Laurent Bagnard traveled halfway around the world from his hometown of Voiron, France, in 2004 to meet the Burbank Choppers. He ended up immersing himself in the lives of club members Aaron Kahan, Deron Wright, Jon Fisher, Keith Weesner, Sandy Wachs, and Verne Hammond. A short time after meeting them, he dove deep into a project that has intensified the last three years of his life. CarTech, the book's publisher, got the skinny from the author, photographer, and designer on how and why he chose to pursue this project.
What was your inspiration for writing this book?I thought the Burbank Choppers would be worth meeting one day. I knew what they were doing through press articles (the 1999 Hot Rod DeLuxe was the first one, I guess), saw their cars first in 2001, and somehow kept track of this club and its distinctive members through various reports in the course of time. The ignition point was when I saw them on the "Rides" TV show. They were not only building one of the coolest '60s-style hot rods out of a Keith Weesner drawing, but were also commenting on it. They said, along with artist Robert Williams who showed up once, that "hot rodding has soul." I believed it too, so I thought it could be interesting to contact them and have a little chat.
I ended up with Verne Hammond, who's the one who talked about "soul" in this television documentary, and spent hours talking about his club and pop culture (rock music, literature-and hot rodding, of course); we found we had a common background and taste a bit larger than a sheer knowledge of camshafts and carbs. Then I met the other club members. I never thought I would find friendly souls, which is what happened, in fact.
We started to ride together, me taking pictures, and all talking along the miles. Not only were they interesting characters, but also, not to say mostly, they were living it. It's not just a behavior or an attitude, it's a lifestyle, deeply rooted in the romantic era that nested our modern culture and icons. Those were the first sparkles, so to say. So you see, it's not really what was my inspiration, but who was my inspiration instead.
How did you research the information for the book?There was no real need to research for the making of the book. It shaped up along the miles and the places we went to, and with the people we met. We started to drive together one rainy night in Burbank. Verne said, "We have no wipers, we have no top, we have no license plate nor insurance, but we have new brakes," which I found funny and tough. And cool. We went to Bob's Big Boy in Toluca Lake and I took pictures of the car. Unusual night pictures, long exposure, the car reflecting in a puddle in the rainy parking lot. They turned out nicely. We then went to Vegas and back together. The pictures were fun, like making a portrait of Deron, another Choppers member, from inside his car, with Verne in the background riding alongside. The result is a portrait of both of them taken at the same time while driving. This is how it shaped up; I was able to witness key moments, so I took a picture every time I had this feeling. After a year, we ended up with about 3,000 shots. I took 600 out of it, and probably used 500 in the book. For the cultural references or anything related to this particular aspect of what the book turned out to be, I, and we, just dug in our own backgrounds. Nothing else.
What will readers find interesting about the book?It is an invitation to a hot rod trip, a travel journal. It's not an extended magazine article kind of a book. To use Danny Lyon's expression: It's photoliterature. "Electroline Diaries" will stand as something unique and different, informative but also imaginative. It deals with hot rods and customs so it's built like a road movie. One picture leads to another, and one chapter to another one. There is an inherent rhythm to it, and it rocks. That is one of the reasons why musician Mike Ness agreed to get involved in it and wrote the foreword. There's even a bonus track like on a DVD, as the Choppers starred at the 2005 Yokohama Mooneyes hot rod show in Japan. That makes for quite an adventure, but on top of this, the book has a truly unique standpoint as to what makes a traditional hot rod cool-and a car club even cooler. Some say the photos are stunning too; that may help a bit as well.
What lasting impact do you hope your book will leave?
I hope this book will talk to people, and that people will talk about this book. I hope it'll be inspiring for the majority, and educational for the young crowd. I hope it'll be a milestone in kustom culture-something regarded as appealing and doable by oneself. Don't just build cars, team up and drive. "Get inspiration along the highway!"
Shown in the above photo, the 11x8 1/2-inch, softbound book features 208 pages with 155 color and 120 black and white photos. The book can be ordered for $34.95, plus $4.95 shipping and handling by contacting
Limited Collector's Edition
Limited to 400 copies. Features a matte-finished hardbound cover with heavy interior pages. Includes a six-page gatefold (shown above), which is only included in the special edition. Signed by the author and club members. This book can be ordered for $49.95, plus shipping and handling atwww.burbankchoppers.comAlso check outwww.coolnout.comwww.myspace.com/burbankchoppers
Laurent Bagnard (left) and...
Laurent Bagnard (left) and Verne Hammond (right) in the car that started it all, the (in)famous Bad News built by the Choppers for TLC's TV series "Rides."