It’s like a scene out of a 1950s B movie, like Hot Rod Girl or Hot Rod Hullabaloo, a pack of gow jobs rumbling their way through Burbank, California, the rumble from their open pipes bouncing off the buildings and echoing through the Los Angeles suburb. Cue the older guy in the fedora and necktie, “It’s those damn kids in their hot rods again, Martha,” he says, clutching his daughter. “Somebody should call the cops before they kill somebody.”
But this is no movie, and the pack of traditional hot rods is instead disturbing the peace in 2020. Look up from your cell phones, people, Bedlam has come to town.
L.A.’s newest car club has taken its name from the infamous psychiatric hospital near London. Officially the Bethlem Royal Hospital, the facility has been referred to “Bedlam” since the fourteenth century and has inspired many horror movies, books, and television shows for the last 100 years, including the 1946 film Bedlam starring Boris Karloff.
Bedlam’s five members range in age from 24 to 60 and refer to themselves as “the inmates.” It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, but some may consider their passion for traditional hot rods and the culture of the machines to be suitably insane. We meet up with the group at Simon Gluckman’s house, which he points out is a two-minute walk from Dean Jeffries’ old shop. A legendary pinstriper, custom painter, and fabricator, Jeffries is the guy that painted “Little Bastard” on James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder and built such iconic machines as the Mataray show rod and the Monkeemobile.
A retired photographer, Gluckman grew up in the U.K. and moved to Los Angeles 27 years ago. “American Graffiti was life-changing for me in England,” he says, standing next to his radically chopped 1934 Ford three-window. “In two or three years from that movie coming out in 1973, we were all driving old American cars.”
Gluckman and his fellow inmates formed Bedlam about a year ago, with 41-year-old member Chris Garcia, a well-known automotive artist and sign painter, designing the club’s logo. “A bunch of us have wanted to do this for a while,” says Gluckman. “But we wanted to do it right. We have no plans to be a big club. Just close friends having fun with their cars.”
“We all drive our cars,” says Garcia, opening the door to his four-banger-powered 1930 Ford Model A Coupe. “They’re not high-end show cars, just cars we cruise and enjoy, but we do want to organize some more meetups and go to historical places and pay tribute to what the hot rodders did back then.”
“These cars are our time machines,” says inmate Alex MacDonald, a contractor that lives in Thousand Oaks. “They allow us to travel back.” Most of the crew own more than one car. Many inmates also have a custom of a 1950s model, and MacDonald is in the process of building a 1955 big-window Chevy pickup with a modern LT small-block, but they only put their club plaques on their traditional hot rods.
“Traditional hot rod culture has really blown up over the last 10 years,” says Gluckman, walking us over to the 1933 Ford Roadster. “But it’s still a really small community.” His Chrysler Hemi–powered ’33 is the fanciest ride of the bunch and it’s the only one with an automatic transmission, which is a constant source of friendly ribbing for the group. The car was built by Jimmy White at Circle City Hot Rods in Orange, California, and completed in 2009. “I saw it at the Roadster Show and was blown away,” says Gluckman. “I was lucky enough to buy it five years later.”
No top, no hood, and no fenders, the green Roadster is powered by a 325 Red Ram Hemi backed by a GM Turbo 350. Chromed out, the engine is topped with an Offenhauser intake and three 1-barrel carburetors. White built the headers using torque tubes from a Model A, a very traditional touch. The body and grille are original pieces. He also shaved the door handles and hinges, graphed in a set of ’37 Ford taillights, and molded a ’40 Ford dash into the cowl and doors. The steering wheel is from a 1950 Ford Crestliner.
“It’s the best hot rod I’ve ever driven,” says Gluckman, firing up the Roadster’s big V-8. “You can jump in it and drive it to New York tomorrow if you wanted to.”
In stark contrast, his fenderless ’34 Coupe looks like it belongs in a grainy photo taken on the Muroc dry lake in 1952. Gluckman bought just the body two years ago. It had already received the radical lakes-style chop from Mark Codd, who removed 6 inches from the B-pillars and 5.5 inches from the front. He then bought the traditional ’33 rolling chassis with a chrome drop axle and juice brakes from a guy in Reno he connected with on Instagram. Bam, he had a car.
Then he had an 8BA Flathead built by Bob McRae with Eddie Meyer heads and intake topped with a pair of Stromberg 97s. There’s a clutch pedal in this one along with a T-5 five-speed. The dash is stock with some additional ‘60s style Stewart Warner gauges and the seat is made from an old couch. There aren’t any door panels, but there is a fire extinguisher.
Also fenderless is Garcia’s Model A, which is chopped 4.5 inches and still has its rumble seat. When he found the car a few years ago it was still stock. “I bought it for my dad, but he passed away three months later, so I’m building it as a tribute to him,” says the artist. “It’s still in the first stage of construction.” All the lettering on the car, including the Easy and Son Drag Racing on its tail, is in honor of his dad who was nicknamed Easy.
Still sitting tall on its stock suspension, the rod rides on 16-inch ’40 Ford wheels and wide whites. “All my cars have black rims and white walls,” says Garcia. “They just look mean to me like that.” Other mods include BLC headlamps and ’55 Pontiac taillights, both classic traditional touches.
The interior and three-speed manual are still stock, but the four-banger under the hood has been treated to an Ansen intake, a Stromberg 97, Mallory distributor, and homemade headers. “I run it wide open,” he says with a smile. “No mufflers.”
MacDonald’s Model A is the fastest car of the bunch and the only one with a small-block Chevy. The 355 packs a 10:1 compression ratio, aluminum heads, an Offenhauser intake, three 97s, and headers with inserts. “It’s a hot rod, it should be heard,” says the 34-year old. It made 413 horsepower at the crank, which is sent to a Ford 9-inch with 3.83 gears by a TKO600 five-speed.
“This car is a survivor,” he continues. “The original owner drove it from Missouri to Paradise, California, in 1938. In the 1960s it was put in a barn and it sat there still stock until I bought it just before the fire wiped out the town last year. The property I bought it from was destroyed, including the rest of the guy’s car collection.”
MacDonald built the black coupe in five months, chopping the top 3 inches, painting it himself, and adding a new custom chassis with a 2-inch front kickup and a 6-inch kickup in the rear for that low, channeled look. The chassis also features a drop axle, Buick finned aluminum drum brakes with Lincoln backing plates, ’40 Ford wheels and hubcaps, and wide whites, which he says lends itself to a gentleman’s hot rod.
Although the ’32 grille is channeled down, the shell is the stock height and the body is mounted on top of the frame. He also added the Pontiac taillights and there’s a Moon spun aluminum gas tank hidden in the trunk. But it isn’t bolted to the floor; MacDonald mounted it to a custom bulkhead he fabricated himself. Inside he added a ’32 dash, So Cal Speed Shop Insert, Mooneyes gauges, a hidden Bluetooth audio system, and additional space. Because MacDonald is 6’ 4”, he had to remove the rear shelf and move the seat back to fit in the car.
“My dad has always had cars,” he says. “And now he restores prewar Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. That’s where I get this passion from. We enjoy cars together.”
Andy Lazarit grew up in South Central L.A. and owns the only hot rod in the pack with fenders. It’s a ‘1931 Model A Coupe with a bulldog stance and an interesting history. The 40-year-old martial arts instructor traded a ’41 Chevy Coupe for the five-window about 10 years ago. “It’s an original hot rod built in the late ’40s and early ’50s in downtown L.A.,” he says, standing over the Ford’s ’53 Merc Flathead V-8. “I built it in the pre-1954 style and I’ve had it on the road about a year.”
Backed by a ’39 Ford three-speed, the Merc wears an Offenhauser manifold and two 1-barrel carbs and sits ahead of a checkerboard firewall painted in the early 1950s. There’s a bunch of old hot rodder tricks on this one including an exhaust system made from torque tubes, a 4-inch drop axle, a ’32 grille shell, a 2.25-inch chop, and an Auburn dash with ’32 Ford gauges. The wire wheels are from a ’35 Ford.
Surprisingly, there isn’t a ’32 Ford in the bunch, but the inmates do have two under construction. Gluckman is building a 5-window that’ll be powered by a blown Olds and Alec Carlson, the youngest member of the club and the owner of Harrell Engines, is building a Flathead-powered roadster. “It’s cheaper than drugs,” says the 24-year old, who is also the collection manager at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo, California. “My family has been racing in L.A. since 1923.”
Some of Bedlam’s meetups include the Valley Cruise Night at the Foster’s Freeze in Burbank, which takes place every Friday night. The inmates are regulars. “Usually we start there and then cruise over to Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake or to a Tiki Bar for some tacos,” says MacDonald.
Recently Bedlam and some friends also gathered in the historic L.A. River, photographing their cars on the same historic concrete that hosted races in the 1950s. The images, shot by Lyndon (@lensesandwheels) and Luigi Dubon (@v8visuals), are a beautiful trip back in time and can be seen on the club’s Instagram page (@BEDLAMcc).
Check them out. Those damn kids are fanning the flames of a generations-old hot rod culture.