By SEMA Editors
Hot-rodding legend Pete Chapouris passed away January 6 due to complications from a stroke. He was 74.
Chapouris grew up in El Monte, California, and started “cruisin’ the boulevards” as a young hot rodder with his friends around 1955. His first hot rod was a ’32 roadster, but at the time, he was in love with Gil Granuci's A coupe so he sold the body, bought a Model A coupe and channeled it over the Deuce rails. Like most enthusiasts, Pete went through a string of cars, wheeling and dealing his way up market until he could afford a new ’61 T-bird.
At the time, Chapouris was working as a product development technician at Clayton Manufacturing Co. During his tenure, he met Mike Hoag, who had left Blair’s to form M&S Welding with Sherm Gunn, building drag cars. Chapouris wanted to work for them, and consequently took welding classes at night until they gave him a part-time job. In 1971, he left Clayton and went to work at Blair’s—a speed shop with a history reaching as far back as Alex Xydias’ SO-CAL emporium.
A member of the Vintage Tin hot-rod club, Chapouris began work on a chopped ’34 coupe that would have a seminal impact upon not only his life but also the hot-rod world. Finished in traditional black and flames, the coupe was photographed for the cover of the November 1973 issue of Rod & Custom, along with a similarly chopped canary yellow coupe of Jim “Jake” Jacobs. The two rodders hit it off and decided to start a small hot-rod repair business in Temple City, California. Then came the call from Hollywood, specifically Howie Horowitz, producer of the successful “Batman” series. He wanted Chapouris’ car for a made-for-TV movie called The California Kid starring Martin Sheen.
“The Kid” put Pete and Jake’s Hot Rod Parts on the map, and the pair ran a thriving business which, because of their innovative style and seat-of-the-pants marketing savvy, took the hot-rod business out of the backyard and into the mainstream.
Pete and Jake’s was eventually sold in 1987, and Chapouris went to work as vice president of marketing for SEMA. Having been instrumental in the formation of the Street Rod Equipment Association (SREA), Chapouris became a driving force in the transformation of the SREA into the Street Rod Market Alliance (SRMA)—a SEMA council—which later elected him into its hall of fame. He was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame in 1999.
SO-CAL Speed Shop’s Jimmy Shine (left) and Pete Chopouris (right) teamed up with guitarist Billy Gibbons (center) to build a ’33 Ford coupe project car at the SEMA Garage.
In 1990, he formed an alliance with Bob Bauder and, among other projects, completed a pair of Harley-Davidson “HogZZillas” for Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top. The friendship with Gibbons resulted in numerous projects.
In 1995, he opened The Pete Chapouris Group (PC3g)—a hot-rod shop in Pomona, California.
One of the first cars that PC3g was involved in was a restoration for Bruce Meyer of the Pierson brothers’ coupe, which led to an enduring association and the eventual restoration of the SO-CAL belly tank Lakester.
Cover-quality cars were produced by PC3g, including Don Simpson’s “Killer Coupe,” several cars for Gibbons including a ’36 three-window coupe and “Kopperhed,” and an extended-cab Model A pickup for Chuck DeHeras. Chapouris also restored the Doane Spencer roadster for Meyer, which won the inaugural Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Hot Rod Class. It also won the Dean Batchelor Memorial Award for Excellence.
In addition, Chapouris was selected as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People within the high-performance industry and, as such, was inducted into the Hot Rod Magazine Hall of Fame.
Chapouris had a great relationship with Alex Xydias—the founder of the SO-CAL Speed Shop, and convinced Xydias to license him the SO-CAL name. SO-CAL Speed Shop is now a 30,000-sq.-ft. facility in Pomona boasting 30-plus employees and eight retail stores from coast to coast. Chapouris and the SO-CAL team built four land-speed cars for GM Performance, and in the last five seasons, set a half-dozen records putting four drivers in the 200 MPH Club.
Chapouris has been inducted into the Route 66 Hall of Fame, SEMA Hall of Fame, SREA Hall of Fame and SRMA Service Award, the National Rod & Custom Hall of Fame, the Hot Rod Hall of Fame and the Grand National Roadster Show Hall of Fame, awarded the Detroit Autorama Builder of the Year, the Grand National Roadster Show Builder of the Year, the Legends of Speed Lifetime Achievement Award and received the NSRA (UK) Hot Rod of the Century Award for his chopped ’34 3w coupe, the “California Kid.”
He is survived by his wife Carol, daughter Nicole and son Pete IV.