Maverick is an overused word these days and it seems the folks who refer to themselves as mavericks rarely deserve the title. The ones who do, could care less if they are or not. Les Dunham seems to be the latter. If you read old custom mags, Les's name pops up randomly. He's not the kind of guy who stayed hemmed in by any one type of custom. You'll find references to a 50 ford pick-up, a v-8 chopper, an all fiberglass show-rod and who knows what else. Les would get an idea and run with it, no matter how over the top, and it seems the mans approach payed off. Les started Dunham Coachworks in the 60's and it's still there in Boonton N.J. today. Les's attitude, and a little timing, would eventually gain him a prosperous business, fame, and the lasting title: "Father of the Pimp Mobile" . I wonder what Boyd Coddington or Chip Foose would have said if approached by a New York pimp with ideas on building a custom Cadillac. The answer would likely be along the lines of: " I don't do that kind of work." Well Les, like in everything else he did, saw this as an opportunity to do something unique, and with that decision, added an important element to American auto culture.
After building the first Pimp Mobile, the orders to build more started coming in and Les's creations would become part of the North East pimp aesthetic. He would find himself a key architect of pimp style. A pimp spends more time in his car than anywhere else, it represents who he is and Les would be the guy they trusted with creating it.
So it's the seventies and Hollywood wants to cash in on urban culture. Blaxploitation films are being made and Dunham built cars are already on the streets waiting for staring roles. By the time the projectors stop, Les's cars are seen around the world in two landmark films: SuperFly and James Bond Live and Let Die. It's important to note Les created this style. He didn't follow the trend, he started it. And after the movies were made there was no reason for him to stop.
The mid seventies gas crisis left car buyers with choices devoid of that classic American, over the top, luxurious design. Excess was frowned upon and the mid-century attitude of the 50's was viewed as ugly. Cars where toned down, smaller and humble. So the buyer that wanted a glitzy custom, a flashy, big, American car had to have one built. The place to go would be Dunham Coachworks and Les ends up selling customized Cadillacs worldwide, to Pimps, Texas oil barons and anyone else who wants to strut there stuff with there feathers out. He continues to build cars to this day and since the early seventies has created some reoccurring designs. The two most popular being the Corvorodo and the Caballista. Both cars are based on the corvette chassis, with body designs hearkening back to classic American Luxury. The Corvorodo (the design featured in Live and Let Die) is a blend of Corvette and Eldorado, a true luxury sport coupe. The Caballista, a later design, being Corvette and early touring car.
Les has always done what he wanted no matter how out of step, and in doing so, inadvertently changed the face of American car culture and became a creator of pimp style. He never went looking for an audience, his audience found him. He's a real custom guy, a real maverick.
Remember that guy who lived in your neighborhood growing up? The one who was a little older than you and your friends, rarely wore a shirt, and smoked cigarettes like he invented it? Well that guy road a Dirt Bike. He never wore a helmet or any other riding gear. He wore Vans, or Chuck Taylors with Blue Jeans, and when he did wear a shirt, it was a beat up concert shirt like: Iron Maiden Number of the Beast tour, circa 1983. That guy didn't care about Motocross, Supercross, MotoX or the latest in shock technology. He road a Dirt Bike for the same reason he wore that Maiden shirt. Because it was dangerous and he didn't give a fuck. He didn't want to practice riding and jumping so he could win races, that's boring. He wanted to ride illegally, on the street, to the SHOP & GO to buy beer with a fake I.D. . Dangerous.
There's something really cool about this 51 Chevy. This is what a custom should be. A look all its own. A car that could be picked out of a line up but isn't over done or gaudy. Originally owned by Cort Elliot of Canada, it looks to have the classic mods ; 58 Lincoln headlights, Packard tail lights, chopped and lowered with a custom grill treatment, but there is something about how it works on this car. It's pure harmony. The only thing I can surmise is that who ever built it, either had a good eye or good luck . The car went through several changes in paint and wheel combinations but always maintained it's perfect lines. It's still around today and frequently shows up at car events. Thank God.
In the early fifties Doug Rice built a highly modified 39 ford coupe. The car is chopped, channeled, and sectioned with relocated fenders, a race mill, quick change rear, full custom interior........ The list of modifications is endless. The car is beautiful but the real story is the owner. Not much information about the build of this car was ever printed aside from the components and mods, but according to what is out there, Doug did all the work himself. Starting in Hawaii and later shipping the car to Washington state , every modification had to be completed by the end of the weekend because the car was his daily driver. This car is chopped and channeled. If these mods were completed in weekends the finished product is amazing. So Doug spends all his time and money building a beautiful 39 custom, the kind of car that has a rope around it at car shows, and all the while he's taking it to the strip. He's taking it to Bonneville. He's flogging it.
The car first showed up in 1953, unchopped, almost stock, running at Bonneville. Most people would return to Bonneville with a race car but Doug shows up the following year with a full blown custom. In that years time, between speedweek 53 and speedweek 54, Doug got married, worked a job, chops,channels and sections his daily driver, goes on his honeymoon to California where he buys a 32 roadster, and returns to Bonneville with his new wife, using the roadster as there push car. That is living.
So it's speedweek 1954. You've just done an incredible amount of work over the past year but you've made it. Your car is perfect, your new wife is beautiful and there to share in the glory of your accomplishment. Could life get any better? How about you've bolted your four pot intake on and you run 121.45 in C class coupe. Amazing.
Speedweek was over and Dougs accomplishment is astounding. His 39 garners the attention of HOT ROD magazine and will make an historic appearance in the Dec. 54 issue under the moniker "Bonneville Boomer", a title the car maintains to this day. That's a wrap right? Not quite. So Doug leaves speedweek, roadster in tow behind the coupe. Obviously not afraid to hammer his masterpiece, Doug breaks a crank-shaft in Idaho. Time for a flatbead right? Nope. Doug and his Mrs. push the coupe all the way back to Aberdeen with the roadster. One sits in the coupe and steers while the other sits in the roadster working the gas and brakes. For 600 miles. Doug married the right girl.
Over the years following speedweek 54, Doug runs the Boomer in various drag events as well as showing it in custom shows. The car shows up in multiple magazines and becomes a timeless legend, but what's really astounding is Doug. A guy who followed no rules or formula. He built the machine he wanted. He built a machine to do every job he wanted it to do. He ran his perfect custom flat-out. Eventually Doug would sell the coupe and it would change hands several times, although it's doubtful it was ever driven the way Doug drove it. In a letter to Street Rodder magazine in 1986, Doug said he wishes he wouldn't have sold it. Doug doesn't seem to be the kind of guy that would care to be someones hero but he's one of mine, and I'm sure he's done everything else in life the way he did his coupe. To the floor, flat-out and looking good.
The invention of fiberglass made for some really cool shit. From the Corvette, to the Manx dunebuggy. But where it really made it's mark was pleasure boating. Some boat designers saw the sky as the limit, and some of the designs from the 50's and 60's are insane. Probably the coolest is the Evinrude commissioned, Cadillac Sea Lark. Cadillac boats could get away using the Cadillac name because they were located in Cadillac Michigan and they seemed to do their best to capitalize on it. Finding an image of a Sea Lark is not easy. The only one on the web is an un-restored 58. With only five produced,the Lark is super rare, and the holy grail of fiberglass. Here's a link: www.fiberglassics.com/galleries/bitb/007.htm