SEMA News—June 2020
Funny Car Supermarket
By Drew Hardin
Photography: Mike Brenner, Petersen Publishing Co. Archive
Funny Cars were about the hottest thing on wheels in the ’70s, and many of the most storied examples of the breed passed through the Funny Car supermarket of Don Kirby. That’s Kirby on the left, posing with his “right-hand man and trusty companion” Nat Quick, as Hot Rod Editor Terry Cook described him in a February 1973 profile.
The business was formally called Don Kirby Custom Paint, located in the Los Angeles suburb of Bellflower. Signs on the building indicated a specialty in Corvette fiberglass repairs, but Kirby expanded what was available under his roof to include much of the work necessary to build a flopper, thanks to the talents of craftsmen like Quick, Kenny Youngblood and John Buttera.
When Cook wrote his story in late 1972, Kirby’s was not yet the one-stop Funny Car shop it would become. Kirby was the “lacquer artisan” painting the fiberglass Funny Car bodies, while Quick designed the paint jobs and did striping and lettering.
“Kirby’s is a factory,” wrote Cook. “He has painted as many as 20 Funny Cars in a month, and all of them are top quality. He’s hip to epoxy and all the other latest stuff. During his heavy season (winter), the fiberglass bodies are literally stacked three high. It’s easier to name the guys who didn’t have their car painted at Kirby’s than to list his customers.”
The reason for his success, Cook explained, was because “Don uses a business approach. In on Monday—out on a Friday…not ‘three months in the paint shop.’ A Funny Car paint job is $700, lettering by Nat an additional $225. A digger cost $425 to paint, $125 to letter.”
Those were the days.
Kirby also had a reputation “for particularly hot Corvette paint jobs, as well as other street machines,” said Cook. “Prices here start at $550 and go up from there. And, of course, he does boats, bikes, refrigerators, snow shovels or just about anything else your little brain can imagine.”
It may have been primarily a paint shop when Cook wrote the story, but bigger things were in the works. “Future plans call for a gargantuan self-contained drag car shopping center,” he wrote, “with chassis builder, machine and engine shop, paint booth, private rentable garages (by day, week, month or year), as well as speed shop retail facilities. If and when that happens, look for Don Kirby’s portion of the act to be the busiest of the bunch.”