“He’s the Salvador Dali of the movement — a surrealist in his designs, a showman by temperament, a prankster . . . “ Tom Wolfe on Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. 1963.
It’s a small class; just eight cars. But the 23rd annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance’s Cars of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth class packs a visual and cultural wallop that is well out of proportion with its population.
Roth’s customs were counter culture icons in the fifties and sixties. The list of his cars appearing at the 2018 “Amelia” is an all-star team of his wildest creations; a rolling memorial to a man who was part of an American cultural movement with aftershocks that still echo.
When The Outlaw, his first custom, hit the cover of Car Craft magazine in January 1960 the whole automotive world felt its effect and the label Kustom Kulture wrapped itself around the many formats of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s creative work. He found his main medium in fiberglass and California. It allowed him the same sort of creative freedom that came from the tip of his fertile airbrush.
Roth’s Tweedy Pie, the famed Beatnik Bandit I, Mysterion (a replica will appear at Amelia, the original has vanished), Orbitron, Surfite and Beatnik Bandit II are set to rumble on to The Amelia’s show field to celebrate another facet of the revolutionary thinking that swept through custom car culture and design in the 1950s.
“Ed Roth’s work went well beyond hot rods,” said Bill Warner, founder and Chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. “His use of fiberglass and his innate marketing genius helped propel the custom car movement to center stage in American culture. Subtlety wasn’t part of anything Ed Roth touched, created or thought.”
Ed’s “Big Daddy” nickname came from his lucrative association with Revell plastic model car kits. Their company publicist created a more sellable and solid image for this Kustom Kulture point man. Roth was the father of five boys and at six-foot-four and 240-pounds he seemed larger than life to anyone he met. From the beatnik’s “Daddy-O” to the label “Big Daddy” wasn’t much of a leap for Roth’s outsized talent and character.
Roth even turned his attention to custom motorcycles. When the magazines ignored his custom two-wheelers Roth created CHOPPERs MAGAZINE: $7.97 annually for 12 issues. The radical monthly was filled with wild bikes and ads for Ed’s custom Rat Fink T-shirts. “Big Daddy’s” drooling, bloodshot-eyed bipedal cartoon-rodent was Ed’s anti-Mickey Mouse and kids loved it. (T-shirts $2.97, sweatshirts $4.79. For the genuine hard core Rat Finks Ed’s designs could be had on both sides of the hot selling shirts for just $1.00 extra!)
By the mid-1960s a new music-based popular culture was beginning to eclipse Roth’s Kustom Kulture. He blamed the Beatles, turned away from center stage and ended his creative career as a sign painter at Knott’s Berry Farm working under a pseudonym. In the 1980s a “Big Daddy revival brought a fresh surge of Rat Fink-inspired Ed Roth T-shirts plus a popular range of monster-driven toy cars from an American toymaker. The mayor of San Francisco even proclaimed a day in Roth’s honor.
“Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth was an American original and then some,” said Warner. “He is as much a part of America’s fifties’ and sixties’ culture as drive-in movies and restaurants, street racing and transistor radios,” said Warner. “Tom Wolfe got it right.”
Tickets for the 23rd annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance on March 9-11, 2018 at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island are available now. Click Here for Ticket Locations
About The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance
Now in its third decade, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is among the top automotive events in the world. Always held the second full weekend in March, “The Amelia” draws over 300 rare vehicles from collections around the world to The Golf Club of Amelia Island and The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island for a celebration of the automobile like no other. Since 1996, the show’s Foundation has donated over $3.2 million to Community Hospice & Palliative Care, Spina Bifida of Jacksonville, The Navy – Marine Corps Relief Society, Shop with Cops, and other deserving charities. In 2013 and 2016 the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance won Octane Magazine’s EFG International Historic Motoring Event of the Year award.The 23rd annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is scheduled for March 9-11, 2018. For more information, visit www.ameliaconcours.org.