42nd Annual WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN’ NATIONALS! slams another ‘homerun’ at the Fairpark in Santa Maria, CA.


 Over the decades that I’ve been traveling the highways and byways of America to participate in or report on motorsports events and gatherings, it’s become more and more obvious that us Car Guys are all on a seemingly endless and sometimes unpredictable journey. Whether it’s setting the clock for 4 AM so you can beat the show traffic to an event, or building a Best of Show custom from a rusty frame you discovered out in a field, our obsession and passion for motorized machines keeps us in perpetual motion as we chase our dreams.

So, I had to chuckle when one of the first cars that caught my eye at the WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN’ NATIONALS! in Santa Maria, CA was South Bay car guy legend Ronnie Ogas’ luggage-laden 56 Chevy Sedan Delivery, Above. On its roof rack you’ll find vintage items, including a surfboard, water skis, Coca-Cola cooler, guitar amp, and a suitcase with “Tijuana Or Bust 1956″ hand-painted on the side. I’m rooting for Ronnie to finally reach his destination in Mexico. By my calculations he’s only got 298 more miles from Santa Maria to finish his excellent adventure.

2023 WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN’ NATIONALS! was a fun, 3-day event that kicked-off on May 26th with the always-popular Friday night “City Cruise” along Broadway in Santa Maria. Saturday and Sunday’s events are held at the Santa Maria Fairpark. They include the outdoor car show, vendor tents, a swap meet, and live music on the performance stage – and indoors – a model car show, vendor booths, Hall of Fame autograph sessions and the Santa Maria Brush Bash. Guest appearances included CHIPs TV co-star Erik Estrada who gifted me one of the better “Hairy Eyeball” poses I’ve seen!

For any journey, a good place to start is behind the wheel. For an excellent adventure it would help if you had a special car with a snazzy wheel – like this clear rim, chrome and gold-plated “Banjo” wheel in Adam Porrino’s beautiful ’39 Cadillac LaSalle Model 50 Opera Coupe. Other tasty touches on Adam’s bare steel body custom are its hand-crafted, bead-rolled dash, door and trunk panels, a 4-inch roof chop, air ride suspension, and power from a modified ’69 Pontiac 350 engine.

West Coast Kustoms was founded by Rich and Penny Pichette in 1981 basically as a California car club that would cruise to places like Palm Springs and Los Angeles. Today West Coast Kustoms has chapters throughout California, Nevada, Arizona, Washington/Oregon and even in New England. While the focus of their well-attended shows is still Kustoms and Sleds from the 1940s and 1950s, you will always find a wide variety of magnificent machines to droll over – like Tom Branch’s Studebaker-powered ’32 Ford roadster. Its 304-inch V8 features four two-barrel Strombergs topped with backdraft scoops, a polished intake manifold and Weiand finned valve covers.

Sometimes a journey is more interesting without a road map, more daring when embarked upon with limited funds. That’s the vibe I got when I took a closer look at this rusty ’35 Dodge 2-Door Sedan. Its hood ornament is from a Plymouth; headlight buckets possibly too long to be ’35 Dodge. And it’s quite likely that the wheelbase of this sedan has been shortened. That I can’t immediately identify this work-in-progress is part of its “What have we got here” appeal. I want to spend more time with it exploring its nuances, its imperfections, it’s raison d être!

Just around the corner, but miles away from the weathered grit of the ’35 Dodge was this finished-to-perfection ’42 Chevrolet Fleetline Special Deluxe Aerosedan. The significance of this fully-loaded Chevy can’t be overstated. It was one of Chevrolet’s best selling premium models before U.S. auto production was redefined and redirected when war was declared on December 7, 1941. Pre-war auto production in 1941 was around 3 million units. During the course of the war only 139 automobiles rolled of the assembly lines. During the war years automakers were tasked with building trucks, tanks, guns and aircraft engines.

WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN' NATIONALS!Speaking of numbers, total Buick production for 1936 was 168,596 units. Only 1,390 of these Buicks were 2-door Sport Coupes – so it’s always exciting to get a chance to inspect one up-close. The owner of this pale-yellow example struggled with the idea of modifying it in any way – but as we know, once the wheels of creativity start spinning it’s almost impossible to not break away from the norm. Astute readers will quickly notice the roof chop and low stance. Power is from its original 223-inch inline 8 which produces 93 horsepower @ 3200 rpm.

One of the nicer guys and Kooler Kustoms on California’s Central Coast is Steve Bowron and his “Ready for Any Journey,” radically customized ’64 International Metro Mite step van. This bad-ass treasure box is a joy to behold both on the show field and rippin’ down the freeway. Its Chevy 350/400 motor/transmission combo easily smokes the tires and transports Steve between his custom cars and custom tile work businesses. The 805 Kustoms Metro made a trip to the WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN’ NATIONALS!  stage over the weekend to pick up an award from Japan’s ONE LOW Magazine. Congrats Steve!

It’s something of a paradox that for all the cruising, racing and traveling that Car Guys do, it’s an absolute necessity that their rides look kool when just parked. Case in point is this sublime ’52 Chevy DeLuxe Hardtop Coupe that was resting comfortably near the outer perimeter of the Santa Maria Fairpark. It sports all the right details like an eleven-tooth custom grill, fabulous chrome and stainless shiny bits, long and low windshield visor, and its gorgeous, metallic teal paint.

WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN' NATIONALS!Chop ’39 is a classic custom built by owner and designer Richard Zocchi over 30 years ago. He started with a stock ’39 Dodge Deluxe Coupe, channeled the body, integrated the cowl and nose, built a custom grill, chopped the roof, shaved the doors and, after hundreds of other tasty modifications, painted it in a pastel flesh tone with ivory uppers and subtle pinstriped accents. When revealed in 1992 it won the first George Barris Custom D’Elegance Award.

There’s an Irish blessing that begins with these words: “May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back.” Since all of us here are on a journey of sorts, I see no reason to not accept this blessing. And,while we’re at it, let’s invoke Zephyr, The Greek God of the West Wind by asking Carly Brogren if we can borrow her awesome ’39 Lincoln Zephyr named Aftershock for at least part of our adventure. Many will recognize this stretched and chopped beauty by its regal, Gene Winfield Fade candy paint job.

There are no rules when it comes to hot rodding. It’s always been depicted as an outlaw culture with a mantra of “Strip it down, soup it up and Go Man Go!” Many of the early hot rods were built on a budget using Model T parts with lots of elbow grease and imagination thrown in. When Norm Grabowski’s redesigned T-bucket the Kookie Kar became one of the stars of the 1958 to 1964 hit TV show, 77 Sunset Strip, original Model T pickup-roadsters with the turtle deck pickup box became harder and harder to find. So, it was a pleasant surprise to discover David and Kim Anaya’s Corona Bucket, an all-metal, GM 350-powered custom ’23 T at the WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN’ NATIONALS!  David credits his wife and kids for the T-bucket’s creation, built in his home garage.

There weren’t that many trucks or pickups at the 42ND ANNUAL WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUSIN’ NATIONALS!, so unique, vintage work trucks like the ’23 T-bucket pickup-roadster definitely stood out. But none more so than Scott Castagna’s ’35 Ford Diesel-Dually Rat Rod. Four massive, mud‑battling, BF Goodrich truck tires out-rig the rear bed of this Mad Max mauler. These, along with two nasty 255/70R 22.5 Navitracs up front, boost this muddy maverick to an untraditional lofty stance for a Rat Rod. Power is delivered all-day and all-night from a modified Cummins 6CT diesel engine.

While the automotive media these days is heavily focused on EV’s and “street-legal” Hypercars, the popularity of car shows like the WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN’ NATIONALS! is proof that there is still plenty of interest in, and love for, Old School Hot Rods and Kustoms. This award-winning ’48 Chevrolet Fleetmaster Coupe was recently shipped to the States from the builders at Old Iron Kustoms in Sweden, and is now a part of legendary car customizer John D’Agostino’s Celebrity Kustoms car collection in Discovery Bay, CA.

You know the feeling you got as a kid opening a Christmas present? It’s pretty much the same to me as opening the hood on a custom or purpose-built car. This is a shot of the understated and pristine Chevy 350 motor in the Old Iron ’48 Chevy Fleetmaster. It’s performance-built specs include, four-bolt mains, Scat crank, Comp Cams Extreme Energy camshaft, Edelbrock heads and intake, Holley Sniper EFI and an MSD Street Fire distributor. Output is 385 horsepower. I love the gold, black and polished silver color scheme.

WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN' NATIONALS!These two sharp-looking California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers took time to chat with me about their favorite cars at the show – and the nuances about their demanding days on the job and on the highways of California. I learned that yes, they do sometimes get cold, particularly when they leave for early morning assignments on misty and chilly mornings, and that yes, they will ticket you if you’re 10 mph over the limit – but there’s sometimes some wiggle-room. Their advice: keep it under 72 in a 65 zone. As a parting question I asked them if there are any perks being a CHP Motor Officer. “Well, we get to escort some important people now and then, and we get to ride our Harleys home each night.” Vroom-vroom!

Words & Photos ©Jim Palam, https://www.jimpalam.com/

For more information about the WEST COAST KUSTOMS CRUISIN’ NATIONALS! Please visit,  https://www.westcoastkustoms.com