Crazy Car Counterculture, The Concept of Customization and the Weirdo Shirt

In the late 50's, ads like this began appearing in Custom Cars magazine, this one from the May 1959 issue. "The Baron" is Baron Crozier, a pin-striping artist who painted drag strip cars. Roth is of course the larger than life Big Daddy Roth, creator of anti-Mickey Mouse Rat Fink (you'll remember him if you ever walked into a model shop in the 1960's) and other disgusting designs hated by mothers. Which was the whole point. Roth is still inspiring contemporary artists, though he blew his engine for good in 2001. These Weirdo-Shirts, which you can see were unique, one-of-a-kind paintings created on demand... not only launched Big Daddy's career but created something you pass a hundred times a day without thinking about it. Give-up? The printed T-shirt. Seriously. You can trace every damn t-shirt you see today right back to the Roth studios and this tiny little advert.

Although Big Daddy made millions on his designs, he always considered himself a hot-rod and bike designer more than cartoonist. His mission was creating the unique design in a world which favored conformity. The whole idea of customization ran against the cookie-cutter, rubber-stamp world he found himself in. After founding Chopper magazine in 1967, he had some serious problems with the Hell's Angels and regrets about the bad influence his work had on kids. He closed the studio and converted to Mormonism, but never gave up on his experimental road race designs.

There is a Big Daddy revival every few years. It is curious the last major one emerged out of the Seattle grunge world, as Big Daddy felt rock and roll killed the hotrod business. “Guys were spending more money on music—records and guitars and sound equipment—than they were spending on cars.” Roth wrote an autobiography, but it seems to be out of print...used copies are priced at far more than Ed sold his shirts for. Wait for the next revival.

Ad from Custom Cars Magazine May 1959 Collection Jim Linderman


  1. Awesome ad. I wonder what an original shirt would go for?

  2. I didn't spend much time looking. I think most were worn to rags, then used to clean the crankcase. A good ebay search though, to be sure.

  3. another revival of Roth some years back, by the man himself via House Industries:

    this set of fonts comes with - you guessed it - a free t-shirt!

  4. GREAT FONTS. Thanks so much for taking the time to send! I'm sure all will enjoy.