Over a decade ago we thought we were alone in our taste for primitive hot rods and wild kustoms that looked like a hobo’s version of what we admired in decades-old hot rod mags. Our punk rock and artist peers didn’t understand ’cause cars, to them, were the realm of jocks and rednecks; and the car show community had become an exclusive, money-spending contest- they really did not know what to think of some freaky lookin’ twenty-somethin’ having the audacity to want to show or drive an unfinished ride that looked like some greasy hoodlum’s from before they cared to remember. Formulas were the norm; ‘same car, different color’. It had to be a Camaro, Chevelle, Tri-Five or Deuce. It was just ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.
Growing up, we had our interests in different but surprisingly interconnected scenes, entertainment, and lifestyles. Kool machines and underground culture. Music: primitive rockabilly, garage bands, punk rock. As well as the art: Rip Off comix, Heavy Metal comix, Drag Cartoons, etc…Big Daddy Roth, Robert Williams, the Von Dutch inspired Rick Griffin, and people like Gilbert Sheldon who created Rip Off Press, the Freak Bros. Comix, worked with Roth, and many hot rod mags, even as editor of Speed and Custom and Custom Rodder.
The music we liked was self-produced underground: indie label or self-published. The art and comix you had to chase down in weird little shops. Watching old B-movies you could only find mail-order in some cheap, nerdy fanzines you found in that weird shop. So, of course, we’re gonna be drivin’ the machine-equivalent D.I.Y. Everything. We try to illustrate these interconnected cultural influences and interests by having a loose theme in our show imagery and entertainment. Trip out on some Sci-Fi Hot Rod Art in the Gallery, rock out to some spooky, spacey surf at the Stage, and freak out on our way-way out animated cult films.
This mix of influences is what your host club, the Punk Rods (whose name is taken from an obscure wardrobe detail in the 60′s TV show with the coolest Hollywood cars ever: Barris’ ‘Drag-u-la’ & ‘Munster’s Coach’) is all about. When we were first seeking out a few others of like-mind, throwing little Sunday BBQ- in-the-park shindigs 10-12 years ago, we were tickled to just see a few people into the same neat old stuff we were. We never expected it to grow (well, I kinda did) to quite the scale, almost of trendiness, to a show with over 1000 vehicles on display; a show that is now a tradition itself, and a ‘target date’ show for a lot of these hot rodders whom we admire…
The Punk Rods were conceived in 1998 by me and Punk Rod Paul, while hanging out where I worked- Lawrence’s long-defunct ‘Hi-Jinx Lounge’ swing and rockabilly bar. By 2000 we had made up club shirts and jackets. In 2001 the opportunity to use K.C. Punk rock club El Torreon for music fest- with daytime car show- presented itself. It was an idea I’d wanted to implement since the Hi-Jinx days; to do a ‘Greaser’s Ball’ type show sponsored by my pomade company:American Greaser Supply. It did not take much thinkin’ to come up with the moniker “K”owtown “C”ustom Greaserama™ for the 2001 show. It was around 20 bands with a small art display.
About 5 dozen rods, kustoms, and vintage beaters showed up through some last-minute word-of-mouth & the fliering of a few parts stores, cruise nights, and swap meets- who we were (for the most part) strangers to. Well, not the parts stores and swaps, but the shows and cruise nights. We had long been bored by the red Camaros, yellow 57′s, and black hi-tech Deuces prevalent at most shows of the day; the crybaby dolls, the craft areas, the coca-cola gift shop cutie-pie Happy Days homogenization of what we grew up seeing as the realm of cool black leather jacket clad hoodlums is not a scene we frequented. We were pretty much outsiders in the car scene. But, as we have learned, there were many, many people- of all ages- thinking the exact same thing- being disappointed by only 5-10 cars we dug at even the Biggest Car Show.
We found that folks of all stripes share our automotive values, and they slowly came out from under their rocks and out of the woodwork: old farmers who haven’t raced or shown since the 70′s, old school low riders, bikers of all sorts, vintage drag nuts, kloset kempers, dropout to academic, teenager to WWII vet, ‘lone nut’ inventors, absent-minded professors, Car club greasers, Pin-up Girls, black, white, brown, dirt poor or middle class, Punkers, Metalheads, Rockabillys, & white belt hipsters, artists & junkyard operators; you see ‘em all in joyful, spirited discussion of their own and others expression of their taste and exchange ideas and opening up their hearts and minds at Greaserama™. It always warms my heart to see some 18 year old mohawk punker just striking up a friendly conversation with an 80 year old farmer. At this show we all got an appreciation for the tin in common, no need for posturing or any of that one-upmanship B.S. here.
Thanks for coming!
Punk Rod Todd, Art Director
NPR Interview: Hot-Rodding On the Cheap
September 27, 2007NewsStaff
Todd Karnahan hosts a car show in Kansas City that attracts hundreds of hot-rodders and artists who share his commitment to doing things themselves — on the cheap.
Frank Morris from member station KCUR reports.
Click play to listen to the broadcast