El Tiki: Modern-Day Classic Custom Hot Rod

Images: John Cooper

In the style of the great ones of hot rod customization such as Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, George Barris and the Alexander Brothers (who built what would later be known as the Beach Boys Little Deuce Coupe), Tom Culbertson of Indianapolis, Indiana, designed and built El Tiki. Hurriedly completed in a blurred 127 days, Culbertson created El Tiki – initially – as a simple build.

Tucked behind Culbertson’s shop was a dilapidated ’29 Ford Sport Coupe shell rescued from a farmer’s field. The coupe body had been modified so badly, Culbertson admits, the knew the best way to save it was to make it into a roadster-style conversion. Culbertson started by fabricating a double-tube chassis and fitted it to a 1947 Lincoln front axle and a 1957 Ford 9-inch rear end.

Then, the body was channeled 4-inches over the frame and hacked off the roof. Next, the doors were sculpted, the windshield and frame built, the interior “waterfall” console fabricated and the dashboard from a 1956 Oldsmobile narrowed and installed. Culbertson rebuilt a ’56 Oldsmobile 324 v8 and mated to a 1947 Ford truck three-speed gearbox, building an adaptor to conjoin the two.

“Everything on the car is pre-1961,” Culbertson says. “I had in my mind that if a guy was building it in 1961 that’s the newest a part could be.”

Culbertson rebuilt the grille and added the quad headlights from a 1960 Buick, and then built the headrests and added the fins to the decklid. When the car was done John Cooper – who has been friends with Culbertson since high school – decided he wanted to buy it. Cooper had followed El Tiki during the entire build and after he sold his 1960 Cadillac, he had the funds to buy it.

Speaking of Culbertson, Cooper said, “He has always had slicked back hair, cuffed jeans, engineer boots and tattoos. He doesn’t own a cell phone and still has rotary dial phones in the shop and house. He’s worked in the same 85’ long by 30’ wide building since 1976.” Building cars since 1964, after Culbertson left the Marine Corps, he came home to work with his father at the family service station. There, Culbertson started building his own hot rods.

For Culbertson, hot rods never progressed beyond the early 1960s. His daily driver is a chopped 1956 Lincoln two door, and his second car is a ’30 Model A coupe with a flathead V-8.

About the author

Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw is a self-proclaimed "muscle car purist," preferring solid-lifter camshafts and mechanical double-pumpers over computer-controlled fuel injection and force-feeding power-adders. If you like dirt-under-your-fingernails tech and real street driven content, this is your guy.
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