E X C E R P T
Russ speaking about his early days as a young hot rodder growing up in West Los Angeles. Born in 1936, Russ came of age in what would become recognized as the ground zero of the California car culture, a region that produced some of the most important and legendary innovators in high performance engineering. Much of the respect commanded by these men was based upon the fact that they, like all the other young guys, including Russ, who were trying to make something out of nothing that would go fast, started out the same way. The fact was that as they were building their reputations as the icons many would become, they remained accessible in the modest shops where their crafts would be honed. Names like Iskederain, Edelbrock and McGurk, were simply a part of the auto engineering landscape in early 1950s Los Angeles.
One of the first things I remember doing on the car was the axel, the dropped axel. It was a Dago axel out of San Diego, very popular then and still are for authentic 32 rodders. This was a guy, Al “Axel” Stewart, was his name and he had a shop, and a forge, where he would build these things, He’d probably go around to the junk yards and pick up as many Ford axels as he could. He’d heat them up, and put them in a little jig and stretch them out. They came in usually about a two and a half, three inch drop, and that Dago axel is still on the car today. So because it was bent when I got it, I had to do the same thing with the forge in our auto shop at the high school. We heated it up and clamped it with protractors for the correct sizing and there it is on the car today.
Russ Aves standing proudly next to his completed 1932 Ford 3-Window Coupe in a photo taken by Karen White for a feature on his car in the March, 1960 edition of Hot Rod Magazine.
As for the wishbones: Instead of just splitting a wishbone, the piece that held the axel, we would split the wishbone and make brackets to attach them to the frame on both sides. But to make your own wishbones, well that was so extra special. Back in the day you kept the originals, but I decided I’d make custom wishbones, very nice. These I did in high school as well. I chromed them and they’re still right there on the car as well. Looks were important, but really, you wanted functionality and speed more than anything else. This is what competition on the streets and at the drag strip was all about. Let’s go fast.
Hot rodding, in its own little world, especially in our neck of the woods, Los Angeles, was a whole other thing. You didn’t customize your car, you didn’t want to have anything to do with nosing and decking your car. You built a hot rod where you took all the crap off. And there were two very distinct schools of car building, hot rodding and custom cars. And George Barris and those guys were all some other group, and as good as they were, that just wasn’t attractive to a hot rodder. But, I’ve got to kind of take it back though, because there were a couple of guys in our group, in the neighborhood there, was a guy who had a 49 Merc, chopped. I mean that was like a brand new car… man, it was a neat car. It was lowered all the way around and had some engine work. But really though, hot rodding was all about speed, and that’s why you took all the stuff off, not put it on! And there wasn’t a custom that didn’t get rid of weight, in fact they added weight. You would always see, when they went in and out of a drive-in, the tail end would drag on the ground, and you’d always hear it scrape, you couldn’t go into drive-in movies without draggin’ on the ground, and they had their car club plaques mounted in the rear windows rather than bolted down low, which ours were. But it looked good.