The Little Deuce Coupe on the Road @ Eyes On Design – 3D Video

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In 1955, Detroit area teenager Clarence “Chili” Catallo spent 75 dollars on a ’32 Ford coupe. With money saved from his job at his parents’ market in Taylor, he had Bill Wanderer build and install a 344 cubic inch Olds V8, while Catallo added other Olds parts like a Hydramatic transmission and the rear end out of a 1955 Oldsmobile. Detroit’s “A Bros”, Mike and Larry Alexander, did the body work, sectioning and channeling the body, adding a stacked, four headlight fiberglass nose and radiator surround, rolling the rear pan and altering the frame. They also fabricated the coupe’s unique tubular rear bumpers set into the bodywork. To hide the frame mods, they added polished aluminum horizontal fins. Chili named the car, painted with blue lacquer by the Alexanders, “Silver Sapphire” and started racing it, turning 12.9 quarter mile times. When he turned 18, Catallo moved out to the west coast where he got a job sweeping floors in George Barris’ shop, bartering his wages for more work on the coupe, including chopping the roof and respraying the car. By 1961 it was a full-tilt show car with a huge blower and lots of chrome.

little-deuce-coupe-hot-rod-july-1961-cover.jpgAfter some success on the west coast show circuit, Chili and his car made the cover of the June 1961 issue of Hot Rod magazine. Two years later, Brian Wilson was upset about Capital records releasing a hot rod themed compilation album called Shut Down, featuring two Beach Boys’ songs, Shut Down and 409, without his or the band’s involvement. Working with DJ Richard Christian, Wilson put together an album’s worth of mostly car related songs, titling it after the previously released Little Deuce Coupe, which was on the album as well as 409 and Shut Down. just to make Wilson’s pique clear. According to some sources, that song was inspired by Wilson seeing Catallo’s car at a car show. Other than 409, the title song and Be True To Your School (an original song written for the album), Little Deuce Coupe is a forgettable album, but it went platinum and reached #4 and is one of the best selling albums in the Beach Boys’ evergreen catalog. A cropped version of a photo from the Hot Rod photo shoot graced the cover of Little Deuce Coupe, forever changing the car’s name and cementing its place in automotive and rock and roll history.


At the height of the car’s fame, Catallo sold it and it went through a series of owners and further modifications before his son Curt saw it at the Detroit Autorama in 1997. Paying $40,000 to reacquire the car, the Catallo’s planned to restore it but Chili passed away before that could be accomplished. Since then Curt has restored it to the condition it was in when it was on the album cover and shows his family’s legacy. Actually, it’s not quite the same – if you look at the photo of the Hot Rod cover closely, you’ll see that the supercharger pulley has a small swastika on it. As with early bikers, surf culture in the early 1960s gravitated to German war booty. I’ve also read that the swastika was a reference to “surf Nazis”,  a term applied to dedicated west coast surfers since the 1950s. For the restoration, Curt Catallo substituted a less offensive Maltese cross (which you can see on other contemporary customs and rods, like Chuck Miller’s Red Baron), which replaced the swastika when complaint letters started pouring in to Hot Rod in 1961.


Since the restoration, the car has been shown at the Pebble Beach and Meadow Brook concours and the Detroit Autorama. The Catallo family’s Little Deuce Coupe was one of the featured custom cars at this year’s Eyes On Design show. We were fortunate to be able to get video of the car starting up and then driving up to the reviewing stand.

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