High On Adventure - Featuring Photojournalist Larry Turner

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spaceship on Wheels

Spaceship on Wheels

Randy Grubb’s amazing vehicles
Story and photography by Randy Johnson

Automotive artist Randy Grubb seems to have ripped a hole in the space-time continuum. The evidence is the Decoliner, a retro-futuristic fantasy made reality in his garage in Grants Pass. The Decoliner’s flowing lines in polished aluminum give it the look and feel of both watercraft and aircraft, but the vehicle is actually a highway cruiser. Hot Rod magazine called it the world’s coolest hot rod motorhome.

From the beginning, car culture was part of the fabric of Grubb’s life. He was born in Glendale, California, the hotbed of hot rodding. “Dad was one of those guys who could name any old Ford on sight, the year and the exact body style: deluxe or standard,” he says. Young Grubb was riding a dirt bike at seven. His father taught him to weld when he was 10, and at 14, he started building his first car—a ’31 Ford roadster with a ’48 Mercury flathead. In high school he drove a blue 289-powered ’40 Ford pickup.

Grubb went to the University of Southern California with every intention of becoming a dentist like both his father and grandfather. But in an art class he discovered the world of hot glass. He earned his degree in entrepreneurship, wrote his graduate business plan on a glass blowing business, and over the next 12 years became a master at making antique French-style paperweights that sold for up to $12,000 apiece.

But his interest in cars had never waned. In the early 1990s Grubb turned his attention—and his artistic sensibilities—back to cars and motorcycles. First, he took lessons in metal shaping from racecar and dragster builder Ron Covell. “Learning the skills of coach building allowed me the freedom to create anything, instead of just cutting up old cars,” he says. “If I’m going to build something from scratch it’s not going to look like anything you’ve seen before, and it’s going to have the flow and balance of a great piece of sculpture.”

His first built-from-scratch effort in 2002 was the Tank Car, powered by an M47 Patton Tank engine. That car won him the Chip Foose Design Excellence award and it’s now in the collection of recently retired Tonight Show host Jay Leno. The Indy Special followed, and then the B-702, inspired by the French curves of the 1930s Bugattis and Delahayes. In 2010 he debuted Piss’d Off Pete, his giant, screaming V-12 Peterbilt hot rod. Dave Johnston, CEO of American Retro and an avid collector of autos and memorabilia, said, “At this point, Randy’s the foremost automotive artist in the world.”

Grubb dreamed of an even larger work that would incorporate the aesthetics he loved: Art Deco and its associated Streamline design style of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. “I love those images from the machine age: the spaceships and instrumentation in the TV serial Flash Gordon and Disney’s Nautilus in Seven Leagues Under the Sea,” he says.

“I wanted to build a cool, riveted, boat-tail thingamagiggy that looked like Flash Gordon’s motorhome, so I did my homework. I studied vintage travel trailers: Airstream, Spartan, and Boles Aero,” he says.

The Decoliner didn’t just spring fully blown like Athena from the head of Zeus. It took a Herculean effort of 5,000 man-hours over a span of 18 months, along with help from master pinstriper Don Tippit, who Grubb calls his “line guy.”

The Decoliner’s stunning teardrop form is punctuated with a line of portholes that make it look part boat, part airplane. The gently curved lapped panels—all riveted together—accentuate its aerodynamic lines.

The distinctive nose is from a 1950 White 3000 cab-over truck. The chassis is from a 1973 GMC motorhome, which was chosen by Grubb for its low floor: it has front wheel drive with a torsion-bar front end and rear swing axles. “We needed height to allow a driver on top of the double-decker to have clearance from highway overpasses,” he says. A flight of teak stairs runs up the vehicle’s spine to the flying bridge; the stairway is rimmed with elegant handrails that mirror the sweeping lines of the body panels.

The birch-skinned interior is stunning with its exposed aluminum structural ribs, bench seats, bed, and kitchen area: all naturally lit through the portholes and the rear staircase windows.

“It’s powered by a big Oldsmobile 455 engine. It doesn’t get great gas mileage, but it gets thousands of smiles per gallon,” Grubb says. Indeed, when motorists pass the Decoliner on the highway they frantically take pictures on their cell phones while their faces display pure glee.

Tippit says, “It’s a rolling performing art piece. Everybody who sees it is curious. It takes them back to the time when they were kids and watched cartoons; it gives them a thrilling kind of feeling.”

Over the last year, Grubb has been working on a series of sleek Art Deco motorcycles: The Decopods (Bipods and Tripods) and the Decoson. He’s also hand-formed the body of the Pulse Jet Lakester with Bob “Rocket Man” Maddox and built the Rocket 3 quad with Tim “The Frogman” Cotterill.

Defining Randy Grubb’s rolling art is an elusive enterprise, but Linda Beckman of Tallahassee, Florida, nailed it. It’s the past and the future.

Visit www.RandyGrubb.com to see more of Grubb’s work and go to YouTube to see the series Randy Grubb’s Garage: new versions are in the works for the Motorland Network on Hulu.

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