6 Jan 2017

Accelerated Change: Pinball

Tire smoke pouring in through the side windows. No one on the sidewalk can look away. Turning tires and the smell of rubber punctuates the evening. 440 Mopar thundering just to the right of my feet. We’re making a memorable getaway from the Hard Rock Café, London…in a pearl yellow custom car named Pinball Wizard. Summer, 1976.

Today, those old black lines carved into the Mayfair roadway are proof positive that pre-historic Hoon-Man (c 1976) once roamed this area. In HOT RODS.

Back in the mid-70’s, I was the lone American within a group of unstoppable Brits. They were all building cars in these tiny garages, living with their parents, and fully committed to winning every custom car show on the calendar.

I would bring them anything. Custom paint, airbrushes, engine parts, antique headlamps…all kinds of parts. Blown Hemi from Dandy Dick Landy? Give me about 3 weeks. I even suggested the names on their cars.

Revenge – Nick Butler’s C-Cab
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Nickelodeon – Nick Butler, famed British Hot Rod builder, reunited with his very first car!
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Hot and Bothered – Built by John Baldachino
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One more I didn’t name but supplied many of the parts for…Andromeda.
Built by Nick Butler – Photo: Rod & Custom Magazine
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Regardless of how goofy they look by today’s standards, these are some of the founding efforts of British hot rodding. We just didn’t know it at the time.

One of my best friends was Mickey Bray, and to no surprise, he was building a street rod.
An old Ford Popular with a big Mopar V8. Pearl yellow with some orange fades called, Pinball Wizard.
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Fast, loud, reliable, and the car started winning national awards. He was one of the first to get the look…just right.

If you Google around, these scratch-built cars have become rather famous on the British scene. They are now considered historic landmarks from the beginning of the custom car movement in England in the 70’s. And these were the very same cars we used to cruise around London in. Over Chelsea Bridge. Down the High streets. Shaking the shop windows and scaring old people. Lots of stares. Small children pointing. Kind of like American Graffiti, but with mugs of hot tea.

To this day you can still find guys all over England working in tiny, cold garages on something. Something extraordinary…and there will always be a mug of hot tea nearby. Truly the lubricant of UK hobby builders.

Back then we wondered if hot rodding was ever going to catch on. V8’s in England? Outrageous! Drag racing? Why would anyone want to do that? Never the less, this tiny group got me started in the parts business a long, long time ago.

And the guys? They have all grown up. Wives and families and obligations.

One stayed young. My great pal Mickey passed away 10 years ago, and so he will always remain young in our memories. And always, Mickey will be remembered as a racer, a friend of many, our Drivers Talk reporter in the UK, and the builder of the one-and-only Pinball.

The others stay in touch every so often. Those boys have never lost their love of cars. Now they drive fast ones or unique ones that continue to be fun. Just none of the cars they drive today started life as chalk lines on their parent’s garage floor.

PS – Just learned that my British Hot Rod buddy, Nick Butler, was responsible for designing and building the “rolling road” dynamometer that Jaguar just used to introduce their new I-Pace concept car at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show.
CLICK TO WATCH, courtesy of Kelley Blue Book.
Yes, the legend lives on.

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