Unless you've been living in one, you know that bubbles are back. The original bubbletop rods popped up almost 50 years ago, in the form of Darryl Starbird's Predicta '56 Thunderbird, Ron Aguirre's X-Sonic '57 Corvette, Ed Roth's Beatnik Bandit, and others that followed. The influence then was (probably) the canopies from military fighter jets combined with the country's fascination with the new space program, not to mention popular sci-fi images of domed Jetson-style spacecars expected to fill the skies by the 21st century.
The influence now is the whole traditional hot rod movement. You had to figure it was only a matter of time before the '40s and '50s revival would extend into the early '60s. Dave Shuten's AstroSled, and his clone of Roth's Mysterion, built a couple of years ago, helped reignite interest in rods with pods. Shuten recently (literally days ago in magazine time) finished a perfect restoration of the Orbitron, with assistance from many of the original participants and a few younger guys.
Aaron missed the '60s but grew up reading CarToons magazine and always loved the craziness of the show rods of that decade. His own rods reflect the era perfectly-from his Spacetruck '34 Chevy pickup to the Lunar Lander roadster and most recently, with his first bubbletop, Atomic Punk.
"After all," Aaron asked us, "who hasn't wanted to hop into a Roth bubbletop and do a big smoky burnout?" The problem, he pointed out, is that the average hot rodder couldn't stuff himself into a Roth car and they weren't really built to run-not to mention the minor detail that they're all in private collections and museums. Aaron's solution was to build his own bubbletop, with all the stuff that made Roth's cars cool, plus stuff to make this one drivable.
Rather than mimicking existing cars, Aaron's style is to start with a piece of very unlikely raw material and spin it into something completely different; Spacetruck incorporated a '60 Buick tail section and the Lunar Lander used the rear portion of a '59 Oldsmobile. He did the same thing with the Atomic Punk.
"I had traded into a rather crappy '59 Plymouth Savoy four-door and didn't really know what to do with it. The more I looked at it, the more it looked like it would be a pretty good donor for my bubbletop. The fins were just the right size and not too gaudy and the stainless trim would be a nice touch that Roth's cars never had."
Something Roth's cars did have was radical engines. Aaron decided on a Hemi to keep the Mopar theme going. "A friend of a friend had spent a small fortune on this 392 and then found out that it wouldn't fit in his car. I couldn't pass up a fresh, ready-to-run monster, so I handed over a fat wad of cash and took it home. I spent another small fortune dressing it up with all the shiny stuff I could throw at it. I found an 8x2 intake and had to have the eight Holley 94s set up twice, after the first eight disappeared at the polisher's." Of course, the chassis had to be as interesting as the rest of the car so Aaron built the frame from 2x4 square tubing, with a drilled front stub.
Aaron has just a little over a year into this project-but it wasn't a solo effort. He got a lot of help from the people mentioned below, not to mention every single friend who dropped by to help him hoist the body on and off, "about a hundred times," he estimates.
Tradition demands that an early Sixties show rod must have a cool name. Aaron says he borrowed the name Atomic Punk from the title of a Van Halen song, "as sort of a tribute to one of my other favorite Roths, David Lee Roth."
Aaron managed to have the Atomic Punk finished to car show condition in time for the Detroit Autorama. After displaying it there and some other events, he continued to work on the induction setup, and Harrell Manufacturing got the eight Holleys synched up and dialed in so Aaron could finally climb in under the bubble and do the burnout he had been waiting for.
"It took a lot of time and effort, and I ran out of money on it several times. I had to sell a couple of my cars and a kidney to get the money to finish it, but when I finally got to get in it and do that big smoky burnout, I think it was worth it."