AFTON, Okla.--In 1954, Darryl Starbird started building custom cars in Wichita, Kan. Soon he became one of the best-known hot rod builders in the world, as well as a producer of hundreds of car shows around the country. Now, he lives outside this tiny hamlet in northeast Oklahoma, and plays host to the National Hot Rod & Custom Car Hall of Fame Museum, a place that celebrates creative car design and modification over the years, and the people who do it best. As part of CNET Road Trip 2014, I took a detour off the main roads to visit. Opened in 1995 by Starbird, the museum is meant to be ground zero for fans of the genre to come and see both 26 of Starbird’s own vehicles, and two dozen others built by other stars in the field. This is Darryl Starbird's Trik Truk, built on a 1980 Chevrolet van base. Entirely handcrafted in sheetmetal, the van has a mid-engine blown injected 350 Chevy V8. It's painted in "House of Color" Candy Brandywine and Pearl White paint.
The museum inducted 13 Hall of Fame members when it opened in 1995. Every year, it adds two more members. The museum’s board issues several other awards and honors, including Builder of the Year, Lifetime Achievement Award, top Auto Journalist, and top Auto Designer. This is "Spaced Out, designed by Darryl Starbird, based on a 1934 Buick 4-door. It's all metal and has handmade bubble top, custom fenders, running boards, hood, nose, rear end, grille, and bumpers. It runs on a 350 Chevrolet Crower Injected, and has a Corvette rear and Jaguar front suspension. It's painted with House of Color Candy Cobolt Blue.
Said by the museum to have been voted one of the three most famous custom cars in history, "Predicta" is a 1956 Ford Thunderbird rebuilt and redesigned by Starbird.
According to the museum, it's the first-ever bubble top custom car. It has a 1957 Chrysler Hemi engine, and a Chrysler automatic transmission. Its body is made with all sheet metal and has a chrome undercarriage.
Kits based on this car sold more than half a million units.
Based on a simple 1972 Ford Van, this is Starbird's "Vantasta." Made from hand-shaped metal, the vehicle was among the very first to feature a futuristic nose. The van has a mid-engine 350 Chevy engine. Inside, there's a stereo, a TV, a bar, a bed, and a two-person cockpit. It's painted in House of Color Pearl and Graphics.
Starbird got his start building custom cars in 1954 at the Star Custom Shop. His first project was a 1947 Cadillac. Right off the bat, he got his work in a magazine. His career took off from there.
An aerial view of Darryl Starbird's National Hot Rod & Custom Car Hall of Fame Museum, outside Afton, Okla. Shot using a DJI Phantom 2 Vision +.
In the beginning, the heart of the hot rod community was on the West Coast. Folks like Batmobile creator George Barris (a Hall of Fame inductee) were getting Hollywood excited about the culture. But out in Kansas, Starbird was quietly becoming one of the most important voices in the community. In 1959, he produced his first car show. Today, he said he’s done 440 around the country, most of which have been in middle America, although he also produces them in places like San Francisco and Oakland, Calif.
This is the "Undertaker," built by Doug Weigel. It's based on a 1913 Model T C-Cab Truck, but contains no original Ford parts inside its fabricated all-stell body. It features a blown 350 SB engine, and custom intakes by Weigel.
This is Monogram's "Big T," owned by the museum, and built in 1961 by Darryl Starbird. It features a Model T Roadster pickup, and a 283 Chevy engine. Its undercarriage is all chrome, and it has a white naugahyde interior. It was resurrected in 2005 by Predator Performance.
Designed and built in 1975 by Starbird, this is "Cecil the Diesel," a "wild cartoonish Model T" body that was entirely hand-crafted in metal. It features a Mercedes 4-cylinder diesel injected engine. It has a chrome-plated frame, and front and rear Jaguar suspension.
This is "J Bird," a 1978 Jaguar XJS base that features a V12 overhead cam engine. It has an all-steel body, and handmade front and rear ends and runningboards. It was designed and built by Darryl Starbird.