"The thing I'm going to remember most is coming down Highway 1 and saying to myself, 'This is amazing! Here we've got six guys who put these cars together themselves, going 70 miles an hour around these curves.' It's really cool that you can build these things and run them and have such a good time." --Bob Klessig
Bob drives his '52 Chevy everywhere, but the journey from Wisconsin to California was the longest he'd taken with this car. Why did he do it? To participate in the Asphalt Ego-Rama.
Asphalt Ego-Rama is ROD & CUSTOM's annual invitational on-the-road shindig. Our readers pick six participants from hundreds of entries. It's not a cruise, or a race, or a show. It's a cool combo of all of the above, held together by a week's worth of fun.
Asphalt Ego-Rama IV began at Roy Brizio Street Rods in South San Francisco. Roy kept the place open after closing time so we could look around his amazing shop. Before long, we had figured out who was who, and who was driving what. Don Dillard had to drop out of Ego-Rama III but was back with his red-primered '30 Ford. Willie and Pam Martin were driving the flamed '55 Chevy. The '53 Studebaker belonged to Herman and Judee Gantt, from Virginia. From Wisconsin, we had Klessig and co-pilot Dan Lardinois in the Chevy, and Ross and Becky Roloff in the '39 Plymouth. The field was finished with Kris Elmer's bare-metal '31 coupe, from Utah, with Dekon Bakker in the shotgun seat. Also joining us was rod builder Rodney Bauman and his wife Marlene.
We spent the first full day cruising Pacific Coast Highway, stopping in Big Sur, at the famous Bixby Bridge, and at Hearst Castle in San Simeon. For everyone on the trip, the drive down Highway 1 was a highlight. Along the way, members of the R&C staff started hiching rides in each of the cars, to evaluate the ride quality of each one.
Ride & Drive is one of nine Ego-Rama categories. Others are Engineering, Budget, Gas Mileage, Style, People's Choice, Acceleration, Braking, and Cornering. People's Choice was determined by spectator voting at the Woodies & Rods Car Show in Pismo Beach, hosted by Central Coast Car Shows. Event organizer Joe Rivera lined us up along the beachfront, where we got loads of attention.The next day, we drove the final long leg into Los Angeles, stopping for lunch at the Danish-themed town of Solvang, conducting more Ride & Drive evaluations, and figuring out gas mileage.
The road trip was over, but there was still a lot more Ego-Rama to go. R&C web guy Nick Licata met us at California Speedway with timing equipment and cones for our brake testing, slalom runs, and quarter-mile time trials. We tested Cornering on a straight-line slalom, which involves some driver skill and makes for some cool photos. After lunch, we headed to the dragstrip for Acceleration testing. The slippery track produced slower than expected times and caused Don's coupe, which should've scored high here, to lose traction and scrub the wall. Good driving prevented a worse situation, and the coupe escaped with minor injuries. Don wasn't hurt, just a little rattled.
Later, we headed to So-Cal Speed Shop in Pomona for behind-the-scenes tour of the impressive facility.
That night, the R&C staff stayed up crunching numbers from the days' testing, counted People's Choice ballots, calculated Gas Mileage, and compared opinions in the Budget, Ride & Drive, Engineering, and Style categories. By breakfast, a winner had been determined.
At the awards breakfast in the Hall of Champions at the NHRA Motorsports Museum, the winner of the R&C Asphalt Ego-Rama IV was announced: Willie and Pam Martin's '55 Chevy. Willie invited everybody to his rod shop, Ed Martin Garage in Riverside, for a post-event party, and a chance to prep their cars before driving home to Utah, Wisconsin, and Virginia. Then it was over. Six more hardcore hot rodders and one more Asphalt Ego-Rama to prove that the point of building hot rods is to run them and have fun. Congratulations and thanks to everybody.
|Acceleration: Ross Roloff's '39 Plymouth Coupe|
|Braking: Herman Gantt's '53 Studebaker|
|Cornering: Willie Martin's '55 Chevy Sedan |
|Engineering: Bob Klessig's '52 Chevy Convertible|
|Ride & Drive: Willie Martin's '55 Chevy Sedan|
|Style Points: Don Dillard's '30 Ford Coupe|
|People's Choice: Herman Gantt's '53 Studebaker|
|Budget: Kris Elmer's '31 Ford Coupe|
|Gas Mileage: Willie Martin's '55 Chevy Sedan |
Roy Brizio Street Rods in...
Roy Brizio Street Rods in South San Francisco was the rendezvous spot for Asphalt Ego-Rama IV. We could've spent the entire week there, looking at all the projects coming together. Roy would've loved that.
Kris Elmer and Dekon Bakker...
Kris Elmer and Dekon Bakker showed up at Brizio's with a busted grille on their Model A. Rolf (left), one of Brizio's builders, fixed it up in no time, with help from Deek.
Somewhere between Pismo Beach...
Somewhere between Pismo Beach and Solvang, we took some photos at this old time cafe, built from genuine streetcars. The restaurant opened in 1948, closed in 1953, and is now months away from being demolished.
Willie directed us to the...
Willie directed us to the Solvang Motorcycle Museum. The collection includes everything from turn-of-the-century motorcycles to '80s-era sport bikes.
So-Cal Speed Shop in Pomona,...
So-Cal Speed Shop in Pomona, kept the doors open after hours so that we could take a look at the street rods and race cars coming together under their roof--some of which they didn't want us to photograph.
While the rest of us were...
While the rest of us were touring the So-Cal facility, Don was making the necessary repairs to his bruised coupe.
Ross & Becky Roloff
'39 Plymouth Coupe
"This was a brand new car when we came out to California. I changed the oil and I was pretty much ready to go."
Ross Roloff bought his '39 Plymouth 25 years ago, but didn't get serious about building up this homebuilt, owner-engineered car until 4 years ago. A very healthy RPM Racing Chevy Rat motor was a definite thrill, and the entire trick suspension not only looks great, but served Ross extremely well when put to the test. "I wanted something that handled, more or less, on a race car theme," said Ross, who once built race cars for Bemco Engineering.
In addition to being well-built, the Plymouth is incredibly detailed, with a long list of trick stuff underneath, including the stainless exhaust system and braided stainless fuel, brake, and transmission lines.
After participating in the 2004 Hot Rod Power Tour, Ross decided to try to keep the Plymouth on the road as much as possible. He'd read coverage of Asphalt Ego-Rama III and decided to enter. "I didn't know what it was about, or if I'd get picked, but I wanted to take a trip to the West Coast and see what everybody was building."
He and Becky did get picked and made the most of the trip, stopping in Reno and Bonneville, and touring San Francisco before Ego-Rama started. During Ego-Rama, they still had fun as tourists, walking along the beach, soaking up the sights, and picking up souvenirs whenever they could.
When it came time to compete, however, Ross and his Plymouth proved to be all business. His only poor showing was in the Gas Mileage category, a combination of having the biggest engine and a driver who stays on it all the time.
The Plymouth did very well in the Slalom portion, thanks to a well-set-up suspension including coilovers, anti-sway bars, and rear four-bar system. Ross' big moment to shine was on the strip. Despite claiming that he hasn't drag raced before, Ross turned in a corrected best e.t. of 13.50/111.71.
When we picked the Plymouth as a semi-finalist, we figured this mightly Mopar could humble some Fords and Chevys. We were right, weren't we?
Acceleration: 13.50 at 111.71 mph
Braking: 143.88 feet
Cornering: 7.34 seconds at 39.2 mph
Gas Mileage: 12.6 mpg
Drivetrain: RPM Racing Chevy 462 big-block, bored 0.030-over; RPM Performer manifold; Demon 850 carb; TH400 carb; nitrous oxide; Ford 9-inch with Posi and 3.55:1 gears.
Chassis: Stock boxed frame; owner-built front stub, tubular control arms, rear four-bar; Koni rear shocks; Pro front shocks; front and rear antisway bars; Ford front and rear disc brakes.
Wheels & Tires: P245/60R17 and P205/60R15 front and rear radial tires; 15-inch and 17-inch front and rear American Racing rims.
Body & Paint: All panels refitted and regapped; Halogen headlights; welded and filled front fender seams; louvers; front vent windows removed; V-butted windshield.
Interior: Stock bench with tweed upholstery; custom wood dash; Auto-Meter gauges; LeCarra steering wheel; Pioneer stereo system; Vintage Air A/C.
'52 Chevy Convertible
"I figured I had no chance to win this thing. But the more I thought about it, I figured, "Who cares if I win it?"
Everywhere he goes, Bob Klessig has the same here-to-have-fun attitude he had on Ego-Rama. But Bob wasn't here to goof around. His '52 Chevy held its own, finishing well in Ride & Drive, and winning the Engineering category.
Built for long-term coast-to-coast cruising, the Chevy is the perfect ride for long trips, with loads of comfort and room, and a GM I-6 stovebolt under the hood to keep gas mileage high. In addition to high points for Ride & Drive, Bob won the Engineering category, partly for how well the convertible conversion was done, and the vast amount of custom bodywork.
The car was a hardtop when he found it in 1997. When a friend found a '51 convertible in a junkyard, Bob took both cars to Doug and Dean Gigstead, who lopped off the hardtop and transplanted the convertible crossmembers. The blend came off perfectly and from there the custom tricks continued with nosing, decking, frenched headlights, and more.
The '52 was not a big threat during track testing, but Bob still had a ball. A rear swaybar would've reduced body roll during the slalom testing. "I wish I could've had about two more runs. I would've showed you guys," Bob swears. The I-6 mill produced a fantastic tone echoing off the grandstands at California Speedway, but wasn't much help on the strip. Even so, Bob was happy. "I heard somebody say that the Chevy would probably go 60 mph--and I made 70! I'm not embarassed at 19 seconds and 70 mph [Ed. note: Bob's corrected time was 18.45/73.09] for a 4,200-pound car with six-cylinder power. Most customs don't get out of their own way!"
Former R&C staffers Jim Rizzo and Dan Kahn got Bob to enter the event, and R&C readers voted him in. His involvement with the HAMB message board helped generate interest in the '52 and in the event. In the end, Bob exhibited true Ego-Rama spirit. "I enjoy driving and I put a lot of miles on my cars."
Acceleration: 18.45 at 73.09 mph
Braking: 160.66 feet
Cornering: 8.22 seconds at 34.9 mph
Gas Mileage: 18.5 mpg
Drivetrain: Chevy 292 I-6 engine, bored 0.030-over; Clifford Research manifold and cam; Edelbrock carb; Offenhauser valve covers; 200-4R transmission; Ford 8-inch rearend with 3.50:1 gears.
Chassis: Original frame with Mustang II front end; '51 convertible crossmember; Monroe shocks; Eaton front coil springs; Posies rear leaf springs; front antisway bar; front Camaro brakes; rear Ford drum brakes.
Wheels & Tires: Reversed steel wheels, 15 inches front and rear; Coker Classic wide whitewall tires; '56 Lancer hubcaps.
Body & Paint: Hardtop body transformed into a convertible; '50 Dodge frenched taillights; aftermarket headlights with Lucas lenses; extra grille teeth; Pontiac beltline trim; one-piece Olds windshield; Yukon Polo Green paint by Bob Duchan.
Interior: Stock seats covered with green and tan vinyl; modified original dash with Classic Instruments gauges; '58 Impala steering wheel; Alpine AM/FM/CD sound system; Vintage Air A/C.
'30 Ford Coupe
"I kept telling everybody before it started: I didn't get in because I had the coolest car. I got in because I had a lot of friends."
Another thing Don has is determination. Ego-Rama II participant Sam Strube talked Don into entering his chopped Model A coupe in Ego-Rama III. After being voted in as a participant, he was literally bumped out of the 2003 event when a faulty neutral safety switch caused havoc to both Don and his car. In 2004, he came back to be part of the fun.
Don's chopped '30 A came out of the Auto Trader classifieds. His goal with the project was to build a vintage-looking car, which is why he chose to rebuild a junkyard 327 small-block instead of ordering up a crate motor.
We like the fact that the majority of the work on the car was done by Don, that it was built on a real-world budget, and is driven all the time. The coupe is no stranger to the road, and had worn out multiple chassis parts prior to Ego-Rama IV. After a recent refreshing, Don was ready for the competition. The bare bones hot rod flies down the road like a bullet. Nothing fancy underneath or on top, but ask this car to do anything and it does it without complaint.
In addition to scoring high in the Budget category, we expected Don to do well on the drag strip. Unfortunately, that was not the case. As we mentioned, the strip was pretty slick. As he shifted into Second, the coupe pulled to the left, swerving back and forth across the lane before running against the wall, bending the right front fender, scarring the rear fender, and damaging a tie rod, wheel cover, brakes, and shock. Luckily, Don was not hurt, the coupe remained driveable, and Don's shop was nearby.
For it's simplicity, Don's coupe was a favorite among some of the other competitors. Kris told us, "It speaks to me." Ross had a similar comment, "It just really struck me. It's just a basic car you can just get in it and drive. I'm going to build one like that."
Braking: 192.97 feet
Cornering: 8.74 seconds at 32.0 mph
Gas Mileage: 13.7 mpg
Drivetrain: Chevy 327 bored 0.030-over; Dart Sportsman 2 heads, Edelbrock Performer RPM manifold; Holley 3310 carb; TH400 transmission with 2,200-stall converter; '57 Ford 9-inch with 3.50:1 gears.
Chassis: TCI frame; Model A front spring with reversed eyes; front and rear four-bars; front Pete & Jake shocks; rear coilovers; front and rear Panhard bars; Magnum 4-inch dropped I-beam axle; front Buick drum brakes: rear '70 Ford drum brakes.
Wheels & Tires: Vented steelies, 15x5.5 front, 15x7 rear; repro '42 Ford caps with rings; wide whitewall tires measuring P165/75R15 and swap meet cheater slicks.
Body & Paint: Top chopped 3 inches; rear fenders bobbed 5 inches; rolled rear pan; "Chicago" headlights with Halogens on a dropped bar; repro '50 Pontiac taillights; finished in red oxide primer.
Interior: Minivan seat, Limeworks steering column; Stewart-Warner Wings gauges; aluminum dash, door panels, and kick panels; original chicken wire headliner; rubber chicken.