Pete Chapouris, the prolific California hot rodder and aftermarket industry legend, has died. His passing is sudden, the result of complications after suffering a stroke this earlier week. He was 76.
If you have even a passing interest in hot rods, Chapouris’ name holds weight. Raised in suburban Los Angeles, he began customizing cars in the mid-Fifties, and established himself during the Sixties. After working both as a dynamometer tech and welder’s apprentice, Chapouris hit it big in late 1973, when his flamed-and-chopped ’34 Ford Coupe landed on the front of Rod & Custom’s November issue. Staged on a farm, alongside Jake Jacobs’ yellow two-door Ford, surrounded by grazing animals, boldly stamped “Are Coupes for Chickens?” the cover image became an instant classic. It kicked off something of a classic Ford renaissance, an industry-wide revisiting of traditional hot rodding.
Chapouris and Jacobs leveraged the moment, opening their own shop, Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Parts, in Temple City. Things only got bigger from there. Chapouris broke into Hollywood, creating a sinister ’34 coupe (pictured above) for The California Kid, which starred a young Martin Sheen. He served as Vice President of Marketing for SEMA, took built orders from ZZ Top, and won just about every hot rod trophy worth winning. When the Pebble Beach Concours finally created a Hot Rod class, he won that too. In the late Nineties, Chapouris revived the famed So-Cal Speed Shop, and build a series land speed record cars for GM Performance. He didn’t need the mainstream recognition, but got it anyway.
The man will be remembered for his cars, of course. But his approach mattered most. Chapouris was a mentor, and a bellwether, and a perfectionist. His work, both with his hands and as an advocate for modern hot rodding, changed the industry forever. He will be missed.