Boyd Coddington
Hot-rod building legend Boyd Coddington calls the Aluma Truck his favorite among all of his creations "because it has a little bit of retro in it and it's got some hi-tech to it too."
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updated 6/2/2004 6:28:23 PM ET 2004-06-02T22:28:23

From Discovery Channel's “Monster Garage” to MTV's “Pimp My Ride,” hot rods are hot again.

It's not just the outsize, colorful cars that attract viewers to these hit cable shows; it's the outsize, colorful personalities of the people responsible for creating these custom cars. Few personalities are more outsize or colorful than Boyd Coddington, the star of Discovery's “American Hot Rod.” Following the success of Discovery's “American Chopper,” in January Coddington, one of the U.S.'s most respected creators of custom cars, was given a weekly show, which airs Friday nights at 10 P.M.

To many of his viewers, the human drama, fights and tension that come out of his shop in La Habra, Calif., are every bit as compelling as the hot rods it produces. Coddington's 50,000-square-foot shop has 70 employees and turns out 12 to 15 hot rods each year for prices that range from $50,000 to $500,000, often under high-pressure deadlines.

"You guys are back here like a bunch of babies, making work for me," he says in a recent episode, after discovering that some of his workers were playing with BB pistols in the shop while he was out of town. "I don't care who you are. If you bring them in here, you're gone."

Later in the episode, Coddington, a great bear of a man with a brown beard and a predilection for Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps, instructs his team to send a car in progress to the body shop before the completion of its pre-assembly (i.e., cutting and welding parts before the vehicle is painted). He chides his staff for "stumbling around," working too slowly and getting "too cocky."

"I'm trying to keep it level-headed," responds Charley Hutton, Coddington's body shop supervisor.

"All right, well, let's level-head this car back to the body shop," says an impatient Coddington.

The workers on Coddington's show routinely put in 15- or 20-hour days, one of many signs of respect they show for their boss — and they should respect him, given his history. Coddington started designing, building and welding car parts as a teenager in Idaho in the 1940s. At 13, he traded a shotgun for his first truck, one of General Motors' 1931 Chevrolet pickups. In 1966, he was building hot rods in Southern California by day and working as a machinist at night. By 1978, his hot rods were among the most celebrated in the world.

CODDINGTON
AP
Car-building legend Boyd Coddington hosts the Discovery Channel's new construction show, "American Hot Rod."
Coddington said in an interview that a hot rod is any vehicle with a high-performance motor and modified suspension and wheels. While his garage churns out some performance versions of modern fare such as sport utilities, his heart belongs to the old school.

"My definition of a hot rod is probably a '32 Ford roadster Highboy, which means there are no fenders on it," he says.

Why a Ford ? "They had actually in 1932 a V-8 motor in them," he says. "The Chevies had sixes. They just lent themselves more to that hot rod line, and they got to be very trendy."

“The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile,” the definitive reference source on automotive history, agrees, saying: "The V-8's performance soon attracted the attention of dirt track racers who found that a V-8 stripped of wings, running boards and roof could beat almost anything on the track. The engine was highly suitable for tuning, and thus began the hot rod craze, which reached a peak after World War II, leading to the formation of the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association), with its highly specialized machines."

Coddington gave us a list of his ten favorite hot rods that he has built over the years. Most of the vehicles are from the 1930s and have recognizable traits from the period — but the cars have been changed in virtually every way from their original incarnations.

"We pretty well did all the work on all the cars right here in our own shops," he says. For his hot rod projects, Coddington and his team will custom-make the chassis and bodies. He is particularly famous for making hot rod wheels; Boyd Coddington Wheels, which produces approximately 100,000 wheels per year, is a larger business for Coddington than his hot rods.

While the wheels are very popular, Coddington's hot rods have created his legacy; his extraordinary work ethic (he gets up each day at 4:30 A.M.) and those Hawaiian shirts also make him hard to forget. His name is all over the auto business. His designs include the "CadZZilla," a custom Cadillac he created for guitarist Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, and a 1934 Ford coupe he made for Van Halen's Michael Anthony.

Coddington was honored as Hot Rod magazine's "Man of the Year" in 1988 and was inducted into the Specialty Equipment Market Association Hall of Fame in 1995. His vehicles have won the Grand National Roadster Show's "America's Most Beautiful Roadster" award seven times, and he has twice received the DaimlerChrysler Design Excellence Award.

For the list he developed for us, Coddington says the cars he picked ended up there "because they were the ones that really set us aside and really were trendsetters." While “American Hot Rod” teams beautiful cars with the height of TV drama, you can check out the list to see why Coddington developed such a reputation in the first place.

Click here for the slide show.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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