By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Bob D’Olivo, Petersen Publishing Company Archive
In January, George Poteet’s 1936 Ford, nicknamed the 3-Penny Roadster, was voted America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) at the 70th annual Grand National Roadster Show. Its subtle styling changes and impeccable workmanship by the crew at Pinkee’s Rod Shop in Windsor, Colorado, were accented by a subdued, warm-gray paint job meant to evoke chocolate milk. The color was the inspiration for the hot rod’s name, as that’s what the creamy treat cost when Poteet was growing up.
Fifty-some years ago, another George—Barris, this time—was responsible for another AMBR winner: the radically styled Ala Kart pickup built for customer Richard Peters. Ala Kart was such a stunner that it won the AMBR trophy twice, in 1958 and 1959—a rare feat in the show’s seven-decade history. This photo by Petersen Publishing Company’s Bob D’Olivo was taken at the 1959 show in Oakland, with the iconic, 9-ft.-tall AMBR trophy literally within reach behind it.
Ala Kart was controversial in its day, as Barris built it with the goal of collecting trophies—AMBR in particular. Until then, AMBR winners had been street-driven roadsters shined and detailed to the nth degree to please the judges. Ala Kart represented a sea change: a professionally built custom that, from then on, would make it tough for the “regular guy” hot rodder to compete.
Ala Kart is considered a ’29 Ford roadster pickup, but it’s really a mash-up. Its cab was made from a ’29 pickup and a ’27 Model T roadster, and the rest of the body was custom fabricated at Barris’s shop in Lynwood, California. Peters and longtime friend Blackie Gejeian (a show promoter in his own right) fabricated the truck’s chassis components and had them chrome plated. They then ferried the parts from their home base in Fresno to Barris in south L.A.
More brightwork was found in the engine bay, where a Dodge Red Ram Hemi with chromed valve covers and Hilborn injector stacks was mounted in front of an aluminum firewall. Ala Kart’s distinctive quad headlights on either side of its aluminum oval grille shell came from a Chrysler Imperial. The taillights were a combination of DeSoto lenses and Impala bezels, and coil springs supported by air bags were mounted at all four corners.
In an October 1958 Hot Rod story, Barris said Ala Kart’s body was “painted with thirty coats of imported Swedish Pearl.” Dean Jeffries painted burgundy and gold accents (what Barris described as “streamers” in his story) on the tops and undersides of the bobbed fenders.
Ala Kart’s interior featured black velvet and white Naugahyde upholstery with gold stitching; a polished “stucco finish” aluminum dashboard with Corvette gauges; and a steering wheel from a ’57 Lincoln Continental.
As it turned out, Ala Kart’s groundbreaking wasn’t limited to its Oakland Roadster Show successes. Plastic kit maker AMT bought the show truck in 1961 and issued a 1:25-scale model that same year, making it the first show car to be turned into a kit. Some one million copies were sold in its first year of issue, and it remains one of the best-selling model kits of all time.
Like many show vehicles, Ala Kart changed hands a number of times and fell into disrepair over the years. John Mumford, who commissioned a restoration by Roy Brizio Street Rods, eventually rescued it. It was entered once again in the Grand National Roadster Show in 2008 but fell short of an AMBR three-peat.