WHISKEY RUNNER –
ZZ TOP'S BILLY F GIBBONS’ '34 FORD COUPE
If you click on this link, you can watch ZZ Top’s official video for the song ‘I Gotsta Get Paid’, and, when I checked, it had had 31,715,798 views—that’s a lot of views. Of course, for many, the band, comprising front man Billy F Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard (the one without the beard) are the stars but for many the cars are the stars and the star car here is a bare bones, bare metal ’34 Ford 3-window coupe known as ‘Whiskey Runner’.
While the ’32 Ford ‘Deuce’ is always regarded as the quintessential hot rod as in ‘Lil’ Deuce Coupe’ the 1933-34 Model 40 was actually a vast improvement over the ’32 being three inches longer, somewhat lower and powered by a better, more powerful 90 hp flathead Ford V-8 in ’34.
When the coupe first arrived at Chapouris’ SO-CAL SPEED SHOP, Pomona, CA, designer Alberto Hernandez was given the task of conceptualizing an homage to Billy’s first hot rod the ’33 Ford coupe Eliminator that helped put ZZ Top on the map when their 1983 the album of the same name sold more than 10 million copies. Hernandez’ interpretation was Candy red coupe with flowing Z-form 3D trim that bisects the ’36 Ford louvers set into the ’34 hood sides and sweeps down across the door towards the rear wheel. It’s a nod to the original Eliminator graphics and according to Billy, “Getting that swoopy Z ‘jus’ right’ was one of the most challenging parts of the build.”
No doubt the most unusual and even eccentric feature of the coupe is the 24V aircraft landing light mounted under the right side of the hood. At the flick of a switch, the light rotates up out of the hood to illuminate the road ahead—two more mini-headlights are hidden behind the grille. Under the hood resides a prototype 331 ci Cadillac engine that Chapouris’ had in storage for more than 20 years. His father worked at Clayton Dyno and the engine had been one of three used in a development program with GM’s Ed Cline.
“Getting that swoopy Z ‘jus’ right’ was one of the most challenging parts of the build.” Billy F Gibbons, ZZ Top
As far as body language goes, the coupe has a heavy, five-inch top chop with the windshield laid back in the style of Alex Xydias’ famed So-Cal Coupe. Knowing that eventually the car was going to be painted, Mick Jenkins of Micks Paint gave it a shot of grey primmer highlighted with copper trim and purple underpinnings. The chassis is basically stock ’34 Ford complete with transverse buggy springs, however, it has been updated with a Winters quick-change rear axle and SO-CAL tubular shocks. The wheels are vintage 16-inchers shod with 5- and 6-inch tires.
Inside, the coupe is as simple as it gets with an aluminum bomber-style bench seat with the obligatory Mexican blanket, a gold painted dash from a ’40 Ford and a column shift and steering wheel of the same era. More modern is the shifter, which is a helicopter control stick that Billy found in an aircraft surplus yard.
Unfortunately, Chapouris passed away before the project could be completed and so the baton was passed to Jimmy Shine, Chapouris’ protégé of Shine Speedshop in Orange, CA. One of the first things Shine did was ship the coupe to England for the Goodwood Festival of Speed where Billy was to perform ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ at the Duke of Richmond’s private party. Sadly, it rained that weekend and Shine only managed one run up the Duke’s driveway so few photographs were taken.
Since then, the car has been earning its keep being used in photo shoots and videos, however, plans are afoot to finally give the coupe a coat of real paint and designer Jeff Allison Design has been working closely with Billy and Jimmy to develop a paint scheme fittingly unique.
“My first thoughts,” said Jeff, “were that it should be something like the root beer brown fade rendering, because that is the color of whiskey and the Chrisman Bros.’ coupe. The color would fade to black at the lower side of the body for a touch of custom, yet still be traditional lakes hot rod. I designed the wheel covers with that same logic in mind and utilizing the wheels already on the car, with the funky bolt bosses."
“Billy, meanwhile, wanted a wilder paint job over a pearl white base so I did up the second concept thinking about 60s Watson-style paint. That idea also incorporates an electrified paint product under the pearl white that, when turned on, illuminates in purple graphics.
“We’re not quite there yet. We keep exploring ideas and Billy has a purple and green ‘ribbon’ in his head that we have been trying to extract, so the next batch of ideas are what I did. The asymmetrical smoke/flame look is where we have left off and that one is pretty close to what he wants. We shall see….”