Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Big Daddy Rides Again

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth is my hero.  He was the most outrageous, vulgar, extreme, ridiculous and unprecedented automobile designer of all time.  Harley Earl was inspired by the Jet Age.  Roth was all about monstrosity, in every sense of the word.  He wanted to shock and maybe even scare you. 

But what I always loved about Ed, was that he figured out how to make the most with what he had--and he never had much.  GM made history by building the first mass production fiberglass sports car, the Corvette, in 1953.  By 1957 Roth was building fiberglass cars in his paint shop in LA.  He would take a chassis, pile on plaster and shave it away until it was shaped like the car he wanted to make, and take molds for the fiberglass body off of that.  When he built his first bubble car, he made the plexiglas bubble in a pizza oven.  He invented metalic paint by grinding up fish scales, and mixing them in.  Roth was a visionary, but he only cared about craft as a means to an end.  He didn't fetishize the process of building.  And his cars often broke just from the wear and tear of getting them on and off the trailer on the show circuit.

The video above is a recent homage to Roth called the Atomic Punk.  It has all the stylistic earmarks of a Roth classic.  But it was lovingly crafted from vintage GM body parts and hand formed sheetmetal.  Its not thrown together by any stretch of the imagination.  It was built by someone who definitely has a fetish for craft.  And I like that too.

By the way, one of Roth's masterpieces was recently discovered in Tijauna. The Orbitron featured an array of red, green and blue headlights that were focused together to create white.  It was the kind of hair brained scheme that only he could turn into a car.  The recently discovered Orbitron had been used as a trash bin for an adult book store, before some devoted Roth-ite snatched it up.  I hope they have a friend with a pizza oven.

What ISN'T a series of tubes?

I remember going with my Mom to drive through banks in the '70s where you put your checks and other paperwork in them, and yelled at the teller through an intercom.  I remember in High School, my Dad used to take me clothes shopping at  Seafair, the former Georgia Pacific company store in Fort Bragg, California.  Seafair was a sort of department store that sold mostly western wear.  While I dreaded our visits from a fashion perspective, I was always fascinated by the awesome network of pneumatic tubes that sent cash and receipts from the various departments to the gilded cage in the center of the store, where they kept track of the money.

Here's a Pecha Kucha style slide show about the history of pneumatic tubes as a communication and delivery device.  In our world of instant media gratification and endless possibilities, its hard to imagine how remarkable and game changing this kind of technology must have been in the 19th century.  And I love the metaphor of the "desktop" pneumatic tube technology creating pneumatic tube intranets within companies and institutions.

What were the social implications of pneumatic tube technology?  Did people send each other LOL messages?  Was there pneumatic spam?  Did anyone get a pneumatic tube from a Nigerian prince who was happy to share his fortune if you could spot him a few bucks?