Custom car designer starred in TV's 'American Hot Rod'

Times Staff Writer

Boyd Coddington, a renowned Southern California hot rod and custom car designer and builder who starred in the cable reality-TV series "American Hot Rod," has died. He was 63.

Coddington, a longtime diabetic, died Wednesday at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital in Whittier of complications stemming from a recent surgery, said publicist Brad Fanshaw.

Once described by Hot Rod magazine senior editor Gray Baskerville as "the Stradivarius of car building," Coddington was a onetime maintenance repairman and machinist at Disneyland who customized cars and built hot rods at home in his off-hours before opening Hot Rods by Boyd in Stanton in 1978.

"His cars set the standards for custom automotive design because rather than just take a selection of parts from other vehicles, he would design and manufacture virtually every part for the cars that he built," said Fanshaw, former president of Hot Rods by Boyd and Boyds Wheels.

Coddington launched Boyds Wheels in 1988.

"He was the first person to utilize billet aluminum in the manufacture of automotive wheels," said Fanshaw. "Prior to that, all custom wheels were made in a cast manufacturing process where the aluminum is melted and poured into a mold. Boyd developed the use of solid aluminum and machining it and sculpting it for the final wheel.

"It gave you a much stronger wheel, a much more beautiful wheel, and you had much more design latitude when you did it that way."

Two cars built and designed by Coddington are in the permanent collection of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, which had an exhibit of his cars in the mid-1990s.

"Boyd Coddington is one of those guys who'll go down in history as one of the great names in the customizing and hot rod world," said Dick Messer, the museum's executive director.

Because of Coddington's background as a machinist and his ability to make precision parts for his cars, Messer said, "his stuff was very finely put together. A lot of the stuff he did looked like jewelry rather than automotive parts."

Coddington, Messer added, "had a great design eye. And some of the big names in the automotive world today, particularly in customizing and design, worked for Boyd at one time or another," including celebrity designers Jesse James and Chip Foose.

Among the iconic cars to come out of the Boyd shop are CheZoom, which Fanshaw described as "an extreme reinterpretation" of the classic 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air; and the Aluma-Coupe, Boyd's reinterpretation of a 1933 Ford coupe that was hand-fabricated from aluminum.

Then there's the sleek CadZZilla, a radically re-powered and re-stylized 1948 Cadillac coupe designed by ZZ Top band member Billy Gibbons and automotive designer Larry Erickson.

"It was Boyd Coddington's masterful execution, along with his team members, that created perhaps one of the most memorable customized cars in recent history," Gibbons told The Times on Thursday.

Reflecting on Coddington's career, Gibbons said: "Boyd's contributions were on a par with George Barris and all the other American car customizers combined. He will be missed."

Coddington won the America's Most Beautiful Roadster Award seven times, including an unprecedented six times in a row. He also won the Slonaker Award, another prestigious automotive award in the hot rod industry.

Honored as Hot Rod magazine's "Man of the Year" in 1988, Coddington twice received the Daimler-Chrysler Design Excellence Award.

He also was inducted into the Grand National Roadster Show Hall of Fame and the National Rod & Custom Museum Hall of Fame, among others.

His cars have been reproduced in Testors model car kits, made into a series of Mattel Hot Wheels toys and issued by the Franklin Mint as die-cast metal models. And one of the cars he designed and built -- a 1933 Ford coupe stylized with the trademark "Boyd Look" -- was featured on the cover of Smithsonian magazine, which profiled him in 1993.

In 1997, Ernst & Young named Coddington "Entrepreneur of the Year."

But a year later, Boyds Wheels, his successful company that went public in 1995 and merged with Hot Rods by Boyd, was in bankruptcy.

Although devastated, according to a 2000 account in The Times, Coddington formed a new company in 1998, selling his Ferrari for $150,000 and some real estate holdings for $1.5 million to fund operations.

"I was crushed like an ant, but I want to come back and prove to myself and customers that I can still do it," he told The Times.

With the debut of "American Hot Rod" in 2004, the bearded car builder whose trademark attire was a Hawaiian shirt and a baseball cap became a TV star.

The show, a behind-the-scenes look at building custom cars at Boyd Coddington's Hot Rods and Collectibles in La Habra, aired through last fall on the Learning Channel.

Coddington was born Aug. 28, 1944, in Rupert, Idaho, and grew up on his father's dairy farm, where he devoured custom-car magazines.

At 13, he acquired his first vehicle by trading his shotgun for a 1931 Chevrolet pickup truck. His father promptly made him trade it back, but Coddington's course was set.

"That truck kind of started everything," he told The Times in 1996. "From there, I built all kinds of different hot rods: I had a '40 Ford coupe, a '55 Chevy, Model A's and all kinds of vehicles."

In 1967, after attending a trade school and apprenticing for three years at a Salt Lake City machine shop, he moved to Southern California.

Coddington is survived by his wife, Jo; five sons, Boyd Coddington Jr., Christopher Coddington, Thomas McGee, Gregory Coddington and Robert McGee; his sister, Klis Ruesch; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Instead of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Coddington Foundation to benefit a variety of charities.

Donations may be addressed to Coddington Foundation, 811 E. Lambert Road, La Habra, CA 90631.

Services will be held at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 900 W. La Habra Blvd., La Habra.


For The Record Los Angeles Times Friday, March 07, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 108 words Type of Material: Correction Coddington obituary: The obituary of hot rod and custom car designer and builder Boyd Coddington in the California section Feb. 29 reported that he had won the America's Most Beautiful Roadster Award seven times, including six in a row. Only the vehicle owner's name goes on the perpetual trophy, although it is standard in the industry to say that the builder of the car also won the award. Coddington built six cars that won the award, including one in 1996 that he owned. He built back-to-back winners in 1995 and 1996. The obituary also reported that Coddington won the Slonaker Award; he built the 1981 Slonaker Award-winning car.
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