Beyond the Beatnik
The quest to make it real—there’s an interesting unwritten rule about old Ford hot rods, and that’s as long as the car has a genuine Ford-produced body it’s still a Ford. Take for example the engine can come from a Chevy, the transmission a Corvette, and the rearend out of an Olds with a pair of American Stamping Deuce ‘rails for a frame, but as long as it has Henry-stamped tin covering it all, it’s a real Ford.
Now on the other hand a hot rod can run a Ford engine backed with a Ford transmission and Ford rearend, but if the body happens to be a fiberglass replica of a Ford, it’s a kit car.
The first time I saw the track T gracing this month’s cover was around 1992 at my Hamster friend Gene Koch’s house in Garden Grove, California. It was the week before the Love Ride, and all of Gene’s Hamster buddies were in town for the ride. For you who have never heard of the Hamsters, they’re a group of Harley-Davidson riders populated by the world’s most renown custom bike builders, or they’re guys who can afford to have a Harley custom built by one of the world’s most renowned bike builders.
The Hamster piloting the track T was a fellow I’d heard Koch say was Urban Hirsch III. Koch told me about Urban’s Track T weeks before I’d ever seen the car. Most notable of the specifications I recalled was it had a fully polished, all-aluminum Paul Grichar Racing engine that was almost impossible to drive without burning the rear tires down to the sidewall lettering before driver control could be regained. The color of the car was a shade of red that reminded me of the red on a track bike-style FXR Hamster Arlen Ness had built for fellow Hamster Barry Weiss. All in all, the Track T had a lot of really nice high-end components comprising it, but there was no mistaking its wavy 1927 T replica body was of genuine kit car fiberglass through and through.
Some 20 years later I was at the Donut Derelicts’ weekly Saturday gathering in Huntington Beach, California, when a mountain of a man wearing a top hat and red coat rolled in jockeying the strangest automobile creation I’d ever seen sporting legal license plates. The thing looked like a horse-drawn buggy, only the horse was plucked from a carousel and hollowed out with a blown Chrysler Hemi engine bursting out of its back with big chrome zoomies out each side. When the driver pulled the reins the contraption pivoted in the middle, fulfilling the illusion that it was indeed a horse-drawn buggy.
In the crowd of amazed spectators I joined into a conversation with a cat wearing a purple Beatniks jacket and a ’50s-looking kid trying to recollect the name of a similarly inspired contraption George Barris had built for Paul Revere and the Raiders. The more I heard the Beatniks’ New York accent, the more I realized I had met him over the phone a decade before. It was at the suggestion of my customizer buddy in Utah, Bo Huff that I gave the fabricator he met in Florida a call. Bo said they called him Chopit and he was building a radical bubbletop known as the Beatnik from scratch, and his metal-forming skills were beyond belief.
Later that day I recalled the Barris creation made for Mark Lindsay and band was called the Raider Coach, and gave Chopit a call. Gary invited me to come visit his shop in Stanton and see what they were all about. Chopit Kustom is a block north of where Hot Rods by Boyd and Vale’s Kustom Kolors used to be on Monroe. Stepping inside the family run shop is a time warp with a 2-second flight to New York’s finest Deli where the menu is chopped Mercs and tasty hot rods seasoned with styling and engineering that’s totally unique to Gary Chopit.
I hadn’t seen the car for 20 years. On one of my weekly visits I walked into Chopit Kustom and found Urban Hirsch’s Track T was there to get a body change. For whatever reasons Urban told Gary to find him a real steel, genuine Henry-produced 1927 T roadster body and make it a driver. This wasn’t to be a total fresh build from the ground up, I’m guessing Urban just wanted to lose the Tupperware bucket and nose. The body Gary found was relatively rust free, but it had dents from one end to the other. As the days went by Gary and his oldest son Nicholas metal-finished the roadster body back into a pristine example of what a mint 1927 T-bucket platform and turtle deck should look like.