The one place Jerry allows...
The one place Jerry allows himself to sleep on the job. "Going to Bonneville is a vacation for us," he says. "We close down the business and go as a family every year."
Apparently, Ford engineers hadn't gotten the word: Guys liked putting Ford small-block engines in small Ford cars (i.e. hot rods). So why was the water pump so long the driver was practically forced into the rumble seat?
Jerry's '32 firewall looked like it didn't want to be cut into, plus Jerry was no body man. Result: shorten the water pump 2 inches. Harking back to his years at Miller's Garage, if you couldn't buy it, make it. So, Jerry did. "When the word got out, I sold a bunch of them for $50 each. Trouble was, it took about three hours to modify one," laughs Jerry. "That was the first Kugel Komponent."
That shortened water pump was one of many problem-solvers to follow. Jerry saw a need in the marketplace and filled it.
What ... That's His Only Car?
Jerry and ol' Dad (the late...
Jerry and ol' Dad (the late Gray Baskerville) had never met before this photo was taken. Jerry's "Blackie" and Baskerville's "Dirty-Two" brought the two together to compare their keepers for Baskerville's article in R&C called, "Duel of the Deuces," in June 1972. "We became fast friends after that day," Jerry says.
"After it was finished, my '32 roadster was my daily driver. My wife Judy, busy with kids, was pretty much stuck at home. We didn't own another car ...for about seven years that was it. It had side curtains on it so I could drive it in all kinds of weather. We brought my youngest, Jeffery, home from the hospital in that car. The staff thought it was a joke when I drove up in the '32 as they wheeled my wife to the car with Jeff all bundled up."
But can I make a Living?
Jerry had established his general automotive repair business. His trustworthiness and customer satisfaction had a largely older clientele coming back on a regular basis. The decision to walk away was a difficult one. Could such a specialized field as building components for street rods pay the bills?
When Jerry decided to sell the garage business to a fellow who worked for him (Jerry still owns the property), his income was more than cut in half.
"In those days I made a catalog. We put them together at home segregating the pages. All the kids would help to put the catalogs together. I started advertising in the magazines like R&C and STREET RODDER with small ads at first, and as my business grew and the products grew, I increased the size of the ads."
Jerry's a Keeper
Ak Miller considered the solid...
Ak Miller considered the solid Ford I-beam the "dead axle." That bit of Miller philosophy stuck with Jerry. He installed a Jaguar frontend under his '32 roadster (this was a customer's Model A). Jerry made several kits, never thinking he could make a living doing so.
Jerry has been quick to make changes when it comes to improving his products. However, when it comes to his personal life, change is kept at arm's length. Jerry has remained living in Whittier since high school, been married to Judy since day one, lived in the same house for 30 years, and still has his '32 roadster. Jerry drives "Blackie" regularly to work without having to deal with the dreaded fender-bending L.A. freeways. Hey, he'd be nuts to change a thing!
Almost all in the Family
Stu Hilborn never thought his fuel injection system would have any commercial value in 1948. His company is stronger than ever today. Ditto for Ed Iskenderian: "Isky" became frustrated waiting for Clay Smith to grind a cam so Ed took matters in his own hands.
Jerry thought he would build a few suspension kits and maybe sell one or two. Of course, being the first to sell an independent suspension for street rods is no guarantee for longevity. It's keeping that initial enthusiasm that is.
Because of Jerry's passion, Kugel Komponents has grown steadily since moving to La Habra, California, in 1985. Jerry and Judy's children, Jeff, Joe, and Jerilyn have made the company a family business. "I'd love to have my other daughter Jackie work with us," says Jerry, "but she lives in Tracy, California, with her family."
Of course, Bonneville has been a part of Jerry's life since Thompson blew by the young fan over 40 years ago. He'd be proud of Jerry, having gone over 300 mph himself, along with sons Jeff and Joe.
Jerry's cutting-edge street rod projects and racing successes (past and present) have been well documented in R&C over the years. As with any accomplished individual, there are people who contribute to one's success. In Jerry's case, his parents, his shop teacher, and his celebrated boss made a difference in his life.
At the 50-year reunion of Bonneville, Jerry was working on his car in the pits when ex-shop teacher Lean tapped him on the shoulder and said, "I've been keeping track of you."
Farewell to a True Legend
Married since 1964, Jerry...
Married since 1964, Jerry and Judy are more than husband and wife, they're a team, whether in the shop or on the Salt.
Ak Miller, 84, passed away December 15, 2005. Jerry remarked that he emulated everything about his dear friend and mentor.
Those diamond-studded minutes and golden hours are beginning to take their toll on our hot rod heroes. Regrettably, soon they will be gone, as will the link to the beginning of such a unique part of our American history.
Reluctant though they may be, the next generation of rodders to the great generation will soon become our elder statesmen. Will they leave the same enduring legacy? If they come from the same stock as Jerry Kugel, they will.