The Dream Rod appeared in...
The Dream Rod appeared in various forms over the years, most famously as the centerpiece for International Show Car Association logos through the mid-'60s. That's one of the patches next to the model in the other photo.
The idea that good old tin is getting rare is nothing new. In fact, if you go by the December '61 Car Craft, it's at least 48 years old.
In that issue, industrial artists Bob Hubbach and Chuck Pelly forecasted the shrinking donor pool by stating that the bottom was practically nigh. "...Not every custom-car enthusiast can find the mint-condition '27 T or Deuce body to start with," they began.
They drew up a hot rod with a body made from existing late-model body panels and it looked a lot more modern than the then-new body parts from which it was made. Christened the Dream Roadster, their idea straddled a very fine line between old-timey hot rods and the sports cars that threatened to take their place. At the very minimum it forecasted how we may build hot rods in the future.
The article had the flair of a formal proposal-not coincidental since Hubbach and Pelly were studying auto design at Pasadena's Art Center School of Design (in fact, among other things Pelly went on to found Designworks/USA, now BMW's in-house design shop). What was coincidental was that the Dream Roadster was one of a few magazine experiments that grew wings. "I thought it would make a great new feature car," Bob Larivee Sr. revealed.
Larivee Sr., for those who don't know, is the father of Promotions Inc., the company in charge of various indoor car shows, most notably the Detroit Autorama. Over the years the company commissioned various builders to create show cars that it displayed at events. Just about the time the Car Craft article came out, he bought a show car, Bill Cushenbery's El Matador.
Though El Matador wasn't built specifically for Promotions, Inc., "I really liked the work he did," he said. "I thought he was a great craftsman and a good designer, and although that car (the Dream Roadster) was already designed I thought he'd be the guy to build it."
By that point Cushenbery was an icon. After cutting his teeth at Daryl Starbird's Wichita shop, he hitched west, opened his own shop, and gave his maestro a run for his money. Chopped, sectioned, channeled, and adorned with peaks and scoops, El Matador, formerly a '40 Ford coupe, was like an earthbound spaceship. Its Candy Red paint, founded on a basecoat that faded from tan to gold, was the iridescent cherry on an outlandish sundae.
In a sense Cush was going backward by taking the Dream Rod job: about the time the Car Craft article appeared, Cushenbery unveiled The Silhouette. A sneaky bubble-topped job designed by industrial artist Don Varner, it featured a body that Cushenbery shaped entirely from flat sheet.
Despite that, Cushenbery and "Dutch" Waymire followed the Car Craft directions to an uncanny degree. Working from the proposed '60 Pontiac and Corvair parts, they sectioned it to match the design.
The Dream Rod appeared in...
The Dream Rod appeared in several magazines, most notably Car Craft (twice) and Promotion Inc.'s own publications, including Showtime. Scale model maker AMT immortalized it as the Dream Rod and MPC followed suit when it became the Tiger Shark. Mike Scott built this particular model from one of the vintage AMT kits.
But the deviations were what made Cushenbery's version stand out. Renegades in the early '60s were breaking all the rules, among them, symmetry. In the Dream Rod's case, Cushenbery reassigned the hood and nose peak to the passenger side and framed one oversized grille opening on the driver side. Rather than a tonneau and exposed spare, the rear featured a decklid and offset cove.
The proposal acknowledged a hardtop, however, the plans didn't specify a windshield or skin. Pulling from the same production-car idea, Cushenbery culled a top from a '53 Studebaker Starliner. He formed the side window openings with 2-inch steel tubing and scalloped their outer edges to create scoops. He used the rear window from the unlikeliest of sources: a '54-61 Borgward Isabella town sedan, which went in upside down. Naturally the top transformed the Dream Roadster into the Dream Rod.
He fabricated headrest pods that appeared to grow from the package tray. The car's already tight constraints forbade the larger Corvair seats, leaving Cushenbery to section a pair from a Triumph TR-3. He fabricated the nerf bars and part of the rectangular steering wheel with oval-crosssection tubing.
As outlandish as the original design was, the proposed chassis ideas remained the only untenable part. One platform married Ford Falcon clips with tubing; the other specified a labor-intensive space frame.
Ever heard of a Jowett Jupiter? Unless you're a die-hard fan of postwar Brit cars, probably not. Fewer than 700 of the roadsters were built from 1950-1954 and only 200 were exported to the states, but one met its demise somewhere near Monterey, California.
Like the AC Cobra, its curiously swoopy aluminum body sat on a large round-tube ladder frame. The torsion bar rear suspension employed the torsion arms as the upper links, an ingenious design that Cushenbery kept, however, he replaced the front suspension with a beam assembly from a Volkswagen Beetle. Original plans called for a Pontiac Tempest or an aluminum-block Buick 215, however, Ford donated a pre-production 289-a prized 271-horse K-code mill at that. It bolted to a Borg Warner T10 transmission.
As ironic as it seems for such a sublime panel shaper, Bill Cushenbery's calling card was in fact paint. The Dream Rod wore a Desert Sand Pearl basecoat with Candy Gold highlighted peaks. Bill Manger trimmed the cockpit in Pearl White Naugahyde-brand vinyl.
Adorned with a set of Kelsey Hayes T-bird wires and stylish skinny whitewalls, the Dream Rod hit the streets-at least the carpeted lanes at car shows-in 1963. The car found immediate success, and within a year AMT immortalized it in 1:25 scale.
Bob Larivee Sr. posed with...
Bob Larivee Sr. posed with his pet project, the Dream Rod, upon taking delivery of it. Note the heavy asymmetry and trademark open-topped wheelwells. "The car is deceptively small," Mark Moriarity says. "Everyone who owned it thought they could drive it." That's a show car for you.
Popularity being the fickle master it is, the crowds moved onto other things by 1965. Rather than retire the car, Bob commissioned Harry Bentley Bradley to tune it up. Like Hubbach and Pelly, Bradley has a portfolio most commercial artists would kill to claim. General Motors recruited the guy while he was still in school, and during his four-year tenure working for The General several magazines published his custom jobs under various pseudonyms. After designing the real Deora truck that the Alexander Brothers built for Chrysler he went to work for Mattel's fledgling Hot Wheels division where he ultimately designed 11 of the company's first 16 cars.
Bob Marianich executed Bradley's vision. Like the rest of this esteemed crowd, Marianich is somewhat unknown despite his contributions. After moving from Chicago to Detroit to work for the A-Brothers, he restored Ferraris. Later he helped designer Strother MacMinn establish CALTY Design Research, Toyota's design firm in Irvine, California. He also helped BMW develop its first American projects with Chuck Pelly, one of the originators of the Dream Rod (ironically neither realized until the formation of this story that they'd both played a part in the Dream Rod).
"It was quite a few mild changes," Marianich recalled. Among them, he extended the rear clip, in the process reshaping it and the taillight. He also closed up most of the Borgward rear window opening, closed off the roof scoops, lowered the back of the roof, and clad it in vinyl.
The fenders followed the nose's shape and enclosed the Dream Rod's wheelwells. The new fenders and finned panels over the coves made the car look curiously like Corvette's Mako Shark concept, an idea not lost on its creators: they named the new creature Tiger Shark.
The redesign specified a new interior, including high-backed buckets, which trimmer Fred Madley clad in a combination of wood-grained vinyl and orange and brown brocade. The rolling stock indicated a cultural shift: In place of the antiquated wires and skinny whitewalls were Cragar GT "mags" and plump Firestones.
Despite the extent of the work, the transformation took a matter of months according to Marianich. "It was a crash project for sure," he recalled.
Since the Tiger Shark restyle...
Since the Tiger Shark restyle called for a different treatment, Bob Marianich cut out or covered up most of the Dream Rod nose and enclosed the fenders. Mark reestablished the original design-including the fender cutouts-using cut lines leftover from the '65 transformation. He recreated the headlight pod from photos alone.
Compare it with an American...
Compare it with an American chassis of the same era, and you'll agree that the large-tube Jowett with its four-link, torsion-bar rear suspension is considerably more sophisticated. Bill replaced the stock IFS with a VW beam ostensibly to get more engine room.
Practically nothing of the...
Practically nothing of the Dream Rod's interior survived the Tiger Shark years, leaving Mark to recreate everything. He cut down Triumph TR-3 seats, fabricated the steering column and wheel from scratch, and equipped the console with its intended '58 Mercury gauge cluster and '58 Lincoln ashtray and window-switch panel. Like the headlights, the headrests were recreated from scratch.