Long before the great unwashed masses knew the name Boyd Coddington, or the reality TV show, “American Hot Rod,” hot rodders revered Coddington for his cutting-edge style. Hand in hand with his ground-breaking designs came the total elevation in the level of mechanical execution that has become the gold standard for car builders around the globe. Boyd Coddington, car builder, entrepreneur, designer, TV personality, and all-around great guy, died at 6:20 am on February 27, 2008 at the age of 63.
Most Americans have become familiar with the La Habra, California-based builder through his hit reality TV show, “American Hot Rod.” The show’s producers often portrayed Coddington through the miracle of editing as a crotchety, unforgiving soul with a mischievous side, but this editor knows there was another side. In dealing with Boyd, I found him to be open and inviting. He’d look you in the eye and give you the straight story. He was enthusiastic about new ideas, he was accommodating—even when it meant inconvenience to himself, and he loved cars of all kinds, not just ’32 Fords. Where I do find agreement with Boyd’s TV portrayal is in his extremely high standard of execution. He demanded the best from his people, who often were forced to dig deep, or get the heck out of the way. You don’t get to be Boyd Coddington by ignoring the small stuff and taking the easy way out.
Coddington was not without his faults though. Most memorable is his foray into the custom wheel market. While his initial attempt was a critical success—and one which forever changed the hobby for the good—it was nonetheless a financial disaster, which spawned acrimony with many customers and business associates. In some regards, Coddington was not an ideal businessman, but he had tremendous vision that captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands of hot rodders. Most enthusiasts didn’t have the monetary wherewithal to own a Coddington creation, but his wheel designs were within reach of the average guy, and could transform the ordinary hot rod into something truly special. It is this foundation laid down by Coddington in the 1980s that has changed the landscape of the aftermarket parts industry forever.
Coddington more recently ran afoul with federal and state officials during a highly publicized sting operation, in which he was accused of laundering the titles of his creations out of state. It is perhaps Boyd’s high TV profile that put him on the government’s radar screen for a process that, up to that time, was common practice among car builders. Using creative (and legal) loopholes in state and federal vehicle statutes, Coddington and many others had figured out how to streamline the arduous (some say impossible) process of registering and building their masterpieces. Many states, most notably politically liberal California (where Coddington’s business is set up), are openly hostile to hobbyists, and Boyd was the largest, most visible target to make into an example. Ironically, Coddington’s case has become, to the state’s chagrin, a rallying point for hobbyists everywhere, who see the states’ tightening regulatory environment as a noose around their neck. We shall continue his fight in his absence.
I was lucky to have known Boyd Coddington. He was, and shall remain, an inspiration to me. It will be impossible to look at any custom street rod, musclecar, or hot rod built after the 1980s and not be reminded of his influence. The car building lexicon of Coddington runs the gamut, from wheel design and vehicle rake, to bold colors, elevated styling, and mechanical excellence. Virtually every OEM designer or car builder who operates at the regional or national level can thank Boyd Coddington for his boldness. We will all miss you Boyd!—Johnny Hunkins