Rebel With A Cause

By Bob Drake

Remembering Wich's Stand & Hawthorne Blvd., 1962

I lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in my early teens. At age 14 and 15, my buddies and I were already dreaming about two things: gals and cars. Before I could even drive, we used to stand on the corner in downtown Kenosha admiring all the older teenagers’ hopped-up cars go by. They weren’t the sleek street rods of today, but more like rat rods. Everybody knew that the best way to get a good looking gal was to have cool wheels: I wanted to be the one driving a hot rod down the main drag with a pretty girlfriend by my side.

On Friday nights there might be a football game or a home party to go to, but otherwise the tradition was to go downtown and check out the cars. The stores stayed open late. When we got bored with watching the cars go by, we’d go to the pool hall called The Hole. It was in the basement of one of the downtown stores. I was a fairly good player and we always played nine-ball. (Today I’ve got a professional pool table at home.)

Every Saturday and Sunday night there was a dance at the KYF (Kenosha Youth Foundation) or the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization). Along with being a pool player, I was a pretty good rock ’n roll dancer too! On Sundays we might take in a movie: We’d ask our dates to meet us inside the theater so we didn’t have to pay the extra 50 cents. I won’t mention drinking lots of Miller or Schlitz out of quart bottles, although in Kenosha when I was a kid drinking was legal at 18, so at least I was close to legal. Heck, Wisconsin is the beer capital of the world.

It was the big thing: watching cars and going to school dances. We listened to Jimmy Clanton, Fats Domino, Freddy Canton, Buddy Holly, Dion and Belmonts, Bill Haley and the Comets, Chuck Berry, and Carl Perkins. My friends and I didn’t like Elvis Presley much because the girls went so ga-ga over him. I guess we were jealous. But I’m fortunate enough to have seen the beginning of rock and roll.

 Yes, I started out dreaming about cars and girls in Kenosha, but I ended up in the Mecca for car culture in America: Los Angles. It wasn’t like today, with drugs and crime. There was no destructive attitude running wild. We didn’t hurt anybody. There were no guns or knives. In the early 1960s it was all good, clean fun (along with Coors in the bottle, Colt 45 malt liquor, and Boone’s Farm and Ripple wines).

We moved to Culver City, California, in 1961 and I bought my first car, a 1932 Ford Phaeton, in 1962. Later I had lots of other early Fords. Back in Kenosha, we called cruising around town in our cars “scoop the loop.” In LA, we hadn’t started using the word cruising yet in the early 1960s. We just called it driving to this place and that. And did we drive! On weekends we’d drive to Inglewood to the corner of Slausen and Overhill near La Brea to the Wich Stand. We’d shoot the bull there, have a hamburger and fries, and scout out the girls. If you’ve seen the movie American Graffiti, that was the scene in Inglewood.

Then we’d head south on La Brea Avenue, which turned into Hawthorne Boulevard, past Century Boulevard to the City of Hawthorne. (Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was born there and went to Hawthorne High School. He wrote Be True to Your School about Hawthorne High, and used to drive around LA in his ’57 Ford Fairlane 500.)

We’d drive for miles and miles at night—sometimes more than 30 miles—but gas in 1962 was cheap, only 31 cents per gallon. (Everything was cheap by comparison to 2009: A movie ticket was 50 cents; a large Coke 25 cents; and a double cheeseburger was only 49 cents. Heck, a brand-new 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 Victoria Coupe was only $2,739! Of course, our money is not worth the same as it was then. It would take close to $600 of today’s dollars to buy something that cost $100 in 1962.)

We’d go to the A&W in Hawthorne and circle around looking around at the cars and the girls, then we’d turn around and head back to Inglewood. We might go to East LA to Harvey’s Drive-In on Whittier Boulevard, Dupar’s on Sunset, and of course, we’d drive through Bob’s Big Boy on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. And some nights we just stuck around Culver City and caught a taco at Tina’s Tacos or tooled around the A&W. It was at the A&W stand in Culver City that I met Frank Brown. I remember that he spread the news that the new kid in town (me) had spent a lot of money, a $1,000, on a ’32 Ford Phaeton!

Now, as we drove up and down Hawthorne Boulevard, we’d scout out other guys’ Fords—’32s and ’34s. I always had a few bucks in my pocket and I’d shout out the window and ask other guys if they had any car parts for sale. One time I yelled to a guy through my window to ask him if he’d sell me his ’32 bumpers right off his car (they were always a hot number to sell and make a profit). He pulled right over, and we stripped ‘em right there on the street. I gave him $10 and the next weekend I easily resold them for $20 at a swap meet. It was great beer/gas/date/parts money and always a heck of a lot of fun. Swapping parts was a great game that I’ve never tired of.

After we went up and down Hawthorne a few times in an evening, we headed up in my friend Denny Hickman’s ’55 T-bird or my ’32 Vicky to Hollywood Boulevard. The law used to stand in the middle of the road checking to see if one of our headlights was out; and then give us a ticket. I got lots of tickets for headlights or taillights that weren’t working, or for not using hand signals (there were no turn signals on any of my cars back then), and of course a few for speeding.

One time I talked a guy into selling the complete top off his ’32 Cabriolet, right there on the curb in Santa Monica. I paid him $35! Other guys would tell me to follow them to their homes and then they’d show me extra parts, or even roadster or 3-window coupe bodies; or even whole cars. I’d review the ads in the LA Times and my dad and I would check out cars: Many of these were just roadster bodies sitting on lonely rails. I didn’t realize then that many of them were probably famous cars that had set speed records running on the salt flats just 10 years before.

Bob with his Vicky Circa 1963

In my ’34 Vicky I had to be careful not to get off onto the side streets and up into the hills, because if I caught a stop sign at the top of a hill, I’d be in trouble. I was still not too sure of myself with a stick shift and I would panic when I stopped on a hill. One time I was parked at a dead end cul-de-sac with a real pretty girl, but the ’34 had such low compression, I couldn’t get up the hill. I remembered reading about Henry Ford’s Model Ts. They would sometimes back up hills in reverse because reverse was in low gear. So I backed up that hill with Michelle. She didn’t say anything. I think she was just happy to get out of the late-night situation in Hollywood Hills!  Living in Southern California was like being at a continual feast. There was always a swap meet or a show, guys sharing their passion for cars, great-looking girls, and something cool going on.

We were all spoiled! There were so many cars and the parts could be had for next to nothing. The weather had a lot to do with the abundance of cars in great condition: In California it was warm and dry. No rust! There were lots of convertibles, phaetons, and roadsters. Of course, we were all picky when we saw these bodies and cars. We were hunters on a quest for gold: always looking for the ultimate unrestored, cherry car with only 10,000 or 20,000 miles on it.

People in LA would look at me in my ’32 Phaeton, ’34 Vicky, ’40 convertible, ’40 wagon, ’46 convertible, or the ’49 convertible that was in the movie Rebel Without a Cause that I bought from the Warner Brothers Studios. They always thought I was strange with those old cars: But I was a rebel with a cause. I lived and breathed Fords. By the mid-1960s, an idea had dawned on me. I could make a living out of buying and selling Ford parts. Maybe I could even make them some day!

Bob Drake with his 1949 Ford convertible, the actual car that appeared in Rebel Without a Cause in 1955 starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo.

Bob Drake with his 1949 Ford convertible, the actual car that
appeared in "Rebel Without a Cause" in 1955 starring James Dean,
Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. 

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