MENDENHALL: CARS, GAS PUMPS & PETROLIANA MUSEUM

CarGuyChronicles’ Jim Palam pulls in to the MENDENHALL: CARS, GAS PUMPS & PETROLIANA MUSEUM to fill-up with American petroleum industry history and an eyeful of colorful signage and cars from a bygone era.

MENDENHALL: CARS, GAS PUMPS & PETROLIANA MUSEUM

 Sitting at a window table at Ellen’s Pancake House I could see the large neon and red Pegasus rising up above the tall wooden perimeter fence surrounding the Mendenhall Museum – located just across Avenue of the Flags from the eatery in Buellton, CA. Over the years I had picked up a bit of the Petroliana museum’s fascinating history, hanging out with some of the local car guys and decided it was finally time to check it out.

As the story goes, after Jack Mendenhall sold his Richfield gas and service station back in the 1970s, he went on the road selling business related signs and marketing materials. He also continued searching the highways and byways of America looking for vintage gas pumps and petroleum industry related collectibles. He’d been at that hobby since the 1950s. When he found items, he liked he’d haul them back to his wrecking yard in Buellton. During those years Jack also raced cars and had a passion for dry lake, oval track and drag racing. He became a Lifetime Member of Bonneville’s 200 MPH Club in 1991 and was inducted into the Land Speed Hall of Fame in 1993.

MENDENHALL: CARS, GAS PUMPS & PETROLIANA MUSEUMDuring the late 1950s and early 1960s Jack was also the crew chief, owner and co-driver of the historic Pea Soup Andersen Special, a vintage ’46 Ford flathead-powered dragster that was rumored during those racing heydays to be “Souper-Charged.” Racing often at Southern and Central California drag strips, the Special clocked a top speed of 143 mph and a low ET of 9.474 seconds. “Souper Sponsors” of this racing machine included  racing icons Bob Joehnck Automotive, Edelbrock, Iskenderian Cams and Jim Deist. The dragster still has its own special garage.

Automotive picking, collecting and racing is in the Mendenhall family blood. In the early 2000s, the transformation of Jack’s prodigious Petroliana collection into a curated museum began. After Jack’s passing in 2005, son Mark and daughter-in-law Vickie took the wheel of the museum and have helped steer it to the remarkable treasure-trove of petroleum industry artifacts it is today. Privately owned, it’s located on the site of Jack’s old wrecking yard, just a burnout from where his gas station once stood at the corner Zaca Street and Avenue of the Flags!

MENDENHALL: CARS, GAS PUMPS & PETROLIANA MUSEUMVisitors enter the museum Private-Club-style through a nondescript door in the perimeter fence. Once beyond the portal you are hit with a graphic barrage of bold and colorful porcelain, metal and neon signs that cover every available inch of the exterior walls of the garage-style buildings that line the u-shaped interior driveway. Currently there are over 100 vintage gas pumps, 400 illuminated gas pump globes, 2,500 metal and porcelain signs, 40 neon signs and 1,500 vintage license plates carefully and cleverly displayed throughout the museum’s dozen garages and two-story center building.

Of course the collection doesn’t stop there; visitors will also discover vintage oil cans and auto parts, music boxes, soda fountain signage, street & highway signs, mid-century Americana, street rods, a Red Bluff drag boat and racecars – including another Pea Soup Andersen’s Special – this, a 350-cubic-inch-powered Oldsmobile Cutlass that Jack raced at Baja in the 1970s. Being a family that loved to race together, Mark also raced a sister-car Cutlass with his Dad during those exciting Baja years.

Every time I thought OK, this must be the last room or garage to explore, another surprising space would reveal itself – like the low-lit Fire Engine Room where the Mendenhalls had somehow managed to park and display a well-used and weathered ‘39 Ford fire truck. This fire-fighting machine was apparently used at Vandenberg Air Force Base when the base was known as the Camp Cooke U.S. Army Garrison back in the early-1940s. Camp Cooke’s remote location made it an ideal site for rapid artillery and armor training.

The Mendenhall Museum has something for everyone, but if you’re a serious lakes-racing enthusiast, get ready for goose bumps and heartfelt emotion. While the museum’s event spaces are available for a variety of special functions, its biggest celebration is the biennial “Gas Up” where land speed luminaries are inducted into the museum’s Dry Lakes Hall of Fame. Not only do you get to enjoy the camaraderie of the racers and a tasty meal, you also get to inspect the famous land speed cars that are trailered to the museum for the event.

MENDENHALL: CARS, GAS PUMPS & PETROLIANA MUSEUMOn the ground floor of the center building, behind a door displaying a Southern California Timing Association (S.C.T.A.) sign, you’ll discover the Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame, a special room dedicated to the history of land speed racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats and El Mirage. On one of the shelves of a long, full wall display case you’ll find the racing helmet worn by Jack Mendenhall when he set the D/GR record of 207.015 mph in his Chevy-powered, Wescott-bodied Car No. 234 roadster back on August 22, 1991.

As I was wrapping up my photo shoot and exploration, I found myself back in the large room of the center building where Mark and wife Vickie had just completed one of their guided tours. The good news is that with the lifting of Covid restrictions the Mendenhall is back in business. This room had yet another impossibly dense collection of signs and collectibles covering the walls and ceiling. At the far end of the room near the exit door is a cozy and inviting bar. If I was still a drinking man, I might have asked Mark to mix me a Mendenhall Special. Instead, I headed to the rest room to the left of the bar, not to “Unfill ‘er Up” but to grab a few more photos. By this point I wasn’t a surprised that the walls were covered with signs here too. My favorites were the three, eye-level gas-grade signs above the two urinals and toilet!

If you’re looking for relief from the mundane, make it a point to visit the MENDENHALL: CARS, GAS PUMPS & PETROLIANA MUSEUM in Buellton, CA. Tell Mark and Vickie that Jim from CarGuyChronicles sent you. Check it out @ http://www.mendenhallmuseum.com/

Words and Photos: Jim Palam, https://www.jimpalamphotos.com/

STUDE-A-SHAKER: IT’S A GAS-GAS-GAS!

Tony LaPolla channeled his 1960s Gasser heroes – Stone, Woods & Cook – when he built the STUDE-A-SHAKER: IT’S A GAS-GAS-GAS!

STUDE-A-SHAKER: IT'S A GAS-GAS-GAS!Koufax, Clemente & Mays: Baseball legends who were heroes to legions of young guys in the 1960s – but not Tony LaPolla. It wasn’t the crack of the bat that made his heart race, but rather the crackle of the supercharged 448-inch Oldsmobile motor powering a wicked ’41 Willys Gasser – owned and campaigned by barnstorming drag racers Stone, Woods & Cook. The legendary Gasser greats replaced Olds engines with Chrysler Hemis, starting in 1964-1965. These were his heroes – along with his hot-rodding father Bill, who notoriously rode his short-pipes BSA through the hallways of Santa Barbara High School!

Over the years Tony and his wife Sandy have owned a number of impressive hot rods and classics, but it was always a dream of his to build an early-1960’s Gasser Tribute, one he and Sandy could drive to and from car club events they often attended in Central and Southern California. (Sandy is the Vice President of the Bent Axles Car Club of Santa Maria and her club plaque is proudly displayed on the Stude’s package shelf). When his friend Steve Goodman showed him a ’49 Studebaker Commander that was for sale back in 2018, Tony’s dream started to become a reality. He purchased the car and began transforming the mild-mannered Studebaker into the head-turning STUDE-A-SHAKER: IT’S A GAS-GAS-GAS!STUDE-A-SHAKER: IT'S A GAS-GAS-GAS!

In February of this year Tony decided to retire early from United Launch Alliance and devote more time to his family and, to continue shaking-down and improving his spunky “Shaker.” When editor Marty Schorr suggested I do a story on Tony’s unique D/Gas Studebaker, I immediately thought what better a location for a Gasser photo shoot than the nearby Mendenhall Museum of Gasoline Pumps & Petroliana.

The LaPolla STUDE-A-SHAKER: IT’S A GAS-GAS-GAS! is powered by a vintage camel-hump-head 327 Chevy small-block with finned aluminum Edlelbrock valve covers with Offy breathers, and packed with a mild, lopey Crower cam that strikes all the right notes. A vintage velocity stack gifted to Tony from Gasser owner and mentor Dave Miller crowns the Holley four-barrel sitting atop an Edlebrock aluminum manifold. Eye-catching long-tube Hooker Fenderwell headers were sourced from an early Chevy Nova. The front sub-frame and fenders and hood were assembled as one-piece to create a traditional tilt front end.

With budget restrictions and safety in mind, Tony used a straight-axle kit and long traction bars to achieve the “lifted” vintage Gasser geometry for better tire grip, and then he wisely added disc brakes. Firestone Dragster pie-crust cheater slicks from Coker look period-correct and smokin’ good on American Racing Torq-Thrust mags. The Tribute’s interior sports a dash-mounted Sun tach, some extra gauges, and a vintage T-handle Hurst Ramrod shifter with Line-Loc, hooked to a smooth-shifting, street-friendly Muncie M-20 four-speed. There’s always a “brain-bucket” resting on the rear seat just in case Tony gets the urge to make a quick-trip down the strip!

STUDE-A-SHAKER: IT'S A GAS-GAS-GAS!As I was shooting and talking to Tony it became abundantly clear that he feels indebted to the founding fathers of the early California drag racing scene, and in particular, to Central Coast area drag-racers and organizers, Jerry Gaskill and Vic Diamond. They not only raced, but were instrumental in starting and operating the Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo Drag Strips. The Foster Road Santa Maria strip was the third legal and second NHRA-sanctioned drag strip in the country. His love of this history is more than lip service, as he proudly displays period-correct graphics and decals for these gentlemen and their 1960s-era businesses on his Gasser.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t add a special thank you here to the Mendenhall Museum’s Mark and Vicki for their hospitality. Like many privately owned, niche businesses affected by Covid restrictions, they have had a struggle since 2020. It is such a special place – jam-packed with extraordinary treasures from our automotive and gasoline history – and definitely worth a special trip to Buellton, California. Look for a special report about the Mendenhall coming soon to Car Guy Chronicles. For more information, including tour schedules, please visit, http://www.mendenhallmuseum.com/

Words & photos: Jim Palam, https://www.jimpalam.com/

ORCUTT DERELICTS: DONUT RUN CAR MEET

‘If Muscle Cars Could Walk’, blogs our intrepid, photo-journalist, Jim Palam! ‘I was expecting a four-wheeled GTO Goat from Pontiac, not a four-legged Bovidae family member at the ORCUTT DERELICTS: DONUT RUN CAR MEET.’

ORCUTT DERELICTS: DONUT RUN CAR MEET

When a carguy buddy of mine from the Central Coast told me, they were expecting some cool musclecars and other surprises at the Orcutt Derelict’s Donut Run car meet in Orcutt, he peppered that prompt to attend by also telling me there’s going to be a beautiful GOAT there that shouldn’t be missed. As a young guy growing up in the heyday of the American musclecar era and a GTO aficionado, it was a no-brainer that I’d go. Little did I expect how special this GOAT was going to be.

The Orcutt Derelicts are a fun group of enthusiasts who live in and around the unincorporated town of Orcutt in the Santa Maria Valley, just south of Santa Maria, CA. This area’s history and development has been heavily influenced by the petroleum industry, agriculture and the explosive wine industry. There are still plenty of local acres dedicated to ranching and well, maybe this is a good time to tell you about that beautiful GOAT.

ORCUTT DERELICTS: DONUT RUN CAR MEET

ORCUTT DERELICTS: DONUT RUN CAR MEETWhen I drove into the parking area near the Golden Donut bakery I quickly spotted some of the promised muscle – a bright-orange Z/28, a Bumble-Bee, race-worn Challenger, a rev-me-red SS Chevelle with injector stacks punched through the hood, a 1970 weathered-bronze 360 Ram Air AMX and a modified Buick GS Skylark with cross-ram Holleys, also punched through the hood.

It was great seeing my buddy Tony LaPolla and his wicked ’49 Studebaker Commander that he has lovingly transformed into a 1960s-style gasser cleverly named “Stude-A-Shaker.”  But where’s the beautiful GTO I thought, as I grabbed my camera and said Hi to Tony. Then I spotted it. It was being off-loaded from a farm truck and it, was on a leash. Now where I come from GTOs have four wheels, not four feet. I had been had.

The furry goat’s name was Rocky and his polite and photogenic handlers were young twins who live on their family’s nearby ranch. Without me asking, they gathered together with Rocky and posed for a picture. I began to notice that there were more youngsters at this rural gathering than I have seen at the bigger city events.

ORCUTT DERELICTS: DONUT RUN CAR MEET

As I was thinking about this young-with-the-old vibe, two modern aerodynamic machines joined the parking lot lineup of classics – a ‘17 McLaren 570 GT and a supercharged ‘18 Lotus Evora 400. OK, I’m guessing these guys must have driven up from the LA area but turns out they were just two donut and speed-loving locals.

Since I was running late for an appointment back in Solvang I quickly grabbed shots of other noteworthy machines that had caught my eye. There was a beautifully upholstered, Candy-Tangerine ’57 Chevy, a plain-as-vanilla ’51 Plymouth Cambridge two-door, an arrest-me-red dune buggy, a mildly modified ’58 Chevy Apache pickup, a low-riding ’61 T-Bird and a ’74 T-Top Corvette sporting a plate that read UCIMBAD. Duly noted.ORCUTT DERELICTS: DONUT RUN CAR MEET 

With my appointment looming I hurried back towards my car but noticed that my path was now blocked by two of the Orcutt Derelicts and two canine sentinels. Stopped where I was, I asked the gents how they were enjoying the Donut Run meet-up. They just chuckled, seeming to enjoy my halted progress. Mind if I take your picture I asked, at which point the brawny brown man-eater approached me and started sniffing my pant leg. Finally, the man at the end of the carnivore’s leash spoke up: “Don’t worry, he’s as friendly as that GOAT you photographed earlier this morning.” Turns out everybody and every critter at this unpretentious and fun gathering was friendly and there for the same reason I was: The cars. It’s always the cars…and the people!

 ORCUTT DERELICTS: DONUT RUN CAR MEET: Words & photos: Jim Palam, https://www.jimpalam.com/

Whenever you’re in the Santa Maria/Orcutt, CA area, check out the mouth-watering donuts at, https://onthe101.com/the-golden-donut/

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!

A trip to one of the most eclectic auctions this year – RM Sotherby’s at the Petersen Museum – and coming face-to-face with the iconic ‘Rat Fink’, relieves Jim Palam’s decades-old car guy guilt. Here’s his photo-report.

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!It was weighing me down, this Car Guy guilt I’ve been lugging around since I moved to California in 1976. How was it that in all these years I had never visited the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles? I really didn’t have an excuse, so when I received an invitation from RM Sotheby’s to attend their final auction of 2018 at the Petersen – showcasing 64 blue-chip collector cars and original Kustom Kulture art by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and Von Dutch – my eyes bulged like Roth’s ‘Rat Fink’ icon and I excitedly RSVP’d.

As soon as I pulled-into the Petersen’s parking structure on Saturday morning that heavy weight of guilt lifted. There, just beyond the kiosk gate, was an ‘06 Ford GT, a ’27 Ford ‘Track Nose’ Roadster and a Kool recreation of Roth’s ’62 Mysterion Kustom. As the gate lifted I drove past the auction cars that were neatly displayed and dramatically lit.

“This is where dreams are parked,” I thought as I exited my vehicle, grabbed my camera and started my special day – finally – at the Petersen. Let’s take a look at what I discovered…

If you grew up in the 1960s you may not have known who Ed “Big Daddy” Roth was, but you probably had seen his comically grotesque creation, “Rat Fink.” R.F. first appeared in the July 1963 issue of Car Craft and is still to this day one of the most famous symbols associated with the Kustom Kulture movement. This original, full-color version of R.F., above, right, sold for $12,600. There’s no way Mysterion, top, and its big-eye, – parked in front of the kiosk gate – wasn’t going to hypnotize you. This functioning recreation of Ed Roth’s ‘62 twin-engine custom by petroleum engineer Jeff Jones sold for $246,400 – more than double the low-end auction estimate.

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!Bidders and guests were treated to a Champagne Brunch in the preview areas before the auction. Once bidding commenced inside the museum the scene was quite proper and efficiently directed by the RM Sotheby’s and Petersen’s teams. I kept thinking, “This is Hollywood, Baby.” Everyone was well rehearsed and on their marks. When the final hammer fell, sales totaled $40 Million with 88% of all lots sold.

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!Original artwork by Ed Roth and Von Dutch was displayed on the walls of the parking structure surrounding the auction vehicles. It was hard to select just one to feature here but Roth’s “Ford Man” is a great, surviving example. It showcases how pre-computer pen and ink illustrations were often made camera-ready by taping or gluing vellum refinement layers together. “Ford Man” sold with a companion illustration, “Ford Van” for $12,000.

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!What’s red, rare and racy and sold for $22 Million? You’re right – the auction’s top seller – the Scuderia Ferrari campaigned ‘56 Ferrari 290 MM. Team drivers for this prestigious racer included Fangio, Hill, Collins, von Trips, Gendebien and Castelloti. Sir Sterling Moss later raced it under private ownership.

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!Maybe it was her white beret that first caught my eye, but I knew I just had to ask her if she would mind posing by one of the classics. She hesitated for a moment, then grabbed my arm and quickly pulled me over to the ‘61Mercedes-Benz 190 SL. “This color compliments my outfit” she said and then, unprompted, immediately started striking poses. “Hollywood, Baby” I thought.

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!This very rare ‘76 Porsche 935 Turbo was re-imagined for its original owner in Germany by Kremer Racing, thus becoming a Group 5 racecar. It has a 3.0-liter turbocharged flat six engine, paired to a four-speed transaxle, and less than 41,000 miles on its odometer. It fetched $173,600 at the hammer.

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!This unique Ferrari started life as a ‘65 330 GT Series II with Pininfarina coachwork. In 1967 it was transformed by Chinetti Motors and re-bodied as a ‘shooting brake’. Today the car is powered by a 300-horsepower SOHC V-12 and presented in sophisticated bronze metallic. It sold for $313,000, inclusive of buyer’s fee.

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!Motor scooters were introduced to post-war Italians as affordable, easy-to-use, compact transportation. The first Lambretta became available in 1947. This sharp, two-tone, tasseled-leather ’61 Lambretta TV 175 Series II was meticulously restored and adorned with period accessories. It zipped to $33,600 as the hammer came down.

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!Did you know that Toyota 2000 GTs could be refitted with roller-coaster wheels? Just kidding of course, but that fantasy option just might be what’s needed to keep owners calm as the car’s value rises and falls from auction to auction. Still a smart investment for those who grabbed them early-on, this pristine Pegasus White, right-hand drive ’67 hammered at $511,000, inclusive of the buyer’s fee.

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!It’s 1963 and you’ve got $5,700 burning a hole in your pocket. If you’re Bryan A. Frame of Waukesha, WI you know what to do – buy this one-year-only split-window Sting Ray. Optioned with the L75 300-horsepower 327, Powerglide transmission, AM/FM radio and rare factory air, this unmolested Silver Blue Corvette sold for $89,600, inclusive of the buyer’s fee. Nicely done!

MesserschmittThe Messerschmitt is considered by many to be the most desirable Microcar. This Rompin’ Red ’64 Messerschmitt KR 200 is the second-to-last produced and even better, it’s a very rare roadster. It underwent a nuts-and-bolts restoration and a KR201 snakeskin upholstery upgrade. Selling for $57,120 inclusive of buyer’s fees was a reminder that Microcars may be small, but they are still hot.

MesserschmittOK, here’s fuel for the Car World/Art World fire. Neon artist Lili Lakish’s ‘73 Volvo P1800 ES had a fuel injection failure in 1990. Not able to find a mechanic capable of repairing the car (really?) she and her artist friend Juan Carlos hired some car guys to cut a big wedge-shape out of the Volvo. They then constructed a flaming neon art corner wall into the void. The finished work was titled ‘Body Heat – Crashing the Modern’ with hopes of getting the art into the Museum of Modern Art. This car art sold for $18,000 at the Petersen.

RM SOTHERBY’S & THE PETERSEN: KUSTOM KULTURE & PRECIOUS METAL!Having secured my auction images and notes I decided I’d take a peek around the museum before I headed back home. Just steps away from the auction room was the Armand Hammer Foundation Gallery which is currently featuring the Auto-Didactic: The Juxtapoz School exhibition, which showcases high-concept art by lowbrow artists. In a back corner of the gallery stood a human-size statue of Rat Fink. I paused in front and thanked him for finally pulling me in to the Petersen and helping to lift the weight of my Car Guy guilt. Like everything’s Kool now, man!

Words & Photos by Jim Palam, http://www.jimpalam.com/

For the complete ROM Sotherby’s auction inventory and results, please visit

https://rmsothebys.com/en/home/lots/ca18

To learn more about the incredible Petersen Museum, check out https://www.petersen.org/

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GARAGE STYLE: IN THE GARAGE W/ JIM PALAM!

GARAGE STYLE: IN THE GARAGE W/ JIM PALAM!

Our man on the Left Coast spends some time in front of the camera in his garage while Cindy Meitle profiles him for Garage Style magazine.

GARAGE STYLE: IN THE GARAGE W/ JIM PALAM!GARAGE STYLE: IN THE GARAGE W/ JIM PALAM!I first met Jim Palam more than a half-century ago when he was a kid on the pit crew of the legendary “Astoria Chas” Snyder’s ‘67 Corvette powered by an L88 engine, below. The car was KO-MOTION, it was built at Motion Performance, Baldwin, NY, raced by Chas, and I was Editor of Hi-Performance CARS magazine. CARS was one of the Corvette’s sponsors. Chas became a friend.

Everything changed in 1968 when 19-year-old Charlie Snyder lost his life in Vietnam, while serving with the First Cavalry. KO-MOTION went on to win the AHRA A/Corvette World Record at 129 mph in 11.04 seconds. The record was set in Chas’ name by his old team, supported by Motion Performance and still sponsored by CARS.

In 2008 Jim and I met at 303 Gallery in New York City for the opening on my daughter Collier Schorr’s show, THERE I WAS, about Charlie’s short life and his iconic KO-MOTION. It was also the subject of a book – THERE I WAS – written by Collier. It was great seeing Jim again, surrounded by my daughter’s artwork and memorabilia from Charlie’s family and from Glen Spielberg, owner of the legendary KO-MOTION.

THERE I WASKO-MOTION & crew at New York National in 1967. Jim Palam is wearing the Navy Blue shirt.

GARAGE STYLE: IN THE GARAGE W/ JIM PALAM!For the last few years Jim, owner and Creative Director, Jim Palam & Partners in Solvang, CA, has been a valued contributor to CarGuyChronicles. He’s also responsible for the blog’s home page design. Congrats, my friend!

For more information about Jim Palam & Partners, please visit https://www.jimpalam.com/

Check out Garage Style magazine, https://www.garagestylemagazine.com/

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