Story by Michael Petti/Photos by Jim Haklar
Hollywood show car collector John Sbrigato has an assortment of movie, TV, and novelty vehicles. They are destination cars where enthusiasts will travel hundreds of miles to see them.
A case in point is the Munster’s Drag-U-La drag strip car. It was used in the episode “Hot Rod Herman”. In the show Grandpa had to win back the Munster Koach Herman lost in a race. This is the # 1 car designed by Tom Daniel and built by the late George Barris, and was seen on the Munster’s Television show and the movie Munsters Go Home. It was at Planet Hollywood in Atlantic City hanging over the bar. Unfortunately, Planet Hollywood went out of business. But fortunately, John was the winning bidder at an auction. The Drag-U-La has a gravestone up front, a fiberglass coffin, and a plastic bubble top. It is powered by a 289 Ford Cobra engine.
The New Jersey resident has the # 3 Munster Koach that was designed and built by George Barris with Keith Dean’s help fabricating it. The iconic and legendary black car is 18-feet long, has six doors, along with blood red upholstery, gold drapes with tassels in the windows, a 1900 Boyce Motor Meter, and a perch seat for Eddie Munster. John found it in Chicago. It is motivated by a 289-cid Ford Cobra V-8 with 10 chrome-plated Stromberg carburetors firing at the same time which provides John with some pavement scorching fun. This car tours with Muster’s TV personalities Butch Patrick and Pat Priest.
One of the most recognizable television cars is the Monkeemobile. This was a modified 1966 Pontiac GTO fabricated by the late Dean Jeffries for the Monkees rock band’s TV show. Jeffries also consulted for the model kit firm Product Miniature Corporation (PMC). The president of PMC contacted his friend Jim Wangers who promoted Pontiac. Wangers supplied Jeffries with two cars. Instead of a slightly modified auto, the Ponchos looked like tarted up caricatures to Wangers. The customizing included a split windshield, 3 rows of seats, a touring convertible top, and exaggerated front and rear ends. Initially, the engines were replaced with 671 superchargers that added vitamin C-shots. Unfortunately, the vehicles handled psychotically. So, the standard 389-cid, 335-hp engines were reinstated. The hoods had dummy blowers. Wangers wanted to put a stop to these cars, but the studio was beginning filming. Everything came out alright. The GTO, the Monkees, and the show were successful. Jeffries provided John with guidance in building his replica which puts nostalgia on fast forward. This vehicle toured with George Barris when the show ended. George loved the job John did on the car, and endorsed it into the Barris’ Kustom Registry.
Many teenagers bought the Red Baron by Monogram. This model was designed by Tom Daniel in 1967 who is prolific in creating wild custom auto designs. During this time some West Coast surfers wore German WWI helmets, and this writer, as a former radio DJ, remembers Snoopy Versus The Red Baron in 1966 by the Royal Guardsmen. The Red Baron model was transformed into a real car by Chuck Miller in 1969 for show car guru Bob Larivee. With Miller’s blessing, John built an exact replica of the Red Baron with a silver fiberglass helmet covering the cockpit, a shifter with a “grenade” on top, machine guns on both sides of the instrument panel, and a sword as a dip stick. It is powered by a Pontiac overhead cam six with pipes sticking out making the engine sound like a machine gun.
Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the DeLorean shape with the gull-wing doors and stainless steel body panels. Ron Cobb and Michael Scheffe modified it into the Back to the Future time machine. Gene Winfield is credited with the flying version of the DeLorean. He provided John with information about building a DeLorean complete with a flux capacitor, time machine circuitry, reactor, cooling vents, and the pedestrian 130-hp PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) V-6, as well as helped John build it.
Grease-Lightning is one of the hot-rod favorites from the fat-fender era. The 1978 movie Grease featured a modified 1948 Ford convertible that is difficult to overlook. Headlamps atop the fenders, a huge plexiglass prow of a hood, and exaggerated fins that take off to the sky rips into one’s retinas. White lightning on the metal flake red exterior paint, exhausts above the purple tail lamps, white interior, and Palomino dashboard also ensure visibility. The late Eddie Paul crafted it as well as 47 other autos in the flick. The clear hood shelters a 327-cid Mighty Mouse Chevy with twin-four barrels that can move and eat up the road in a hurry. The Grease Lightning was restored by Keith Dean of Hemet, California, and has toured with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John at the Meet & Greet Grease Tours.
John mentioned that he likes all his cars the same as one does with one’s children. But, we bet he has a special place in his heart for the Mailman Special. This is a 1931 Chevrolet roadster placed on top of a 1932 Ford frame that was created by John’s father, Joe, who was a mailman. He built it in the mid-50s, and employed ’48 Mercury brakes, a ’48 Mercury rear stuffed with 4.11 gears, and ’22 Model T rear springs. Originally, it had a ’32 Ford flathead, then a ’49 Mercury flattie, and finally a 327 fuelie out of a mashed-up 1963 split-window Corvette. Front fenders were from a Harley, headlamps from a ’34 Ford truck, and taillamps from a ’50 Pontiac.
The showstopper was featured in the March 1960 issue of Rods Illustrated. General Tire displayed Joe’s car at the 1964 New York World’s Fair to help display tires. While Joe was at the Fair, Brian Wilson wanted to buy the car to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show when the Beach Boys sang “I Get Around”. Instead, Joe leased Wilson the car. Sullivan, himself, called Joe to get more rods on the stage with the group.
After this Joe decided to paint his chariot “Goldwood Yellow” using rattle cans from J.C. Whitney. Eventually, the car was sold to a collector in Kansas. But, after many years, John was able to buy it back. He did some upgrades, but has kept it essentially the same to honor his father.
Dennis Johnson entered a model contest at Detroit Autorama in 1969. He combined the body from a 1:43-scale plastic kit with the wheels and engine from a 1:25-scale kit. Model Products Corporation (MPC) decided to make models like Johnson’s and called them Zingers. MPC made six versions. Bob Larivee, promoter of the Autorama, commissioned Chuck Miller to build floor-sized stationary model Zingers to travel with his shows. John belongs to Dead Mans Curve hot rod club in NJ. This organization recreated a series of Zingers with the advice of Chuck Miller. John has made a VW Beetle, dragster, and dune buggy.
Pac-Man is a cultural icon for many kids who are now grown-up. In the mid-1970s Larry Wood styled the Pac-Man rod and Rod Powell assembled it. John saved this vehicle that was languishing in a Michigan barn. The Pac-Man rod is a lot more than a lawn mower with an attitude. It has go-fast and look-fast goodies. The Buick V-6 provides John with rip-roaring, tire shredding adventure.
John Sbrigato had a childhood passion for cars that influenced his life. He really gets amped up about automobiles. John’s stellar line-up proves he has gas running in his veins.
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