If you ever came across the TLC reality series entitled “American Hot Rod,” the chances are that you know who Body Coddington was. Even if you never watched an episode of his show, Boyd made a name for himself in the automotive industry, as one of the best hot rod designers. His innovational genius and particular approach to building hot rods, consistent quality of his work, set him apart from other designers, and paved the path for his long successful career.

Unfortunately, in 2008 the legendary Boyd passed away, a shock to the automotive industry, his numerous fans, and his “American Hot Rod” cast members. Let’s take a look at his awe-inspiring career, spanning three decades!

Early Life

Boyd Leon Coddington was born on 28 August 1944 in Rupert, Idaho, USA. He was drawn toward cars from a young age, and hot rods were part of the post-war American automotive boom, which saw a proliferation of car designs. He nourished his interest by collecting and reading various automotive magazines, and landed his first car, a 1931 Chevrolet truck, when he was 13. He furthered his knowledge by attending machinist trade school, followed by a three-year apprenticeship in machining.

Career

Having high standards and innovative ideas, in 1968 he set out for California, to pursue his dream of becoming a hot rod builder, and having his own business. He initially worked in a machine shop, and quickly moved up the ladder, becoming a machinist and maintenance repairman in Disneyland, displaying a natural ability for craftsmanship. This job was perfect for him, as he could work there at night, and build hot rods during the day in his home garage.

While many might feel disdain or shame toward their humble beginnings and initial jobs, Boyd always spoke kingly of his job at Disneyland, providing stability and allowing him to work on cars and start his desired business; the legacy and style of “Boyd Look” were born in the backyard shop of his Cypress home. While working at Disney and his garage enabled him to pay his bills and pursue his dream, having two jobs eventually took a toll on him. Whether it was his high-quality standards and continuous lack of sleep, in 1977 he quit his job at Disney, and opened his shop Hot Rods by Boyd, in Stanton, California, as a full-time endeavor.

His Style and Vern Luce

Before Boyd burst on the scene with the famous Vern Luce Coupe, hot rods were not very popular or coveted, as they were seen as old bodies dropped on a late model chassis. However, his innovations and unique touch set the standard and trend that’s desired and recognizable, even many years later. Seeing his work copied by other builders and designers is not unusual – the “Boyd Look” he invented is smooth, sleek, and fluid, while his cars were well constructed – his vehicles were not a combination of different parts of commuter cars, as Boyd built his part from billet aluminum. Boyd and his long-time friend and machining expert Lil John Buttera came up with the idea of custom-fabricating car parts, as they were often unable to find or buy what they needed. Without intention, they made staple pieces that would define their work and legacy. The two pioneered the ‘billet” look, and applied it throughout the car, besides wheels.

Hot Rods by Boyd's Chris Coddington stands behind the iconic Vern Luce Coupe that traveled from Australia where Greg…

Posted by L.A. Roadsters on Monday, June 17, 2013

Rising through the ranks with his genius ideas and craft, Boyd became known for building hot rods in the late ’70s and ’80s. His first important customer was Vern Luce, whose car set the course of his brilliant career, and sparked other creations, setting a high standard. In the documentary movie “Birth of Smooth,” Boyd’s son, Chris, said: ‘Vern’s Coupe was probably the first car that really put my dad on the map. It was built right here in my parent’s garage. Of course, I was young at the time, but it was one of the first cars that I have really good memories of.’ The 1933 coupe, besides becoming a piece of history, also won the Al Slonaker Award at the 1981 Oakland Roadster show.

Any project graced with his touch was an original masterpiece, usually with parts that had been custom-built for that vehicle. If this is not enough to convince you of Boyd’s greatness and contribution to the automotive industry, some of his cars can be found in museums and industry retrospectives, as they influenced the idea and process of building hot rods.

Boyd’s Wheels and CadZZilla

Believing that custom-built cars deserved custom-built wheels, in 1988 he founded the company Boyd Wheels, to manufacture custom billet wheels. His company was a continuation of his vision that every car should have unique and never-seen-before wheels.

The following year, he landed another project that would mark his career and legacy and become one of the unique cars worldwide. If you are a fan of rare and exciting cars, you might have heard or come across a photo of CadZZilla, a custom vehicle built by Boyd in 1989. CadZZilla is a customized Cadillac that Boyd designed for the rock star Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. The dashing shiny, metal beast was conceived and designed first by Jack Chrisenhall and Larry Erickson, the first sketches being done on a napkin. Craig Naff led Coddington’s team – the crew took a 1948 Cadillac Series 62 Sedanette, and followed Gibbon’s wish to make it a wild ride. The wheels are Boyd’s signature billet aluminum designed, and the exterior was done in deep purple from House of Color.

Drawing inspiration from Mercury Eights of 1950, the car was a one-of-a-kind piece, different from anything that had been seen before. Considered one of the great expressions of automotive customization, CadZZilla quickly became popular, and people worldwide wanted to take a gander at it. The columnist Gray Baskerville could not contain his delight, calling it “the most incredible transformation I’ve ever witnessed.’ The editors of Consumer Guide praised CadZZilla as “the first new type of custom since the heyday of the 1950s.

During his career, Boyd won several highly coveted awards that are just another testament to his abilities and vision, including the Grand National Roadster Show’s “America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR)” award seven times, and the Daimler-Chrysler Design Excellence award twice. In 1997, Coddington was inducted into the Hot Rod Hall of Fame

“American Hot Rod” Series

“American Hot Rod” is a reality automotive series that followed Boyd and his team as they scrambled to soup-up the fiercest hot rods and custom vehicles at Boyd’s shop in La Hambra, California. The series premiered in January 2004, and ran for five seasons on The Learning Channel and Discovery Channel, concluding in September 2007. During the five-season run, the crew worked on several dashing and rare cars, including “Alumatub,” a ‘61 Impala Bubbletop, and a ’63 Chevy Corvette Stingray. In addition, in the last season, they had the honor of designing an Elvis Tribute car, a modified 1957 pink Cadillac. Some prominent cast members who appeared in all five seasons include Jo and Chris Coddington, Duane Mayer, Dan Chicago Sobieski, Tommy Puriton, and Kevin Christianson.

The series was very successful, and particularly popular among car enthusiasts, however, the show gained public attention for more than just its craftsmanship and creativeness. During its run, the show had over 50 cast members and employees, many of whom didn’t stay long. The high staff turnover rate and frequent altercations became synonymous with the series, and many thought Boyd was a nag. Allegedly, the heat in Boyd’s kitchen was so high that some of his staff chose to work for Chip Foose, a former partner and employee of Boyd, looking for a more relaxed environment.

Posted by Boyd Coddington Hot Rods & Custom Wheels on Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Interestingly, Chris Foose worked for Boyd in the ‘90s and left his position to found his own company, when Boyd was facing bankruptcy. The two didn’t part on good terms, and Boyd held a grudge until his death. According to reports, Boyd never got over Chris leaving his shop, and retaining many of Boyd’s talented designers who left his shop to follow Chris. In a 2006 interview, Chris revealed: ‘Boyd has chosen to not have any relations with me, since I stopped working at his shop.’ Furthermore, in 2004 Chris also landed his TLC series “Overhaulin’,” which ran for nine seasons. Chris wasn’t the only designer who worked for Boyd and later became famous; Jesse James, the entrepreneur known for “Monster Garage,” also found his modest start at Boyd’s shop.

Personal Life and Net Worth

Boyd walked down the aisle three times. In 1965 he married Peggy Jeanne King, but the couple divorced, the exact date of which is unknown. In 1971 he and Diane Marie Ragone Elkins tied the knot, and this marriage lasted for over 20 years until the two divorced in 1996.

In 2002 he married for the third time, to Jo Andenise Clausen McGee, with whom he stayed until his death. Boyd had five children – Chris, Boyd Jr., Thomas, Greg, and Robert.

His net worth was estimated at $12 million at the time of his death.

Bankruptcy

In 1998 Boyd caught himself in financial trouble, which led him to reorganize his company Boyd Wheels, and eventually file for bankruptcy. Allegedly, he suffered a $465,000 loss after one of his customers revealed that he could not pay for the services provided. Several media outlets reported that in March of the same year, Boyd’s Wheel was shut down after a year of financial turmoil, and over 130 workers were dismissed. A successful subsidiary, Hot Rods by Boyd, continued operating, as the financial advisors were looking for a buyer that would keep it intact. Both companies filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, as Boyd’s Wheel ran out of business and cash.

Then in February 2001, Los Angeles Times wrote that Boyd filed for personal bankruptcy in federal court, listing only $8,800 in assets to pay off his $529,000 debt. According to his lawyer’s statements, he had no choice but to file for bankruptcy, as creditors forced him to pay the debts accumulated by his two companies. The attorney Keith Dolnick, said: ‘He still has some lingering problems from the past and is filing (for bankruptcy) in order to get a fresh start.’ The idea eventually worked, and Boyd was able to build his business.

Trouble With the Law

While still struggling with financial issues, Boyd began registering completed custom-made cars as antique automobiles, to avoid significant emission restrictions and tax liabilities. The Los Angeles officials declared this a ‘ship of Theseus’ fraud, which meant that he had changed so many parts of the car that it ceased to be the exact vehicle, and hence couldn’t be registered as antique. He was charged with a misdemeanor, and pleaded guilty in 2005.

Boyd’s Death

Boyd, a long-time diabetic, was hospitalized on 31 December 2007, but discharged on the same day; however, as his condition worsened, he was readmitted several days later to Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital in Whittier, California. Subsequently, Boyd underwent surgery for a perforated colon. Even though his doctors were highly optimistic about his condition and expected a full recovery, Boyd died in February 2008, aged 63.

His publicist revealed more information about his health, saying: ‘Coddington, a long-time diabetic, died from complications brought on from a recent surgery. It was Coddingtons’ ever forward-looking view at the design and art of the hot rod and his unconditional desire to create the finest quality cars that became the “Boyd Look.” He also revealed that Boyd had sepsis and kidney complications.

The former publisher of Hot Rod Magazine, Harry Hibler, shared: ‘Its a major loss for the automotive enthusiasts and hot rod aficionados around the world. Boyd Coddington did much more than creating automotive trends; he also built the finest hot rods. He was entertaining on his TV Show (TLC’s- American Hot Rod) and an ambassador who educated.’ The creative visionary was buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.

What happened to the Show and his business after he died?

After his death, the “American Hot Rod” came to an end as the main star of the show passed away, and in June 2008, his car shop was temporarily closed. During the same year, his sons Chris, Greg and Boyd Jr., launched the company entitled Sons of Boyd to honor their father’s craft and legacy. Chris revealed: ‘Through various venues, our mission is to share all the incredible memories we have of our father and to keep his vision and passion for hot rods and to customize going.’

The brothers also set up a tribute site for their father, which features behind-the-scenes of various projects and the series, including never seen photos from his famous projects. Boyd Jr. talked about the site and their father, saying: ‘Our primary goal is to ensure that the Boyd look will live on, and our Fathers spirit will forever remain not only with the hot rod industry but his innovations and influences that inspired the entire aftermarket industry will continue to flourish.’

Chris Caddington currently runs the Hot Rod by Boyd and the site.

In December 2018, Chris launched “Hot Rods by Boyd: The Podcast”, which follows Chris as he interviews various automotive experts about past, present, and essential future happening in the industry.

Even though the hot rod legend left this world, at least the fans and many aspiring designers will always have his priceless creations to echo his presence and genius! Boyd’s rags-to-riches story inspires and motivates many, who strive to make history!

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