The 43rd Annual West Coast Kustoms Cruisin’ Nationals rolls cool rides and party vibes into Santa Maria for a moto-fun Memorial Day weekend!

CRUISIN’ NATIONALSFor its first 25 years the West Coast Kustoms Cruisin’ Nationals was held in Paso Robles, CA. But then an elixir of politics and pride forced a move of the popular car show from “Paso” down the coast to the city of Santa Maria’s Fairpark event center. With West Coast Kustoms founders Rich and Penny Pichette’s indefatigable energy and dedication, the show has continued its legacy and remains a big draw – pulling car clubs, lone wolves, exhibitors and fans from near and far – even after Rich’s passing in 2010.

The three-day Memorial Day weekend Cruisin’ Nationals was always meant to be a family-friendly community event. The show shifted into gear on Friday night, May 24th, with a jam-packed City Cruise on Broadway in the heart of Santa Maria. The fun rolled-on into Saturday and Sunday at the Fairpark with indoor and outdoor displays of pre-1965 American-made customs, classics and hot rods, plus the Brush Bash, a model car show, live music, vendor booths, celebrity meet-ups, roller skating and the presentation of awards.

One of the impossible-to-miss entries in the exhibition hall was Bo Swan’s lime/gold, impossibly long (over 20 feet) ‘60 Pontiac Safari Wagon that earned the lead image position above for this report. This nine-passenger gang hauler was originally purchased by Bo’s grandfather and has been re-imagined at least two times since Bo took ownership in 2002.

Tattoo artist Robert Atkinson’s low and clean ’40 Chevy Special Deluxe Coupe appears to be at lead position in this delta wing gathering of custom cruisers and hot rods. Kudos to Robert for not inking this low and lovely classic with supersized renderings of body art. His Beatniks of Koolsville coupe rides comfortably on a four-link air ride suspension and is powered by a Chevy 350 mated to a 700R4 transmission.

OK, I’ll admit it – I wanted to take a bite of this custom roadster – metaphorically speaking. Growing up in NYC I lived just a few blocks from a bakery where I would occasionally watch pastry chefs slather frosting onto sheet cakes. I’m going to take a wild guess that the customizer of this frosty Ford roadster also grew up near a bakery. Yum!

Perhaps the quintessential example of a Lead Sled is a chopped and slammed ’49, ’50 or ’51 Mercury – like this Candy Blue ’51 Merc that was on display at the 43rd Cruisin’ Nationals in Santa Maria at The Fairpark. A sophisticated air ride suspension from Cruise Industries of Ventura helps gives this sled its sexy stance and smooth ride.

CRUISIN’ NATIONALSThe Lemon Drop is a somewhat understated custom ’50 Ford. And that’s surprising because it was built and painted by Mark “The Woz” Woznichak who painted some of the top alcohol funny cars setting records in the 2000s. Mark didn’t want to go too radical on his custom, opting to not chop the roof, but rather, keep everything on and in the car tight and tasty.

I love it when all I need to do is look a car’s vanity plate to get a summation of the car’s zeitgeist. Owner Ka Harris from Hollister, CA decided that the letters “JAWDRPN” on his plate would provide admirers of his custom ’36 Ford Model 48 5-Window Coupe with a takeaway adjective for this bodacious build.

One of the big fans of West Coast Kustoms Cruisin’ Nationals is Victor Cacho. He is the owner of Cacho Customs in Sylmar, CA. Car Guys may recognize Victor’s name from his many appearances on Full Custom Garage with car builder Ian Roussel. Each year Victor brings two or more of his creations to the Cruisin’ Nationals. Featured here is Victor’s mashed-up custom called One Piece at a Time. The build combines a ’60 Chrysler with parts and components from a Caddy, a Buick, a DeSoto and a Ford.

Lined up behind the Critics Car Club double-wide show tent was this beautifully executed ’37 Ford Deluxe Touring Sedan Low Rider. With its extended body and low-to-the-road roll, this car embodies the Low Rider esthetic and philosophy – to express social and cultural identities. Historically, low riders were Latino men from Texas, the Southwest and California, but today you will find both men and women from around the world riding low and slow!

CRUISIN’ NATIONALSTwo words came to mind when I first spotted this ’33 Ford 5-Window Coupe: ” Sweet” and “Zoom!” With its broad candy-stripe cross-body paint scheme and the ’33 Ford’s signature laid-back grille and firewall, this Cruisin’ Nationals hot rod was built to get attention and go fast. A nice contrast to the candy-stripe paint are the flat grey velocity stacks popping up through the hood, and flat grey header pipes snaking out from under the fenders.

This gorgeous ‘40 Ford Coupe has a rich history in California custom culture. It was originally owned by Tom Hocker of Oakland, CA who along with his brother Joe made extensive modifications beginning in 1948. Years later the car ended up in the creative hands of Sam and George Barris who made further aesthetic enhancements. Along the way the car made its way into the movie American Graffiti and then in 2018, new owner Rich Hubbard enlisted John Canepa of Canepa Customs to tear it down and rebuild it to its 1957 custom specs. The frame-off Canepa restoration and repaint was completed in 2023.

OK Car Guys, I’m going to need your help in identifying this slammed coupe. It’s profile, hood cowl louvers and dipping body accent lines suggests to me that it’s 1937 vintage, perhaps a Chevy. A nose shot I have shows a waterfall-style grille, perhaps from a ’41 Packard. The headlight buckets are set low on the insides of the fenders. The front windshield is split, the rear window is not. This is a Kustom, so anything goes. Leave a comment with your guess!

If you’ve been reading my reports, you know by now that one of the big draws for me to attend automotive and motorsports events is the opportunity it provides to meet the people behind the wheels of these special rides. If you’re attending a Low Rider or Hot Rod event you are going to run into car clubs. These ten members of the Critics Car Club from the Central Coast area of California brought their kool cars, their logo-emblazed double-wide tent and their low n’ slow swagger to the Cruisin’ Nationals.

I lived for 35 years in Santa Barbara where I would from time to time run into Shoeless Car Guy Rusty. So, it was a pleasant surprise to run into him again at the Cruisin’ Nationals where I asked him to pose in front of a custom ’55 Chevy Nomad. As I was shooting, a cute little 2 ½ -year-old girl walked up to Rusty and handed him a flower. They became instant friends and a spontaneous side show hit – getting smiles, laughs and even applause from many of the attendees passing by!

I’m ending my West Coast Kustoms Cruisin’ Nationals report with a shot from the beginning of my show day where a lone low rider was parked by the entry gates of the Santa Maria Fairpark. Our American flag was the centerpiece for this Memorial Day weekend special event. It’s a reminder to me of how special the people of our great nation are – even with all our political and social divides. Thanks to all who have served – and thanks again to everyone who worked hard to bring us three special days of Moto-Fun!

Words & Photos ©Jim Palam,

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