Feature Article, Street Rods, Washington — May 13, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Rick Nelsen (Issue 95)


By Steve Heeb

A lot of cars have rolled through Rick Nelsen’s garage since the green ’53 Chevrolet he had in 1966.

“That was on of my fast cars,” Rick says. “My first hot rod, so to speak.”

Another green Chevrolet, this time a ’60 two-door sedan, would become Rick’s car of choice to race at the Puyallup Dragstrip.

“I’ve had 70 or 80 cars at a minimum,” Rick estimates. “They’re all my favorites, whatever I am driving at the time.”

The Shelton, Wash., resident does have a preference for topless cars, and his latest street rod is no exception.

Rick built his onyx black ’32 Ford roadster five years ago, pairing the body from a ’30 Ford with a ’32 SoCal chassis.

“I built it to replace a ’30 roadster I had,” Rick explains. “Someone offered me a butt-load of money. They kept upping the offer until I couldn’t refuse.”

He says that car still is in the Tacoma area, though it has been sold again a couple times since he had it.

With the car gone, Rick spent a couple months looking for a project that would suit his needs.

“I was looking for the best of the best,” Rick says of his search. “After you’ve built a couple cars you want to finally build a car the way you really want it.”

Rick bought the body from out of state and had it shipped back to Shelton.

“When it got here there was about $5000 in damage caused during the shipping,” he says. “They stuck a forklift through the floor in the back.”

Rick made the best of the situation.

“They told me it was going to be totaled,” Rick says. “But a lot of the damage was done to parts I was going to cut out anyway so I took the $5000 in cash and repaired it.”

His goal for the project was to build a more traditional street rod with a four-inch dropped axle with stainless hairpins and ladder bars, but put more creature comforts in the cockpit.

“I bought couches just because they had soft upholstery,” Rick smiles. “I liked the feel of the leather.”

A set of Mercedes heaters are mounted in back and on both sides, but the real warmth comes from a 30,000 btu heater mounted under the hand-molded ’40 Ford dash.

The heater is concealed behind a traditional heater face, and is just one of many personal touches that make his car unique.

Up front, the spreader bar was shaped from the trunk guard off of a ’50 Chev. A pair of ’32 Chevrolet headlights paired with turn signals off a Harley Davidson motorcycle frame the original grill and grill shell.

Early-’60s Cal Customs finned valve covers and air cleaner dress up the four-bolt 350-cid Chevy motor and Turbo 400 transmission with a Ford 9-inch rearend completing the powertrain. A set of street-legal 31×10.5-inch tires are mounted on American Torque Thrust D wheels.

“I wanted a bit of a dirt track look,” Rick says.

He bought a 1930 French-made radiator mascot from a vendor in California.

“I’m always looking for the oddball ones,” Rick says of the vintage plated skull sculpture. “Funny that the drivers in 1930 had the same kind of interest. Nowadays you see a lot of skulls.”

Behind the custom ’60 Impala steering wheel are working gauges from a ’40 Ford. An ornate winged emblem from a Chrysler Airflow is mounted on the speaker in the center of the dash.

He had a similar Chrysler Airflow emblem on his previous car but was unable to convince the buyer to let him keep it when he sold the car.

Rick’s friends Gary and Linda Scheibel came to the rescue during a trip to San Diego.

“I was at a swap meet and it on the table,” Gary says of buying a second winged emblem. “My wife said we should just give it to Rick.”

“We thought it was a cool-looking thing,” Linda says of the emblem that was destined for the dash in Rick’s new car. “It belongs there.”

Onto the winged emblem, Rick has attached the roundel from a trophy he had won at Puyallup Dragstrip.

Above those is a pair of Saint Christopher wings in honor of the patron saint for travelers.

And Rick does like to travel.

“I put in a big gas tank,” Rick explains. “It has an 18-gallon capacity because I wanted more range.”

Rick is a proud member of the Demonos car club and participates in the group’s many road trips.

“We’re all over western Washington and also make the run to Bridgeport,” Rick says noting that the Demonos is more for drivers than a show club. “We’re liable to go anywhere so most of us build a car that hangs in there.”

In addition to their Washington state tour, the club makes regular runs to the Bonneville Salt Flats and Hot August Nights in Reno.

Rick says folks are more likely to see one of the club members on the road than at car shows, but they do plenty of both.

“We watch the calendar and the weather,” Rick says. “Our event calendar is filled.”

Having been founded in 1956 when the Hywinders and Dragons clubs united, the Demonos Car Club was recognized by the Washington State Hot Rod Hall of Fame for more than fifty years of active status and for its contribution to the local community.

The club raises money to support area children through the FISH food bank in Pierce County and the Eastside Club for Boys.

“We sell fireworks at Thun Field,” Rick says of their July fundraiser at the Pierce County Airport between Puyallup and Graham. “Ours is probably the biggest booth in the state.”

Tony Holdren, the club’s current president, was among six charter members who started the Demonos.

“Jim Waldren still has the old club car,” Rick says of another Demonos charter member. “It’s the ’32 Ford three-window coupe that is immortalized on the club’s license plates.

Rick also points out that there also are second-generation members like Derick Gorde, son of long time Demono Ted Gorde and owner of the famous “Orange Crate” street rod.

Rick even brought his step-brother Rick Paul into the group.

“You ride around in this and you get the fever,” the Gig Harbor rodder says with a nod to Rick’s roadster. “Last fall I bought a ’32 Ford roadster too. It is an addiction.”

Rick Paul’s roadster sports a convertible rob top and salt flat wheels. A 350-cid Chevy smallblock is mounted between a clever two-toned black and red frame.

“It came out of Reno,” he says of finding the car. “I met up with the guy in Vancouver to get it.”

Both Ricks had their cars at the recent Mild to Wild show on the fairgrounds in Puyallup.

“I like this venue,” Rick says of the show that had previously been held in the Tacoma Dome. “The new promoter is doing a great job. The club is looking forward to supporting this venue in the future.”

Even with a threat of rain hanging over the Northwest the Demonos and hundreds of other street rods and other performance machines were housed safely under cover in several of the fair’s buildings.

“It’s been a great weekend,” Rick says of the show in March. “It is tough to pull off an event this time of year.”

Rick says the ’30 roadster will be one of the last cars he will build.

“But not THE last,” he grins. “I’m currently building a ’30 Ford coupe on a ’32 Ford chassis. That one will be for drag racing.”

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