The ZZ Top Eliminator hot rod became a legend by appearing in several rock music videos. Rock 'n' roll and hot rodding have a lot in common. Both inject old forms (say, blues music or antique Fords) with horsepower and flamboyance. It's no surprise, then, that many rock stars are also hot rod enthusiasts. ZZ Top frontman Billy F. Gibbons is probably the best-known roddin' rocker.
Heavily influenced by Pete Chapouris' the California Kid, Billy had Don Thelan's Buffalo Motor Cars shop build him a chopped 1933 Ford in the early '80s that would soon be known as the Eliminator coupe. Underneath was a straightforward Pete and Jake's chassis with a dropped tube axle and four-bar suspension up front and a Ford nine-inch out back.
Thelan chopped the steel three-window body three inches, Steve Davis made the three-piece hood with unique "scooped" side panels, and Kenny Youngblood designed the "ZZ" graphics. Additional body details included the filled rear splash pan with recessed license plate, '39 Ford teardrop taillights, and lowered '34 Ford headlights.
Finicky hi-po motors have never been Billy's scene, so the emphasis was on reliability. Power was provided by a simple but capable 350-cid Chevy V-8 with a Camaro Z-28 hydraulic cam, a polished intake manifold with a single four-barrel carb, and a Turbo 350 transmission. As a finishing touch, Eric Vaughn milled the ZZ Top logo into the valve covers.
A painting of the coupe was featured on the cover of ZZ Top's multiplatinum 1983 album Eliminator, and the real car was immortalized on the small screen in four music videos that were run in heavy rotation on MTV.
Each video featured a Cinderella-story vignette in which an earnest but unfairly downtrodden teen is swept away and "saved" by the arrival of beautiful girls in the Eliminator. The members of ZZ Top granted the protagonist a magical set of keys with a stylized ZZ key chain, and the hot rod appeared as a magical fantasy object.
Gibbons' Eliminator gave rodding immeasurable exposure and spurred the interest of an MTV generation of teenagers who hadn't before seen a real hot rod in motion.
Billy had always been a rodder, but the Eliminator was his first car to gain international fame. Demand for public appearances was so high that Billy had California Street Rods construct an Eliminator clone to go on tour. He still owns both cars today, along with several other high-profile rods and customs. Billy has done almost as much for rodding as he has for rock 'n' roll.
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