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How did Roth afford to build so many cars ?

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Don's Hot Rods, Jun 19, 2013.

  1. Don's Hot Rods
    Joined: Oct 7, 2005
    Posts: 8,319

    Don's Hot Rods
    from florida

    How did Ed Roth and the other show car builders of the day afford to crank out so many cars, one after another ? I know they had jobs, but it had to be extremely expensive to build cars like the Beatnik Bandit, and all the others that he built. Blowers, all that chrome, and all the other parts didn't come cheap, even in the 50's.

    Were there financial rewards paid by the shows to have these cars there, or was it done simply to showcase his talents ? It seemed like he and others were turning out a new car every year for the new show car season and I just wonder how they afforded to do it.

  2. calling Bad Bob! from what i heard the beatnik bandit eas built with whatever was laying around but i could have heard wrong. under the cool paint was lots of bondo,foam and fiberglass.
  3. Most of Roth's full-custom cars like the Bandit, Mysterium, etc were 'roughed out' with foam/paper mache/whatever for the basic shape, then covered in plaster of paris. This was sanded to shape, then a fiberglass plug was taken off.

    The other thing to remember was many of these show cars didn't run, they were strictly showcars. Roth's Bandit was one of the first (if not the first) 'pure' showcars, with little effort put into making it a functioning vehicle. Empty engine blocks and transmissions were common. That's why many disappeared after their turn on the show circuit if they didn't make it into a museum, or more likely their parts were recycled into next years car.

    As to how they could afford it, the promoters paid appearance money for the 'name' cars (just like the racers getting appearance money at match races).
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2013
  4. brokenspoke
    Joined: Jul 26, 2005
    Posts: 2,874


    He sold lots of T shirts
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  5. Ding-ding, we have a winner!

    Somewhere Roth is quoted saying he built the cars to sell shirts.
    Heck, ask his son. He said he spent quite a bit of time screening shirts with his Dad. Sounds like a good business model to me.:cool:
  6. X3. I read his book.
  7. Kensey
    Joined: Sep 25, 2006
    Posts: 735

    from Pittsburgh

    Roth was commissioned to build cars by a model company. I'm sure they footed some of the costs. AND he was a business man, a good one! Sold the hell out of everything.
  8. REBEL43
    Joined: Feb 17, 2007
    Posts: 673

    from TENNESSEE

    Crazy Steve nailed it, many did not run.
  9. R Pope
    Joined: Jan 23, 2006
    Posts: 3,310

    R Pope

    Those old beatniks knew how to live cheap!
  10. A guy I met back in the early 80's named Myron Rust told me several stories of the "Show Car" scene including money being paid to several as the "draw" cars and that in a year or two most of these cars traveled enough to pay for the travel and some to most of the build cost and then they would be sold to another "show car" circuit and rebadged/painted until they were put in a museum or recycled. He knew Darryl Starbird as the older kid in school who messed with cars. And Myron still had at this time a Model A pickup that he built right out of highschool that he had Darryl paint in the late 50s. Another, I wonder where that guy and his car went .....
  11. Ed also traded his skills as a sign painter & pin striper so there wasn't alot of out of pocket expense for some of it.
  12. Harms Way
    Joined: Nov 27, 2005
    Posts: 6,849

    Harms Way

    BULL !!!!!

    Ed went to great lengths to make his stuff innovative and functional. Not everybody did the same.


    Ed was under contract by Revell to produce one car a year (For a fee), and that car was turned into a model Kit,... Then that car was contracted by ISCA (for a fee) to make the entire show tour for the following year, increasing interest in the car,... Increasing popularity and demand for the Kit. All the time Ed was selling monster T Shirts and other weirdo trinkets, Decals, Books, Rat Fink stuff... And then went on to design most all the cartoon Monster Models for Revell as well...... Ed was a fun,.... But strange guy.
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2013
  13. He had other things that paid the bills,pinstriping,painting,etc. But,for the most part,the t-shirts was his income. He was great at
  14. stanlow69
    Joined: Feb 21, 2010
    Posts: 3,708

    from red oak

    He was paid cash for his T-shirts at shows. I`m sure he reported all of it to the IRS.
  15. Hot Rods Ta Hell
    Joined: Apr 20, 2008
    Posts: 3,917

    Hot Rods Ta Hell

    I really have a lot of respect for Roth and any guy that can work hard, be resourceful and trade labor to accomplish a build and make a living. To me, that's the ultimate traditional spirit. Somewhat rebelious, independant and the I can do this on my own attitude.

    Consider Roth's T-Shirt designs were his own-be it airbrushed or printed so there was no royalty cost to him. T shirts bought wholesale by the thousands are cheap. Some labor and the rest is profit.

    A great self promoter. He had a lot of irons in the fire. One of the most humble and kindest individuals I ever met in the hobby.

    Also, I believe Ed worked a "regular" job as a painter at Knotts Berry Farms for awhile in the 70's. How long did he work there? I imagine the free spirit in him needed to make an adjustment to "work for someone else"...
  16. Another thing to consider...
    My parents would drop me off at shows,when I was pretty small and I would hang out with him and his first wife,Aunt Sally to me,selling his stuff.
    It wasn't like today,with a vender area or multiple venders. There might be a booth for SoCal speed equipment,or Howards House of chrome,but that's it. Ed was the ONLY guy with t-shirts,stickers,decals,hats. So there was always a line. There wasn't even Event shirts back then.
    If I remember correctly,some famous cars got "show up" money,like an attraction. They were usually on a turret just inside the entrance.
  17. Don's Hot Rods
    Joined: Oct 7, 2005
    Posts: 8,319

    Don's Hot Rods
    from florida

    That all makes sense, what you guys posted. Thanks. The reason I posted the question is that when I looked at some of his cars almost every part was chrome plated, they had polished blowers, and tons of chromed carbs sitting on top of them. Some had bubble tops with lift mechanisms, nicely upholstered interiors, and tons of other very expensive parts. Just made me wonder how he could do so many with all those components time after time.

    I gotta get me a T shirt printing machine ! :D

  18. porknbeaner
    Joined: Sep 12, 2003
    Posts: 41,327


    They had sponsors I think. I know that Roth sometimes got his engines built and or set up @ a small shop in the Bay Area, for example. The guy that owned th shop was his friend and cut him a deal.

    Same with a lot of lakes and drag racers back then, you nhad a network and borrowed things like engines, spray booths supplies etc. Or traded for those things.

    Roth also was a good businessman, he built cars for other people, he pin stripped, he airbrushed. He sold t shirts like he was JC Penny's.

    You may also have noticed that most of thos builders didn't die owning the cars, they built 'em showed 'em and sold 'em.
  19. I have one of his original hand painted t-shirts from the 60s!
  20. Mr48chev
    Joined: Dec 28, 2007
    Posts: 25,898


    As the others said Don he didn't farm much out to others to have done and there was probably a bit of bartering involved there at times or sponsorship. On most things he and who ever was helping him just went out in the shop and created.
    There always seemed to be some story in some magazine about his latest creation with photos of it being fabricated up.
  21. I remember a fair amount of vendors, not like today, but still a fair amount. Roth was painting shirts right there (why didn't I keep any when they got old!?) and at some shows there were otehr airbrush and pinstripe guys as well, but Roth was always the biggie.

    But you didn't see any So Cal Speed Shop Booth - Alex closed it in 1961 and Pete didn't resurrect it until 1997, so during the Roth Era, there was no So Cal Speed Shop
  22. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 8,994

    Rusty O'Toole

    They were dedicated to their art. Read The Kandy Kolor Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby by Tom Wolfe . He wondered how these young guys with low paying jobs could afford their custom machines. He called it "the magic economy" but what it boiled down to was they had no wives or families, they had jobs, living was cheap in California and they spent ALL their spare time and money on their cars.

    He describes body shop and garage owners across the country fixing cars all day so they can lock the doors at 5 o'clock and work all night on their own cars.

    In Roth's case he had a business lettering, painting and pinstriping cars in a tiny one stall garage. He built the Excalibur outside, on the lot behind the shop because there was no room inside. All his tools would fit in a pop crate. If he wanted something welded he took it to the trailer hitch shop up the street because he had no welder.

    He was always on the lookout for a deal or a way to save money. His show cars were all based on junkyard parts. He got into fibreglass because it was cheap and required no special tools or skills. He traded T shirts to Larry Watson for custom paint jobs. Fritz Voight, an old friend, gave him a deal on engine work. Found guys doing chrome cheap out of their home garage. When he was traveling to shows he never rented a motel room, he slept in his car. He figured why spend the $25? That was enough to buy a carburetor.

    As a "name" builder he later got other sources of income. Revell paid royalties on the car models (in his best year this amounted to about $30,000). Once a car got to be a year old he would sell it to get the money for his next project.

    He had a unique deal with show promoters. His cars and his personality were enough of a drawing card that they would pay appearance money as they did with other show car owners. But instead of money he would bring his show car and take a spot to set up his T shirt booth. He could make $500 or $600 a day doing the shirts.

    Remember that at this time he was a businessman with a business to run, and a family man with a wife and 5 children to support.

    The show cars started as an obsession that later became a promotional tool for his business. He had to have something fresh to show every year, that is why he built a car a year in his show car period. The cars promoted the T shirt business and got him free space at the car shows, and the money he made paid for the cars. At this time a lot of the work on the cars was done by "dirty Doug" Kenney. Ed Newton and Robert Williams were on staff too. But don't kid yourself that Ed couldn't do without them. He built the Excalibur and Beatnik Bandit, and several more conventional hot rods before they came along. Plus all the one off trikes and wagons he built afterward.

    In his later years they went back to being an obsession. In his biography he said " I pray to God every day to release me from my calling".
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2013
  23. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 8,994

    Rusty O'Toole

    About the Roth method of making fibreglass bodies. When he started in 1958 fibreglass was fairly new but boat builders and others had worked out the basics.

    Roth's method was similar to what a boat builder or sculptor would do. He started with the chassis, in the case of the Beatnik Bandit this was a cut down 1950 Olds, on later cars it might be a hand built job. Then he would build a framework or armature out of 1X2 wooden strapping, wire mesh, old coat hangers, whatever was around. On this he would build up the shape of the body using "spitwads" of old newspaper dipped in Plaster of Paris. When this dried he would carve it roughly to shape with a carpenter's keyhole saw and a Surform file.

    Final sculpturing was done with a mixture of plaster and vermiculite insulation. This made a kind of light, fluffy plaster that was easy to mix and easy to carve. He applied this with his hands, and with a little mason's trowel.

    Shape with a Surform and sand smooth. Now push it outside and eyeball it from all angles. If it doesn't swing, saw off the bad parts with the keyhole saw, stick some coathangers into the plaster, and build on something new.

    The finished plaster sculpture was the whole mold and everything. This was covered with fibreglass mat and resin, built up layer by layer. When it was good and hard the last step was to turn the body over and break out the whole matrix, the armature and plaster form were destroyed during this step meaning the body was one of a kind.

    At this stage the body and chassis could be separated. The chassis torn apart for paint, chrome and finishing. The body sanded smooth, painted, upholstered, and wired before the final assembly.

    He never made any secret about his body building methods. He thought it was a great way to build one off customs cheap, and was puzzled that others never took it up.

    Today you could do basically the same thing but with spray foam instead of plaster. Easier to work, lighter, and you don't have to cut it out of the body. You can leave it inside as reinforcement.
  24. Blue One
    Joined: Feb 6, 2010
    Posts: 9,970

    Blue One
    from Alberta

    :rolleyes: :p What a cad, what an ultra maroon.

    (Who probably sucks his money from the IRS like the rest of the leeches who "work" for them) :D
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2013
  25. Rusty O'Toole
    Joined: Sep 17, 2006
    Posts: 8,994

    Rusty O'Toole

    A lot of things were cheap back then. There were no environmental laws. Lacquer cost $30 a gallon and that was it, no hardener or clear coat. Just a gallon of thinners for $3 and you were ready to paint. Chrome, likewise, there were lots of chrome shops around, you could bring in a trunk load of parts and pick them up in a few days for $100 bucks.

    The hand work was the big killer but if you were young, strong, and obsessed you could turn out a beautiful car in a few months.

    It is also worth mentioning that they weren't working with rotted out junk. In 1962 a 32 Ford was the same age as an 83 Ford today. But they were already getting away from such cars because perfect rust free examples were no longer sitting on the back row of every used car lot. A 57 Chev was a 5 year old used car and custom favorite 59 Chev was 3 years old.

    These cars required no remedial work to make them usable. You could do a few custom mods, get nice paint job and you were there.
  26. Not t-shirt venders! I went to shows at the Great Western Exibit Hall,Anaheim Conv Center and Long Beach and there weren't any venders selling what Roth had. Ed would take me by the hand,walk me around the show and tell guys who I was and ask if they had something for me. Wish I carried a camera around back then.
    BTW-I didn't mean Alex's SoCal shop,but southern california speed shops.
  27. Bob, Like I said, there were others doing airbrush stuff, especially by the late 60's and 70's. I know that Herb Martinez was one of them, in fact I still have a Hat he did for me in the 1970's and I know there were a few other guys as well - just not as popular or at as many shows as Roth. Seen pictures of guys at Oakland also. Ed was probably the first and the biggest pioneer of this, no doubt about that.

    I know what you mean about not having a camera at certain times. I would love to have a picture of Ed laying on the floor in our store on Whittier Blvd and lettering the front air dam of our Chop Top Datsun truck - it was classic. That would have been 78-79
  28. hugh m
    Joined: Jul 18, 2007
    Posts: 2,148

    hugh m
    from ct.

    I remember an east vs west article in one of the small mags, I think he said "let the kids eat beans"...(also the east coast guys spent their money on beer and the movies...) Pretty sure it was Ed.
  29. Plowboy
    Joined: Nov 8, 2002
    Posts: 4,251


    I wish it was still possible today. I built mine on my own dime, and got $4500 bucks for the show folks to take it on the tour. Then I got a 1099 on that money. I think I sold enough T-shirts to pay for my gas and my part of a hotel room that I split 6 ways. I sold the car for just enough money that I didn't part it out for my '34.... but it was really close to becoming a donor car.
  30. BadgeZ28
    Joined: Oct 28, 2009
    Posts: 1,006

    from Oregon

    A buddy who had lived in LA took me to his shop early in 1963. It was a small one bay garage with a small office. Roth was not there. Just Dirty Doug? We walked through the garage bay to a open fenced area in the rear. There were several failed or partly completed fiberglass bodies there. I doubt that business generated much income.

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