The Elvis Car: Profile of a Hot Rod

For "The Elvis Car," John Athan combined a Model A body with a Deuce frame. This clever trick would later become a classic modification. See more hot rod pictures.
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Due to their frame design, Model A Fords don't look right as highboys. "The Elvis Car," John Athan's famed 1929 roadster, was one of the first cars to employ the time-honored solution of mounting a Model A body atop 1932 Ford rails.

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As a teenager in 1937, John bought the body for $7 and the Deuce frame for $5.50. He began building the car, but didn't finish it until after he returned home from military duty during World War II.

While Deuce rails would come into common use, John's roadster featured numerous touches that made it one of a kind. The windshield glass is the rear window from a 1939 Chrysler, and the surround and posts were cast and machined by John in his machine shop.

John Athan tediously cast, machined and fitted many parts of "The Elvis Car" to give the hot rod its famously unique look.

John also cast the carburetor stacks, as well as the triangular receivers that connect the wishbone ends to the frame on each side. "I sold a lot of those pieces to Ed Almquist back then," explained John, "He included them in his catalog. We made a few bucks."

Other unique items include the handmade engine-turned dash, the 1940 Mercury trunk-handle/license-plate light, and the custom-bent headers. Cutting and fitting the headers was tedious, but they gave the car a unique look that was far ahead of its time.

Athan's one-of-a-kind roadster was featured in many TV shows and movies. But it achieved legendary status after being driven by Elvis Presley in Loving You.

The roadster gained its greatest fame as Elvis Presley's ride in the 1957 film Loving You. After playing that role, it forever became known as "The Elvis Car," even though it found its way into other movies and television shows.

John lived the hot rod lifestyle in his car, cruising with friend Ed Iskenderian, flouting the law, and making speed runs at the dry lakes. He drove the car for 40 years until he put it into storage in 1978.

Tom Leonardo, Jr., convinced John to let him restore it in 1998. After the restoration, John had the car placed in the NHRA museum, where it served as a beautiful reminder of hot rodding's vibrant past.


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