A Different Kind of Hot Rod
There is a Jay Leno Big Dog Garage segment about him, and the Petersen Museum is blessed to have his “Rusty One” in its Vault, but Gary Wales is always looking for another project. His latest was shown at the Grand National Roadster Show which opened Friday, January 27, 2017, and will culminate with the selection of its prestigious AMBR (America’s Most Beautiful Roadster) Award Sunday.
What’s La Bestioni?
When pointing out the mascot on Rusty One at the Petersen, I had to admit I had no idea what it was. Gary was no help when I asked him. He answered, “La Bestioni.” He was equally enigmatic regarding those red eyes, which I always imagined lit up at night. The most he would say is that he wouldn’t say they do not.
The story of La Bestioni starts with Gary’s love of old fire engines. When I say “old” I mean back in the teens – 21st century teens, that is. These were huge machines, with chassis built for durability and monster under-stressed engines made by stringing huge individual cylinders together on a common crankshaft.
The reason for that construction method was a lack of confidence in the precision of the boring and machining process. If they had used one large six-cylinder block and there was a problem honing just one cylinder, the whole block was salvage. This way only one cylinder at a time was vulnerable to damage in machining.
These engines had four spark plugs per cylinder, for redundancy. Gasoline and lubricating oil quality was variable and could lead to piston ring binding, allowing oil into the combustion chamber. They were insuring against the unacceptable possibility of failing to get to a fire due to a fouled plug.
Because of their stout construction, the engines and chassis of these machines survived decades of abuse and neglect, so that when Gary found one in a shed or a field, there was plenty of strength left in the bones.
A picture of a picture. Gary’s display included montages of the influences and progress of this car’s gestation. This is what the car on display looked like when it was discovered. Twenty-one trees had to be removed to get what remained of the original Seagrave fire engine out.
Attention to Detail: The front beam axle, visible in the “as found” image above, as restored, with various insignia, some appropriate and some perhaps less so. One imagines the huge Marchal Cyclops headlamp projecting the Bat-signal into the fog at night.
Gary lived next to “King of Kustoms” George Barris for years, and they sometimes collaborated on projects. George followed the progress of the Batmobile Bestioni, and bestowed his stamp of approval on its fuse box just before his passing.
File under “Apple Sauce from Rotten Apples” as Gary says. When moving the car one day, an improperly installed spark plug mount failed, sending the spark plug through the hood. Rather than repair it, Gary incorporated it into the comic book Batman culture.
The car’s sixteen-liter six-cylinder engine. Its over ten liter size would have qualified it for the special class perhaps ten years ago at Pebble Beach where Jay Leno’s Tank Car and the original Chitty Bang-Bang (only one “Chitty” on the real car) were displayed.
The “Bat-Cockpit.” Toggle switches and gauges abound. With such a massive vehicle to maneuver, that steering wheel is much too small for proper leverage.
Below: The secret is a power steering booster disguised in the steering arm.
Gary Wales, with his latest La Bestioni. He imagined what would Bruce Wayne have found if a secret chamber in the bowels of Wayne Manor were opened, and he had discovered that his grandfather had been into that bat stuff, and built a crime fighting vehicle.
The Grand National has hundreds of classes, and this one fits into the loosely defined “Special Interest Motorized” class. In collector nomenclature it’s probably best described as a boattail speedster. It demonstrates once again that you never know what you’ll see at the Grand National.