In researching our June AHRF Member of the Month, Jon Fisher, I was taken back to the exact moment that I first met Jon and thought I’d share that memory with our readership. Hope you enjoy!
-David Steele, AHRF Executive Director
The year was 1997 and I had befriended the hot rod pioneer Tommy Sparks about a year or two prior. He was guiding me on my quest of hunting parts to build a proper WWII-era AV8 roadster and I was hanging on his every word. I was living in Nashville at the time and this was before I had a cell phone, but that didn’t stop me from calling him from payphones at swap meets and asking things like,” How do I know it’s a ’39 trans? Is $50 a good price for one?”, etc, etc. Incredibly, Tommy couldn’t have been more patient with me and seemed kinda taken by my determination. He also enjoyed hearing from me and what he started calling “Tennessee prices”. This was mostly put into motion from my purchase of an immaculate ’32 K-member for $150 followed by ( no joke ) a bucket full of 97 carbs at a swap meet in Clarksville, Tn that I paid $80 for. When I called Tom on that one he said,”$80 isn’t too bad a price for a 97, I guess. But it should be pretty nice.” I said,” No, Tom, it’s a whole bucket of 97s for $80. There must be two dozen of them.” I think he actually yelled into the phone,” Hang up and go back and buy them!” Anyway, it was a very fun bit of long-distance guidance on gathering the right parts for this dream roadster I’d envisioned in my head. One that was basically like any AV8 that you’d find in a Don Montgomery book. Other than Tom’s guidance this was a solitary pursuit. I didn’t know a single person who was into this stuff. So there I was; me, my buddy Tom to ask about what it was actually like back in the day, and my Montgomery and Batchelor books for inspiration.
Then one day I got a phone call that I’ll never forget. It was a Saturday morning, I was at my home in Nashville and Tom Sparks was calling me. I picked up the phone and was immediately taken by how excited he sounded. He jumped right in,” Boy do I have news for you! We’ve got some young guys out here who have old roadsters just like the one you want to build. We saw them last night at Bob’s.” This would be the famous Bob’s Big Boy Friday night cruise-in on Riverside in Toluca Lake. Just down from the Barris shop. Tom continued,” Yeah, there was a whole gang of them and I said to Laura that those guys have built cars just like what David is talking about doin’.” I couldn’t believe my ears and I distinctly remember not being completely sure that this could really be true, so I asked Tom to clarify. He said,” Well, they look just like the roadsters that ran around when I was a young guy. They’re just like what we had. You never know… some of them might be. They’re running flatheads and all the correct old stuff.”
To say that this got my attention would be an understatement. I had been living inside this little bubble, memorizing the photos in these books and imagining what these cars look like when moving, or, better yet, sound like!
I was not traveling in my work at the time and the timing was perfect; I bought a ticket and flew to Los Angeles the following weekend. Yes, I bought a flight to go to a cruise-in!
Tom’s wife, Laura, was nice enough to pick me up from the airport and we fought our way through Friday afternoon LA traffic to North Hollywood just in time for Tom and me to hop in Tom’s roadster (not his RPU but a really great early Brizio-built ’29 on ’32 with a strong small block Chevy. A car that is now owned by Tom’s daughter, Jenny) and we were off to Bob’s! We managed to get a booth right in the front window so we had a good view of the cars arriving. We were a little early so we relaxed and settled into some conversation over dinner. As the time passed I’d almost forgotten the reason I’d come there… until I heard that great sound! Here they came… The Choppers! About 4 or 5 of them with Jon Fisher in his blue roadster leading the way. Just as they came into view, Tom said,” There they are! Those are the guys!”, and I couldn’t believe it. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. The cars had the look and feel that I’d imagined they would and to hear the burble from their various flatheads completed the sensory overload. It is difficult to imagine, now that we’re 30 years into the journey of the Choppers and the traditional hot rod movement, but this was a big deal. It was a big deal to me but also a big deal to the folks hanging around in the restaurant. Everyone stopped and looked over to see what this was. The cars had that much personality. In fact, they almost looked to be from another dimension when framed against the Mustangs, Camaros, and ’55 Chevys that were assembled in the lot. As they rolled by the windows of the diner making their way back around the building to the rear parking lot, I jumped out of the booth and told Tom I’d be back because I wanted to try and grab a photo of them rolling in. He understood and said,” You better hurry!”. I grabbed my little 35mm Olympus point and shoot and ran out the door chasing after them. Thanks to the usual packed parking lot of a Friday night Bob’s, they were a little held up by both machine and foot traffic. I ran back toward the back row and suddenly the crowd moved enough for the blue roadster to dart toward a few open spaces. That was Jon Fisher in his roadster. I snapped a shot as he went past me that shows him grabbing that big steering wheel and guiding what I thought was the most perfect and period-correct flathead roadster I’d ever seen.
Of course, the engine was barely shut off when I got to the door of the car and started in with my litany of questions; Where’d you find it? What was it like when you started on it? How long did it take to build it? How long has it been together? What is the history of it? etc, etc, etc. Fortunately for me, Jon is one of the nicest humans you’ll ever meet and seemed to love answering these questions. He introduced me to his friend Keith ( Weesner ) and I got a tutorial on his roadster, as well. By the time I let them get on with their evening my head was spinning. I couldn’t imagine going through life without owning and driving one of these creations. I was now fully addicted to this idea. As a musician, it reminded me of the hair metal of the 1980s giving way to the grunge scene of the early 1990s. The return of T-shirts and blue jeans and loud guitars plugged directly into tube amplifiers. It was a lot closer to the original rock and roll of the 1950s and so was this return to pure hot rodding. I was in!
Apparently, it was written on my face when I got back to the booth where Tom Sparks was still working on his plate of Bob’s spaghetti because he looked at me, giggled (not something you often heard from Tom), and said,” Well. What’d you think of that?” I guess I didn’t have the words for what I’d seen. After all, it’s hard to describe seeing something you’ve been studying in grainy black and white photos suddenly become an animate object. I mean, they made a great noise. They even smelled great!
After a long silence went by while I stared at my food, it was Tom who finally spoke up and simply said, ”I know. I understand… believe me.”
Thanks to Jon Fisher and all of the Burbank Choppers for everything you’ve brought to the world of traditional hot rodding and for showing up at “Bob’s” on what turned out to be a pretty memorable night.