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I fell out with Boyd Coddington almost from the get-go – in fact, the first time we met, back in 1982, when he brought the Jamie Musselman, AMBR-winning, '33 Roadster to England. Soon after that trip, I wrote a story for Custom Car about how Pete Chapouris had got twice the car (Limefire) for half the money it cost Gary Lorenzini to have his coupe built by Boyd. Understandably enough, Boyd went nuts, saying I was opinionated, and who cared about my opinion. Gary Lorenzini was none-too-happy either. It took both of them a long time to come to terms with British journalism and humour.
Some years later, after I had moved to the US, I wrote a story about the death of billet, and once again angered the big man (as he was then) with my careless and naive journalism. Boyd, quite rightly, pointed out that he had a warehouse full of billet wheels, and once more, my opinion was unhelpful, uncalled for and unnecessary. He needed to sell those wheels and I wasn't helping the situation.
Phantom Phaeton was fashioned around a Thom Taylor design
I no longer remember the third time I ticked him off, but regardless, when I was scratching around looking for work, he hired me to do some public relations, and I got to see the man up close. Sure, he had his faults – we all do – but he was a fascinating character from whom I learned a lot, not least, liar's poker. Every morning, Boyd and his close friends would play liar's poker for breakfast. It was fun to watch the consummate gambler in action.
I remember walking into a presentation we gave to Mercedes-Benz. Boyd was not a great public speaker – in fact, he was a man of few words – but when he walked into that room in his flamboyant Hawaiian shirt, man, he had their attention, and it was electrifying to see a man at the top of his game. Even though it's not as popular right now as it once was, we have to credit Boyd for popularizing the smooth look and legitimizing the hot rod industry.
I remember a time when I was criticized for giving him too much ink in the magazines. My response was, "Who else is doing anything to match the man?" Think of all the landmark cars he built: the Vern Luce Coupe, CadZZilla, the Aluma Coupe, CheZoom, the Smoothster and, of course, the Boydsters, which initiated yet another direction in hot rodding. Like 'em or not, you cannot deny the man's imprint on the industry. I know he didn't design them, but he got them built, and that's just as important.
Boyd Air - a sectioned and widened '57 Chevy convertible
Not long before he died, we joked about his disastrous trip to Bonneville that was shown on his TV show, American Hot Rod. I admired the way he allowed it to play out for real on TV. That took some balls, and he readily admitted they had made all the mistakes possible, but they learned, and went back and got it right.
The last time we spoke, he called to offer his help with a project I was working on for the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. Boyd admired Wally, and only asked what he could do, not how it would benefit him. That's the way I'd like to remember him.
Story by Tony Thacker