Etiquette of the Survivor
It was Detroit Autorama setup day and things were moving quickly in the Cobo basement. Stanchions were strung and the room smelled of exhaust. Across the hall I spotted something different—a 1960 Edsel Ranger sporting Chrysler headlights, crackling sliver Metalflake paint, a vinyl roof, Imperial wire wheels and a quartet of those unmistakable space age taillights. Upon further inspection, I discovered that I was ogling over the “Silver Cloud”—an old Texas show car originally customized by Doug Mattix between 1960 and 1964.
You see, Doug spared absolutely no expense when building this Edsel. Everything from the radiator to the front suspension to the 3×2-fed early Hemi to the driveshaft was chromed. The majority of the interior came from a Thunderbird and boasted more than 1,000 buttons along with some serious wood accents. All in all, the far-out custom cost a reported $10,000 back in the ’60s.
The story goes that Doug showed the Edsel until 1970 before tucking it away for the better part of 40 years. Not much changed other than the deterioration of the fragile Metalflake and the addition of an iffy Barris crest or two at some point. After nearly getting parted out for an unspeakable build, H.A.M.B.er @criscobath picked it up in the fall of 2015. Even though he lacked the space to work on it, he knew that this car needed to be preserved—simple as that.
When I saw the car in Detroit, it had changed hands once again; Tom Gibbs of Ferndale, Michigan is the new caretaker. It runs and drives, but still needs a bit of work to bring it back up to speed mechanically. No problem. The Silver Cloud has returned the show circuit, this time as a survivor.
There’s little question that these rods and customs commonly referred to as “survivors” are some of my favorite cars our hobby has to offer. Yes, I know, the big “barnfind” craze has been blown up and out of proportion time and time again, but my recent trip to Detroit solidified the notion that they’re still out there. The checked lacquer, pitted chrome, fading decals and period modifications are all part of the package. Oh, and the dirt and grime are too. When these old rods and customs roll back into the daylight, we get an ever-so-rare glimpse into that bygone era. It’s authenticity of a different shade.
Here on the H.A.M.B., we’ve been fortunate enough to see dozens of these cars emerge after long slumbers in sheds, barns, garages, basements and just about everything in between. Pat Ganahl has done an excellent job covering this genre in his Lost Hot Rods books, and The Rodder’s Journal has certainly chronicled the unearthing of some über historic examples in the past two decades.
And this all makes me wonder, what about the survivors that don’t have significant history? No show trophies, no magazine covers—nothing. I recently picked up an O/T project that fits into that category. It checks a bunch of the boxes from the old paint to the chrome to the period modifications. Did the previous owner customize it exactly like I would have? No, but it’s pretty damn close. Rather than trying to emulate a time, place or style, I’m lucky enough to have come across the real deal, quirks and all. Back-in-the-day mods earn extra points in my book.
Like all projects, there’s room for improvement. Obviously mechanical stuff, but what about when it comes to the overall look? Changing stance, color, bodywork, upholstery…you can easily see how the whole survivor idea can get diluted pretty quickly.
So I’ll ask you this: how do you handle survivors? Do you let ’em be or make them your own? I’m curious to hear your take.