The George Barris-Inspired Hot Rod That Changed One Man’s Life

This 1930 Ford Model A hot rod was built by Junichi Shimodaira, widely considered a founding father of Japan’s lowrider scene.

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The George Barris-Inspired Hot Rod That Changed One Man’s Life © The George Barris-Inspired Hot Rod That Changed One Man’s Life

Seventeen years ago, California resident Chuck Schauwecker pulled out of his driveway with his oldest son to attend a car show at Ricky and Ronnie’s in Torrance. Later that evening, a 1930 Ford Model A hot rod rolled into the parking area and everyone stopped what they were doing to stare. The driver of the hot rod backed the car into a space and dropped it down, settling it into a mean-looking crouch.

That same week, Schauwecker bought the hot rod and trailered it all over the country to give others a chance to see it and revel in its unique look. Now, almost two decades later, it's for sale and he says it’s time for someone else to enjoy it. Schauwecker hopes it’s someone who will take it out sometimes, not just stick it on a museum show floor, and maybe they'll enjoy the same connections and opportunities the car has brought him over the years.

When the car pulled up that first time, George Barris and his unusual creations came to mind but Schauwecker thought, “Why didn’t I ever see this car before?”  Schauwecker’s son Curtis started talking to the owner of the Tequila Gold-painted car, learning about the build. After 15 or 20 minutes, Curtis pulled his father into the conversation and told him that the owner, Junichi Shimodaira, was from Nagoya, Japan and he was looking to sell the car instead of paying thousands of dollars to ship it back to his home city. Schauwecker took out a piece of paper and a pen to write down a suggested purchase price.

Three days later, Schauwecker received a call from a friend of Shimodaira’s to accept his offer: $40,000 cash.

What Schauwecker didn’t know at the time was that Shimodaira, the creator of this Barris-inspired build, is a rock star of Japan’s lowrider scene. Shimodaira opened a shop in Nagoya called Paradise Road, and its fame exploded after the Yokohama Hot Rod Custom Show in 2002, where he presented this very car.

The 1930 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan, nicknamed “Rod-Riguez,” has a stock 1949 V8 Oldsmobile Rocket engine producing 303 hp. Turning the wheels is a Hydramatic 4-speed transmission. It includes hand-crafted fenders and a trademark custom grille, and Shimodaira used a bumper from a '59 Cadillac along with Frenched 1958 Chevrolet parking-light bezels. He installed the chromed, reinforced-steel spider-web design front fender mounts and replaced the original wide whitewall tires and chromed steelies with Cragar Star Wire Wheels that feature 1960s-style white stripe tires. Finishing it off, pinstriping by Japanese artist Makoto Kobayashi of M&K Custom Signs curls around the hot rod.

Inside, a custom interior features 1960s Tijuana-style cloth covering bucket seats alongside the mostly-original dash and gauge panel. A Ford steering wheel from the early 1960s was chopped down to create a yoke-style implement.

The result is a stunningly beautiful hot rod that Schauwecker has been proud to own for these past 17 years. And now, he told me, he’s 82 and it’s time to sell it so it can continue to carry on and bring others the joy it has brought him. Up until the pandemic, Schauwecker would trailer the car to show two or three times a month. Then he wound up contracting Covid himself, and he struggled to heal for almost three months.

"I almost died," Schauwecker told me somberly. "It zapped all my energy. Last year, my oldest son and I decided to go to a show in El Segundo, and I had to have him help me get it in the trailer; I just couldn’t do it by myself. I knew it was time to get rid of it. I don’t want it to sit in my garage with no one looking at it and I’m praying for someone to get it who will keep it on display."

Over the years, the car has been featured in Hot Rod magazine and other publications, TV show My Ride Rules and the movie Licorice Pizza. But what has made the most impact on Schauwecker’s life has been the people and the opportunities it has brought to his life. First and foremost, he and Shimodaira have stayed in touch, texting and talking frequently, and see each other whenever Shimodaira is stateside.

“Junichi and his wife would come out every year and drop by to see their ‘child,’” Schauwecker told me. “It was heartbreaking when he sold it; his wife cried.”

The car has earned several George Barris pick trophies, and Schauwecker is grateful he had the chance to get to know Barris personally before he passed away in 2015. For Barris’ funeral, the family asked Schauwecker to bring Rod-Riguez, and he was honored to oblige. The Californian has photos of himself with celebrity enthusiasts like Jay Leno and Dick Van Dyke, and he is grateful for all this hot rod brought to his doorstep.

"The way this car changed my life is through the people I got to meet, the places I was invited ... it was unbelievable," Schauwecker said. "It opened up doors I never thought would be open to me."

Rod-Riguez crosses the block at Barrett-Jackson's Las Vegas auction today. Schauwecker and his old friend Junichi Shimodaira will be watching and hoping it goes to a good home.

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