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Fryblogger: Gearhead Burbank Revisited

Fryblogger: Gearhead Burbank Revisited

I don’t think I can top Brian this week. His Barnstormin’-column tirade about how the Nurburgring rage is symbolic of the anti-enthusiast problem with late-model marketing sparked a few pages of passionate debate on the subject. I’ve long held that raising some ire is good editorial; in the words of DLR, “We came here to entertain you, leaving here we aggravate you, don’t you know it means the same to me?” I love to stir the pot, and I’ve even whipped out the blender on occasion.

But after three weeks of hell, I just don’t have it in me. Ever since a few days prior to SEMA (at the end of October) when we found out we were jobless, we’ve been moving cars, tools, and parts every single day while also firing up this web site, burning cash on rental units, and seeking short-term revenue. I’ve also pre-loaded a bunch of content into the blog here at FJY.com. So I’m burned.

Which leads me to drudge up repeat for this, the very first of my weekly Fryblogger editorial columns. This is a story of our hometown here in Burbank, California, that appeared on our old site, and I liked it enough that I didn’t want it to vaporize. Check it out, and don’t miss the matching photo gallery that goes with it.

I also found out something I didn’t know: Schroeder Racing Products, making Stock Car, open-wheel, and hot rod steering parts, is right down the street, too, and not mentioned n my original column. See www.schroedersteering.com. Finally, the photo to your upper left shows The Dip, an old Burbank drive-in, now the site of a Costco.


I’ve got a lot of civic pride. Seriously, living and working here in Burbank, California, is really great, and while that doesn’t seem like a fitting topic for a gearhead blog, it sort of is. Cuz hot rodding was virtually born here.

I say “virtually,” because the truth is that the idea of hopping up automobiles probably came just seconds after the very first one hit the road. If you focus on lineage of the American hot rod, spots like Gardena and Compton (usually just called “Los Angeles” in olden days) are likely the places where circle-track racers morphed to street roadsters in the ’30s. Rodding spread through the ranks in motorpools all over the world during WWII, but it came home to Burbank to grow up.

Most famously, a returning GI named Alex Xydias operated So-Cal Speed Shop here in 1946. Burbank was at one time the home of Wayne Manufacturing (12-port heads and such) and Stelling & Hellings (which made the famous little German-helmet air cleaners and other accessories). There was a company here called Adel that made, among other things, tractors, aircraft parts during WWII, and of course, the Adel clamp. The well-known Autobooks store has been here since 1955.

Xydias still lives in town. His neighbors include Tom Medley, who was on the first masthead of Hot Rod magazine and who’s claim to fame is the Stroker McGurk cartoon though he also had a long career in many other facets of hot rodding; he still races vintage karts, a love born during his days at Rod & Custom magazine. Several other Hot Rod editors have called Burbank home, including Wally Parks, Jeff Smith, and myself.

Tommy Ivo lives in Burbank, too, in the same house he bought in 1948 when he was a 12-year-old actor. Many of his famous cars were built in the two-car garage behind that house including the t-bucket and the four-engine car. Ivo’s famous bucket was essentially cloned from Norm Grabowski’s Kookie car that appeared on a famous cover of Life magazine. That cover was shot at the Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake, often known as “Burbank Bob’s.” The cruise scene still happens there.  

Stories such as that remain the bench-racing lifeblood of the Burbank Road Kings (since 1952), a club of current lawn-chair warmers that clings to the days when guys like Ivo, Don Prudhomme, Kenny Safford, Roy Flastad, and Bob Muravez participated with other locals in legit racing at local tracks including the nearby San Fernando Drag Strip (now defunct, of course) as well as in bootleg competition at what was then called the River Road. We like to also imagine them terrorizing one of Burbank’s two former drive-in theaters, the Pickwick and the San-Val.

Burbank also holds some personal gearhead history. I graduated high school on a Friday in 1985, and on Monday I started work delivering parts for Joe Philips Dodge (later Burbank Dodge), which I was told was the first Dodge dealership in California, having grown out of tiny gas station along San Fernando Blvd, which was also Route 99 and, at a time before the I5, was also the main North-South thoroughfare in California. (In fact, a number of car dealerships dotted the road throughout Burbank, and some of the buildings are still standing, though they are being pushed down as the work/live apartments sprout up). Burbank Dodge is long gone though the building remains and is, coincidentally, at the end of the block from the current CJTV shop. Some of the signs that I painted as a working teen in the ’80s still hang on the chain-link fence. Directly down the street from the old Dodge building is Dave Akard’s Burbank Speed & Machine where I had my first 440 machined when I was 18 years old. We just picked up our latest 283 project from Dave last week.

I’m also fascinated by our War history, which was dominated by Lockhead aircraft manufacturing in two Burbank locations—one is now the Bob Hope Airport (Bob lived in adjacent Toluca Lake) and the other is the site of a mega-mall. Every P38 aircraft ever built came from Burbank, and during the War, partially assembled airframes were pushed along Empire Street at night to transfer them from one assembly line to another. That’s seen in the photo I attached to this blog. While the entire Lockheed complex has been swiped from the landscape, the remnants of the aircraft industry remain in the alleys and industrial areas of the city. In fact, our favorite local hardware store still sells leftovers.

Of course there’s some local Burbank action going on today, too, including a few movie-car shops as well as Hollywood Hot Rods and some really good private collections including one from that Tonight Show guy. Tim Allen’s shop is also close by in North Hollywood.

Since we’re name-dropping, note this partial list of somebodies that are past or present Burbankers according to Wikipedia: Tim Burton, Ron and Clint Howard (who grew up on my street), Sean Penn, Tom Petty, Eve Plumb, Debbie Reynolds (Miss Burbank 1948), Randy Rhodes (rock!), John Ritter, and Eddie Van Halen (though we think Wiki choked; he’s been on Coldwater Canyon forever, in Studio City).  

So you can guess that a lot of entertainment-industry stuff goes on here, too. When people say “Hollywood” in the context of movie making, they really mean Burbank. You know that from the line, “Beautiful downtown Burbank,” which originated on Laugh-In and continued with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. First national Studios started here in 1926 and was taken over by Warner Bros. in 1928, and Disney moved here in 1939 (from nearby Silver Lake, where I grew up). NBC, where my father worked in the early ’60s, moved here from Hollywood in 1952. Dick Clark Productions, now defunct, sat across from NBC. Most of the Dukes of Hazzard show was filmed at the old Columbia ranch in Burbank. Universal is also a stone’s throw over the hill (literally, a hill) in Studio City.

Wrap up the car history, the WWII stuff, and the entertainment industry with a small-town environment and you’ve got a pretty neat place to live. Plus the local fuzz helped catch our dog. So we dig Burbank.

For more, check out this cool photo gallery I put together of a lot of the landmarks I mentioned, plus more. You can click on the links throughout the story, too, and if I haven’t bored you to death yet, get lots more at Burbankia, my favorite site for local history.

But don’t get excited and move here. We have too many yokels already.

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