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.
Though altered significantly and hyped accordingly, favorable press seemed to elude the car upon its '67 debut. Still, the Tiger Shark found a few champions, among them Promotions Inc., employee Ray Velthuisen. "At that time airbrushing was real popular-the mountain scenes with the trains and that sort of thing," he remembered. So he and custom painter Jack Kampney, who painted the early Don Prudhomme Cuda funny cars, repainted the Tiger Shark and airbrushed its flanks in the very early '70s. "Although it was at my house, it was never mine," Velthuisen noted. Promotions Inc., sold the Tiger Shark at an auction in about 1972.
Legend has it that the Tiger Shark changed hands several times over the years and in several ways, the least dignified of them being at a garage sale. In 1995, however, Dennis Pallen found it in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Though a collector, the cars Pallen typically sought were a whole lot smaller. "I used to be a really big Hot Wheels collector," he said.
If you recall, Harry Bentley Bradley, the guy who transformed the Dream Rod to the Tiger Shark, designed 11 of Mattel's 16 first-release cars. Among them was a blown version of the Tiger Shark, although Mattel called it the Python. When I was a kid the Python was my favorite car," Pallen proclaimed. "To find out later in life that the real car existed was just a mind-boggler to me. By chance I'd sold my Hot Wheels collection to a local guy. I had the money in the bank when a guy in the Hot Wheels club called me to tell me that the Tiger Shark was for sale."
After months sparring over price, Pallen prevailed. While some might consider a 1:1 scale model the ultimate static display, he didn't. "If I was going to build it I'd have to be able to drive it down the road," he said.
Built from real car parts, the Dream Rod/Tiger Shark had the potential to move under its own power. Unfortunately potential was all it ever had. "There were at least 10 points to that car that proved that you couldn't drive it," he revealed. For example, the doors, hood, and decklid never had latches; they opened by electric screw jacks. "They were remote controlled so they (Promotions Inc., employees) could sit up in the stands and open and close them," Pallen said.
What's more, the Jowett chassis couldn't bear the weight of a lead-laden steel body and an engine with twice the cylinders. "It was sagging real bad in the middle," he said. "The four body mounts were actually cracked." His solution: he created an entirely new chassis with 2x3 steel tubing, tube axles, and four-link suspension front and rear.
Probably the most damning point was ergonomics: it was nigh impossible for an adult to sit in the car, let alone operate it. "I figured out a way to place the seat so I could put my head in it, but it would've made some alterations to the interior that would've changed the car."
Every cause has a patron saint, and the one for wayward show cars answers to Mark Moriarity. In Ed Roth cars alone, who restored the Road Agent and the Rotar and outright cloned the Outlaw-and that doesn't include the other stuff like the trikes. He's so taken with Big Daddy's Candy-painted bubble-topped vision that he built a fiberglass-bodied show rod of his own design: The Futurian.
Moriarity bought the Dream Rod/Tiger Shark in 2005. The fact that it was impossible to drive, modified almost irreversibly, and lacked every Dream Rod-specific part merely sweetened the forbidden fruit. "It was essentially the Tiger Shark," he noted. "There were very few original parts that came with that car but I was happy to get anything."
Like a kid with a new model car, Moriarity tore right into the project. "Bob made those Tiger Shark fenders and brazed those to the car," he began. "I just cut it right where they brazed them and peeled them off. Once I'd done that there were clues underneath where the Dream Rod wheelwells were." Thus began the canonization of St Mark, Martyr of Wayward Metal.
"I had to recreate the original grille opening and the wheel housings," he continued. "Fortunately (Bob Marianich) left a lot of jagged edges that I could work from." To bring the top back into shape he had to reopen the top's side scoops. He also reopened the hole for the backlight, a job made easier by remnants of the pinch weld. "That was a lucky thing for me." Unlucky was everything behind the rear window, however. It was modified beyond redemption. His remedy? "I cut it off and started over," he said.
Beyond finding and modifying TR-3 seats, he had to make the headrests and steering wheel from scratch using only photos for references. The early articles mention the '58 Mercury gauge cluster so a replacement came somewhat easy; however, he had to work to discover that the ashtray and switch panel in the center console came from a '58 Lincoln. "All the Dream Rod-specific stuff was just thrown out whenever it was changed into the Tiger Shark," Moriarity lamented.
Remember the reference to Cushenbery's painting skills? Check this out: Moriarity, a self-proclaimed amateur sprayer, copied Cushenbery's work in his home garage. Bob Holland replicated Bill Manger's Pearl White gut and Tom Rodwell at C&E Auto Upholstery installed it.
With that and a set of reproduction T-bird wires and BFGoodrich whitewalls, the Car Craft Dream Rod was once again a reality. It debuted at the '09 Detroit Autorama, appropriately enough amid other resurrected or cloned '60s show cars.
What these cars said wasn't, "This is the way things were," as much as, "This is the way things could have been." Looking around that show, it's obvious that the future according to Chuck Pelly and Bob Hubbach never panned out; nobody's building hot rods from new-car body panels. Not that it's a bad thing, mind you. Can you imagine a hot rod built from bits and pieces of vaguely shaped modern cars? They wouldn't reflect the untamed future; they'd represent the boring today.
Quite frankly we'd rather let cars like the Dream Rod do our bidding for the future. They give us hope that things really could turn out cool after all.
The Dream Rod originally sported...
The Dream Rod originally sported a K-code 289, but Mark got only the bare block. So he tracked down all the other bits and recreated the aluminum dog house, fan shroud, and inner fender panels. The rare K-code exhaust manifolds point forward to clear the body.
Mark recreated the entire...
Mark recreated the entire rear clip from scratch using the same materials Bill used: a first-gen Corvair, conduit, and hand-hammered sheet. The "chrome" in the rear cove is reflective tape-the same stuff Bill used. He replicated the nerf bars with oval tubing.
Here's the man himself, Bill...
Here's the man himself, Bill Cushenbery (or at least his likeness). This photo was taken about the time he finished El Matador, and that's its white-carpeted hood under which he's posing. White carpet!
Rod & Custom Feature Car
The Car Craft Dream Rod
The Dream Rod sits on a Jowett Jupiter chassis, one of the most obscure chassis under any rod as he found out when he tried to find one to replace the long-gone original. Jowett collector Ted Miller graciously helped Mark find one-a feat considering the company made only 700 Jupiters. Following Bill Cushenbery's lead, Mark Moriarity replaced the Jowett front suspension with a Volkswagen Beetle twin trailing arm unit. He similarly retained the rear suspension, including the Spicer Model 23 rear axle. To compensate for the body's considerable heft, Mark gave each corner a period-correct coilover shock.
It's cool enough that the 289 was a brand-spankin'-new displacement when Ford donated the engine to the project, but what's even cooler is that this one's a true 271-horse K-code variant. Mark inherited only the block since one of the Dream Rod's many owners stripped the engine to build a race car, however, a little detective work reunited that block with those parts. The Borg-Warner T-10 transmission is the same one that came with the engine. Behind that is probably the world's shortest driveshaft. The transmission features a Hurst Competition/Plus shifter.
Wheels & Tires
Bill originally used Kelsey Hayes-brand 14x5 wires made for the '62-63 Thunderbird Sports Roadster and Seiberling 8.00-14 tires. Mark used Wheel Vintiques wires and Coker reproduction BFGoodrich bias-ply tires, both of the same dimensions that Bill used. He said he knew that Bill used Cal Custom center caps that usually covered the lug nuts on OE-style wheels, but it took some experimenting to figure out that he trimmed them to fit the T-bird wheels' snouts.
Body & Paint
To build the body Bill and "Dutch" Waymire carved up a '60 Pontiac nose and doorskins, a '60 Corvair tail, a '53 Studebaker roof and windshield, and a Borg Ward Isabella sedan rear window, creating the rest from conduit, sheet stock, and lead. The conversion to Tiger Shark extensively modified the body, but Mark put it all back-no mean feat since he had to lop off the back of the car and start from scratch. Of all things, Mark measured the AMT scale model to reestablish the shape (let's hear it for Bud "The Kat" Anderson!). Mark's buddy Tom Rad, at Rad Paint, custom-mixed the Desert Sand Pearl from overspray Mark found on the center console and the gold from flakes left on a chunk of the old Jowett frame. Mark himself shot the color, including the intense gold fade highlights. Both AIH Custom Chrome in Dubuque, Iowa, and Bo Décor in Eagan, Minnesota, plated all the necessary parts.
The console withstanding, all the Dream Rod's interior parts went away during the transformation to Tiger Shark. So Mark recreated everything, including the steering column, headrest pods, and sectioned Triumph seats. Bob Holland in Woodbury, Minnesota, trimmed the cockpit in Naugahyde-brand Parchment Pearl. He had to find another '58 Mercury dash insert to fill the old upholstered-over cavity, however, before he could find a '58 Lincoln ashtray and switch panel he had to figure out what they were.
While Mark gets the props for restoring the Dream Rod to its original status, he said he couldn't get the job done without a few friends' help. He credits Brian Claire, John Schleicher, and Shawn Yost for being able to resurrect a plundered treasure to such a high degree of fit and finish within a scant three years.