A Trio Of Famous ’90s-Style Hot Rods Shows What “Sweetness” Was

When smooth lined

In the 1970s, street rods enjoyed a resurgence in popularity after being phased out of the spotlight during the muscle car era. This revival came with a change. Leading stem builders of the late 20th century were not building the first roadsters and coupes in the traditional styles of earlier years, but rather in a modern style characterized by a high-tech chassis with independent front and rear suspensions, heavy use of hand-built components (with an abundance of machined aluminum), reshaped bodies, and the elimination of badging and trim. The result was a super clean, sleek style that almost instantly became known as “slick”.

Of all the designers and builders associated with the “slick” style, some of the most famous are Boyd Coddington, Lil’ John Buttera, Chip Foose and Larry Erickson. Of all the owners, the most successful was probably Fred Warren, owner of the AeroCoupe, Smoothster and Shockwave, among others. No other car owner in the history of this hobby has won a Ridler Award from the Detroit Autorama, as well as two America’s Most Beautiful Roadster awards from the Grand National Roadster Show – a feat that Warren has made with three of the most famous cars of the smooth era.

Aero Coupe

Fred Warren’s 1937 Ford coupe, known as the AeroCoupe, won the Don Ridler Memorial Award at the Detroit Autorama in 1994. It was Warren’s second attempt at this prestigious award. He had entered a 1933 Ford coupe in Detroit a few years earlier. He didn’t win. “It didn’t suit me,” he told us. So he went home and started working on the ’37 that was sitting in a corner of his shop.

The car was built in Warren’s workshop in Warren, Ohio, with help from Tim Novick of Car Crafters. The styling of the car was inspired by a drawing of a 1940 coupe by artist Dave Bell. Novick’s body mods include extensive sheet metal remodeling. The top was cut 2 1/4 inches, the lower body severed 1 1/2 inches in the front, the nose pinched, and the whole thing piped 4 inches above the custom frame. Virtually all exterior components were eliminated or hidden, including the custom headlights, which were hidden behind the handmade grille.

The polished aluminum 406-inch Hawk engine was a collaboration between Li’l John Buttera and the Mr. Gasket Company. It originally used eight-stack Bosch injection on a modified Inglese manifold, which has since been replaced with three Demon carburettors (the fuel injection system has been rebuilt and will be offered to the next owner).

Hot Rods by Boyd hand-built the independent front and rear suspension and supplied the billet wheels. The smooth theme continues in the fully modernized interior, with beige upholstery. There is not a single gauge in the dashboard. Car Crafters built a panel above the windshield and installed a Dakota Digital gauge panel. The billet flywheel is another Boyd Coddington contribution.

Warren was back in Detroit in the winter of 1994, ready to make a second attempt to impress the Ridler Award judges. This time he was successful and AeroCoupe won the coveted Autorama top prize.


After winning the Ridler Prize with AeroCoupe, Warren was eager to build more show cars and win more prizes. Less than a year after his victory in Detroit, he won the prize for the most beautiful roadster in the Americas in Oakland with another ’37 Ford.

Smoothster, as this bright yellow roadster is called, was designed by Larry Erickson and Chip Foose, and was already underway at Hot Rods by Boyd when Boyd Coddington suggested Warren buy the car.

The Smoothster’s body was handcrafted from aluminum (with steel fenders and running boards) by Craig Naff, an East Coast steelworker. Naff had worked with Boyd on several projects, including building the body of the famous 1948 Cadillac CadZZilla. Like the AeroCoupe, the Smoothster’s body has been shaved of all exterior ornamentation, unless you count the chrome-plated brass grille bars, the tallest of which runs the full length of the car to the deck. The car is never seen without its roof, but the handmade aluminum piece, covered in fabric by Marcel De Ley of Marcel’s Fabrication, is removable. According to Warren, the original plans called for bright red paint. It was Chip Foose (who had done some renderings) who argued that the car should be yellow.

The sanitary engine compartment is equipped with a 350-inch Corvette LT1 engine, dressed with custom components. The engine is linked to a 700R4 automatic transmission. The Boyd-built modern chassis features Corvette front and rear suspension parts with Air Ride (now RideTech) parts. As on the AeroCoupe, the unique billet wheels were built by Boyd from a Li’l John Buttera design. Upholsterer Jim Griffin contributed the leather interior and, according to Warren, the Smoothster moniker.

In addition to winning the 1995 AMBR award, Smoothster has been featured in numerous hot-rodding magazine articles and advertisements, featured as a limited-edition Hot Wheels collectible car, and is one of the most popular hot rods. best known of the last 27 years.

Shock wave

ShockWave was Warren’s second AMBR award winner, dominating the 50th annual Grand National Roadster Show in 1999. The car is identified as a 1934 Ford roadster, although like AeroCoupe and Smoothster it was savagely restyled. The inspiration came from a design by Chip Foose, which originated from a student design project from Foose’s time at the Art Center College of Design. Construction was executed by a number of the biggest names in ’90s hot-rodding. Much of the initial construction was done at Hot Rods by Boyd, while Foose worked there. The project continued at Chuck Lombardo’s California Street Rods and eventually ended at Foose’s own store, Foose Design, which opened in 1998. The car’s name comes from an earthquake that woke Warren up one night while on a trip to California to check on construction.

The steel and aluminum body, built by Marcel De Ley, is the sleekest, most open and lowest of Warren’s award-winning trio. The only shiny work on the body is Dan Fink’s custom ’33-’34 style stainless steel grille. Candy-tangerine paint is a custom color, mixed and sprayed by Greg Morrell at California Street Rods.

A Hot Rods by Boyd chassis carries ShockWave and has all of Boyd’s signature suspension parts, including eye-catching billet independent suspension components, and front and rear coilovers. Pirelli tires roll on custom Boyd wheels.

As with Smoothster, ShockWave is powered by a contemporary Corvette engine, in this case a Chevy LT4, which is distinguished by handcrafted custom valve and engine covers. The automatic transmission is a GM 4L60E.

Famous hot rod upholsterer Paul Atkins wrapped the handcrafted bucket seats, door panels and center console in tan leather. The dashboard is elegant in its simplicity, with a center panel of Classic Instruments gauges.

See them at Mecum Auctions Indy!

Watching these three historic cars drive through the stage at the Mecum Auctions event in Indy will no doubt be a bittersweet experience for Fred Warren. “They’re trendsetters. They’re the only cars like this in the world,” he said, “and they were part of my life. When I was going to California while the cars were being built, I walked through the door to the store and it was like electricity. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep at night. Warren wants cars to continue to be enjoyed, by those who buy them and by everyone AeroCoupe is set to go up for auction on Friday, May 20. Smoothster and ShockWave are slated for Saturday, May 21. We’ll be watching on the MotorTrend+ streaming service (sign up for a free trial today!) and on television on MotorTrend TV.

Mecum Auctions 2022 program on MotorTrend+ and MotorTrend TV

  • May 18-21: Indianapolis, Indiana
  • June 10-11: Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • July 28-30: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
  • August 19-20: Monterey, California
  • September 8-10: Dallas, TX
  • October 14-15: Chicago, IL
  • November 11-12: Las Vegas, Nevada

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