Okay: I have written before about the Olden Times, children, when gearheads were divided into two camps: the hot-rod greasers and the effete sports-car set who favored string-back driving gloves. And surely you recall the cataclysmic shift in the firmament when the legendary Von Dutch painted garish white flames all over Bruce Earle’s Mercedes-Benz 300 Gullwing coupe. The horror: defiling a sports-car icon with hot-rod flames! The horror: appropriating the uniquely American hot-rod culture by painting flames on a foreign sports car!
Which I found way bitchin’.
Of course, cultures have a way of absorbing each other, just as readers could kill time in detention reading Rod & Custom as well as Road & Track. In the days when children eagerly awaited word of Don Garlits finally hitting 150 in the quarter mile, or celebrated the first American Formula 1 champion (oh, come on: this guy!), hot rods were cars that went fast in a straight line, but couldn’t corner worth sour owl butter. Sports cars were spindly, cramped little buggies with wimpish acceleration, but they whizzed around corners like an 027-gauge Lionel locomotive.
Within a couple of decades, of course, American iron came with abundant horsepower and decent handling prowess, too, while European sports cars gained more and more horsepower and kept their cornering prowess. And the age-old urge to personify and modify your ride affected all of us, drag-race fans or road-race fiends—
Even after we discovered BMW.
Well, it’s not like the factory wasn’t a bunch of hot-rodders already setting an example for the wayward youth of America. Look at the specs for the BMW 1800 TiSA; if you check the Weber carburetor catalog, you will see that it’s the only BMW that came from the factory with two big honkin’ 45 DCOE Weber sidedrafts. How is that different from six Stromberg 97s on a log manifold in your ’32 Highboy roadster?
Which explains the flames.
It isn’t that I wanted to paint flames on a BMW, it’s more that I had a need to paint flames on something, and what I had was the Z4 M roadster, in Alpine White—what else would you expect me to do with a white car?! I stripped the M badges off it within an hour of getting the car home, and set about adding a few custom touches. (Yeah, those M badges: You can buy them on eBay, I’m told. I don’t need no steenkin’ M badges—if you know, you know.)
Even before adding the ghost flames over diagonal Motorsport stripes, I had old-school pin-striper Lyle Fisk—a contemporary of Von Dutch and Ed Roth—paint hot-rod pinstripes on the trunk lid. “Do what you want,” I told him. “Just use red, purple, and Bavarian blue.”
Now, there are other custom touches, like the green Rat Fink head that adorns the radio antenna. It’s a replacement, actually, for the Rat Fink antenna head that I received as an anniversary gift from Party A in 2008. (I don’t know which year is the Ed “Big Daddy” Roth anniversary, but it seemed appropriate.) That green icon stayed on the antenna through years of cross-country adventures before a drive-through car wash stole it a year or two ago, and I had to scramble to procure another one before the car went on display as part of the BMW CCA Foundation’s “Power of M” exhibit.
But these touches are merely the second half of the Rod-&-Custom culture. There is nothing I need to modify under the hood, with 333 horsepower to play with, so to satisfy the hot-rod urge that runs in the veins of true Americans, we have to turn elsewhere.
How about the Mini?
No, I’m not talking about the electric Mini Cooper SE that lives on the right side of the garage, sucking juice from a 50-amp Level II charger. I have no idea how to hot-rod an electric car. I’m talking about Ike, the 1965 Mini panel van parked next to it.
Ike is dwarfed by the electric Mini Cooper SE.
Aww, I hear you sighing, isn’t he cute? Well, sure; it’s a Mini panel van, for God’s sake, and Party A named it Ike after the adopted Canadian brother in South Park. (Another “if ya know, ya know” thing, I guess.) Anyway, Ike may look like a carnival ride or a Shriner parade car, but this little rat is not only customized, but rodded to the gills. For one thing, these panel vans were originally equipped with 848-cc engines producing 33 horsepower, or the more familiar 998-cc bangers putting out a whopping 39. Ike, however, was restomodded in the 1990s with an Austin America engine bored and stroked to nearly 1,400 cubic centimeters. With two inch-and-a-half SUs sitting on it, the little beast is downright ferocious.
So I have definitely satisfied my need for speed, and lately I have been adding a few custom touches here and there. I think that the underhood area needs a lot more chrome, for one thing. And I’ll probably install rally lights as a tribute to the great Mini rally wins of the ’60s. The Mini is remarkably easy to work on with my abundance of Stone Age tools, and it is a perfect match for the smallest QuickJack you can buy.
Meanwhile, Party A has gone somewhat loco with stickers, like the Yokohama decals that emphasize the 032s. (Yes, Ike needs every inch of those gumballs.) There’s a stars-and-stripes peace sign on one window; maybe I’m supposed to dig through the attic and find a headband and some hippie beads.
But my latest mod (as the kids say) one-ups her stickers more than somewhat. Compare Ike before my latest custom touch:
… with Ike after my modification:
How cool is that?! No, I’m not talking about the Ike decal, and the VAN ITTY plate is the same before and after. (It’s a vanity plate on an itty—never mind.) I guess you have to look closer:
Yes, it’s a hand-painted Rat Fink! Ed Roth would be proud! No, I’m not the one who painted it, but I mounted it on the door hinge, and it hasn’t fallen off yet. I’m even planning on painting the bare metal around the bolt head, because I’ve got skills, even if I never quite got around to painting the skulls on the fuel door of the Z4.
I am so pleased with the progress of Ike that I’ve been thinking of driving him to Legends of the Autobahn in Pacific Grove next month, but there’s a problem: The Mini panel van came with a fuel tank commensurate with that 33-horsepower engine. It holds about five or six gallons max. That was probably fine even at 39 horsepower, but I can tell you that one downside of hot-rod madness is fuel efficiency; at this point we have two Minis in the garage, and neither has a range of over a hundred and ten miles.
There are two sayings from my hot-rod youth. One is “There’s no such thing as too much horsepower!” The other is “You’ve got to pay for your fun!” Still, I am intrigued by the challenge of mapping out hundred-mile fuel oases between here and Monterey. I do have a map, and as I say, I’ve got skills.—Satch Carlson