By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Pat Brollier, Petersen Publishing Co. Archive
In June 1974, Petersen Publishing Company photographer Pat Brollier captured three iconic figures in one candid photograph. At left is actor Martin Sheen, next to him is Pete Chapouris, and behind them is Chapouris’ trend-setting ’34 Ford three-window coupe. They were there for the filming of The California Kid, an ABC television movie of the week. Brollier and Hot Rod magazine staffer Gray Baskerville traveled to the Soledad Canyon location north of Los Angeles to catch some of the action for a story to appear in Hot Rod’s October issue.
We thought of this photo, taken at a seminal time in Chapouris’ career, when we learned he passed away in January from the effects of a stroke he suffered while working at his SO-CAL Speed Shop in Pomona.
Chapouris, a hot rodder since his teen years, built the black-and-flamed Ford at a time when traditional hot rod styling had fallen out of fashion. But Baskerville knew cool when he saw it, and he paired Chapouris’ car with another traditionally-styled coupe belonging to Jim “Jake” Jacobs on the cover of a special “Chopped Top Issue” of Rod & Custom in November 1973. 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.
After Baskerville introduced them, Chapouris and Jacobs formed a rodding repair (and later parts) business aptly called Pete & Jake’s. No matter what kind of trends were hot in the street-rod world, Pete & Jake’s was (and remains, under the direction of the Slover family) a source of traditional hot-rod parts.
Chapouris and Jacobs sold their business in 1987, and Chapouris went to work for SEMA. He served as vice president of marketing and was involved in the forming of the Street Rod Equipment Association, which became the Street Rod Market Alliance, a SEMA Council. (He was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame in 1999.)
In the early ’90s, Chapouris returned to rod building and opened the Pete Chapouris Group, also known as PC3g, in 1995. One of his first clients was Bruce Meyer, who hired Chapouris to restore the iconic Pierson Bros. coupe. That led to the restoration of another of Meyer’s historic hot rods, the SO-CAL Speed Shop belly tank lakester. The relationship Chapouris enjoyed with Alex Xydias, the founder of the SO-CAL Speed Shop in Burbank back in 1946, led to them reviving the SO-CAL name in 1997, first for Pete’s place in Pomona and then a number of SO-CAL Speed Shops across the country.
Though SO-CAL remains rooted in building traditional high-boy roadsters and coupes and offering parts for those who want to build their own, Chapouris guided his shop through a number of cutting-edge projects that brought old-school sensibility to new ways of hot rodding. He also mentored talented young builders who have gone on to success as designers and fabricators on their own.
Chapouris’ love for hot rods was infectious, and his unflagging enthusiasm for the cars, and his business, made it hard to believe he was half-way through the seventh decade of life. His passion made him seem much younger, and we wanted him around much longer.