Boyd Coddington – The Glory Years
I first met Boyd Coddington on a trip to England in 1982 but my late mentor Pete Chapouris really introduced me to Boyd in 1987 when I managed to tick him off and his customer Gary Lorenzini for whom Boyd had just finished a flamed ’32 3-Window. I wrote that Pete got twice the car in Limefire for half the money Gary had in his coupe. It was the first of three unpleasant calls I got from Boyd over the year’s I knew him.
I got another call when I wrote, incorrectly as it transpired, that billet wheels were dead. Boyd said, “I got a warehouse full of billet wheels and I don’t need you saying they’re dead.” He was right, of course.
Despite the wrath of Boyd, we became friends and eventually I went to work for him in Stanton where I shared the design office with Chip Foose – his prized hire and first big time in-house designer. Before that, however, I would hang out in Boyd’s old Monroe Street shop where I got to watch Craig Naff build the Larry Erickson-designed CadZZilla for Billy F Gibbons of ZZ Top. The transformation from 2D to 3D was amazing and the car remains the seminal custom car.
Larry Erickson said of the man, “The first time I met Boyd was the kick-off meeting to begin the build of CadZZilla. I brought the full-size drawing that I had modified from earlier drawings to use a flat-glass windshield. Billy noticed the difference; I told him the earlier drawings required a custom windshield. Boyd without hesitation said he could get one made. Back in the day, that was not a claim that you would expect from a hot rod builder. In all the projects we built together Boyd never lifted, he always went for it.”
Before CadZZIlla, however, Boyd had already won the Al Slonaker award in 1981 with Vern Luce’s ’33 Coupe that was followed by Jamie Musselman’s ’33 roadster, likewise designed by Thom Taylor, that won America’s Most Beautiful Roadster Award in 1982.
Boyd was already on a different trajectory from all the other builders and the hits just kept coming, and fast. Of those times Thom Taylor had this to say: “The late 70s and early 80s, were exciting times, before the money got in the way. Just about anything I’d propose he’d find a customer for and build it.”
Unknowing people often ask why he got so much ink but there really was no other shop churning out cover-quality cars with the frequency of Hot Rods by Boyd: The Mitsubishi-powered Aluma Coupe, the Deuces of Bob and Sharon Kolmos, Larry Murray’s Phaeton, Butch Martino’s roadster, Gary Newton’s ’27 T, CheZoom, Smoothster, Buzz Di Vosta’s roadster, Boydster I and Boydster II, Boyd Air, etc. Looking back, the list is almost endless and I’m only naming some of the notable cars, there were dozens of others that received the Boyd touch.
As good as he was at getting publicity, Boyd was not a great speaker, however, I remember going with him and Chip to pitch a car to Mercedes-Benz. The minute he walked into their design studio he had their ear. He had a presence about him, even in a Hawaiian shirt, that commanded you pay attention. It was amazing to watch.
Some people are quick to criticize but we all have our faults and yet nobody can deny what Boyd did for the hot rod hobby and industry. He didn’t invent the billet wheel, he was quick to give credit for that to his friend Lil’ John Buttera, but he instinctively knew how to productionize and market the heck out of them and instead of dying, as I wrongly predicted, billet wheels are bigger, literally, than ever.
Boyd also put the industry in front of millions of people when his cars graced the covers of Smithsonian magazine, in July 1993, US Today, The Robb Report and numerous other mainstream publications. He was also one of the first to understand what TV could do more than anything to build a brand and his show American Hot Rod first aired on Discovery January 10, 2004. He was always a step ahead.