The question greets Jason Slover regularly. Is that really the car that was in the 1974 made-for-TV hot rod movie “The California Kid,” starring Martin Sheen, Michelle Phillips, Vic Morrow and Nick Nolte?
Unless the customized 1934 Ford three-window coupe with its distinctive black with orange flames paint is at a show or an exhibit, the iconic car resides inside Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Parts at 401 Legend Lane in Peculiar.
“One of the biggest questions we are asked when the car is out or if they come to the shop – is it the real car,” Slover said.
Pete Chapouris built the car in 1973 in Southern California. The journey it took to become part of a movie and then to the Kansas City area is fascinating.
The car now belongs to Slover’s dad, Jerry Slover, his mom, Peggy and his wife, Tina.
“It is a group effort,” Slover said.
The story of The California Kid 1934 three-window coupe starts in 1973. It didn’t initially have The California Kid on it. Chapouris had no idea it would be in a movie.
But this car and Jake’s Coupe – a customized 1934 yellow Ford three-window coupe that Jim “Jake” Jacobs built in 1973 –were featured on the cover of Rod and Custom Magazine in November of that year.
“The plot was there for the movie, the actors were in place for the movie, but what the TV producer didn’t have was the car,” Slover said. “He didn’t know what he wanted to use. He happened to be at a Thanksgiving dinner of one of his relatives and that magazine happened to be there at the house. He saw that and said, ‘That is what I am looking for.’
“His staff contacted Rod and Custom, and they got in touch with Pete.” They got the car and shot the movie, which sparked interest in the car from that point on. The car remained in California until 1986.
Slover developed a relationship with the owners of Pete & Jake’s in 1975 when he opened an auto parts store.
“Most people say, ‘They are in California and you are in Peculiar. Where does that all tie in?’” Slover said. “In combination with the auto parts store, my dad sold hot rod parts, too, and that is where the relationship started with Pete & Jake’s.”
In 1986, Jerry Slover bought Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Parts and moved the operation to Grandview and then to Peculiar. With the purchase came the car.
When the car arrived, Slover, who was 16 at the time, was like his friends when they saw it.
“The guys of my age didn’t quite understand it,” Slover said. “They knew it was a cool car, but that was the extent of it. They didn’t understand the magnitude of the car.”
Now in his mid 40s, Slover knows why this car generates such an emotional pull for those who grew up in the hot rod era of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
“When this car rolled across the screen, it was as though the next generation began. The California Kid was right there at the forefront,” said Slover, who added the first era of hot rods started immediately after World War II. “It inspired so many people.”
On average, the Slover family takes the car to two car shows per year. Last year, for the 40th anniversary of the car, they took it to Louisville, Ky., to the National Street Rod Association nationals.
The 1934 Ford three-window coupe was also in the Art of the Car Concours at The Kansas City Art Institute.
In June, they plan to exhibit the car at the Kansas City Automotive Museum at 15095 W. 116th St., in Olathe.
One of the neat things for Slover is hearing the stories from people when they see the car.
“We don’t pick up the magnitude of it until we take it somewhere,” Slover said. “Or I will get an email from someone overseas who is traveling to the United States and they want to make a trip here to see it.
“I am thinking, ‘You are coming from England, New Zealand, Australia and you are asking where Peculiar is so you can come and see the car?’ It has always amazed me.”
Do you have a car, truck or motorcycle or other vehicle you would like see featured in Make It Yours? If you do email your idea to David Boyce at Drive@kcstar.com