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Southern California's 'Kustom Kulture' goes on the block

September 21, 2009 | 12:07 pm

Relics of Southern California’s recent past will be on sale this weekend in Los Angeles at an auction focusing on the region’s “Kustom Kulture” style of automotive design.

The auction, at the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard, will feature 80 vehicles, including such Kustom Kulture classics as the 1964 Ed Roth Road Agent and the 1965 Ford Econoline “Von Dutch” Van.

Ed Roth Road Agent

Kustom Kulture reached its apex and achieved its lasting identity in the sand-and-gasoline culture of Southern California in the 1960s. Auto designers such as Compton High alum Kenny Howard (better known as Von Dutch), Ed “Big Daddy” Roth of Bell and the Barris brothers played a key early role in setting the tone for what became known as the ‘60s counterculture.

According to Wikipedia, “Everything from wild pinstriped paint jobs, to chop-top Mercurys, to custom Harley-Davidson and Triumph Motorcycles, to metal flake and black primer paint jobs, along with music, cartoons, and monster movies have had an impact on what defines anyone and anything who is part of this automobile subculture.”

Roth’s “Rat Fink” character was perhaps the most recognizable icon of Kustom Kulture. But for Americans of a certain age, the Munster Koach and Drag-U-La, both products of the Barris bothers’ twisted auto-imaginations, are other memorable examples of the style.

“These are things that we grew up with,” said Keith Martin, publisher of Sports Car Market magazine, which monitors the classic car auctions. “They were wildly popular back then.”

And now that boomers can afford to own the icons of their youth, artifacts like those up for sale at the Kustom Kulture auction often find ready buyers, he added.

This is actually the second Kustom Kulture auction put on by RM Auctions, which is becoming known in the industry for staging “themed” events. The firm has put together a collection of videos of its Kustom Kulture offerings (backed by a great surf-guitar soundtrack) that are worth checking out, even if you're not in the market for a classic car.

The Saturday sale, officially titled “Icons of Speed & Style,” will also feature some notable examples of 1960s speed culture, including the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona owned by Cotton Owens and driven by Buddy Baker that was the first stock car to break the 200 mph barrier. Also for sale will be the 1965 Dodge A100 pickup truck known as “Little Red Wagon,” which became a familiar site at drag strips around the country in the ‘60s and beyond.

"The diverse and historic nature of the Icons of Speed & Style offering has attracted strong interest from both RM’s existing clients and potential new buyers who have a particular appreciation for drag cars and Kustom Kulture vehicles," said Ian Kelleher, president and chief operating officer of RM Auctions.

"Many of the bidders attracted to the Kustom Kulture creations hail from the birthplace of the movement - Southern California."

All of the vehicles are being sold without a reserve price (a minimum bid acceptable to the seller), although price estimates for the more popular offerings range from $80,000 to $700,000.

Although auction sales are down this year because of the recession, Martin notes that the 14% decline in total sales at this year’s Monterey auction compared with 2008 sales pales in comparison to the declines in value of other investments, such as stocks or fine art.

And records continue to be set. At Monterey, the 1965 Shelby Daytona Cobra coupe driven by Bob Bondurant sold for $7.3 million — reportedly the highest price ever paid for an American car at auction.
“Icons of Speed & Style” will preview Friday. The auction will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Purchase of an $80 auction catalog is required to attend.

-- Martin Zimmerman

Photo: 1964 Ed Roth Road Agent

Photo credit: Darin Schanbel