History tells us that the 60s were a pretty wild time in the USA. People’s clothes, hairstyles and attitudes all reflected the radical times that were happening, and the car culture followed suit, particularly in California. One particular individual really stood out in the scene – Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. His creative genius and his passion for art and radical car building spawned a whole new wave called kustom kulture that developed from the late 50s and into the 60s.
Roth was multi-talented, not only was he a kustom car designer and builder, but he was also an incredible artist and cartoonist. He was best known as the creator of the iconic Rat Fink, a ghoulish giant rat in red overalls with flies buzzing around its head. His work was all over t-shirts, bumper stickers and car show posters and it was his style and ideas that generated a flood of copycats and forever changed the way show cars were built the world over.
It was in 1959 that Roth debuted his first masterpiece – Outlaw. This radical-looking T-bucket set the stylistic direction of Roth’s future projects, and it greatly influenced hot rod design over the following decades. Built at the cost of just $800, Outlaw was based on a Model A frame with a fiberglass body created by laying fiberglass over a hand-shaped plaster of Paris buck. It featured a Larry Watson pearl white and green metal flake paint job and Cadillac V8 powertrain by Fritz Voight.
For the next decade, Roth went on to build other creations that went on to push the design envelope even further –Beatnik Bandit, Mysterion, Orbitron and Road Agent all became hot rod icons. His cars were so polarising and influential that the model makers Revell produced all of his builds, and they are best sellers to this day. The show rods that Roth created and the cars his style influenced are some of my very favourite cars. Wild ideas, crazy colours, lots of chrome, radical trim and attention to detail were the name of the game. If I were to build my dream rod, it would be in the 60s style.
Perth hot rod Picasso, Ben Forster felt just the same, and it was his dream to build something inspired by Roth. For years and years, he has built cool cars but he always wanted to build “the one”, and this is it he tells me.
Way back in 2010, when he bought the rusty pieces from a local backyard, Ben knew exactly what he wanted to do with the build. “It had to be a show rod, there was no doubt about it. I love all of Ed Roth’s creations with the wild paint schemes and all of the chrome. I wanted something unique to Australia too. Most people won’t get it, but I do, and that is what really counts at the end of the day,” said Ben. With more than enough fabrication skills to undertake such a radical project by himself, Ben still asked for some help from his father Peter and some of the crew from his club, the Cranksters.
The bodywork and chassis fabrication was Ben’s first port of call: “The bottom six inches were riddled with rust around the whole car, but as I already had a T Coupe, I knew that I could just measure off that and make the rest up. It was just going to take time to get it right.” Underneath the car, is a custom chassis fabricated from 100x50mm RHS that is based on a Model T set up but with the rails kicked up over the So-Cal 9-inch similar to a ’32 Ford chassis. A So-Cal 1940s-style rear spring and ladder bars take up residence on the back while up front is a Model A crossmember with some other neat custom touches like a polished I-beam, matching hairpins and disc brakes under the faux drums, all sourced from So-Cal Speedshop.
It was around the time that the lead wiping was completed on the body that good mate Stewart Paris stepped up to the plate to make the Coupster look pretty: “I met Stewart years ago, and we just clicked. I had him paint my white Shovelhead with green fish scales and flake, and he knocked it out of the park. As soon as I told him about the Coupster project he knew exactly what I was talking about. We actually painted my daughter’s mini-rod first to work out the concept. It was pretty much perfect, but for the big car, we had Owen Webb from House of Kolor tweak the final colours.”
Thankfully, while Ben’s boilermaking skills may be a little rough compared to some of the high profile coachbuilders, Stewart can both panel and paint. This allowed Ben to concentrate on other elements of the build while Stewart primarily focused on getting the body right. The three-layer pearl white was laid down first, and then the purple fade was done with two separate colours, starting with a lighter purple pearl for the initial part of the fade, and then a darker hue was laid down on the outer edges.
The paint is only half the story for the body, there is a heap of custom touches from front to back. The headlights were sourced from a Fiat tractor and given a good polish and paint, the front grille surround has that great looking Lincoln emblem attached, and the windscreen was handmade by Ben. The rear of the car needed some cool stuff too, so the boys made the bumper from scratch to fit those gorgeous-looking ’61 Buick Electra tail lights. The rear indicators are from a good old FJ Holden.
One of the elements that makes a true show rod is a completely over-the-top interior, and the Coupster definitely has one of those. Ben had plenty of influence inside there too: “The dash is quite a story. One night during a workshop drinking session, me and my mate Nashty pulled down a Ford Twin Spinner grille off the wall and began to cut it down the guts and tek screw it into position. We then grabbed some gauges and plonked them in. The next morning it still looked okay, so I had Stewart give it some love by making the door design flow into the dash and then we made the Lincoln Zephyr clock and speedo fit.”
That incredible looking Ford Crestline wheel vies for your attention with the glass door knob-equipped Lokar shifter. It was active Crankster Drew Menzies from Northside Motor Trimming that took control of the rest of the interior, and he knew just the direction to go in – wild purple tuck and roll metalflake trim ties in with the white leather perfectly, as does that oh-so-60s white “angel hair” floor covering.
Ben could have opted for the typical multi-carbed Caddy engine for the Coupster, which is reminiscent of the true 60s look, but he had some different plans – a V12 Zephyr motor. “I am right into my Ford flathead motors but I needed some impact, and the V12 was just it. The first one we got was rotten but the second one we got ran, albeit on 8 cylinders. I had my mates Peter and John handle all the machine work. It was bored and completely rebuilt to perfection,” says Ben. The alloy heads were sourced while Ben was in the USA and the trick six-carb set up was purchased from a dude in NZ: “There are six 97 Strombergs, but only the two middle carbies are hooked up.” Ben made the custom headers and had them ceramic coated, but they are really just for cosmetics and can’t be uncorked, sadly. For rego, the car runs a full exhaust.
The car was supposed to be completed for MotorEx two years ago, but with that looming up too fast, Ben changed his plans and aimed for the Mooneyes Hot Rod and Custom Show in Yokohama later that year. The Coupster was the first Australian car to debut at the event and was the reason why myself and about 30 other Perth peeps headed over. “After going to Mooneyes two years ago with my best mate Alan Smart, I thought the car would fit in really well over there and that the Japanese would really get the 60s show rod theme. There was a crowd three deep all day taking photos, and although I don’t speak Japanese, I’m pretty sure all the feedback was positive.
To have been awarded the Mooneyes USA pick was the icing on the cake – that is the biggest award of the show, and I won it with a car that I built in my home workshop with my mates. I was totally blown away that it was so well received. I don’t think I could ever build another neat and clean car like this again, it took too much time and dedication, I guess I better go back to what I am used to – busted and dusty stuff,” laughed Ben. Such humble words from a real hot rod Picasso.