Gargantuan Hot Rods at Food Lion AutoFair!
When Blastolene Brothers Michael Leeds, Randy Grubb and Rodney Rucker-creators of the largest, most-powerful custom cars on Earth-make their East Coast debut during the April 3-6 Food Lion AutoFair at Lowe's Motor Speedway, awestruck spectators will ask the same question over and over: "Why didn't I think of that?"
The phenomenon that is the Blastolene hot rod began in a California junkyard in 1972 when Leeds, a Chouinard Art Institute student, bought a 1941 Seagraves hook-and-ladder truck. His friends saw only a $250 pile of rolling scrap, but the aspiring glass artist quickly converted the retired fire vehicle into a large roadster named Big Bertha by stripping much of the sheet metal and fabricating new body panels from 16-gage steel.
With its 1,000-cubic-inch V-12 engine, the primitive custom car only managed three miles per gallon, but pulled like a locomotive on full boil.
Deep into his "starving artist" years, Leeds sold Big Bertha, but by a series of odd coincidences she would return and leave twice more before taking up permanent residence in his garage.
Leeds' nebulous plans for realizing his new form of mega-size hot rod took a back seat to his career during the 1970s. The artist gained a reputation for being at the top of his craft, co-founding Bonny Doon Art Glass, a group of artisans who revived stained glass techniques hundreds of years old.
It wasn't until the mid-1990s that Leeds committed to finishing Big Bertha's transformation. Drawing inspiration from a 1924 Hispano Suiza Tulipwood Torpedo-a wood-bodied roadster French firm Nieuport Aviation crafted for aviator/race car driver André Dubonnet-Leeds devoted years to creating each and every body panel on the car.
His plan to execute a "simple, practical" design was discarded when he met Grubb, a fellow hot-rod fanatic who convinced him the project deserved every ounce of creativity Leeds could muster. Taking this advice to heart, Leeds elongated the fenders and "boattail" section at great expense and with tremendous effort, to give Big Bertha perfect, 1930s-era proportions.
Grubb, an artist who had studied and revived the obsolete French craft of "encased lampwork" glass blowing, was immediately infected with Leeds' enthusiasm for obscenely large automobiles and launched a search for a suitably over-the-top project.
While visiting a military vehicle collector in Coos Bay, Ore., Grubb purchased a pair of 1,800-cubic-inch V-12 engines that had once belonged to an M-47 Patton tank. Working from Leeds' design, Grubb built a 21-foot-long, fenderless roadster sheathed in polished aluminum known as the Blastolene Special in less than a year.
Leeds and Grubb introduced their max-scale creations at the Goodguys West Coast Nationals in 2002, where the reaction was immediate and intense.
Grubb sold the Blastolene Special to Jay Leno, who further modified the V-12 tank engine with fuel-injection and twin turbochargers to produce 1,600 horsepower.
A third hot-rod fanatic joined the informal brotherhood when Rucker, driver of the Big Blue monster truck and Rod's Blue Beast monster tank from the 1970s through 1995, visited Leno's garage and saw the Blastolene Special. Rucker's instant induction into the brotherhood was made more intense by the fact that he had a perfectly good tank engine sitting in his garage.
With Grubb's advice and help, Rucker constructed Rodzilla, a giant 1930s-style hot rod powered by a twin-turbocharged, 1,800-cubic-inch Continental V-12 engine that produces 1,400 horsepower and has been driven to 120 mph.
Thus was born the collaboration and friendly competition among Blastolene Brothers, the term Blastolene being a throwback to automotive marketing slogans of the 1930s through 1950s. The three Brothers are quick to point out their arrangement is not a business, but an informal association of individuals who exchange information for the benefit of the craft.
That's not to say there isn't a career to be had in the giant-car market. With the sale of Grubb's Blastolene Special to Leno, both artists retired from the glass business to concentrate on Blastolene pursuits. Grubb sold his Leeds-designed Blastolene B-702 (inspired by a 1939 Delahaye 165 Cabriolet) at the 2008 Barrett-Jackson auction for $475,000.
The Blastolene Brothers will display a half-dozen of their gargantuan machines during the April 3-6 Food Lion AutoFair at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
The spring Food Lion AutoFair annually attracts more than 160,000 visitors. It features more than 50 car club displays; more than 10,000 vendor spaces that offer a plethora of automotive parts and memorabilia; and a collector car auction conducted by Tom Mack. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults while children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.
For more information, contact the Lowe's Motor Speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit the AutoFair Event Page.