Ed Roth’s Mysterion
At the Round Up this year, Tom Davison asked if I would be interested in a small editorial and some photos covering Jeff Jones’ recreation of the Mysterion. Given Tom’s history with the original car and his passion for customs in general, how could I say no?
The Genesis, Demise and Re-creation of an Iconic Custom Car
The history and legend of Ed Roth’s 1963 creation, the quintessential showrod, is long and convoluted. It’s peppered with as much misinformation as it is detail and fact. But now, the definitive Mysterion book has been been written.
Jeff Jones has built a most accurate clone of the car and recently sold it at auction for a record price, going to the Stahl’s Automotive Museum in Michigan. I believe that price reflects the high quality and accuracy of his build. It shared feature billing with a 35 million dollar Ferrari at the RM/Sotheby’s/Petersen Museum auction in December. The car runs and is drivable. One engine is functional and the hollowed-out second block houses the alternator.
Jeff had a book contract with McFarland Publishing before the fact. Then he set about building the car, while researching and writing the book at the same time. The book is as amazing as the build. After a few chapters of history and dissertation, Jeff jumps right into the task of telling and showing, with over 300 photos, exactly how he built the car. It’s scholastic, instructional and humorous too.
Jeff asked me to shoot the car and for the first location, we chose a city park. Then at sunset, we would proceed to the local oilfield which resembled an apocalyptical nightmare, a background befitting this monster. We shot at the park with no consequence other than having to listen to Barney Fife, the County Park Ranger, lecture us for an hour on why we needed a permit to shoot and how we could be fined up to $3,000 for wrecking the landscaping (rolling tires on grass).
He let us go with the promise of getting a permit and we left for the oilfield. Unfortunately, as Jeff was towing on an open trailer, the functional airscoop on the cowl filled the cockpit with enough pressure to lift the bubbletop up and rip it off its hinges. I watched as it bounced along the asphalt, landing scraped but all one piece, in front of my car. I parked and walked up to Jeff alongside the road and witnessed an amazing display of petroleum-engineer cool: Jeff said, “Oh well, that bubble wasn’t quite right anyway, so now I have a chance to rectify that with a re-do!”. The sunset shoot was thereby cancelled.
Jeff was very proud of getting the proportions of the body correct. The man is a master sculptor. So when we staged the car, we took a number of shots that were the exact angle and height of some of those iconic original Revell publicity shots. The storied model car manufacturer provided dozens of vintage prints that were invaluable during the build. They spoke to the accuracy of the sculpture.
Author’s Note: I came of age in the mid-1950’s and was able to read all of the “little” books in real time. Sixty years later I have become a car show historian. Over that time, I have had an incredible run of being in the right place at the right time. I was mentored in airbrush by Roth when I was sixteen and mentored in custom car painting by Ray Farhner at seventeen. I painted Lee Pratt’s Nomad in the 60’s and toured with the Mysterion full-time in ’65. I was even there on that fateful day in ’66, when it was cut in half and parted out. I became an historical advisor to Jeff Jones after we met via the HAMB several years ago. In the book, I explain the demise of the original car in great detail, as a 2-page sidebar to the preface.
And by the way fellas, you can still get the book here. Like Tom said, it’s actually a really well done publication with lots of history and some incredible photography.