Monday, August 28, 2017

Car Customizer Boyd Coddington ... "King of the Hot Rods" [otd 8/28]

Boyd Coddington. Sons of Boyd web site.
Boyd Leon Coddington, the famous car customizer known as the “King of the Hot Rods,” was born August 28, 1944 in Rupert, Idaho. Like many boys in the Fifties, Boyd was mad about cars. Back then, kids who grew up on a farm – Boyd’s father ran a dairy  – learned to do for themselves, not look for a store-bought solution when stuff broke.

Boyd’s first car was a Chevy pickup. He told an interviewer (Los Angeles Times, December 2, 1996) that he traded a shotgun for the vehicle when he was thirteen years old. But he had to trade back because he’d done the deal without his dad’s permission. He later scrounged up some money to get it back. Boyd said, “That truck kind of started everything.”

Trade school study at Idaho State University and in Salt Lake reinforced that early imprinting. Experience made him an auto mechanic, training honed his machinist skills, but natural aptitude turned him into an artist in car customization.

In 1968, Coddington moved to California and landed a machinist’s job at Disneyland. At night, however, he built hot rods. Soon, word-of-mouth spread through the Southern California hot rod subculture: A Boyd Coddington custom job was special, in ways that might be difficult to capture in words, but were instantly recognizable.

A Coddington rod glowed with a clean, polished look, where every factor contributed to the overall effect. Nor was this beauty just “skin deep.” Open the hood, slide underneath, whatever … you found the same near-obsessive attention to detail. A master machinist, Boyd made sure every component fit perfectly. He became famous for a “billet” approach to parts: take a hunk of metal and “carve” it with lathe and milling machine until you had what you needed.

Boyd finally opened his own shop and went full time in the late Seventies. Instantly recognizable with his bushy beard and favorite Hawaiian shirts, he attracted aficionados whenever he appeared at any car-related event.

Eventually, celebrities and wealthy “car nuts” began paying fabulous sums – once over a half million dollars – to have Boyd turn out rods designed specifically for them. Yet Boyd and his crews earned every penny of those large sums – with endless hours of work and rework, striving for automotive and artistic perfection. A number of fine customizers learned the business in Boyd’s shop, and then went on to build their own successful careers.

Boyd and his creations earned an incredible range of awards: “America’s Most Beautiful Roadster” (7 times – an unprecedented feat, and he once won it back-to-back), the Daimler-Chrysler Design Excellence Award (twice), voted “Man of the Year” by Hot Rod Magazine in 1988, inducted into the Grand National Roadster Show Hall of Fame, and on and on.
Coddington-modified car. Sons of Boyd.

Starting in 2004, Boyd received yet another peculiarly modern stamp of approval – he hosted the reality show American Hot Rod. During the program, the shop crew built custom cars within certain specified parameters and time limits. The pressure on the set – the actual shop – was real, and intense. Coddington routinely pushed his people into working long, exhausting days, and nights, to meet his standards of artistic perfection.

A long-time diabetic, Boyd died in February 2008 from complications after surgery.                                                                                                                                      
References: The Boyd Coddington Story, Boyd Coddington web site.
Dennis Hevesi, “Boyd Coddington, 63, King of Hot Rods, Dies,” The New York Times (March 1, 2008).
Dan Lienert, “The Hot Rod King,” Forbes Magazine (June 1, 2004).
“Our Father: Boyd Coddington,” Sons of Bob.


  1. Thank you for posting such a useful, impressive and a wicked article./Wow.. looking good!
    Boyd Coddington Wheels

  2. No, thank YOU for looking in. It's sad when a creative genius dies -- you always wonder what other fabulous creation he (or she) might have done next.
    At least the cars he built are still with us -- and we can admire the photos.
    (BTW ... as of this comment posting, the "Coddington: History" web site is disabled. Hopefully that will clear up soon.)

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