During this year’s Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend Rod Authority couldn’t call it quits at a simple event recap. In an effort to get up close and personal with at least a few of the gorgeous hot rods and kustoms that made it out to Sin City a Top 5 was compiled.
Kustom kulture events are marked by car owners who pride themselves on not only the ownership of their cars, but more often than not, the blood and sweat they and those close to them put into bringing a car back to life. Though Rod Authority cannot deny the fact that $100k commissioned and shop-built cars are works of art the reality is that homebuilt and paid-for builds represent two very different types of hard work. To give fair representation, since it is a national custom that we elect to uphold, the magazine does its very best to cover both sides of the spectrum. In the case of Viva Las Vegas though, the built-not-bought mentality reigns supreme.
To refrain from making this an editorial opinion article we’re going to lay it straight out and get right to it–the cars that were chosen by Rod Authority represent blue collar aesthetic and the amazing craftsmanship that is produced by the hands and pockets of the middle class car enthusiast. Bias towards those who drive these cars hard, fast, and regularly is apparent in our choices.
After all this is an event that shines a light on do-it-yourselfers; from the small businesses that vend to the bands that still play for gas money to propel their tour. There’s a time and place for everything and this weekend is dedicated to the roughnecks and badasses who bust knuckles, curse like sailors, and chop, channel, and section their way to realize an automotive vision.
The following five cars were chosen on gut instinct, as we walked up and down the rows of formidable competition something about each of these picks hit us, evoked an emotion, and drew us into a conversation with their respective owners. We are thoroughly delighted to have gotten the chance to have these everyday individuals share their one of a kind stories and our only hope is that it inspires our readers to get out their and bust some knuckles on their own projects.
Ruben Rodriguez’s 1950 Mercury–No Trailer Queens Here
Ruben found this stunning Mercury on the internet and bought it off a gentlemen in Pennsylvania. His motivation behind picking up the car was to give himself the true challenge of taking something that was completely off the mark in terms of his taste and to make it his own.
According to Ruben he picked it up because he, “didn’t like the color, the interior, or the rims.” Definitely an uncommon but interesting shopping method! Wanting to find a Mercury that he could chop he specifically sought out a canvas that he wouldn’t mind doing heavy modifications to. The car was running and functioning during the time of purchase so it was a perfect starting point for Ruben to produce his vision.
Being based in California we asked him if he had driven his Mercury out to Viva and if so how the trip went for him. This year’s event was his fourth time attending and he gave us a simple and confident answer to our question, “O yeah, no trailer queens here.”
The engine is a 350 Chevy crate mated to a 700R4 which offers some modern day reliability. An Edelbrock manifold and 650 carb combo dress the top of the block. A Camaro rearend rounds out the drivetrain. Front suspension was swapped out for a 1974 Camaro front clip which gives Ruben’s Mercury updated power steering and power breaks. Rear quarter skirts from a 1951 Mercury give the body some kustom flow, iconic ’53 DeSoto teeth have replaced the stock grille, and slick OE taillights round out the rear. Shaved handles and a deep black cherry paint job highlight the exterior. The paint offers a bold contrast to the car’s brightwork and unique hubcaps which are a combination of Cadillac Sombreros and bullet caps.
Moving to the interior of the car ’57 Seville front seats were installed while the back seat is the original. Everything has been wrapped in white genuine leather as well as the trunk space. A Lokar long shifter drives home the attitude of this Mercury.
After interviewing Ruben we had apparently caught the Mercury bug. Marcos Santana’s 1951 Mercury represents a completely different vision for a Mercury build and one that quickly caught our eye with its candy paint and vintage yellow combo.
“We started with a bone-stock car. My creation was to do something that was rare. There’s five different cars that were put into it to make it look like it is,” Marcos told us. He continued, “the front fender lips are off a ’52 Oldsmobile, the grille is a DeSoto, the lights are off a Buick as well as the side chrome, the nose and hood is off a ’49 Mercury to get the look that we were after.” The amount of body swaps and mods had us drooling and this is one car you could stare at all weekend.
The chop and Carson top combo is not a common sight and this is definitely an element that drew us in as well. Apparently we share taste amongst greats as Marcos informed us that one of the best compliments that he received was from Bill Hines at a West Coast Kustoms Cruisin’ Nats show, “there’s a lot of Mercurys here, but I like what you did.”
The Carson top and chop along with a stretched front and rear outfitted with a continental kit really set his kustom apart. Moving to the internals a 383 stroker/700R4 combo provide power to Marcos’s boss’d out ride. Air suspension give it that iconic California low-profile. Being a Santa Cruz native Rod Authority asked him if it drove as good as it looks, Marcos replied, “nothing but the best underneath the hood.”
Gold base paint was laid on the car to “tone the colors down.” Marcos wanted to achieve a subtle paint job that changed colors harmoniously from sun up to sun down. Candy apple flames highlight the vintage soft-yellow which was originally a 1978 Porsche color. It’s Marcos’s eye for detail and experimentation that drew us in and we’re glad that he was able to share a bit of his story with us.
Perhaps our favorite backstory amongst the Viva Top 5 Crow’s ’41 Chevy represents a time of transition in the Vice President of the Dead Sleds’ life.
El Milagro stands for the miracle in Spanish and El Milagro marked a point in Crow’s life when he faced many challenges. He eventually became born-again Christian. Facing a divorce and leaving everything in God’s hands Crow felt that he was in a hard place, but one that he looked to his newfound faith to see him through.
He told us, “me being the Vice President of the Dead Sleds Car Club without a car didn’t feel right. I went three years with no car of my own because I was busy trying to fix my personal life. I told myself that when it’s time the right car would present itself.”
Crow came across this ’41 Chevy through a Craigslist ad. Though it had no picture the listing simply said, “’41 Chevy with a 350 motor.” For some this may not have been enough of a lead, but to Crow it was a dream situation, “that’s how you start, with a body and a good motor. That’s all you need because from there you can go anywhere with the car.”
Aside from the Top 5, Crow’s ’41 flaunting a gorgeous root beer brown paint job, custom chop courtesy of Johnny Croner of Fellas CC, tunneled headlights, a Camaro clip and rebuilt 350 motor was one of the show’s finest. This is one car that has a presence all its own and from hearing Crow’s story we’d say it’s pretty close to, if not definitely, divinely inspired.
While walking the lot of the Orleans Arena we noticed Roy’s Model A within the first few minutes of the first day we arrived. The only problem, every time we rounded past it he was no where to be found. After asking a couple of individuals who were camped right next to his spot we were able to get a physical description. With a car as gorgeous as his we weren’t going to give up until we bagged that interview, but by the end of the day things weren’t looking our way.
On Friday night, after the car show area had closed, we made our way to In-N-Out a couple of blocks up for a quick dinner. As we wrapped up and were getting ready to continue on with our night out of the blue, nestled in the shadows of a couple overarching trees, was Roy’s ’30 parked next to our car. We immediately rushed back into In-N-Out mustering our best detective skills surveying the dining area for someone who fit the physical description that we were given earlier that day.
Sitting there, eating a Double-Double, was a man who fit the bill. Like a low-budget film noir unfolding we subtly approached the man and asked if he was in fact, the owner of the green Model A. Trust us, it was as dramatic as we’re making it out to be and we could have practically hugged the guy for being at the right place at the right time. Since he was only a few bites into his savory burger we set up an interview for the following day.
The Langley BC, Canada native picked up this Model A with an amazing stance from a buddy. A friend of his friend had rebuilt the car from the ground up and when Roy picked it up his major job was rebuilding the drivetrain.
The paint job is a factory green off a Jaguar which looked beautiful in the sun. A 1985 Jaguar rearend maintains the theme. A ’53 stroker flathead is mated to a T5 transmission and offers some great highway driving. The Jaguar rearend features independent rear suspension and the front clip is a four-inch drop axle that was built by Roy’s old boss. The front suspension also features a sway bar and according to Roy, “The car drives like a go-kart.”
One of the finest touches of this car is the custom upholstery and leather braid-work that give it a rustic feel. A partially exposed 25-gallon military tank offers expanded fuel storage making this Model A a true long haul hunter on the road. We’re lucky to have found Roy and we’re happy that we didn’t throw in the towel on the hunt.
Rounding out our list for this year’s Viva was Dustin Keller’s 1956 Buick Special. To us it stood out as a badass looking ride. The tight pattern of the drawer-pull grille and satin paint job gave it a tough and wild 60s vibe that were an instant hit. For Dustin, the current state of his Buick represents the first phase in the true development of the car.
The ’56 was picked up off eBay and Dustin says that what he discovered was a car with work that was done to it that didn’t meet up to his expectations. His Buick is slated for a hardcore makeover over the course of the year. A lot of his time and resources have been spent on damage control and slowly bringing the Buick up to show quality.
“The grille went from 99 knobs to 144 knobs, the original 1.25-inch diameter knobs were changed out for 1.5-inch knobs.” When using this style of grille a filled out grille space and grid-accurate placement are paramount.
The original Nailhead motor and Dynaflow tranny combo make up the powertrain. Though this represents some historical value to some Dustin is looking to tear out the motor and rework the engine bay in the future as well.
We hope to run into Dustin and his ’56 in the future to get an update on its transformation. With a shell as great as this Buick’s we’re sure that the makeover will be top-notch.
Rod Authority would like to extend a thank you to all the car owners for taking the time out of their days to share their experiences and details about their cars over the course of Viva Weekend. You made our days talking shop and the least we can do is show a little love by giving back.
Which of the Rod Authority Top 5 do you dig the most? Be sure to check out our exclusive gallery of these standout rides below! Also, don’t forget to check out a full recap of the 17th Viva weekend here.