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The Beatnik Bandit

by Pat Ganahl

beatnikbanditDirty Doug isn’t sure when he started working full-time for Ed. “I was married for a while, so I wasn’t in communication with him then. It [the Outlaw] was all done when I started with Ed. The only thing I did to the Outlaw was later on I painted it that horrible Peacock ‘flake.” When asked what he did on the Beatnik Bandit, he said, “Mainly I did the original car in plaster; set it in the garage when he was gone that summer touring car shows. I remember being there with nobody else around. We made that thing in plaster. When he got back, I’d actually primered it, so it really looked like a car. You could sand plaster forever. It’s like endless Bondo.”

I asked how the designs were done, and Doug said, “He gives it this shot—he goes over here to one headlight, then goes over to the other one and says ‘that’s good enough.’ In the early days, it was 100 percent plaster. Then somebody told him about putting lime in it to slow it down. So, we made a few cars that way. It was a lot better.”

Q. Did he make a shape out of plywood or something?

A. “Very seldom, because it’s hard to pound that stuff out. If you put chicken wire down there, you’d have to fight it. So usually, it was just a 2 x 4 or some pieces of wood, put together very haphazardly. Maybe with some cardboard hanging over it.

“Later he went from lime to Vermiculite. It’s some kind of insulation. It looks like big granules. Then, the next week, you can file it with cheese grater files. In the old days, I had to grind it with a grinder. I’ve got pictures of myself grinding on the Surfite. I have a T-shirt pulled over my head. I’m looking out through the neckpiece and the arms are tied behind my head. I’m looking out this little slit because of the dust. I’d use a body grinder with a 36-grit disc.

“I would slap plaster and grind it, but I’d never mess with the design. I’d let Ed go ahead.

“I never saw Ed drive any of his cars. I drove the Surfite in the parking lot out in San Bernardino once. Many of them ran in car shows. I’d push a button and start them up—remote: the Mysterion, Orbitron, and Road Agent.

“Ed was at the shop most of the time. He didn’t do too many long-distance shows until the mid-1960s. Dick Cook did some frames; he worked fulltime for Ed in the early 1960s. Ed would grind all the welds. Then they went right to Model Plating. The Orbitron and the Wishbone both had full chromed frames.

“Richard Ash and a guy named Brown may have worked after school. Newt [Ed Newton] came in the early 1960s. He had six girls in the office at one time—maybe a payroll of 12. The kids came and went—got in the way.

“He’d sometimes be working on two cars at once—the Surfite in plaster and the Orbitron in fiberglass.”

The Beatnik Bandit was actually designed by artist and cartoonist Joe Henning, who later became art director of Rod & Custom magazine. Joe said he met Roth at a car show in Bakersfield, where he was working at a radio station. Joe had done a rendering of the Andy Didia custom for the show program, and Roth came to him and said, “I have this idea for a car. I gotta do this new thing. What am I going to call it?” Joe replied, “You’ve got the Outlaw. Why not call this one the Beatnik Bandit?”

In a freelance article for Rod & Custom called “The Grapes of Roth,” Henning designed the Beatnik Bandit—the fenders, nose, and tail—pretty much the way it turned out, but he added a tall T-type top. “He wanted it to be usable, and I knew how big he was.” However, the design just didn’t work. Even Joe admits, “It was gross! It didn’t work.”

Joe said Roth gave him very little input on the car’s design. Roth just told him he wanted it to look fantastic, or whatever the beatnik equivalent of “far out” was. In fact, Joe wrote these stories in complete beatnik jive talk, as if Roth were speaking. I asked him if Ed really talked that way. “Oh yes! In those days he talked that way.”

Finally, when the car was almost done, Ed had Joe come down to the shop to see it. The lower part of the car was just like the drawings, but on top he had this airplane canopy. “He got it from a B-36, I think,” said Joe. “It didn’t fit. But he said ‘This is what I want to do.’ He added the bubble, not me. But I added it to the drawings after the fact.”

Interestingly, Rod & Custom never did a photo feature on the Beatnik Bandit. Instead, the July 1961 issue (the last small-size Rod & Custom) had an article called “Bandit at Large” by Henning and Conrad (Conrad was Henning’s wife). It opened with an illustrated hand holding four black and white snapshots of a model dressed in a Las Vegas-style outfit with fishnet hose and high heels posing in front of or next to the Bandit, which is only partially visible in any of the photos. The humorous story, illustrated by Henning, talks about the car’s show debut and how Roth gets stuck inside, under the bubble. However, something very interesting, noticed by Roth fan Mark Moriarty, is in the third opening photo: In the background is what appears to be a female fiberglass mold for the Bandit’s body, turned upside down. Nobody remembers there being a mold for the Beatnik Bandit, including Dirty Doug or Henning. In the March 2002 issue of Custom Rodder, which shows the Rod & Custom photos, Dennis Roth says that the all-plaster buck for the Bandit body was so heavy that “it was feared a finished body would be ruined if it were rolled over to knock out the plaster.” Hot Rods by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth by Roth and Tony Thacker contains a photo of Ed Fuller, Neil Brown, and Richard Ash knocking plaster out of the Bandit body, which is tilted up on its nose. However, it does not appear to be a complete body—just the nose to cowl section, with no fenders. Nevertheless, no Beatnik Bandit mold exists today.


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