When the Ala Kart, built in 1957 at Barris Kustoms in Lynwood, California, made its first appearance at the 1958 Grand National Roadster Show, people went nuts. As one of the first vehicles to take the distinctive styles of hot rods and custom cars and blend them in a single ride, the Ala Kart helped kick off a whole new category that is still sometimes referred to as custom rods. The innovative new style was a big hit with the public and with GNRS judges. The Ala Kart won the America's Most Beautiful Roadster award at its debut event and grabbed an unprecedented second consecutive AMBR win in 1959.
Tommy Otis has created a noticeably different custom rod with a style right out of the '50s, but with 21st century technology and taste. That car is the L.A. Tub, which made a pretty big splash of its own at the 2006 Grand National Roadster Show, where it debuted on the main floor, in the shadow of the AMBR award. Although the concept of a custom rod goes back more than 50 years, the presence of one still turns heads, especially when it's one as unusual as this four-door phaeton. We talked Tommy into lending us the "judges' book" and telling us the story of this out-of-the-ordinary car.
At the genesis of the project, Tommy was looking for a way to pay homage to the legendary creations of George Barris-a tall order, he knew.
"My original plans were to build a very traditional hot rod," he tells us, "an all-steel Model A tub on Deuce 'rails, black with a red interior, a Duke Hallock windshield, hairpins, a dropped headlight bar, and a five-speed. Then I started looking at a model box of the Ala Kart, and thought it would be fun to change my interior and do it the same color as that car. Then I thought about painting it pearl white and adding those graphics. And as long as I was going that far, I'd throw away the Deuce 'rails and use a Model A chassis, and instead of making it a highboy, I'd run fenders. While we're at it, we could build a nose and a hood, and make it into a tribute car-not a clone of the original, but a second-generation version with its own identity."
Once he had finalized his plans, Tommy called designer Steve Stanford and asked him to help with a concept illustration. Steve, being an artist as opposed to an engineer, took some liberties with the dimensions on his original drawing. "It looked like a handmade body with about $80,000 worth of Marcel body treatments," Tommy says. Together they detuned the concept, and made it into something that maintained the essence of a Model A and that could be built on a real-world budget.
The influences of the Ala Kart are obvious to anybody who's ever seen the original. The most notable elements incorporated into Stanford's concept are the paint colors and graphics design, the fenders and running boards, the general style of the lift-off top, the scooped hood, the extended nose, and the quad headlight treatment. Departures from the original include a lower, leaner, sleeker profile, and-most obvious of all-the body style. The Model T and Model A truck cab sheetmetal from which Barris' pickup was built is a lot more abbreviated than the long lines of the '29 phaeton body of the L.A. Tub.
The body was discovered through the pages of Hemmings Motor News. Tommy asked his lifelong friend Arty Regan, now at Car Land Auto Body in Danbury, Connecticut, to go to Rhode Island to check out the car. It was a running, righthand-steering antique, originally from Argentina. Arty bought it on the spot, called Tommy to tell him the news, and announced that he would keep it in Connecticut until he had completed all the restoration work on the body, replaced the floors, and created the chopped top. Then, he said, he would donate it to the project.
For the foundation, Tommy made a call to Total Cost Involved for the frame and suspension and then added a Ford Motorsports 302 crate engine and five-speed transmission. Rick Cresse at Tri-C Engineering in Valencia, California, is responsible for putting together the whole car.
Next month we'll show you a full feature on the completed L.A. Tub, just as it looked when it rolled onto the main floor at the Grand National Roadster Show. This month, we have a behind-the-scenes look at the buildup of this remarkable contemporary traditional custom rod.