Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Rise And Fall Of Ed " Big Daddy" Roth, Custom Car King

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth was one of America's greatest motorhead counter culture figures of the 50's and 60's. His wild customs like Beatnik Bandit were so loved by Revell Models that they signed the wild custom car designer to a contract to design model kits and make promotion appearances. And his hatred for Disney and Mickey Mouse, spurred him to create the antihero, Rat Fink. Roth was a fine artist as well.

Revell knew that Roth's rebel counter culture persona was good for business, as kid's loved Rat Fink. But at the same time, the company tried unsuccessfully to put Roth on a short leash and after they asked him to clean up his appearance, he dressed even more the rebel wearing a wild top hat and tails to meet and greet events sponsored by Revell and other public appearances. Revell once ran a model contest where Ed Roth would stay at a kid's house for a weekend. He had a terrible appetite for food, eating endless eggs, etc.

I remember how my mother was really worried when I received winning contest entry from Revell. She was so relived when I only won a big box of model kits including the "Miss Deal" Studebaker dragster and not Ed "Big Daddy" Roth for the weekend.

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's star seemed to shining brightly as the leading figure among counter culture car enthusiasts, but by the late 60's his interest turned to building custom trike style motorcycles. And when Roth became a friendly associate of the Hell's Angels, Revell was horrified and decided to sever their contract with the wild car designer and artist.

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth did far less well on his own without the money and support from Revell. And some of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's car creations few into bad luck as well. The futuristic bubble-top custom, Orbitron, had an especially sad story.

Orbitron was a flop at car shows in 1964 when it debuted. Strangely, the debut of The Beatles in 1964 on ED SULLIVAN influenced kids to buy guitars and start a band, and model sales tanked from Revell and all brands and never really recovered. The car was eventually sold to custom car creator, Darryl Starbird for a paltry $750 to be used in his traveling custom car show. Some doctor in Texas later ended up buying the car. But when it was sold once again, this owner got himself into drug deal problems. Now, the car sits in front of a Juarez, Mexico sex shop, stripped of parts like the custom bubble-top, interior TV set and reel to reel audio stereo system, being used as a dumpster. But like all good redemption stories, the car was eventually found and was restored in 2008.

As Ed Roth's life ebbed downwards, he eventually converted to the Mormon faith to find peace and redemption as well. Ed Roth died in 2001. But his legacy as one of the greatest custom car and motorcycle designers will forever be legend among car culture fans as more and more of his great cars and motorcycles are found and saved from destruction and meet redemption and restoration.