"The bedsides weren't real cherry," he noted. "So I got this light sheetmetal and just stuck it up in there and cut the holes for where the fenders bolted on. The same for the tailgate; we fabricated that too. It didn't open. It just bolted in."
Otto swapped the Flathead for a '54 Olds that he bored and stroked to 356ci. "It had a stroker crank, Jahns pistons, Howards cam, and six 97s," he recalled. "A local racer (Dan Morgan) made the headers using bends from tailpipes and such that we found."
G&D Body and Paint-the D for Bill Dickey and G for his father-in-law, Howard "Smokey" Gentemann-applied the iridescent pearl-white to the body and red metalflake to the tailgate and bed sides. Hunter Brothers Trim Shop clad the cockpit, which included a '58 Impala seat, in white and red frieze and vinyl.
"The first show we took the truck to was the Sabers' show at the Denver Coliseum early in 1961," Otto said. The pickup, by this time called the Mountain Pearl, won five awards: sweepstakes for first-place truck, upholstery, paint, and body. "I would've won the engine, but I used that clear vinyl tubing and it kinked," he explained. "It was kind of a rush job getting it ready for that show."
After a couple more shows Tony Spiccola shot the photos that featured the truck in the July '62 issue of Hot Rod magazine. The Pearl appeared in the following month's issue as Hot Rod's very first color photo (a single page shot running vertical with no real explanation)-a curiosity considering the truck was mostly white.
Otto didn't get very much time with it after finishing it, either. His draft number came up in October 1961. He spent the 18 months after boot camp in Germany and, in his absence, Bill Dickey displayed the Mountain Pearl at various events.
As noted earlier, time is the ultimate show car killer, and three and a half years of limelight may have well turned Otto's pickup gray. "Bill told me, 'Well everybody's seen it; you better update it,'" Otto said with a bemused chuckle. "He talked me into it again."
Otto tore the truck apart with the intention of preserving its exterior, but it wasn't in the cards; he'd gotten as far as removing the dash and fabricating a firewall by the time he got married in 1966. In 1967, his son was born. "I couldn't spend money on it now that I had a family," he said. Work progressed slowly until 1973, when it stopped altogether. "So basically I stored it for all those years." The custom car world forgot about Otto Rhodes and his Mountain Pearl.
An Old Gem In A New Setting
"This friend of mine told me if I ever sold the truck, to give him first crack at it," Otto said. "He thought about it a while, but said he had too many things going so he passed on it." Only Ray Morlang didn't just pass on the opportunity; he passed it on to Tom Pagano.
Though he grew up in Pueblo, Tom ended up a world away as far as car culture is concerned: he and his son TJ run Pagano Rod & Custom, a shop on the east edge of Sacramento. To say he remembered the Mountain Pearl is sort of like saying the Pope is Catholic; Otto's pickup is practically Tom's reason for being. "That truck was at the very first car show that I went to," he revealed. "I was eight years old-I didn't even know that it was a car show, I was so young. It was at the State Fair and I stumbled into this building. And there were all these cars. The next day I started buying models.
"So one day my buddy calls me up and tells me that the truck is for sale," he continued. "I hadn't talked to Otto in like 25 years, but I called that very day. I offered to meet him there so we could work something out."
This photo shows the extensive...
This photo shows the extensive metalwork under the lead. No, the steel isn't dead smooth, but understand that construction practice half a century ago generally wasn't as exacting as it is today. Still, the work is extremely solid and the lead filler it is just about flawless.