Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Better than Darryl Starbird’s Superfleck Moonbird?

Better than Darryl Starbird’s Superfleck Moonbird?

-Alan Arnell

Darryl Starbirds is famous in two ways. His out of this world custom cars and being mentioned by the character Toad in the movie "American Graffiti" in comparison of his friend's 1958 white Chevy. Instead of focusing being an aeronautical engineer, Starbird designed and built custom cars to became known as “The Bubble Top King.” in his shop, Star Kustom Shop in Wichita, Kansas.

Star Kustom Shop in Wichita, Kansas

Darryl Starbird is one of a group of designers and artists including Ed Roth, George Barris, Norm Grabowski, Dean Jeffries, Bill Cushenberry and the great pinstripe artist Kenny Howard (nicknamed Von Dutch), who presided over one of the most productive and creative periods of American custom car and hot rod design.

Darryl is from Wichita, Kansas. As World War II broke out Darryl’s dad moved his family to Wichita, Kansas, to work for the Boeing Airplane plant.

Darryl was 10 years old when his older brother Kenneth went out and bought a 1926 Ford Model T Coupe for $25. The old coupe needed extensive work, and Kenny and Darryl began building their first dream car.

Image result for 1926 Ford Model T Coupe
1926 Ford Model T Coupe

When the war ended, Darryl’s dad moved his family back to Topeka and opened up a small service station.  Darryl and his brothers over time took over the brunt of the work at the garage.

Darryl went to Wichita University where he was working on becoming an Aeronautical Engineer. The three and a half years studying at the school along with holding down a night shift job at Boeing Aircraft's plant as a design draftsman in the engineering department. In 1954 Darryl decided to drop out of school and focus on his own shop.

Custom car pioneer Darryl Starbird

Darryl has in later years built his house and shop on the 80 acres on the shores of Grand Lake O’Cherokee in Delaware County Oklahoma about 60 miles northeast of Tulsa. In that shop in 1995 Darryl has built the “Debonair” a 1995 Lincoln Mark VIII featured on the cover of Custom Rodder, the “Donnabird” a custom Jaguar built especially for his wife as a 50th wedding anniversary present and has just completed his “Cristina Mark IX” a radically custom built 1941 Lincoln Continental, a beautifully designed custom to celebrate his 50 years in the car building business and will be touring the major shows throughout the country.

His first bubble car

"There it was, a 1956 Ford Thunderbird in a junkyard after a “run-in with a train,” Starbird wrote in an autobiography he co-authored with his grandson, Brice Bledsoe.

The 26-year-old Starbird gave $800 for the wrecked car and took it to his Star Kustom Shop in Wichita. When he was finished with it, he took the futuristic car, with its bubble top, television in the dash and a stick in the center instead of a steering wheel, to the 1960 Grand National Roadster Show in Oakland, California. The Predicta was the show's sweepstakes winner.

Starbird served as a design consultant for the Monogram Hobby Corporation, which turned many of his real-life car designs into plastic modeling kits, for children young and old.

Some of Darryl's Monogram model car designs

Today, Darryl owns and operates the National Rod and Custom Car Hall of Fame Museum in Afton, Oklahoma, where visitors can see more than 50 cars. Some of them are Starbird's own designs and others are showcased to highlight the history of custom car and hot rod culture. A notable car in the museum is the Reactor Mach II which appeared on multiple television programs.  

Even those who don't closely follow auto design might have heard of Starbird when George Lucas incorporated him into the script for American Graffiti.

Toad (Charlie Martin Smith) with the American Graffiti 1958 Chevy

The George Lucas a tip of the hat to Darryl in his 1973 film American Graffiti in which a character named Toad comments about his friend's 1958 Chevrolet Impala, "This may even be better than Darryl Starbird's superfleck moonbird!" In reality, there is no such car, however Starbird's creation, "Predicta", has taken to the "Superfleck Moonbird" name

Interesting fact from Darryl Starbird's book entitled “Bubble Top King”.  In 1960, Darryl was doing the show circuit with Ed Roth. Darryl was getting $500 per show with the Predicta. Ed Roth was getting $250 per show with the Outlaw.   But Ed was also selling T-shirts. A year later, Ed built the Beatnik Bandit.   Ed even named one of his kids after Darryl.   Yes you need to get the Book. Most people wrongly believe that Ed Roth built the first Bubbletop car, but in fact Darryl made the first.

Darryl Starbird's book entitled “Bubble Top King”

Darryl Starbird's National Rod and Custom Car Hall of Fame Museum is located in in Afton, Oklahoma, the Museum is situated on eighty acres of lakefront in a park-like setting. It's just thirty-five minutes southwest of Joplin, Missouri, off of Interstate I-44 (Tulsa to St. Louis). Take the Afton exit to Grove, Oklahoma Highway 59 then right on Highway 125 to Highway 85A.  Link to museum web page

Some of Darryl Starbird’s Creations

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