I have a vague recollection of when I first heard of the Beatnik Bandit.
I must have been around seven as Ed Roth created the car in 1961. It is very likely that Gregory (my next door neighbor) built a model of it. The graphics on the cardboard box look very familiar to me.
When Roth’s Rat Fink made the scene a couple years later, it created a sensation in my neighborhood. One inch rubber likenesses were highly sought after prizes in the corner market’s gum machine. Teenagers purchased air brushes and taught themselves to paint their own ghoulish characters on T-shirts. My siblings and I each had one.
I played with Matchbox cars as far back as I can remember. When Chevrolet introduced the Camaro in ’67 I thought it was so cool, I pretended my Opel Diplomat was the popular pony car! Then the first series of Mattel Hot Wheels were released (1968) and I pretty much lost my mind. The first car I bought was the Camaro but the Beatnik Bandit was included in that first series. Interestingly, I never owned the track and preferred racing them on a smooth carpet. Eventually all of my cars became racers (even my Snow-Trac got tires instead of treads!). I busted out the Bandit’s bubble top and replaced it with a full roll cage and miniature banana wing. I painted it black and numbered it “11x”. Today it would make a Redline collector swoon!
Years later, I introduced my daughter to “Kar Kulture” and shared my Roth books with her. We discovered that numerous Roth creations, including the Beatnik Bandit were on display in Reno so we planned a pilgrimage there. Seeing it in person was beyond nostalgic- It was weirdly spiritual. We spoke in low voices out of respect. Roth was an original with a unique perspective. Viewing his collected works in full scale was truly impressive.
In 1969 the Twin Mill was introduced by Hot Wheels. Unlike the Camaro or Bandit, the Twin Mill was a fantasy car designed in-house by Ira Gilford. It wasn’t one of my favorites but my buddy Mike Farina had one and so I was familiar. Over the years it remained popular with kids and continued to be a top seller. When Hot Wheels decided to celebrate their 30th anniversary in 1998, they endeavored to have the first full scale Twin Mill built. Boyd Coddington’s shop got the nod, and then went bankrupt to everyone’s dismay. Mattel rescued the project and had the build completed by someone else. The anniversary got pushed back and the reveal took place at the 2001 SEMA show. I didn’t have my Oh My Gawd Moment until I attended SEMA a couple years later. Rounding the corner and finding it sitting there, bigger than life, was surreal. It was repainted Antifreeze Green. The twin, chromed 502’s glistening under the lights. Around the blowers was a hint of residue…starting fluid? Oil? You didn’t know, but you knew it ran! That was important. Yet somehow, it retained the essence of a toy. Man, I just wanted to steal it.
Since 1/64th was my scale, not surprisingly, I also collected HO slot cars. My dad got me started on those in the early sixties and I remain a track owner to this day. Over the years I’d owned numerous Tyco and Aurora Cheetahs; it was a common slot car. I don’t think it occurred to me that there were real Cheetahs until I walked into a garage in Fresno (circa 1992) and saw one. It wasn’t complete; in fact, I remember it looking like a big slot car body. Still I recognized it immediately and it took me back to my childhood. I loved finding it but didn’t appreciate at the time, what a rare discovery it was.
The Cheetah was designed by Don Edmunds (of midget building fame) for a builder named Bill Thomas. Between the fall of 1963 and April of 1966, fewer than two dozen Cheetahs were produced. Because of the low production number, the Cheetah could not compete against Shelby Cobras as intended and had to race in the modified class. There, the transition to mid-engined designs was in full swing so the Cheetah was hopelessly outdated. I think it’s interesting to note that a street version of the car could be purchased for $10,000 in 1964 and Sonny and Cher bought one!
I experienced my most recent Oh My Gawd Moment when I spotted this ex-Alan Green racer at Laguna Seca in August. In spite of being tied down, it appeared ready to pounce. The owner had just turned down a bid of $250,000 at the Bonhams auction. According to one source, the value has diminished now that reproductions are available for half that amount. Still, the Cheetah was an Oh My Gawd sports car if there ever was one.