It’s been three decades since the formation of West Coast Kustoms (WCK), a family based organization formed by then newly transplanted Californians, Rich and Penny Pichette. Created solely due to the couple’s passion for custom cars, it was a way for a tight-knit group of friends to enjoy their hobby together at a time when the majority of organized functions in SoCal were dedicated solely to street rods. From its grassroots beginnings in the lot of the Pichette’s Jet Drive-In located in Sunnymead, it’s hard to say if anyone could’ve ever imagined what the future held in store for WCK—or more importantly, what WCK would do for the custom car scene on the West Coast … and beyond.
If you’re relatively new to customs, you may not realize the full story behind WCK and its contributions to the custom car world, as many of us have now come to know it. Despite the caliber and size of their Santa Maria show, which is now in its fifth year at the city’s Fairpark, it’s a relatively new venue for their Cruisin’ Nationals. For a quarter-century prior, the Pichettes had taken a startup assemblage, consisting of a select group of traditional custom enthusiasts and, from the edges of Lake Nacimiento and on to the grassy, tree-filled central park of Paso Robles, nurtured what was to become the largest event of its kind, ever. To all the world, it was simply known as Paso. And up until 2007, every Memorial Day weekend saw thousands of pre-’64 customs make the journey to the otherwise-quaint winery town just north of San Luis Obispo from as far as Florida, New York, and Canada (on occasion, cars were shipped over from Europe and even Japan).
The trek to Paso was commonly referred to as a “pilgrimage”, and that’s exactly what it was in custom car terms, as nowhere else on earth could you religiously find the sheer number of famous customs and the legends responsible for creating them in the same place at the same time. But what also contributed to the show’s popularity was the uniqueness of the venue’s borderless setting, something no other similar event of its size and magnitude has ever afforded. And because of that, trailering of cars was rare at best, which for many, myself included, made the drive to and from a big part of the Paso experience—not quite as big as the show itself, mind you, but important nonetheless.
After 25 years, the city of Paso Robles and the Pichettes were having a hard time seeing eye to eye, and 2008 became a huge turning point. Knowing full well of the situation, Santa Maria was open arms to WCK, bringing its show south down Highway 101. Without skipping a beat, and despite Rich battling Alzheimer’s, the Pichettes made the move following Paso 2007 and the very next Memorial Weekend saw the Cruisin’ Nats first showing at its new home, Santa Maria’s Fairpark. Sadly, Rich’s bout ended in July 2010, but Penny has persevered and with the help of her family and all the devoted WCK reps, the show goes on, still holding title as the biggest custom car gathering on the planet.
I must admit that a certain part of the Cruisin’ Nats’ mystique and allure that drew me in was lost when the show relocated. But that hasn’t stopped me from going, not by a long shot, and when I get my ’47 up and running, my yearly pilgrimage will continue—and just as it’s been since 1990, the calendars will be marked accordingly every Memorial Weekend.
20 Years Of Purple Badness The Beatniks Celebrate Two Decades … In Koolsville
Car clubs are a main fixture of our hobby; they’ve bonded “like minds” together ever since the automobile was perceived for more than just a mode of transportation. Born out of solidarity and necessity mostly for sanctioned racing, today’s clubs are anything but typical—but they’re still as vital if not more than ever. One automotive fraternal organization in particular, The Beatniks, is just as much a vital component in regards to West Coast Kustoms’ Cruisin’ Nationals as it is to the custom hobby in general. This past year marked their 20th anniversary, and in celebration, the club held a not-so-small gathering at the appropriate Mendenhall’s Museum in nearby Buellton, California.