Strange Shark Tales from San Luis Obispo
This story starts at the dry cleaners in San Luis Obispo, California. It was the Sunday after the Race of Gentlemen Santa Barbara Drags, and I was still buzzing with excitement as my girlfriend and I made our way up the coast back to San Francisco. Seeing that she went to school in SLO a few years earlier, she knew the lay of the land and was happy to take over the driving chores. That allowed for me to look out the window and soak it all in.
“Woah, that’s some neat lettering,” I said, pointing to a turquoise storefront on the left side of the street. The sign read “Paul’s Cleaners,” and the entire building had an unmistakable 1950s feel to it. We continued for another 50 feet or so. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted an odd orange car parked near the cleaners. “…and that’s a custom!”
Yes, it most certainly was. Not just any custom, but Bob McNulty’s 1955 Corvette. I had seen it basking on the lawn of the Santa Barbara Hilton in the Kustoms by the Sea display on Saturday, and now it was just sitting all alone. Strange. We parked and walked over to check it out.
Once we got within a few feet of the customized Corvette, a man came striding towards us. He introduced himself as Kevin Bennett, the car’s current caretaker. “It’s fitting that I had to stop here,” he said, gesturing towards the building behind him. “Hayward Lumber. This car was originally customized in Hayward back in the ’50s.”
Kevin explained that he was experiencing some cooling issues on the way back from T.R.O.G., and he had already called for backup. In the meantime, he was more than happy to tell us about Bob and the machines he built during his all-too-short customizing career. Ryan has written about Bob before, so here are a few words from his tale of the similarly customized Clews Corvette:
Bob was THE fiberglass guy of the 1950s and ’60s. While Ed Roth was creating messes to great success, Bob was working surgically and creating things like Corvettes and Astra Coupe Kits to standards Detroit could only dream of.
And this particular Corvette was Bob’s dream car. Starting with a wrecked ’55, he radically reworked every inch. From the tunneled headlights and louvered aluminum hood to the batwing fins and elaborate rear nerf bar, everything was customized with care—and flair. Initially painted white with blue scallops, it was dubbed “Bob’s Shark” and appeared in Hot Rod, Car Craft and several other titles. If the ink weren’t enough, the ’Vette also won its class at Oakland in 1958. By 1964 times were changing, and Bob built the car into its final guise: the “Sharkimino.”
Bob was killed in a boating accident in the late-’60s, and the car was donated to the Petersen Museum. It languished in their collection for years, and when it popped up on eBay Kevin knew he had to buy it. So he did.
As Kevin shared the Corvette’s history, I asked if I could take a few shots with my film camera. I figured the combination of survivor custom, mid-century building and a little bit of old 35mm could make for a strong Jalopy Journal feature. I just got the film processed, and to say the results were disappointing would be an understatement.
Not all is lost. I did grab some quick shots with the iPhone, so here’s a look at Bob McNulty’s custom Corvette near the dry cleaners in San Luis Obispo.
Special thanks to Kustomrama for the additional information. Make sure to check out their page about the car for some prime vintage shots.