By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Petersen Archive
From Jazz to Fiberglazz
In late 1963, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth was a busy guy. By that point in his career, he had built the Outlaw, Beatnik Bandit and Tweedy Pie—cars that established him as one of the premier (and wackiest) car customizers on the West Coast.
Model maker Revell took notice of Roth’s creations and began offering scale versions of them as well as model kits of Roth’s freaky monsters, including Mr. Gasser, Drag Nut and Rat Fink. Roth was also still elbow-deep in his weird-o shirt business, traveling to car shows and setting up booths to paint them, often bartering with show promoters to trade the booth-space cost for an appearance by one of his wild hot rods.
Rod & Custom (R&C) magazine asked Roth for a project car in 1963, and the result was the Road Agent. As Roth explained in his and Tony Thacker’s book Hot Rods by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, “R&C was tryin’ to pump up its readers to be more aggressive and modern. T-buckets were ‘out’ and more guys wuz buildin’ customs with overhead mills in ’em.”
“Aggressive” is one way to describe the Road Agent, with its slippery body, bright-orange bubble canopy and a powertrain—using a mid-mounted, fully chromed Corvair engine—that radically departed from the V8s found in most of the day’s hot rods. As he did with his other customs, Roth shaped the Road Agent’s body by hand out of plaster, which would then be used as a mold for the final fiberglass shell. Here, Roth checked out the fit of the fluorescent plastic bubble in a shot taken by R&C’s Bill Neumann in September 1963.
A month later, Roth sat in on a recording session at Capitol Records for an album called “Hot Rod Hootenanny.” The session musicians, billed as Mr. Gasser and the Weirdos, included a young guitarist named Glen Campbell.
With titles such as “Termites in my Woody,” “Weirdo Wiggle” and “Efen’ it Don’t Go, Chrome It,” the record was more spoof than serious. The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean had nothing to fear. But judging from the photos shot by Petersen’s Pat Brollier that day, Roth was having a good time.
Neumann’s shots of Roth working on the Road Agent were paired with Brollier’s Capitol Records film for an R&C story called “From Jazz to Fiberglazz” in the magazine’s February 1964 issue.
Said Roth, “It was a gas!”