The Famous A Brothers And The Famous Little Deuce Coupe
By Scott Strenzel, aka Scooter from Scooter’s Garage
A few months back, I was able to shake the hand of one of our hobby’s top guns. It humbled me so much that this writer broke down and shed a few tears in front of a large group of people at the KOA Double Date Car Show. His name is Mike Alexander. I personally met both Mike and Larry at the 1964 Detroit Autorama. They were nice enough to actually give this punk kid a good amount of time talking with me. I never forgot that day. In case you have lived under a large rock for the last 50 years, you would know Larry and Mike as the famous A Brother’s custom car builders, from the Detroit area. They began by attending a body and paint trade school. After graduating in different years in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Larry and Mike commenced to do such quality work that they became world famous.
It began for them in the family’s one-car garage doing custom work. As time moved on, Larry was the older brother, and he purchased a home with a two car garage, so their ability to put out customs grew big time.
By 1957, they came to realize that they actually could make a decent living at this custom car thing. Their first car was a Model A with a built up flathead V-8 engine.
Their second famous car was the, Grasshopper 1931 Model A truck. That truck got them a best paint award at the 1958 Autorama in Detroit. In fact, Mike was telling me that after the restoration in 2000, that it would now be his favorite driver of every car they ever built.
Moving on. Back in those days, the west coast boys until 1959 kind of had the attention of the majority of us hot rodders. But thanks to Bob Larivee, Sr., he got the A Brothers connected with people like, George Barris, and Bill Hines.
Next up, a car guy by the name of, Clarence “Chili” Catallo brought them a 1932 Ford Coupe called the Silver Sapphire. This car had spent some time on the drag strip and was in need of some restoration to make it a show piece. Make and Larry did most of the work on it. Plus, George Barris put the finishing touches on it after it got out to California. In case you do not recall, this car became the cover car for the Beach Boys, Little Deuce Coupe album.
A couple of inside stories about the Little Deuce Coupe from Mike. Those cool looking rocker panel tri-fins were on it for two reasons. First the rockers, were pretty rusty, and so the A Brothers figured they would “zoomie” (Mike’s definition of them), it up with those cool fins, instead of just re-doing the rockers.
And it was Larry that gave car owner, Clarence “Chili” Catallo his nickname. Thanks to the fact that every time Clarence would walk in to the A brother’s shop to check out the progress on his car, he’d have a bowl of chili in one hand and a spoon in the other from a local Detroit mom and pop restaurant. So, Larry gave the nickname that stuck from then on.
Things kept falling the right way for the A Brothers. In about 1962, Harry Bradley came to Larry and Mike and also to Ford and Chrysler. This association gave them good relations with people like, Bill Cushenberry, Gene Winfield, Dean Jefferies, and many more biggies.
As the good things kept rolling towards the A Brothers, they had this 14-year-old kid named Ken Vancz outside the shop everyday hanging on their fence watching what was going on. Larry told him to get off the fence and if he wanted to see close-up what they were doing, he could come in the shop and sweep the floors for that privilege. Ken quickly became a good body man and ended up being the owner of a very successful corporation called Special Projects. Ken and his corporation ended up getting Mike and Larry a bunch of work. The A Brother’s business became so successful, that Larry was able to take a straight job over at Ford, which was also a big help to their custom business. The last car they did as that move was taking place was a cool 1923 T called the Top Banana.
Getting on to the later years, Mike had Chip Foose draw up the concept design for the A Brothers award winning 1933 Ford named the Vision. Since it’s completion, it has been on the cover of some of the big magazines for the hobby.
Also, to give Auto/Truck Round-Up readers something that I was curious about, Mike’s daily driver is a Lexus hybrid. But, he still says he’d be driving the Grasshopper if he could.
Folks, I have to tell you that I’ve left out many things as to the cars and fame of our man of the hour, Mr. Mike Alexander. Space simply doesn’t give me the ability to tell you everything. And oh yes, in case you haven’t heard, the A Brothers won the ultra famous, Riddler Award three times along their way into the record and car history books.
To sum up, Mike and his wife Elaine have been able to put their children through college and live very nicely. And, if you ever get the chance to meet Mike, he is one of the most approachable non-ego biggies I’ve met in the hobby. And, he is as sharp as a tack. If you want more about him, the obvious venues are jammed with facts, pictures, and stories about Mike and Larry — The A Brothers.
Thank you Mike.