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Dave Haskell – Hot Rodder of Many Talents
Dave takes time out for a cuppa with Coffee Grinder, the hot rod he recently restored to great acclaim
Meeting up with prolific hot rodder, Dave Haskell, last week was really like stepping back in time. The last time I’d seen Dave was around 1980, when I was Assistant Editor of Hot Car magazine (selling 150,000 copies a month back then) and had interviewed him about his just-completed Model Y. He would have been about 20 years old at that time, and I remember a likable, down-to-earth cockney character with a colourful use of the English language. Roll on 27 years, and Dave hasn’t changed a bit –well, hairstyles have, and Dave seems to have inherited most of what I’ve lost, but otherwise, it could have been the ’80s all over again.
Of course, an awful lot has happened in the intervening 27 years. Dave has built over 20 street rods for customers as well as for himself, put together a vast number of part-built cars – possibly more than anyone else in the UK – and reckons he’s notched up over 40 roof chops in the process.
The Coffee Grinder looks at home in Daves's nostalgic-style garage
But Dave is no hot rodding anorak. He has a life outside of the automotive business and likes it that way. When he’s not screwing together hot rods, he’s into acting. You might not have realised it, but you’ve probably seen him on the telly. Those who remember Peter Richardson’s infamous Comic Strip series, which helped further the careers of many of the UK’s top comedians, including French & Saunders, was also a bit of a launch platform for Dave as an actor – but more about that later.
Leytonstone-born Dave has been involved in hot rodding since he was 18. While most teenagers in the 1970s were happy to dream of hot rod ownership, Dave broke the mould by going out and building himself a hot rodded Ford Popular – in just five months. “It cost £25 for the base car and I fitted it with a Ford V6 motor, obligatory Jaguar independent rear end and Draylon interior – it had all the bollocks,” says Dave. “Even sadder, it was Runner-up, Best Paintwork at the 1978 Alexandra Palace Custom Car show!”
“I got into hot rodding when I was about 14 years old,” says Dave. “There was a modified Ford Popular that used to park up outside our house and I just loved it. That sort of inspired me to build the Pop. I then decided I wanted a ’34, but found a Model Y for £40 instead (a shrunken ’34), and chopped the roof. I then thought I’d sell it on as an unfinished project, but ended up completing it and fitting it out with a Rover V8, Viva front suspension and Jaguar rear etc – again, all of the usual nonsense of the era. That car sort of put me on the map.
Dave with his infamous model Y back in the 80s
“I got bored and sold the Model Y, and then just happened to call in to my local newsagent and started flicking through the pages of Street Rodder magazine, which was previewing the Street Rod Nationals. Soon after, I jumped on a plane with $15,000 tucked in my pockets to go out and buy a ’34 five-window coupe at the event. That would have been about 1982 – it was a long time ago, and I remember I flew with Freddy Laker’s airline.
“When I got to the event, no one wanted to sell me a car – they were all much more expensive than I’d imagined, but through a friend of a friend, ended up visiting a guy in Pennsylvania, who, by chance, just happened to have a rough five-window coupe stashed away in his garage. I offered him $5,000, and we struck a deal. When I got back to the UK, everyone said, ‘Why did you pay so much money for it?’ It was mad. Everyone thought you could build a hot rod for thirty-bob back then.
The five-window coupe imported from the US
“I stripped it down and slowly built it up. I had that car for 17 years, and sold it in 1996 to Phil Macintyre, who was a West End theatre producer. Sometime later, his house in the New Forest burned down, but the car was saved. It ended up in a garage in Southampton and now has a new owner, who phoned me a few days ago and said he’d like to bring it back to have some work done. By all accounts, it still has my original paint and interior trim.
“Around 1992, I was renting out cars for pop videos and doing a bit of work with cars in the film industry, and I got to know Peter Richardson, who was producing the Comic Strip series. He got me involved in a few things, which led to me auditioning for an acting role. I thought, ‘F**k, this is good money!’ so I got an agent and the work started to come in.
“ I’ve had a good run for my money really, and as well as doing several episodes of the Comic Strip in the ’90s, I’ve appeared in Eastenders, The Bill, Jonathan Creek and some other TV series.” Most recently, Dave was spotted in an MFI TV commercial just a few days ago.
That's Dave on the left - part of a spoof rock band called The Vestas which was put together to promote Vesta ready meals, which many may remember were popular in the 80s but made an unsuccessful comeback in the 90s
“It’s amazing the doors a cockney accent opens on both sides of the Atlantic, “ he adds. “If I can get four commercials in a year, then that’s me sorted. I don’t really need to earn much more. Unfortunately, there are not quite as many opportunities for an aging cockney character as there were when I was in my late thirties – but I’m still available.”
His fondness for the 1934 Ford body style saw Dave import a roadster from South Africa during the ’90s. “I started work on it and then decided I didn’t really fancy an open car after all,” he says. Fortunately, Dave knew of someone who might be in a position to take it off his hands. From a very early age, Dave had formed a strong relationship with legendary rock guitarist, Jeff Beck – they both share the same passion for hot rods, and over the years, became great friends. Jeff had a coupe body that he was happy to trade for the roadster, and so a deal was done. The only thing, however, was that the coupe body had been heavily chopped, to the point of being almost undriveable on the road, so Dave “unchopped” it, adding 1 3/4 inches to the pillars before tacking the tin back in position.
Dave's subtle '34 coupe
Dave completed the car 10 years ago, having set out to build a rod that wouldn’t age. Amazingly, the car looks as contemporary now as it did the day it rolled out of his workshop. It’s a beautiful rod, full of little details that you just don’t notice on first acquaintance – like the slight rake of the roof chop, the subtly laid-back grille with revised apron, the perfect line of the doors in their apertures and the amazing fit of the fenders against the body which is so good, there’s no need for fender welting. “I used 35 sticks of lead to get it right,” says Dave, “and of course, most of that ended up as filings on the floor.”
Hard to believe it's ten years since he completed it
The rest of the car is pretty much “hot rod fayre”, according to Dave. “It’s got a 350 Chevy, 350 auto trans, 9-inch rear, a Neil Tadman tuck ’n’ roll interior, and I painted it in a special mix of cherry maroon. Neil is another person who has become a great friend over the years, and as you know, I built his ’34 sedan for him.”
Bringing the scene up to date, what, we wondered, was currently happening in Dave’s life? “Shortly, I want to move to combine my workshop and home. As far as work is concerned, I’m steering away from painting cars with the advent of water-based paints, but other than that and the trimming – which is where Neil comes in – I still do pretty much everything else. I’ll even do wiring under duress!”
Neil Tadman's '34 Sedan in the making
The most recently completed hot rod to roll out of the Haskell workshop is the famed ’60s “coffee grinder” roadster, pieced together by Dave using the original, much-modified roadster body and plenty of ingenuity. “We changed a few items along the way,” explains Dave. “The grille shell is shorter than the original, to make it more practical to drive, the screen posts are laid back and the original front fenders, fashioned from a continental kit, have been substituted with some others I fashioned.
Ed Wimble handled the striping on Coffee Grinder
“Ed Wimble then handled the striping, which was great, because he hadn’t striped for ages. I wanted him to recreate the rawness of the original ’60s striping on the car, which he’s done to perfection. I’m really pleased with the way the car has turned out – it’s created a lot of publicity, and in a way, helped put me back on the map. The car was originally brought into the UK by pop artist, Gerald Lang, to help promote one of his art exhibitions in the 1960s, and once finished earlier this year, was used for exactly the same purpose.
Dave took us out for a spin in both the Coffee Grinder and his coupe. We were impressed with many aspects of both - in particular the smooth ride and quietness of his coupe.
“I still enjoy putting cars together. I can get a bit bored towards the end, and I hate all of the little jobs you sometimes need to do – like sorting a leaking fuel pump, for instance –which can take up so much time, but I believe in building a car to drive. To me, a hot rod should be as close as possible to a normal road car. It should be comfortable, quiet and easy to drive.
“Most of my customers are menopausal, middle-aged old codgers, who would prefer not to visit their local A&E department after driving for half an hour, so I try to take that into account when I put a car together. That’s why I take a lot of care over details, like making sure the throttle and brake pedal line up, which they don’t on a stock ’34, and why every car I build has a different wheelbase – to take into account the irregularities in tolerances between wheel and fender.
Dave turned this unfinished Model A project into a cool early '60s style rod for Chrtis Cade, complete with diamond pleated interior by Neil Tadman
“I’m working on a ’34 Sedan right now with a roof chop and heavily raked ’screen, and will be starting on a ’34 five-window, which is in for channelling very shortly. In spite of my love of ’34s, I’m happy to work on other cars, too, and there are a couple of interesting, long-term projects shaping up nicely.”
Dave can be contacted on: 020 8553 2887 or 07860 360363.
Story: Andy Kirk & Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk & Dave Haskell
This was one of three all steel cars built by Dave for Roger Matthews
From left to right - Tony Thacker's '37 sedan was brought in as an unfinished project by its new owner and was completed by Dave. Next to it is Keith Abrehart's Model B Sedan which was a ground-up, start-to-finish project. On the right is Dave's coupe and finally, the black and flamed 40s Ford sedan which belongs to Jim Skeggs. This car was jointly completed by Jim and Dave.
It's not just hot rods that Dave can turn his hand to as shown here by the fettling of Bernie Choodosh's circuit racing Vette. He's just completed work on Simon Lane's race Camaro too.
Dave handled all of the fabrication, metalwork and paint on this tasty Pop owned by Phil Jones. We think it has a Jeff Owen chassis.