Imagine your city streets filled with hobby cars stretching back to the early 50s. That’s what it’s like on Hilltop Drive in Redding every April at Kool April Nites. Each year, I’m amazed at how much time and money people put into this hobby, often when they don’t have a ton to spare.
But then I get it because hobbies are good. They’re what keep us balanced and healthy. They’re what give us that zing to wake up each day and keep us in the flow of living life fully. They give us layers.
I first discovered this sub-culture of car people when I was assigned an article for a local paper several years ago. Take a look and you’ll see that it goes way beyond waxing up an old Chevy. It’s deeper than that. It’s a metaphor.
Two years ago when Anderson resident Max Laughlin lost his wife of 44 years, her passing left a deep hole.
He decided he needed a project to take his mind off his loss. He asked his grandson, Jase Laughlin, and his son-in-law, Scott Winton, how they felt about building a hot rod. Winton had been a long-time classic car lover and Jase needed a senior project for the upcoming school year.
They said they were in. That was the summer of 2007.
The men started researching old cars on the internet. Building a car was a first for the three men, so the process of zeroing in on the style of car and how to build it required investigation. Winton and Jase narrowed the choices down to three and presented them to Max.
“When we showed Max three styles of cars, we were excited when he picked this one,” says Winton pointing proudly at the car.
The style they decided on was a two-door Ford, 1933 coupe style. They would put on a fiberglass body and Max would teach Jase how to weld. A joint effort ensued with each taking on specific roles. Jase and his uncle spent long weekends under the hood. Max became the go-to partner for parts.
“We called Max the bank-and-parts runner. He has driven all over buying parts we needed,” said Winton, who proudly emphasized that most car parts outside the original frame were bought locally to support the local community.
On the internet, the men located the original frame in Elgin, Ill. Jase and his grandfather set out in July of 2007 on a 14-day road trip to pick up the frame.
“It was a great trip because I got to see country I had never seen before. I got to spend time with my Grandpa and we stopped by the Grand Canyon, Death Valley and went to see his friend in Tennessee,” said Jase.
The project quickly became more about the journey than the destination. In Tennessee, they picked up a trailer to carry back the frame, a five-day return drive. In August, they started building.
“Our original time frame was six to eight months. We were working on it about 24 to 30 hours per weekend,” said Winton.
As it went, the three were not building from a kit. This car was one-of-a-kind and there were no blueprints. This fact led to unexpected do-overs.
“It seemed to take a long time. Everything we did, we needed to do two or three times, especially under the hood because the space there is so cramped. We needed to make sure air could circulate,” said Jase.
When they did finish, Jase was extremely proud of what they had done together, and drove his finished senior project up to the high school to show it to his teacher.
“I’m really proud of what we did together. My favorite part was being able to spend all the time with my grandpa and my uncle,” said Jase.
In the world of car building, 18-months is considered a relatively quick build. The car was finished three weeks ago, so recently that it didn’t even make it into the Kool April Nites’ program book of “most recently constructed rods and customs on the West Coast.”
It did, however, rank high enough with the judges to claim prime real estate inside the Redding Civic Auditorium, not an easy feat with a packed-out crowd of cars at Kool April Nites 20th Anniversary display.
When you see the car, it is easy to understand why. This slick hot rod, named JMS Speedstar after the three men’s initials, claims a 400 horsepower engine and can bring it on the freeway.
“I think we’ve got it up to 100 miles per hour,” says Winton.
She’s set up with a sophisticated sound system, donated by Eric Stevens of Image Dynamics.
Her color is Sunburst Orange, though she was almost Champagne Fizz.
The night before she was to head out to the paint shop, Winton was watching an auction show and saw a car in Sunburst Orange. He called his partners and asked them what they thought.
All agreed. The new color would be Sunburst Orange, a 2006 GM Corvette color by Dupont.
The men plan to take JMS Speedstar on the road and show her off on the car circuit, including a show down in Southern California later this year.
The final product looks as if it was built by long-time professionals. When you see it, you think obviously they must be planning their next one because talent like this should not be wasted.
“It’s like childbirth. You wait for the pain to wear off before you think about having the next one. But first, I promised my wife a new bathroom,” said Winton.