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SEMA Heritage: Pete Chapouris, Martin Sheen and the California Kid

  At left is actor Martin Sheen, next to him is Pete Chapouris
Photo Courtesy Source Interlink Media Archives
It isn’t often you can capture this many iconic figures in one candid photograph, but that’s exactly what Petersen Publishing photographer Pat Brollier managed to do on a June day in 1974.

At left is actor Martin Sheen, next to him is Pete Chapouris, and behind them is Chapouris’ trend-setting ’34 Ford three-window coupe. The trio was captured during the filming of The California Kid, an ABC television movie of the week starring Sheen and Vic Morrow. Brollier and Hot Rod magazine staffer Gray Baskerville were on the set to catch some of the action for a story to appear in the magazine’s October issue.

It’s only fitting that Baskerville was the one doing the story. He had, a year or so earlier, caught wind of Chapouris’ hot rod under construction and turned the buildup into a series of articles for Rod & Custom magazine. At the same time, Baskerville chronicled another ’34 coupe project, this one by Jim “Jake” Jacobs. Both cars were remarkable for their time in that they weren’t of their time—they were traditional hot rods, throw-backs to the top-chopping, louver-punching trends of the ’50s when doing such a thing wasn’t yet cool.

Baskerville knew cool, though, and his articles culminated in a special “Chopped Top Issue” of Rod & Custom in November 1973, with the two hammered coupes gracing the cover. Countless rodders were influenced by this issue, and it also caught the eye of Howie Horowitz, producer of the “Batman” TV series, who was looking for a special car to feature in his upcoming TV movie. He wanted Chapouris’ flamed Ford, and that’s how this trio wound up on Aqua Dulce Road in the Soledad Canyon area north of Los Angeles on this June day.

Sheen would go on to make a name for himself as an actor; Chapouris would do the same in the rodding world. After Baskerville introduced them, Chapouris and Jacobs formed Pete & Jake’s, originally a hot-rod repair business that grew into a manufacturer of rodding parts. The pair sold their business in 1987, and Chapouris worked for SEMA for a few years before returning to the rod-building business. In 1995, he opened the Pete Chapouris Group, also known as PC3g, which was later reborn as the new SO-CAL Speed Shop (with the blessings and help from original founder Alex Xydias).

Along the way Chapouris has built, or had a hand in building, a number of notable rods, including the Eliminator coupe and two “HogZZilla” custom motorcycles for ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. He was also involved in the restoration of several historic hot rods for Bruce Meyer, including the Doane Spencer roadster, Pierson Brothers coupe and Xydias’ original SO-CAL Speed Shop belly tank lakester.

The Kid lives, too. It moved to Missouri when Jerry Slover bought the Pete & Jake’s rod parts business from Chapouris and Jacobs.