By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Eric Rickman, Petersen Publishing Co. Archive
America’s Most Beautiful Roadster—Twice
Few cars have won the coveted America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) trophy twice, but Bob Reisner’s wild custom, called the Invader, did just that 50—and 49—years ago.
In a way, it’s fitting that the car won the Oakland Roadster Show’s tall AMBR trophy twice, since Reisner built the show rod with a driveline times two: Twin 400-in. Pontiac engines were joined to two B&M Hydrostick transmissions, sending power to a pair of Jaguar rear ends. The four-wheel independent suspension also made use of Jaguar components and was sprung with two Girling coil-over shocks at each corner.
While many car builders of the day formed their custom creations out of fiberglass, Don Borth built the Invader’s sharp-edged bodywork in aluminum. Joe Anderson sprayed the body in candy red and candy pearl paint, while Joe Perez stitched the red velvet for the laid-back bucket seats.
The Invader hit the Oakland Roadster Show at a time when trends in custom-car building were showing some of the same psychedelic influences that were seeping into music, clothing and so many other aspects of popular culture. Traditional hot rods were falling out of favor, while “experimentals” with fantastically shaped bodies, bubble canopies and multiple engines were bringing home the trophies for their professional builders. Many in the hot-rodding community turned their noses up at these “odd rods,” as Hot Rod magazine’s Gray Baskerville called them, yet there was no denying the high level of ingenuity and craftsmanship that went into the way-out wheeled creations.
Most of those odd rods weren’t operational; they were more pieces of avant-garde art than cars. But Reisner built the Invader as a driver, as he demonstrated for Eric Rickman’s camera for a feature story in the July 1967 issue of Hot Rod after winning his first AMBR trophy. (Rickman shot the detail photos seen here at the 1967 Oakland show, while Car Craft magazine’s Bob Swaim shot the overall display.)
The Invader would go on to be part of a stable of custom cars that Reisner took to shows around the country into the ’70s. Even after Reisner stopped displaying the Invader, it was still doing duty as a show car up until the late ’90s, when it was damaged on a container ship while returning from shows in Korea. Southern California collector Ron Martinez bought the wreck and commissioned a restoration that was finished in time for the 50th anniversary Oakland Roadster Show in 1999.