Congratulations to our AHRF Member of the Month and real-deal lifelong car guy, Steve Beck! Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Steve was a car-crazy kid from the drop of the flag. An avid slot-car racer as a child, he was drawn to Team Ford and the miniature versions of their race cars of the time , thanks to the fact that this was right in the middle of Ford’s “Total Performance” era. Whether it was winning LeMans in the GT40s, dominating the NASCAR tracks, taking national titles in sports and GT cars, or winning Indianapolis, it was most likely a Ford or Ford-powered racer during the 1960s and young Steve Beck was paying close attention. This early addiction drove him to do what so many budding car guys do: he found a mentor. Bud Hand was a self-taught master mechanic who was well known in car circles around Los Angeles, and Steve began riding his bicycle over to his shop to hang out and learn as much as possible. Thanks to the fact that Bud’s dad was a master mechanic (and Bud’s grandfather was a blacksmith), Steve had unknowingly struck gold, as he would not just be exposed to Bud and his dry lakes racing hot rod buddies but also to Bud’s dad who would teach him about the simple beauty of the Model T Ford and other cars from the earliest days of automobile production. This would prove to shape Steve’s talents, tastes , and interests to this day… as well as what he has collected in his garage through the years.
Steve’s first usable car came in the form of a well-used Austin Healey. This was the perfect car to drive back and forth to high school in the always-agreeable southern California climate, but by the time Steve was about to graduate (class of 1974) and enter the workforce, he knew that a more reliable form of transportation was needed.
Going back to when Steve was 9 years old, it happened that his mother worked for a doctor who was the Shelby family physician. Knowing that her son would love nothing more than to get an up-close look at these new Shelby racers being built in the neighboring community of Venice, Mrs. Beck asked Dr. Watson if arrangements could be made for a tour. Considering the fact that Dr. Watson had delivered the Shelby children, this was just a phone call away. Soon young Steve was walking through the Shelby race facility and looking in amazement at the new Cobras and Mustang GT350s that were being assembled and readied for race tracks and road courses. The look and feel of those cars had a powerful impact on the young Steve Beck, and he never forgot it. Nine years later, he came face to face with one of these cars, and that chance encounter would affect him for the rest of his life.
Steve remembers, ”When I was about to turn 18, I got a call from a friend of my older brother who heard that I was looking for an American car that I could drive to my first job. He said he had one of those ”Shelby things” and asked if I’d like to come by and check it out. He was always wheeling and dealing in stuff, and he had about four cars he was selling. One of them was a pretty nice Boss 302, and the other interesting car was a ’65 GT350. The Boss 302 was a nicer car and a lot newer, so I test drove that first. Then I hopped in the Shelby to take it around the block, and I fell in love with it. I knew it was the car for me. It was lighter and had precise steering. I could see out of it easily, and I just loved it. It had been painted green and was jacked up in the back, the water pump was leaking , and it needed some attention, but I knew that with a little bit of work, I could have a good car. I asked the guy what he wanted for it, and he said, ’How about $900?’ So, I sold my Healey for $600 and came up with $300 more over the next few weeks and bought it. That was almost 50 years ago, and I still have the car. It was my daily driver for over 20 years and got me my first job at a BMW repair shop. The owner who was interviewing me came out to see the car when I’d pulled up in it. He reached over to open the hood and said that he’d hire me if it was a real Shelby. He hired me that day, and that was the beginning of my career.”
As Steve continued into his profession as an auto mechanic, his love and interest for old cars only grew. He became more and more involved in the LA car community and showed a sincere interest in everything and anything on four wheels that was unique. From Model T and Model A Fords to Austin Healey Sprites to Lotus Sevens, it was all cool and interesting to Steve Beck. But one constant continued to follow him along on his journey… his faithful old ’65 Shelby. Now returned to its original livery of Wimbledon White with Guardsman Blue stripes, the trusty old Mustang not only got Steve to work but competed in many a gymkhana and track-day session, did some canyon carving , and saw many a stoplight drag race. As Steve remembers, ”Yeah, I was a road offender. It was kinda bad. I was jailed twice and lost my license twice because of excessive speed. I would use my one phone call to call my brother and have him get the car before it was impounded. I finally started taking it to the Cobra Club track days at Willow Springs in the late 1970s and learned how to get around a real race track from guys like Dave Drolley, Wayne Richards, and Ray Hudson … real racers. I still bring the car to Willow twice a year with the Shelby club for track days. It’s a lot of fun. Too bad it took over 20 speeding tickets to get me to take my love of speed to the track. That being said, I did just get another one the other day in the Mustang, so I guess I’m a slow learner. That, or it’s the fact that I feel 18 again every time I look through that windshield.”
Speaking of being 18 again, as the late 1980s approached, the faint buzz of a more traditional hot rod movement began to bubble up, and Steve took notice. Not only did he like seeing this return to Ford-based hot rods that were being owner-built, but it reminded him of those great old days when he would get to hang around his old pal and mentor, Bud Hand, and hear stories of the dry lakes from Bud and his pals and see and hear flathead powered ‘32s and Model As. This was something that was very much still in his bones, and he quickly got to work. “Yeah, I had always wanted a car like what these guys I grew up around drove. The kind of car that represented the early days of hot rodding. I had always had plenty of fun in my sports cars and in muscle cars, and all of that stuff is fine, but there really is nothing like a hand-built car that you put together yourself. Even when you see a similar car to something you built, there are always differences. No two are alike because no two people’s tastes are the same or talent or skill levels are the same. You build what you can, and you build it to your liking , and it ends up being a very personal statement.”
Now, if there’s a better definition of hot rodding, we aren’t aware of it!
“Another thing that happened was that by the time I started to build my first Model A roadster, all of these guys that I’d grown up around who were 30 years older than me or older, they began to pass along some of their parts or tools so that I could get my car done. They had already built their cars, and now it was time for them to see that I build mine. This also had a profound effect on me because I realized how permanent the cars are, and the fact of the matter is that it is us who wear out around them… and not the other way around. This statement that I was about to make by building an AV8 roadster would be a form of self-expression that would represent me for long after I’m gone. I think that’s why getting your first hand-built, self-built car together and then driving it for the first time is a feeling that is indescribable. It is something that only you could have done. No one can replicate your process, and that is why this part of the hobby is so unique.”
Well, we couldn’t agree more with that, and we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Sounds like the spirit of a true hot rodder … something that Steve Beck most certainly is!
Steve is known by his friends in the car world as a master mechanic and vintage car expert. If he is not working on cars, he is at a racetrack, car show, or swap meet. Born and raised in Santa Monica, he worked mostly on British cars in his youth. He went on to work for GT International Motors, BMW specialists in Santa Monica, then Reuman (now Century) BMW in North Hollywood, where he was certified as a BMW technician. Steve and Chris Toppenberg started Check Point Automotive in 1994, and they have been servicing their clients’ BMWs ever since. Called upon for his extensive knowledge, Steve regularly judges classic car shows, including the Palos Verdes, Dana Point, and Santa Barbara Concourses. He is a docent at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Monterey. He is also a founding member of the Shelby Club Los Angeles Chapter.