hot rod activity in the 1970s and ’80s—it became somewhat of an event. When noted artist Robert Williams heard about Eastwood’s upgrade idea, he offered to help with the dismantling and to buy the chassis for his own moribund roadster project. Once food and beverage were added to the festivities, the procession of locals who normally stopped in at Pete & Jake’s found it hard to leave, and the whole scene took on a party atmosphere. 

Why did it become such an event? According to “P-wood’s” longtime friend, Eric Vaughn, his reason for stopping by was to see the car that had been the source of so many memories one last time. He knew it would never be put together again. He was right: A year later, what was left of the three-window was traded and ultimately parted out. 

THOM Why did you disassemble a perfectly good ’32 three-window? 

PETE We were just doing a little destruction. It was worn out. The chassis was 11 years old; the technology was a little bit iffy; and it was just worn out. The car just needed to be tightened up. 

THOM So, rather than tighten it up, you just blew it apart? 

PETE At the time, it seemed the thing to do. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t. I never got it all back together, obviously. My intention was to rebuild the car and keep going. I didn’t part it out to sell it; I parted it out to rebuild it. I turned around and started with another frame and built a new chassis just like I’m building them now—ladder bars, buggy spring, 9-inch, four-bar and Vega steering, 327, 400 Turbo, heavy deuce drop, steelies. The chassis was all done. Then I decided I needed a deuce roadster, so I started building a roadster and the coupe just sat. Somewhere along the line, C.W. Moss [Lynn Williams] had that ’34 woodie for sale, and he couldn’t get off of it. I figured I could trade the three-window for a running woodie, so that’s what I did. He sold the coupe to Ricardo Roca. Then it was sold again, and the body went to Rick Rotundo. That’s when he was living with me, and I was trying to figure out how to buy it back. I just couldn’t come up with the money. Then Rick traded it to Don Thelan for a Victoria body. Thelan took the body to the L.A. Roadsters Show swap meet, where some guys bought it, put it in the back of their pickup truck, and that’s the last anyone ever saw of it. 

THOM How did the teardown become an event? How did Robert Williams enter into it? 

PETE Robert wanted a chassis for his roadster that he’d had forever. Robert would always give Jake a hard time about driving Model A’s and said that if he was a real man, he’d have a deuce roadster because that’s what real hot rods were. This was back when they were working for Ed Roth. Jake said, “Well, you don’t have a deuce roadster.” Robert said, “Well, I’d love to have one.” Jake said, “I know where there’s a deuce roadster if you want one.” 

Here is Pete Eastwood and his trusty 3-window just before the disassembly began. The traditionally styled coupe was stock bodied and mildly modified, but with over 100,000 hard-bitten miles it had begun to develop a patina. The salmon colored ’55 Chevy two-door wagon belonged to machinist extraordinaire and Real Wheels manufacturer Eric Vaughn, while the bright red true spoke equipped ʼ32 coupe belonged to Bill Vinther. 

So Jake put Robert together with that roadster body for $200 or something. It sat around his place forever. Finally, he decided to make it into a car, and he wanted to buy a chassis. He didn’t want to pay much more for the chassis than he did for his $200 body, and I didn’t want my old chassis. It was a real nice original frame: It had a real nice More Drop front axle with nice hairpins, F-100 steering, and a Chevy rear end with coil springs on it. I made a deal with Robert to sell him the complete chassis, less engine. He got the whole thing— wheels, tires, radiator, driveshaft, everything—for nothing.

Since he was buying the chassis, Robert and his wife, Suzanne, wanted to participate in taking the car apart. That’s kind of how it became an event. Bob Valenzuela was there; it was when I first met Valenzuela. Then, of course, Robert and Suzanne, and Eric Vaughn because he and I lived there in an apartment behind Pete & Jake’s. Bill Vinther showed up in his ’32 three-window. He lived around the corner. Both Pete and Jake kind of wandered through during the course of the day, too. It was just right there in the parking lot behind Pete & Jake’s that we took the car apart. Of course, before I took it apart, I had to do a giant burnout. We had those wooden parking stops in the parking lot, like 6×6’s. I backed up over one like a wheel chock and stood on the throttle. 

I took a brand-new Winston tire right down to the cord. I’ve got a snapshot of me holding the rear fender and looking at the inside. It’s got about a four- or five-inch-wide coating, a strip of rubber about 3/8-inch thick down the entire inside middle of the rear fender. 

Eastwood was particularly proud of the gooey mess the coupe’s final burnout left on the inside of the right rear fender. The lack of Posi-Traction saved the nearly new left side bias-ply Winston from similar carnage. 

THOM What was the point of this? 

PETE Just something to do. Of course, Robert got pissed. Since he bought the chassis, he considered those to be his tires. 

THOM So that’s all there is to this? 

PETE Is there supposed to be something mystical? We raked the sand and we placed the pebbles just so…  

Jim Jacobs (center) and Robert Williams (rear) give unsolicited advice. The open door in the background is P-Wood’s garage where he fabricated many a traditional hot rod chassis. 

THOM There were more than just a couple of friends there. Besides the people you already mentioned, Bob Hines, Richard Lowe with his Tom Pollard roadster, Don Wilson, Bob Goldsmith, Bob Rothenberg, Steve Coonan, and Craig Felbinger with his ’34 five-window coupe were all there. 

PETE I guess it was an event; I don’t know. Everything in my life at that point was an event. I was a little bit larger than life at times, in my own mind. 

THOM And you were drinking pretty good that day.

PETE Oh, yeah. 

THOM What happened after you guys rolled the bare chassis around to Pete & Jake’s shop? 

PETE It went directly into Pete & Jake’s, and Jake worked on it for Robert—not as a Pete & Jake’s project, but as Jake’s own project. He worked on it on weekends and put a four-speed in it because Robert wanted a stick-shift car. He put a clutch pedal and linkage in it, then Robert took it home and stuck his roadster body on it. I went to the sprint-car races with Robert and Suzanne recently. I mentioned this article, and they told me they went to Ascot to the sprint-car races later that night. After they left, I got on my Schwinn Whizzer bicycle next door in the Bank of America parking lot and did the full AMA flat-track thing as fast as I could go until I very ungracefully dismounted and got a raspberry the full length of my forearm. I had been standing in one place taking a worn-out old car apart all day—I had to go out and do something! Eric Vaughn was watching me when I dismounted. Basically, I laid it down. I washed out. After that, I don’t know what happened. We had been partying all day and I was drunk. It was a Saturday night. We probably went to a party. 

THE HISTORY OF THE COUPE 

PETE It had over 100,000 miles on it. I bought the car in September 1970; I traded my first roadster for it. I had a channeled Model A roadster on deuce rails with a Y-block Ford in it that I was driving daily. I remember I froze my ass off in it the winter of ’70. Generally, it sucks not having windows and a top when you only have one car. We used to cruise Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena on Friday and Saturday nights. One night, we’re all in the parking lot, all the street racers, and my roadster is parked on the street. From afar I’m watching this guy check it out. Pretty soon he comes up and wants to know if I’m interested in selling it or would consider trading it. I tell him, “Maybe. What do you have?” He starts rattling off this list of Model A Fords and I’m, like, yawning. Who wants another Model A Ford? And he said, “Well, I’ve got a ’32 three-window, but it’s a basket case.” It turns out to be this three-window from Pasadena that belonged to a guy named Brad Dougherty. I had never seen the car before, but I knew of it. 

Dougherty was younger than me. He was always in trouble. The deal was that if I wanted to trade, I had to take the 327 engine. Well, that was okay, so I traded my channeled Model A roadster for this three-window with a 327, and I want to say he gave me $600. This was in early September 1970. In 10 weeks, I was driving the car. I bought a junkyard 400 Turbo, built a chassis, put the motor in it, put the rear end in it—the dropped-and-drilled ’34 front end was already under it when I got it. Later on, I put a dropped ’32 axle in it. I re-primered fresh gray over the crappy gray that was on it, and gave it an Army-blanket interior. The big push was that I wanted to have it running before my birthday—I was turning 19. I originally put Koni coil-overs and a four-link in the rear, which was way ahead of its time. I made the links out of Chevy sway bars. But Chevy sway bars are solid bar stock. Bar stock bends. I buckled the bottom four bars and broke the Konis right off. I couldn’t afford another set of Konis, so I put the Corvair coil springs in it because I could fabricate all that and it didn’t cost me anything. I made a new four-link out of tubing and put Heim joints on it. I rebuilt the car in the month of December and had it on the road for New Year’s Eve of 1970, still in primer. 

It had Chevy rallye wheels painted Tacoma Cream with police-car hubcaps. I couldn’t afford to narrow the rear end, so I bought brand-new eight-inch Corvette rallye wheels, and I had the centers moved so they were shallow-faced but eight inches wide. That’s when I met Eric Vaughn. He was working at Blair’s Speed Shop, and he offset the rear wheels for me. I would go over to Blair’s because they had a tubing bender and they were bending crossmembers and stuff for me. 

When I got the car all done, I drove it over to Blair’s, and Phil Lukkens offered me a job. I quit my job at the boat shop and went to work at Blair’s in December. Then I started to paint. It was my only car, so I’d strip a door and re-primer it, then strip the top and re-primer it, and so on. Section by section, it was stripped and re-primered. Then I blew the fenders off and painted the body. I drove the car a couple of months with a black body, a black hood top, no hood sides, a black radiator shell, and pastel gray primered fenders. At that time, there was just tons of ’32 stuff around. I would take the very best fenders and paint them, then bolt them on one at a time. They were, like, $20 or something. I painted it light gunmetal gray with dark gunmetal gray fenders, and that looked awful. I didn’t even take off the masking tape. In ’71, there was a dark metallic brown Buick Riviera color that really looked good, so I painted over the metallic gray with metallic brown and that looked awful, too. I still hadn’t taken off the masking tape, and I thought, “What am I doing? It’s a ’32 coupe!” So I bought a couple of gallons of black and painted the car, and finally I took off the masking tape. 

Then I wanted a rumble seat. I couldn’t find three-window rumble-seat hardware, so I bought another three-window. It had a Model B engine with a Thompson high-compression head, two 97s, and a dropped axle and juice brakes, but it didn’t run. I towed it home, took all the rumble-seat stuff out of it, and put it all in my car. That weekend, I had to go to the junkyard to get a rearend housing for some project, and I couldn’t get it in the trunk because of that stupid rumble seat. So the rumble seat was in the car for one week, then I took it all out and put the regular deck lid on my car. 

By May, I had been drafted. I’d only driven the car five months, six months, so I left it at my brother’s shop so he could upholster it. When I got out of basic training, I picked up the car. I think it still had primered fenders, but it was upholstered. While in advanced infantry training at Fort Ord, I snuck the car on the base. When you’re a trainee, you’re not supposed to have a car, but I had it the whole time I was in infantry training. I started driving the car in December of ’70, and when did we take it apart? 

THOM June of ’79. 

PETE I drove it for nine years. I bought it in September of ’70, and I guess I traded it off in ’80, so I had it 10 years. There was one period in the history of that car where I put 32,000 miles on it in 13 months. I was driving it to San Pedro and back every day when I was in the Army. I used to drive that thing everywhere. In the summer of ’76, I made a 6,500-mile loop around the United States. I went to Dwight Bond’s and saw Gibbons Fiberglass; to Illinois to visit this girl I had met at the Street Rod Nationals; to Indianapolis to see the Speedway and the museum; down to Louis McMillan’s in North Carolina; Dennis Carpenter’s shop; Charlotte Motor Speedway; and Gatlinburg, where I met Lobeck and those guys and did the Gatlinburg Rod Run. I followed Lobeck up to Ohio, then Barry rode to California with me. We pulled into California, washed the car, and went to Knott’s Berry Farm for the All Ford Day. It was a driver. Out of those 10 years, for probably five or six of them, it was my only car. I bought my ’32 truck in ’78. Toward the end, I had two ’32s: the truck and the three-window. The car was pretty well known; it was everywhere. Maybe that’s what made it an event; I don’t know. 

Pete was never one for anal car show type detailing. Eastwoodʼs 327 ran a lot better than it looked. The aluminum firewall shows off the considerable metalworking skills he had acquired by the age of eighteen. Engine dress up items obviously came from the pre billet era. 
Pete Chapouris has long been seen as a titan in the street rod industry. He is shown here with funnel on head. In the foreground of this Rothenberg photo we see Bob Hines who took the majority of the pictures in this article. The styling of Eastwood’s coupe is timeless but 
unfortunately our collective sense of fashion was not. Nice shorts Bob. 

THOM Did people think you weren’t going to follow through? 

PETE They might have been surprised if I didn’t. It was probably a big surprise when I traded the car off, though. I mean, that was my car. Everyone identified me with that car. Everybody gives me a hard time now because I don’t keep anything. I don’t see anybody else drive their car for 10 years and put 100,000 miles on it. And in the course of that car’s life, it had cream-colored rallye wheels, 200-S Daiseys, Halibrands, and Ford steel wheels with little hubcaps. I had the same motor the whole time, although it was rebuilt once. Never touched the transmission. I broke about three rear ends in it doing burnouts, breaking spider gears. I bent the front axle about five times running into stuff. 

THOM Why were you running into stuff? 

PETE You know, bouncing off curbs and things. The guy at the Winston Tire store wouldn’t road-hazard guarantee my tires anymore. I mean, it wasn’t because I was a bad driver; it was because I’d go road racing and see how fast I could push it. 

Eastwood explains the intricacies of hot rod wiring to Robert Williams. 
By mid day the destruction was well under way. Suzanne Williams is shown donning a welder’s mask. It was awfully nice ’32 Ford sheetmetal. What Pete created in ten weeks time for less than a couple thousand dollars back in 1970 was quite an achievement even in its day, unimaginable 30 plus years later.

THOM Is there one classic story with this car? 

PETE Oh, there’re tons of them. There was the night we were coming back from a party in Arcadia. We were headed back to Pasadena, and there is a big, long, dark stretch of Colorado Boulevard that goes up behind Santa Anita racetrack. It was about midnight, and that Jack in the Box at Foothill and Rosemead was open 24 hours. The deal was you always had to have a great big cheeseburger before you went home because that kept you from getting a hangover. So we’re headed to Jack in the Box and we’re on the floor with the throttle as fast as the car would go, Tom Vandenberg and I. We’re going maybe 110 mph or something. There are no cars around, no headlights in front of or behind us. We’re just on the pipe. Unbeknownst to us, heading north at Baldwin was an Arcadia cop. He sees us streak by and goes in pursuit. Of course, we’re already at the Jack in the Box, and of course, I’ve got to pee because I’m drinking beer. So I’m in the alley behind the Jack in the Box, peeing, and Vandenberg slides over behind the steering wheel to drive the car through the Jack in the Box. Here comes this sheriff—man, he’s hauling ass. I’m like, “Tom, those guys are after somebody!”

They come flying into the Jack in the Box, two sheriffs in one car. They fly out of the car, walk over, and jerk the driver’s door open—all the beer cans fall out in the parking lot. They get Vandenberg out of the car. I’m shaking it off and coming out from behind the wall in the alley. They’ve got us up against the wall. I mean, we’re going to jail. This is it because we’re 18, 19. He’s got his clipboard out, his ticket book out, our driver’s licenses clipped under the clipboard, and he’s writing. Then the radio in their car starts squawking. The other one responds to the radio call, then he walks back to the guy writing the ticket and says something. The guy pulls our driver’s licenses out from the clip, hands them to us, and tells us we’re the two luckiest guys on the face of the earth and to go straight home. They both get into the car, turn on the red lights and sirens and go Code 3 out of the Jack in the Box. We went straight home. 

Eastwood, Pete, Jake, Vinther and Williams were joined by Craig Felbinger in removing the body. That’s the nose of Craig’s ’34 five window to the right of Vinther’s ’32. 
Jake guides the engine and trans out while Eastwood and Williams man the cherry picker. Twenty years ahead of their time this ecologically sensitive group, even then understood the importance of recycling as witnessed by the scrap aluminum pile shown in the center of this photo.

THOM With all that history, you regret taking it apart, right?

PETE No. I had my fun with it. I made a couple of attempts in later years to build another three-window, but, you know, the car was pretty legendary because it was just everywhere. Every rod run, everywhere. That car became everything, including a tow vehicle for my numerous old car finds. One time Randy Troxel told me about this guy who had a deuce two-door body that could be bought. I call the guy up and go look at it and buy the thing, but I’ve got to bring it home. I get my dad’s car trailer, put a done chassis on the trailer behind my coupe and go back into downtown L.A. to pick up the body. I roll the chassis into the guy’s yard, and we get some of the guys who work for him to set the body on the chassis. This was when I first met Skip Walls, who owns Lokar Performance. He said, “Damn it, you really know how to hurt a guy! Here you are, you have this finished chassis, you’re putting the two-door body on it, and you’re towing it off behind your three-window.” 

Another time, I was working at Blair’s one afternoon and it was pouring down rain. This guy comes into the shop and goes, “I’ve got a roadster and I want to sell it. Do you want to buy another one?” I go, “Well, yeah. What is it?” He said, “I want $150 for it, but it’s that kind where the doors open backward.” I’m figuring it’s either a ’32 three-window or a ’34 roadster or something. 

It’s got to be good. I throw my tow bar in the back of my three-window and drive up to Alta Dena. It turns out to be Davey Babler’s ’32 three-window race car. It’s got a Zolotone interior, V8, quick-change, and Firestone four-ribbers on the front. It’s just a body—no hood, no fenders, no firewall, nothing. But it’s a roller. So I put the tow bar on it and tow it home in the pouring rain, no license plate, no tow lights. 

Yet another time, I’m working at Blair’s and my buddy, Pete Engle, comes stumbling into the shop and says, “Man, I just got out of jail. You want to buy my roadster? I’ve got to have $400 for it right now.” I go up front and tell Don Blair. He said, “Is it a good car?” I told him it was Sherwood La Roche’s old car, and he said, “Okay. How much?” I told him it was $400. He asked if that was a good deal. I said, “Yeah, it’s a good deal.” So he gives me $400, and I tell Pete, “I’ll be there at 4:15.” I walked home at 4 o’clock, threw the tow bar in the back of my three-window, drove down to Pete’s house, and hooked up the old roadster. It’s an absolutely flawless ’29 A V8 highboy with a deuce frame; deuce center crossmember; deuce wishbone; stock deuce front axle; hydraulic brakes; deuce grille shell; no motor; beautiful hood; beautiful body; chopped, raked-back windshield; Auburn dash; full set of curved-glass gauges; Bob Lee top; and 16-inch steelies. It was just the most beautiful little fenderless A V8 you could imagine. La Roche built the car, I think, in the ’40s. Anyhow, I towed that one home behind the three-window. 

Eastwood’s final act was this Archimedean display of his understanding of the lever principle. We see Richard Lowe’s ’29 highboy (made famous in the fifties by its original owner Tom Pollard) in the background as the P-Wood/Williams chassis comes crashing to the ground.

I had this one little trick I would do with the car, and it was really fun. I kind of perfected it leaving a party one night in a hurry because the cops had the end of the street blocked off. It was a real narrow residential street, and we kind of had to get out of there in a hurry, but we had to go the other way. There was this little gizmo I could do with my car. It had a Chevy, automatic, and a Mustang floor shift. You’d stand on it in reverse and get going as fast as you could, then tag the brakes and slam the shifter into drive, and the car would spin around. It would do a 180. By that time you had the car in drive and you were standing on the throttle and, basically, the car traveled the same direction, but it went from going in reverse to going forward, and it would do it in its own length. You could do this on a residential street with parked cars on both sides. It was great! 

I kept going to court, you know, as an 18-year-old driving a hot rod. I spent a lot of time in the Pasadena courthouse. One of the first times I was in there, I was fighting a ticket, of course. The cop’s up there giving his story, and this old judge says, “What kind of car was it? Was it a hot rod?” And the cop goes, “Well, it had large tires on the rear end and a V8 engine.” And the judge goes, “So it’s a hot rod.” So I go up on the stand and I give my side of the story and the judge goes, “Peter, you’re from Pasadena. Do you know Don Blair?” And I say, “Yeah, I work for Don Blair.” He goes, “Don Blair and I were pals. We had hot rods when we were kids. You know, it seems like I’ve seen you in here before.” And I go, “Yeah, you have.” Then he said, “Well, I don’t want to see a whole lot of you. You choose to drive a car that’s distinctive and stands out. When the speed limit’s 40 and everybody else is going 50, you don’t get to go 50. You’ve got to go 40 because you choose to drive that kind of car. You can get a different kind of car and probably take care of your ticket problem. As long as you choose to drive something that sticks out, you’ve just got to be that much more legal than everybody else.” The guy was totally cool—Judge Mortimer Franciscus, one of Don Blair’s old hot rod buddies. Honestly, I don’t remember the outcome of that one. I think I won it. I get confused with all the tickets.• 

At the end of the day the chassis was rolled down the alley and into Pete & Jake’s shop by Robert, Suzanne and Jake. Future TRJ Publisher, Steve Coonan views the scene through his twin-lens Mamiya.

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