The Condensed History Of Don Tognotti
On the surface of things, Don Tognotti was a regular car guy. He grew up in the 1950’s and spent the entirety of the 1960’s building show cars as well as a business around them. In 1964, He opened Tognotti’s Auto World in Sacramento, CA. Before long, business exploded and Don got busy expanding and adding more stores around Northern California – all marketing themselves as real speed shops built for real hot rodders.
But as successful as his business was, Don is largely known today for the cars that actually inspired it. His first was a 1955 Thunderbird called “The Green VooDoo” that earned a Car Craft “Top 10” award in 1960. He followed that up with the now famous “Avenger” – a wedge channeled 1932 Ford Coupe. And in 1964, he took home the AMBR award for his wild T-roadster that he called the “King T.” What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that Don entered a second car in that same show. It was a front engined dragster titled “Goldfinger” and numbered 007. The dragster took home the top competition class award and a year later was relabeled “The Bushwacker.”
The Green VooDoo
The King T
Having handled all of these show cars, Don gained a lot of experience with the shows themselves. Later in life, he started a promotion business of his own and by 1991 he owned both the Sacramento Autorama as well as the Grand National Roadster show. However, the financials of Don’s empire began to go south in a hurry. By 2000, Don was broke and too busy looking after his beloved and very sick wife to care. By all accounts, Diane Tognotti was everything to Don and watching her suffer from chronic inflammatory bowel disease was too much for him to cope with.
One morning, he called a friend and said, “We are going to a better place.”
Deputies arrived to find Diane and Don in the master bedroom – both dead from gunshot wounds.
Obviously, it’s a tragic and complicated ending that jumps the boundaries of hot rod journalism and history into something I’m ill equipped to write about. But I do take comfort in the fact that Don isn’t remembered so much for his ending. Instead, we know him from his cars and the legacy that he left behind.