Jitney Jake Jacobs – Every Picture Tells A Story
I’ve known Jitney Jake Jacobs since 1982 when I photographed him and his partner Pete Chapouris driving their iconic ’34 coupes down Highway 99 towards Merced, California to the Street Rods Nats West. It was one of those lucky shots taken hanging out the back of a rented station wagon as we all barreled down the highway at 70-plus mph. Pete and Jake were not known for keeping to the oil crisis-induced double nickel 55-mph speed limit. They were, however, known for their cool factor and their hot rods especially Jake who got his teenage start working for Ed “Big daddy” Roth.
My photo hit the cover of a magazine and led to a 35-year friendship with Pete and Jake. I became one of their overseas dealers and when I immigrated to the U.S. I lived at Jake’s house for a while. It’s hard to relate how much hot rod fun we had then as they both took me around and introduced me to everybody and his uncle from George Bush to Billy F Gibbons of ZZTop.
Two events from that era stick in my mind as they surely do others because they made such an impact on the hot rod world. The first occurred at the Goodguys West Coast Nationals at Pleasanton in 1987. Jake had driven up in his fresh built but not -quite-finished ’28 tub. “I’d run out of time.” Said Jake. “I built the car in 28 days but I didn’t have time to paint it so I told Pete “P-Wood” Eastwood to bring his can of paint and we brush painted it right there at the fairgrounds. Luckily, Dave Enmark’s wife Mary documented the episode and gave me a scrapbook full of photos. Of course, a lot of people were quite shocked. That was the beginning of the Boyd era and a brush-painted tub was not something everybody was ready for, although some people were and they got into it. Even Tom ‘Stroker McGurk’ Medley picked up a brush and even gave it his ‘Stroker McGurk Award.’ That put some noses out of joint.”
The following summer Jake and I took the tub to the annual L.A. Roadsters Father’s Day Roadster Show at Pomona. As we drove into the roadster-only preferred parking area one of the officials said, “It’s not finished.” To which Jake replied, “It is as far as I’m concerned.” The official turned us around and refused us entry. It was indicative of the mood of the times when flat-painted rods were not yet acceptable. We were the Sex Pistols on wheels.
A younger group of rodders was getting it though, guys who couldn’t or wouldn’t afford a Boydster. They preferred funkier, early-style hot rods built like Jake’s from what was on hand or scored at swap meets rather than from a catalog.
In the summer of 1988 Pat Ganahl shot the tub and Chapouris’ new Limefire Deuce roadster for the December cover of the re-launch of Rod & Custom magazine. His set-up emulated the iconic November ’73 cover that featured the dynamic duo’s coupes that, at that time, revolutionized the hot rod scene. Prior to that, resto rods were the popular ride. Pete and Jake changed all that.
After the paint had dried we drove the tub all over from Los Angeles to Zion, to Death Valley to Bonneville. Putting thousands of trouble-free miles on that ol’ Ford with its corrugated cardboard interior.
Jake isn’t about rat rods though or even unfinished cars for that matter. Jake is about craftsmanship and detail and in his own way making a statement. This was evidenced in the next shocking installment of the saga of the tub. Jake called me and said, “I’m thinking of sticking pages of old HOT ROD Magazines all over the tub. Wanna come help?” I’m right there.
Three long days and three long nights of glue sniffing saw it done and we set off for the Goodguys West Coast Nationals. The reception was slightly warmer than when Jake brush painted the tub but only slightly. Some folks were very upset that Jake had cut up valuable old copies of HOT ROD to do this. They didn’t know that we had only used torn copies that were already falling apart. Nevertheless, the tub made a statement like a Jackson Pollack painting. Some got it but some surely didn’t.
Soon after Pleasanton, the three of us took a long, hot, four-day road trip exploring Death Valley with the tree amigos sharing the front seat for a thousand miles or more. Now that was a trip.