California Dreaming - Drawn to Speed: The Automotive Art of John Lander (2015)

Drawn to Speed: The Automotive Art of John Lander (2015)


California Dreaming

I arrived in Los Angeles in the spring of 1955 to attend class at The Art Center School, then located on West 3rd Street. California was the land of dreams: Hollywood, hotrods, exotic cars and people—they were all there. During the brief time I was there, my life was changed forever. This chapter is a look back in time.

“32 Highboy”

Hotrods were a southern California phenomenon. In the years before World War II, a new type of racecar was taking shape. Cars stripped down to their bare essentials with modified stock engines were running on the dry lakebeds north of Los Angeles. Admittedly, some racing took place on the otherwise quiet streets at night.

The term hotrod didn’t come into use until sometime around 1945-46. Hotrods come in a lot of variations, but the 1932 Ford Roadster is usually thought to be the classic hotrod.

Even in its stripped-down form, the great proportions and lines are there. The name Highboy refers to the stock body height being retained. Some 32 roadsters have been channeled, the body dropped below the frame.

My illustration is of a typical 32 Highboy with a modified flathead V8 and later model disc wheels.

“Mirage on Sunset”

This is really going to show my age. This nostalgic drawing goes back to my mid-1950s time in L.A. The car is one I knew well, since I spent a fair amount of time with its designer/owner, Peter Brock. Pete and I were students at the Art Center then.

Before his time at the GM styling center, and before designing the Cobra Daytona Coupe, there was “El Mirage.” Pete rumbled in and out of the Art Center’s parking lot and cruised L.A. in his custom Fordillac. Pete designed the car and did a lot of the prep work and sanding. The Ford convertible was chopped, channeled and sectioned. The fenders were reshaped and a custom hood and nose were formed from aluminum. A padded Carson top was fitted to the cropped windshield. With dark blue racing stripes over pearl white paint, the finished product was outstanding. Power from the Cadillac engine was delivered through a LaSalle floor shift transmission. Pete christened the car “El Mirage,” after the dry lakebed the hotrods ran on.

I was at school studying illustration but most of my spare time was spent studying the L.A. auto scene. “Mirage on Sunset” shows Pete and “El Mirage” outside of Ernie McAfee’s shop on Sunset Boulevard in 1955.

“Hollywood Speedster”

What do you get when you combine the eccentric car enthusiast Tommy Lee with the car building skills of Frank Kurtis and a one-of-a-kind 318 cubic inch Offenhauser racing engine? You get the Lee/Kurtis Boattail Speedster, of course.

Tommy Lee was the son of Don Lee, Cadillac distributor for most of California and early radio and TV entrepreneur. Frank Kurtis, later known for his Indy winning Kurtis Kraft race cars, ran Lee’s custom body works division of the Cadillac empire.

Tommy had a mouthwatering stable of high performance European sports cars. He wanted a unique car, though, to compete with the L.A. hotrods he was street racing.

Frank Kurtis built the great looking speedster body utilizing reworked Cord fenders and mounted this on a 1936 Ford chassis. Tommy persuaded Offenhauser to build the 318 engine and the car was complete. The results were mixed; the car looked quite stunning with its hand formed boattail body, but the racing engine ran rough and was hardly suited for street use.

The car was set aside and went into decline over the years but was found, lovingly restored, and is now enjoyed again by all who see it.

“What If”

Overton “Bunny” Phillips was the undisputed Bugatti guru of the West Coast. In the late 1930s, he acquired the overhead cam V8 engine from one of Harry Miller’s two four-wheel-drive racers. Phillips shoehorned the engine into his 1927 Type 35 Bugatti and went racing. He kept the original Bugatti body from cowl to tail and had a new enveloping nose and hood fabricated.

What if Harry Miller, Bunny Phillips and Ettore Bugatti had been together on a sunny L.A. day in front of Phillips’ shop? Harry Miller checks out the engine installation as Bugatti makes a point with Phillips. What an interesting discussion it might have been.

I had been wanting to do a picture like this for some time but did not have a good reference picture of the new front end. After digging trough a thick file folder of Bugatti articles and pictures I had filed over the years, I found what I needed. The pretty much straight on view revealed the Bugatti frame irons and crossbar through the grille. With this information, I was able to proceed with the illustration you see here.

“Arriving in Style”

The car is the Mercedes 540K Special Coupe from the 1936 Paris auto show. The setting is the famous Chasen’s restaurant in Hollywood.

What do we mean, “Arriving in Style?” One of Webster’s definitions of style reads, “A mode of living, as with respect to expense or display: elegant or fashionable mode of living.”

In this picture, I wanted to show not just a beautiful car, but a way of living during the time it was built. In our fast-paced modern world of high-tech gadgets, we seem to have lost a sense of elegance and style.

So, step back into a time when gentlemen and ladies dressed “to the nines” for an evening on the town. Automobiles were more than appliances to get from point A to point B. There were glamorous destinations to arrive at and depart from.

The gentleman waits as his lady friend sweeps from the Mercedes coupe to truly arrive in style.