This is it, the day many of you hardcore Speedhunters readers have been waiting for – the fourth installment of Keith Charvonia’s insane Drag’n Kaiser. Strangely I don’t what I was looking forward to more; finally getting to see the car in person and photograph it or witnessing the end result of eight years of hard work coming to fruition on Speedhunters. This is the final chapter in an epic tale of a man and his automobile.
I have to admit I’m no expert on custom cars, actually I couldn’t be further from it, but even I can tell there is something very special about this car. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it exudes a certain aura that is unavoidable. Although the library where I shot the car was closed for the day, I don’t think there was a single person who had come by to return their books that wasn’t stopped in their tracks. Young and old alike were completely astonished.
It goes without saying this isn’t your ordinary feature car, so you can bet that this won’t be an ordinary feature. Picking up inspiration from Keith’s bold build, I decided to try something a little different with this story – a build post / car feature hybrid… a custom feature if you will. So without further ado, I’ll let Keith explain how the car went from where we left off in part three to the amazing completed machine it is today and add some of my own input along the way. Here we go…
Despite all the masking and covering we did at Winfield’s I still had to clean the frame up and touch up the black paint in places. I also masked the firewall and hit the bottom with black bedliner to make it disappear.
I tore all the suspension off and had it powdercoated before reassembling with new ball joints and bushings.
Now I could finally swing the engine back into place. It was a much more pleasant task working with clean, freshly painted parts. I also decided to ditch the old factory wiring for a Painless Wiring harness.
When I asked Keith if he wanted to pop the hood at the photoshoot I wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but to my surprise the engine bay was pretty incredible. It was nothing like the boring old Chevy 350 sitting in a mess of wires that I had pictured in my head. The engine was very presentable and the detail work done on the firewall and suspension pieces really shows here. Even still Keith didn’t seem too impressed by the bay, perhaps hinting at the perfectionist he’s become.
Next I turned my attention to the glass. The side glass is flat so I just had to make MDF templates and take them to the glass shop. However I soon found out that I should have fit the window regulators before paint. I painstakingly modified the regulators to work with the new angle of the chop. Another lesson learned!
Also notice the extended stainless window trim. I made a tool to reproduce the factory crimp on the end and Josh at Custom Metal Finishing made them shine. He is an expert in polishing and is actually working for a prosthetic manufacturer polishing surgical implant joints now.
I didn’t want the chrome right against the paint so I bought rolls of rubber and made my own gaskets so they would fit correctly. Notice the hole punch made from a piece of scrap.
Next the chrome slowly made its way onto the car. It really looked good against the shiny paint.
While Keith’s input might sound a little simpleton, you can’t argue with the man – the chrome literally does look quite good against the paint. The most interesting thing to me about the chrome and the paint is how they interact with one another, they both seem to be constantly changing color and shape almost as if the car is alive.
A set of NOS tail lenses were wet sanded and buffed to perfection before being installed with more custom gaskets.
Here’s the interior coming together in traditional white tuck ‘n roll with lots of chrome and paint. The carpet is discontinued and I got the last of it. It was originally used in late ’50s Pontiacs, but I think it suits this car well.
Again I think Keith might be a little too modest here. The interior of the car is incredible and I had no idea how much work goes into building the cabin of a custom car. There is probably more paint and bodywork done on the inside of this car than the outside of most of the cars we feature. And the creativity involved like building your own steering wheel or forcing seats and consoles from other vehicles inside is pretty amazing.
I drew up Drag’n emblems based off the original Kaiser font for the front bucket seats and had them water-jetted from .120” stainless steel. Studs were welded to the back for mounting and they were brushed by hand.
On its own items like the seat emblems are just one small, albeit very cool, detail. What I discovered about custom cars is that this is how you arrive at a finished car, when you compile hundreds and hundreds of cool details they form one badass car. I’m not sure if there is a single part on this car that is in 100% original form. Everything is shaved, chopped, bent, smoothed, polished or replaced. It’s wonderful.
I designed the door panels based on the stock Kaiser design but adjusted the proportions for the car. I also moved and clocked the door handles to make them more streamlined, you’ll see this in the feature pictures.
I’ll give Keith that one, the car is nothing if not streamline. There isn’t a single bend or curve anywhere on the interior or exterior of this car that hasn’t been meticulously calculated. The way each line draws a shape and interacts with the other curves is exquisite. I’m quite literally speechless.
One of the last sponsors was Diamondback Radials, who sent me a custom set of wide whites. They added a step to the whitewall to make it deeper and eliminated all the lettering on the sidewalls. Custom tires!
It might seem like an obvious piece of the puzzle, but can you imagine the car without the white walls? On almost any car one can argue that the wheels make or break the visual appeal. On a custom car the same can be said for even the most minor details that most enthusiasts never even think about, like the sidewall of a tire.
I hand trimmed the copper license plate so it would have an even reveal all the way around.
It’s this type of obsession that makes a custom car a work of art. When you can’t find anything else to reshape why not go after the number plate?
This is often overlooked, but one of my favorite features of the car so I want to point it out. Check out how the paint flows right through the back window, blending interior and exterior.
I’m not going to lie, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the parcel shelf either had Keith not mentioned it to me. But I think that’s probably what Gene Winfield was going for, a seamless transition that ties the interior and exterior together. It’s almost as if the glass is merely a suggestion. There is likely more man hours put into shaping, fixing and painting that single piece of metal than most people have in their entire cars.
I just picked up my last sponsor, Vintage Air. They hooked me up with a reproduction Mark IV underdash AC unit which I was able to install just in time for the Speedhunters photoshoot. It’s a necessity when you drive a hot rod in Arizona, and the period correct look is perfect for this car.
I ‘finished’ the car around midnight on November 18th of last year. I remember the date because November 19th was the looming deadline for the Goodguys Southwest Nationals. In an interesting twist, I ended up scheduled for a Rodder’s Journal photoshoot that same weekend, so the pressured was doubled. Fortunately I work at a car place with car guys who understand, and they let me take my vacation time to finish the car.
It was a two-week thrash of 16 hour days non-stop until the show. I think I logged a couple hundred man hours in the last week with the help of friends. Now that the car is done I have been driving it, showing it and refining it. Every time I take it out I find something small to improve on. My son was born at the beginning of the year so that prompted me to install a rear seat belt for the car seat and run the exhaust out the back to keep the fumes out of the cabin.
I’ll let it sit for a month and then take it out for a drive and I’m reminded all over again how cool it is to build something you’re proud of and then drive it on the street. A few months back I was driving and I ended up at a stop light next to a school bus. The kids were looking out the window and yelling at me, so I hit the switches and laid the frame out and their eyes just popped out of their heads! I bet that made an impression on a couple of those kids, and opened up a world they didn’t know existed. I remember when I saw my first bagged truck and the way it opened my mind to custom automobiles, and I hope this car can do that for some people too.
Sean asked me to write about what I would do differently, and I would have to say ‘nothing.’ Sure there are little things like the light leaking out around the gauges at night that I can’t let go. I could call it done and leave them, but this car is so representative of me and my craftsmanship that I can’t leave little things like that alone.
There are things that I did two and three times on the car and things that could have been done better, but my answer is still ‘nothing’ because this entire build was a learning experience. Without doing things the hard way I would not know there is an easier way. This car took eight years to build, from age 22 to 30. A lot changed in my life in that time, and the car evolved right with me. I think I could build the same car in 2-3 years now from what I learned the first time, but I wouldn’t trade the learning experience of a first-time build for anything.
Thanks to all who read along and commented, I’m going to work on the next build now!
I can’t think of a better way to finish a story than that, if you don’t feel inspired after reading this then you’re a corpse. Keith said he hopes that this car can open people’s minds to the world of custom automobiles and, while I can’t speak for everyone, it certainly has my full attention and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. Until then if you want to get a look at the car yourself it will be on display at SEMA in a few weeks.
1951 Drag’N Kaiser Kustom
’95 Chevrolet LT1 V8 9C1 Police Package; Airaid intake; Taylor Thundervolt 8.2 ignition wires; 30lb red top injectors; Borla mid-length headers custom coated black, stainless cat-back; ARP header bolts; Painless engine and chassis harnesses; York belt driver compressor for air suspension; chrome valve covers; custom radiator mounts; plating by Custom Metal Finishing Indiana
ENGINE MANAGEMENT / ELECTRONICS
PCM4Less tune; Autometer gauges retrofitted into stock cluster
4L60E transmission; shortened driveshaft;
SUSPENSION / CHASSIS
’95 Chevrolet Caprice frame w/ notched rear and trimmed front; Slam Specialties RE-7 air spring (front), RE-8 air spring (rear); RCD Classic shocks
WHEELS / TIRES
Wheel Vintiques OE chrome steel wheels; bullet center caps and lug nuts; 215/75R15 Diamondback Radial tires
’65 Ford Thunderbird seats modified to fit, tuck n roll pleats, Winfield painted seat backs, custom “Drag’n” emblems; Trinidad black/silver carpet; stretched vinyl headliner; shaved dash switches, e-brake and glovebox; custom switch panel, custom paint and chroming, extended T-bird center console with hidden air-ride switches; cutom built ’55 Kaiser steering wheel insulated with plastic and painted, custom rear package tray built by Gene Winfield and Keith Charvonia to merge Thunderbird rear seats into the Kaiser; Vintage Air Mark IV A/C system; upholstery by Lui Contreras at Country Auto Upholstery
Body conversion from 4 door to 2 door, 6″ chop, shaved side trim, frenched license plate, molded drip rails, shaved locks, antenna and wipers, welded factory seams, modified stainless window trims, rear fenders built from ’55 front fenders; Cobra side mirrors; custom glass; stock bumpers tucked and smoothed, flipped upside-down and plated, shortened rear bumper, frenched hood ornament; Ford Zodiac headlight rings; House of Kolor paint by Gene Winfield, bodywork by Keith Charvonia and Gene Winfield
This is my new favorite car. BEAUTIFUL. Recommend watching the J Leno's garage ep. of this car
I confess I have not seen the previous instalments on this car. However, I am a classic car and hot rod and custom enthusiast and I do know how a stock Kaiser looks. When I first laid eyes in this thing I about had an aneurism. I cannot believe how much work has gone into this car. It's mind-numbling. And the interior is exquisite, elegant yet at the same time smacks of hot rod with tuck and roll and custom stuff everywhere. And there I was thinking "this looks like freaking Winfield", and yup. This is one of the most awesome cars I've ever seen in my entire freaking life. The pictures help too.
Imma go read the previous posts on this thing now. Heck, I'll even log in @ the hamb and look for the build thread, been a while since I've been there.
Second, this is why I love Speedhunters. It attracts such a huge range of readers, from guys like you who completely understand the nuances of a kustom to guys who have never seen a kustom but can still enjoy the article and learn something from it.
KeithCharvonia Now that I've read the rest of the posts here at Speedhunters and found out that this thing was actually a 4 door and is placed on top of a cop car (I was going to barf something about the engine choice and how in hell this thing didn't have a multicarbed De Soto or something, but decided to read first so not to embarrass my self- glad I did) and it appearing in Hot Rod (I would never have guessed that was the same car, I also liked it a lot when I saw it on the mag in that rough shape!) and you getting to learn from Winfield, this car's story absolutely blew my mind. From being ferociously different to learning from a legend, it's full circle. And here it is again turning jdm-fanboys (sorry) onto kustoms and all the work that goes into them. Mold-breaking. I love it.
KeithCharvonia It's an inspiring story indeed! Can't wait to see what Keith does next!
This build is so freakin epic!
Keith, if i ever get to meet you, i hope we´ll have time for a chat.
You seem like the kind of didicated guy that fuel the emagination of guys like me that want to be that dedicated.
Awesome, just awesome!
Nice pics Sean.
Lille Buller I can attest to Keith's dedication and attention to detail. I had the distinct pleasure of lending him my car to do prototype work for a part unrelated to this build. Absolutely awesome guy, and this car is a dead-on representation of the man. If you do meet him, I know you won't be disappointed.
It came all together just beautifully - i wish to see more custom builds like this in the near future!
I thank everyone who was involved in someway or another with this car, post and pictures. I truly had a great time reading and watching the photos!
not a fan of big american cars like this...BUT this car is incredible! it stand out from all the others with that insane paintjob!
and sean, as always man awesome work with the pictures!
Nikhil_P Thank you man I appreciate it! I'm hoping to do more custom cars in the future, and perhaps with Keith's help I can tap into the scene a little more. It's always fun learning about styles and cultures, makes you feel like a kid again.
Every word and every shot is fucken awesome. Wish there was more of THIS on SpeedHunters!
Wow, that paint really does play tricks with the eyes. It's hard to get a good visual grasp of the whole car. Fantastic work!
MattAtDoyle It's totally crazy, and it actually has some flake in it too which didn't show up much in these shots since it isn't in broad daylight.
Definitely not the sort of thing i'd be interested in, but i followed each of these posts with so much interest. This car looks amazing, seeing the amount of work that has gone in to it and how fantastic it looks is so inspiring. The colour scheme is perfect, much like the whole car. Its so immaculate that it looks photoshopped! Keith, you're an inspiration to all of us speedhunters!
Just to add, I've been regularly visiting speedhunters for years and despite getting a picture on #iamthespeedhunter, this is by far my favourite post on the site. Thank you for showing us this Sean. Keep up the good work!
TomHoward Wow thank you so much for the compliment! I'll do my best to keep more cool stuff coming :)
This is the best inspiring build I have ever seen. Im not into this scene but my god it's made me want more. Thanks for the show! Keith's got talent!!!
Curlytop There's no denying that, I'm sure whatever Keith does next will be insane!
Flawless...I can't even choose which wallpaper to use!? Each time I look at one, I find myself asking "is this real life..?"
Keith, your car is incredible, man! Literally jaw-dropping. To know that someone did this in their 20's makes it that much more amazing. You took your time, did it right, and the end result is something to truly be proud of!
Really enjoyed this 4 part series! The Hard work/determination/passion of the owner created this great car. I'm not from the custom/hotrod scene but I definitely appreciate everything that has gone into this build.
Very nice projet. Swiss unfortunate that this type of vehicle is used solely for the exhibitions. :(
Kevin Angeloni I might not be understanding you, but this car is driven quite often. It has the rock chips to prove it. :)
KeithCharvonia Ahah sorry I am Swiss and I my english is not very good and I use google traductor that this.
I said that in Europe and Switzerland in particular road laws are very strict concerning the approval of vehicles. unlike the U.S. ;)
Awesome car and for some reason to me it still has that "rat rod" flair to it. I guess because its not manufactured so to speak like a lot of modern hot rods are. This one was built with time, love, effort, and a budget. Classic hot rod ingenuity right here.
I've loved reading the story of this build and to see the final finished car, Wow! I have to say it's absolutely INCREDIBLE. What a piece of work. A true, living, breathing, moving piece of art. Stunning.
Mr Charvonia, that's one mighty fine motor you got yourself there.
Amazing pictures and inspiring words, I love how Keith got to share his own personal words with us. This isn't a feature, it's a story.. just beautiful
Slight I thought the concept Sean came up with of a "custom" story blending our words was very unique too.
KeithCharvonia Slight Glad you guys liked it, I think it came together even better than I had originally anticipated.
sean klingelhoefer Yeah Sean, I think showing that personal side with high grade pictures is really slick. It's something I wouldn't mind seeing more of! Keep up the great Speedhunting, I'm totally stoked for the book!!