Cloudy With A Chance Of Classics: 2015 NSRA Bakersfield Recap, Top 3

NSRABAKERSFIELDLEADART_1_edited-1Take the I-5 north, get onto the California State Route 99, head on for a good 25 miles and before you know it, you’re in Bakersfield, California. Resting on the cusp of SoCal territory, the location is well-suited to appeal to enthusiasts in all directions, and that’s exactly what happens when the National Street Rod Association (NSRA) rolls into town.

IMG_3423Set against the sprawling Kern County Fairgrounds on P Street, gearheads of practically all stripes descend upon the city for three days every spring for the Western Street Rod Nationals. They bring with them the stars of the show: the cars. Tri-Fives, Deuce Coupes, 4x4s, Mustangs, Camaros, all are fair game in the eyes of the NSRA.

It’s late April when things kick off in 2015, so attendees are spared the oppressive heat that comes later in the year, aided all the more by the consistent cloud cover when we were there Friday and Saturday. The dogs get walked, the kids build Revelle Make-N-Take model cars, the wives wander around and do some shopping, and the men sit in the shade and get to chinwagging with their friends over a cold one. And where most shows are content to pack it in early in the afternoon, NSRA operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the sun disappearing from the horizon by the time the gates close.

“People come from all around here, and you get to see a little bit of everything,” said NSRA marketing manager Jim Rowlett. “It’s just about the love of cars, and we like to have the family atmosphere so folks don’t have to feel like the kids have to be babysat or left with the neighbors or something.”

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Location, location, location

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The entrance to the fairgrounds on P Street.

“This is the 25th time that we’ve hosted the show here in Bakersfield,” said Rowlett. “It’s the 39th overall, since it was hosted in other areas before this one, but now we like to gather here because of its location between northern and southern California, as well as Nevada and Arizona. It just makes the most sense to have it here; it’s kind of become our home.”

The swap meet deals in all sorts of trinkets and baubles for gearheads.

The swap meet deals in all sorts of trinkets and baubles for gearheads.

With well over 1,600 cars and several times as many visitors in attendance, the wide open fairgrounds were a fantastic spot to host the show. A causeway runs north and south parallel to P Street, stretching about an eighth of a mile, and lets owners cruise around in their cars at their leisure. A grassy area in the northeast section provides ample parking spots, while meandering sidewalks intersect here and there with trees for shade and kiosks for food and drink. Over 100 vendors, meanwhile, are happy to make the trek to Bakersfield to participate and connect with customers.

NSRA makes the event special not just for its various attractions hosted on the fairgrounds, but also in its prize giveaways that stoke the hearts of owners to buff and polish their rides just a little more. The talk around town is all about the Super Prize, which bestows a prize package worth over $75,000 to one lucky winner.

Rounding out the NSRA's attractions is Woman's World, which deals in arts and crafts.

Rounding out the NSRA’s attractions is Woman’s World, which deals in arts and crafts.

It comes up at each of the NSRA events (10 in a year, for a total of $759,308.00 in 2015 alone!) bearing items like wheels, radiators, engines, and much more, all sourced from exhibitors like Sanderson Headers and Walker Radiators. “They donate product to save on their [booth] space, and we give it away to the visitors,” said Rowlett. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

In addition, three $3,000 cash prizes are doled out to specially selected cars that win over the judges’ hearts and minds. An email just came through this week, announcing the winners in every category. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • MAYOR’S PICK—PICKED BY-Mayor Harvey Hall; WINNER-Rob & Lupe Colelasure, Bakersfield, CA-1932 Ford Roadster

  • CHP PICK—Picked by-Officer Robert Rodriguez; WINNER-Richard Dunham, Hemet, CA-1934 Ford Coupe

  • KERN COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS PICK–PICKED BY-Kern County Fairgrounds Staff; WINNER-John Bassett, Bakersfield, CA-Willys Jeepster

  • WING AWARD–PICKED BY NSRA’S own WINGS KALAHAN WINNER-Rob Leatherman, Santa Rosa, CA-1932 Plymouth Coupe

  • EVENT DIRECTOR—MIKE CHRISPYN WINNER-Bob & Marlene Anderson, Huntington Beach, CA-1929 Ford Roadster Pickup

Top Three Picks From NSRA West Coast Nationals

Pick #3: Lillard Hill’s “Rat Fink” Inspired ’34 Ford Kustom Coupe

IMG_3870This crazy kustom just screamed personality when we first laid eyes on it, and turned out our suspicions were correct when we walked up and started talking with the owner, Lillard Hill. The whole Rat Fink theme, attributed to the infamous Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, was alive, well, and in full force on this Ford.

A close-up of the Halibrand Champ quick-change rearend.

A close-up of the Halibrand Champ quick-change rearend.

Hill’s high school days, as he told us, were filled with notebook scribblings and illustrations that expressed his fascination with “monster cars, with monsters coming out of the car like Ed Roth did. I wanted to one day have a car like that–big motor, bright paint, stuff like that.”

At the start of the build in 1999, Hill was living in Louisiana and found a decent project out in Arizona. He bought it, brought it home, and began reshaping it to fulfill his vision of a monster car. “It took me eight years to get it to where it is today,” he said.

And what a sight it is to see. The sparkly green metalflake, done by the late Cliff Patterson, shimmers and shines when the sun hit it right. The interior was nothing to sneeze at, either, having been done by Monaco Upholstery there in Bakersfield.

For the drivetrain, a supercharged Chrysler 392 Hemi V8 puts power to a Turbo 400 with a gear vendors overdrive, and out to a 4.56:1 Halibrand Champ quick-change rearend to really get those 31-inch-tall tires moving. The trunk-placed radiator keeps things cool for any kind of driving, provided it’s less than “100 miles per hour for 15 minutes or more,” Hill said with a nudge. He laughed and said, “I did that on a ‘closed course with a professional driver!'”

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Pick #2: Bruce Wood’s ’57 Thunderbird

IMG_3784A short distance away was yet another remarkable Ford, this one advanced by a couple of decades and impressing us with its clean lines, great color, and minimalistic styling changes. Its owner, Bruce Wood, gave us the full scoop on his beautiful Blue Oval in the interview.

IMG_3800“I was introduced to the car here one year ago, and ended up buying it a couple months later,” explained Wood. “It was just like you see it now, completely done by Ron Owens in Pasadena, just totally perfect and immaculate.” After a three-day inspection of everything with the car, Wood cut Owens a check for $75,000 and went back home to Bakersfield, a happy camper with a swell new toy to adore and show off to friends and family.

“I’m proud as can be with this car,” he said. “I bought it to drive around and enjoy it.” And drive it he does, having put on close to 5,000 miles on the odometer since taking ownership in 2014. How can you blame the man when it runs on a 351 Windsor V8, AOD transmission, and Flowmaster exhaust for an unbeatable sound?

As far as future mods go, Wood is the kind of guy who’s happy to let sleeping dogs lie. “I like it the way it is,” commented Wood. “It just stands out. It wasn’t overly modified, it was just very minute. It looks good on the car.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves, Bruce!

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Pick #1: Gary Poe’s ’32 Roadster

IMG_4043Topping off our picks was a ’32 roadster that defied a lot of the expectations people put on such vehicles. When folks think of Deuce Coupes, they tend to imagine them all as tributes to the golden age of hot rods, immortalized by the Beach Boys and American Graffiti, and not bucking trends like the one here owned by Gary Poe.

IMG_4072Armed with his experience in IROC racing and metalworking, Poe crafted a custom tube chassis that would befit more of a road racing application than a street-type or cruiser vehicle. “Everything I did on the car was a learning curve,” Poe stated. “From narrowing the rear end to fit bigger tires to working out a new front suspension setup to making my own jig, nothing was easy, but it was hard work that paid off in the end.”

Such an undertaking amounted to four years of toil and sweat for Poe, resulting in a one-of-a-kind roadster that intimidated as much as it impressed its viewers. Little points of interest, like the rear Watt’s linkage for more accurate central locating of the rear axle, are part of the charm and brilliance that drew us to the car in the first place.

Motivating the roadster is a 355 ci V8, and a Mustang II front suspension helps smooths out the ride. There isn’t much left that Poe wants to do to the car, except to get the thing out to the drag strip, as well as keep it in the family. His son, Troy, will inherit the car when Poe feels the time is right. From where we stood that Saturday at the Fairgrounds, there may have been dozens more that were worth a look, but this Deuce stole our hearts.

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About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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