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  by Scott Cross

Dave Stuckey Bio on
Kustomrama.com



Dave Stuckey Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

Dave Stuckey Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

Above Pics by Scott Cross

Li'l Coffin


Dave Stuckey's Story

A Reprise of an article by Dave Stuckey

This Story is a response to the article "9 Lives" written by Darryl Starbird, which appeared in the April 1992 issue of "Rod & Custom Magazine", Volume 26, Number 2. The following account of events have been written by Dave Stuckey in an effort to establish the fact that he owned and built "Lil Coffin," and when it was built. Although Dave did learn and execute many skills while working for Darryl Starbird at Star Kustom, he was previously an accomplished welder and knew about the use and application of lead in body work.

Dave Stuckey writes:

I'm telling my side of the story about "Lil Coffin," the subject of the 1992 "Rod & Custom Magazine" article. When I first bought the 32 Ford Tudor Sedan in 1954 it had a perfect body and fenders. I bought it for $50.00 from Warren "Jelly" Wilhelms dad, who owned a car lot on south Broadway in WIchita, Kansas. Warren is a sprint race car builder in Wichita, Kansas. The first night I owned the car, I took out the motor and transmission and removed the fenders, hood and grill so I could channel it. I took the car to General Welding, the company where I worked after school, and channeled it nine inches. George Galvin, the manager of General Welding, helped me cut the car and get it ready to weld. He taught me how to gas and arc weld. One of my jobs there was welding scoops for tractors hauling dirt. In high school the only "A's" I got were in welding class, mostly because my boss George was an excellent teacher and welder. In class I welded engine stands, benches and things for the shop since my high school was brand new and this was the first year in it. J. Woodside, a super sprint car driver and Tom Hanna, the California builder of aluminum race car bodies, were classmates of mine. While at General Welding, I welded in a straight front cross-member, mounts for the radiator, split the wishbones, mounted a flathead motor and put hydraulic brakes on the '32.


Li'l Coffin

I also began working part-time after school for Darryl at Star Kustom. When I went to work for Darryl, I could weld and lead. We were having trouble with the tinning acid during the leading process. I had been around a fellow named Andy Gump, who had a body shop in Wichita, so Andy and I "played around" with the wiping off the tinning acid the pre-tinning the metal with lead. This seemed to solve the leading problems Darryl and I were having. The late Elden Titus, a local car customizer, and his wife Tammy both knew Andy in later years.

Darryl never really liked my '32. To him it was "just a hot rod." I drove the car hard and had a lot of fun with it, always making changes to it in some way or another. My dad built a 2-car garage behind our house for me and my brother's cars. It was here that I installed all kinds of motors in different cars, including flatheads and others in my '32. Some of the other engines were a '57 Chrysler 392 Hemi, installed in 1956, then a DeSoto with a stroker crank, an Isky cam, ported and polished heads and four carbs. I still have that DeSoto motor.

The gas tank in the '32 was molded into the rear of the car for awhile. When I took it off in my dad's garage, I set the car on fire as well as the garage. In the picture on page 45 of "Rod & Custom Magazine" April 1992, the "tracks" of the fire could still be seen on the left rear of the car. All the design work on the '32, as well as all the welding on the car, was done by me. I also did a lot of welding, leading and filing on Darryl's "Predicta" which was being built at Star Kustom. George Huenergardt, also employed at Star Kustom, can attest to these facts since we often worked on our own cars in the shop, at night, after it closed.

I put a '40 Ford dashboard in the '32, and built the rear fenders. The rear fenders were built completely with rods as the understructure and tubing to form the wheel wells. This structure was then covered with formed sheet metal which was brazed to the outer tubes. The brass made a good base for leading. I used '53 Studebaker front pans to form the lower rear-end of the body. I used '30 Model A Ford front fenders and formed the running boards from sheet metal. Bill Tumbelston helped me form the front nerf bar using an Edsel grill shell as the form. This nerf bar held the head lights which were 1959 Harley Davidson units. Exhaust pipes were incorporated into the fenders and running boards and the rear of the car was completed. All this was my design.

The car had several different engines during its first years. In Car Craft November 1960 the car is featured with its original grille and a 1954 DeSoto engine. The car was bored 3 13/16, equipped with larger valves, Isky camshaft, J. E. Pistons, Grant rings, reworked heads with 11 1/2: 1 compression ratio, Crower Manifold, four Stromberg 97's, Mercury clutch and 1939 Ford transmission and rear end.

I painted the car with Titian red, a 1956 Buick color. Steve Parks, a local pinstriper, had his mother, who worked for Wheeler Benigus, a Dupont auto paint store, mix the paint. I had her leave out the black and add 246-0887-H in it's place. I shot the color over a yellow tint mixing lacquer. Frank Turner did all the interior work on the '32. The car was upholstered in red and white Matlasha fabric imported from Belgium with silver threads sewn into it. He also reupholstered the car after it became known as "Li'l Coffin." The dash was filled and reworked for Stewart-Warner instruments. The doors were opened via solenoid system.


Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

In 1960 a new grill shell, similar to the "Ala Cart" was built with the help of Roger Hatchett, who also worked at Star Kustom. Roger held the tubing and metal while I welded it and held the shell while I hammered on it. He also got it ready for tinning and leading. I worked the rest of the night on it and had it ready for primer by morning when Roger showed up for work. He was surprised to see it done. Roger also helped me mask the car so I could paint the scallops. Jim Aldrich, of Wichita, a regular visitor to Star Kustom, saw the grill shell as it was being finished. He saw me installing the bullets on the grille bars and getting the car ready for the Kansas City car show. King George, a pinstriper from Lawrence, Kansas, striped the scallops and car to get it ready for the kansas City Show.


Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

Li'l Coffin

The name "Li'l Coffin" came from a girl in Dodge City, Kansas when she saw it at a car show there. The upholstery had a white matlasha fabric from Belgium which had sliver threads sewn into it which shined like chrome streaks in the sun. She told her boyfriend it looked like a 'little coffin'. The boyfriend told me what she said. She was embarrassed that he had told me. We played around with the name and came up with "Li'l Coffin." At a car show in Kansas City, the couple now married, saw the car and were surprised to see the name on the car. I talked to them for awhile and it was exciting to me to see how she reacted to this name, and the new grill shell and scalloped paint job we had put on the car.

I opened my own shop in 1960 and built a '59 El Camino for Sharon & Phil Kerner from Wellington, Kansas. I had done the door handles and hood ornaments while at Star Kustom. At my new shop, I put in the hood scoops, filled the tailgate, put in '54 Merc Taillights, frenched the headlights, built the grill and rolled the front pans. I did all the body work on Phil's car at my shop when the car was brand new. Phil was a super car guy and loved car shows and racing. His El Camino had a 409 in it for awhile. It was a show truck and it was fast. Phil worked at a body shop where they painted the car. He passed away shortly after I left Wichita to go to Detroit. Several years later this car was sold to Larry Smith and I painted the car black for him. Gary Smith l ater bought the car then sold it to Carson McKeen, who sold it to Darryl Starbird. Carl Green changed some things on the car for Darryl. He changed the grill bars and took the scoops off the hood after Darryl bought the car. They painted the car candy red.

After I opened my shop, I started a rework on the "Li'l Coffin." I sectioned the car, reworked the top to make it cantilevered and cut off the front fenders to move them forward. I also made a grill, moved the motor back and installed six carbs on the motor. I changed the firewall and dash, turned the doors around, changed the interior and installed four bucket seats. At this point, I was running out of money. Larry Farber, a good friend, liked the car and made a deal to buy it. We agreed I would finish the car and he would show the car. He was going to take it to California where George Barris had lined up shows for him. I changed the front seat to a bench seat, put a tonneau cover over the rear seat and Frank Turner re-did the interior. I painted the car candy wild cherry. Larry took the car to some California car shows including the Oakland Roadster Show.

During this time, I also finished a car for Pat Mulligan. It was a chopped and sectioned '58 Chevy called the "Candy Cart." This car was shown at the Oakland Roadster Show at the same time that "Li'l Coffin" was there. That same week Bill Traylor's Bantam coupe, "The Animal," which I had also worked on and which held the record for competition coupe at that time, was at a nearby California dragstrip. Bill Traylor and Larry Farber were friends and were "running around" together that week in California. We were all friends in Wichita before Bill moved to Chicago. Bill's car was a Bantam coupe on a dragster frame. I built the body, sloped the top back for airflow, built an aluminum nose, floorboards and molded in the wheel wells high into the body and cut out the body behind the tires for air flow, then painted the body candy red. The car had a 312 motor in it before he put a Chrysler motor in.

People from Monogram Models also saw "Li'l Coffin" at the Oakland Roadster Show. Jack Besser, the President of Monogram, first saw the car at an Indianapolis car show. That is where Roger Harney, also from Monogram, first heard of the car. Jack Besser tol d him they needed this car. They contacted Larry Farber and a deal to sell it to Monogram was made. The car went straight to Monogram and was never touched by Darryl until after they had damaged the paint on the car after showing it for some time. This can be verified by Larry Farber. They brought the car back to Darryl's, where I was working at that time, to get it painted. Dave Puhl, also working at Darryl's painted it. Monogram had bought the car to make a model of it, so they didn't want anything changed, just painted and touched-up. When the '32 came back, I didn't work on it at that time.

American Motors Company contacted me because they saw the "Li'l Coffin" at the 64 New York Worlds Fair and liked it. Dick Teague, who was Vice President of American Motors, talked to Bob Marioniach and found out about the car and learned that Bob and I knew each other. I knew Bob several years before this so Dick had Bob call me to see if I would be interested in working there. We talked several times and I told him I was interested. Then Dick called me to set up a time for me to come to Detroit and a deal was made. I stayed at Bob's place for a while, after I went to work there. Dick offered me all the help I needed during the learning process of becoming a clay modeler and reading their prints since they were so much different the the aero dynamic prints I was used to. It was fast paced working in styling, but I really enjoyed the styling work. This was very exciting for me and I worked there several years.

I then went to work for the Alexander brothers. Larry and Mike were great to work for. I worked on the Tasca Ford styling show car which had injectors coming up inside a bubble on the hood. I also worked on Harry Bradley's El Camino, a well known car stylist, hammering on the chopped top with a Pontiac rear window. I also worked on the left headlight on the Dodge Deora show truck. While I was working for the Alexander brothers, Pete Seaton came to me with a job offer which I took. They had just wreaked the "Seaton Shaker" Chevrolet funny car. I put a new body on the car, did the aluminum work and modified the wheel wells. Jay Howell, who was a co-owner with Seaton, built the "Little Red Wagon," and first drove it when it did an unintentional wheelie. Chrysler liked this so well they had it taped for television. Jay and Pete being partners worked out very well for me. This was an exciting place to work as they had lots of race cars to build and rework. They worked only on race car bodies and suspensions. I did aluminum work and built roll bars on many cars they built. An extremely large amount of Dodges and Plymouths were built into race cars there. The "white" cars came from Ford and Chrysler. "White" cars only included a bare body and chassis. Jay was good to work for and we worked on Roger Lindemood's funny car, "Color Me Gone," Bill Shrewsberry's '66 "L.A.Dart" wheel stander, which I painted, plus many, many more race cars. Things were happening with racing then and it was very exciting to be a part of changing things to keep ahead.

Then I got a call from Tom Reagon who owned Car Shop Inc. in New Orleans. His Ferrari had gotten "rear ended" on the street. It was built to run against Fords in Europe. It had a 12 cylinder motor in the rear. It looked like a tiny station wagon, had wire wheels and ran 200+ mph. He said he was going to take the car to Europe to be repaired if I couldn't fix it. They flew me down and I told him I could do the job. I went to New Orleans for one year and built the "Car Shop Camaro" funny car, put a new rear end on the Ferrari and painted it candy red. I also painted several cars, built my top fuel dragster frame and worked on lots of suspensions for cars. I ran a Pine mandrel bender making roll bars and frame parts. I also started on a roadster for Bill Benning Jr. from Tibeaduex, Louisiana. I had the car on wheels before I left New Orleans. When I quit this job and moved back to Kansas, Bill brought the car to me to finish. I painted the car, Paul Matz did the upholstery and Jim Burleigh did the wiring in the car. I put the car together, got it running and painted it. Bill's dad was one of the first actors who used to play in Tarzan movies. He was an exciting guy to be around. He could talk to anyone and was excited about his life, movies and everything. I talked to Bill's dad for several years after I finished the car.

Many people have asked me to tell about the history and building of "Li'l Coffin" and of my working at Star Kustom. People like Bill Johnson, Bill Tumbleston, Roger Hatchett and George Huenergardt had also worked for Darryl. When I opened my business, Roger, Bill and George worked at my shop. Roger worked on the new "Li'l Coffin" clear through the project until it was painted for Larry Farber. Larry took the car to car shows before Monogram got the car.

Jerry Lupton was the man who always kept up on the '32 with everything we did. He said it was his favorite car at the time and liked to polish and clean it. He would provide me pictures and information from various articles as well as the different stages the car went through. He knew everything about what I did at Darryl's and on the '32. I still see Jerry and this has helped me alot.

Just a few years ago, Ron Kilmer with the help of Ron Englert, built "Li'l Coffin II" and said he built the car as a tribute to me. He built the "Li'l Coffin II" because he said I never got the recognition for building "Li'l Coffin." He shows his car strictly as a tribute to me which is very exciting to me and I appreciate what the "two Rons" have done. Both Rons used to live in Wichita when they were growing up and they used to come to Darryl's shop and see me working on "Li'l Coffin" in it's early stages. They are both great guys and I have gotten to know them well. I never knew them back when they were little and would come to Darryl's shop. I really appreciate what they have done for me by building this car.

All the following people and many more, were around when I built "Li'l Coffin:" Jim Burliegh, Wichita; Darell Slane, Wichita; Mike Wrench, Oregon; Bob Joslin, Alabama; Bill Tumbleston, Michigan; Roger Hatchett, Oklahoma; Bill Johnson, Wichita; Larry Farber, Derby; Carson McKeen, WIchita; Carl Green, California; and George Huenergardt, Wichita. Many more who live here or used to live here have wanted me to tell my story. I thank Sharon Kerner who gave me permission to mention Phil and his El Camino.

I welded, leaded and filed on a lot of cars, including "Predicta" while working at Darryl's shop. This can be verified by George Huenergardt. Also Larry Farber, one time owner of "Li'l Coffin" said he would "set the record straight." Larry had come into my shop carrying a copy of the 1992 "Rod & Custom Magazine" article, threw it on the floor and said, "Dave when are you going to stand up against this." Larry saw the '32 being built both before and after it became "Li'l Coffin." Both George and Larry have been friends of mine for years. Good People!

I regret that the issue of who built "Li'l Coffin" has gotten "out of hand." I was glad to work for Darryl. It was an exciting place to be. I don't want to forget Donna Starbird. I think the world of her. She has always treated me great. I think the legend of Star Kustom owes a lot to this lady. The people I've mentioned, and too many more to mention, were excited about cars and were great people to be around. These experiences working on cars through the years have changed my life because I have always loved building and showing them. I have friends all over because of my car building career. People who build cars have this in common.

In the last 50+ years, I have worked on hundreds of cars, from street rods to elite European cars. The work has been interesting and challenging for me and hopefully an occupation that will be carried on long after I'm gone. A special thank-you to the "two Rons" for building their tribute to me which has inspired me to write this story. Thank you for letting me share my story with you. Maybe this will help clear up some questions.

Dave Stuckey
Please feel free to contact me @

Stuckey Racing Enterprise
2214 E. 47th St. S.
Wichita, Kansas 67216
316-524-0056


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