Cool Collections! Rod Pearce Draws on ’60s NorCal Memories
Like many teens who grew up in Northern California in the 1960s, Rod Pearce was consumed by what he saw in American Graffiti, which was set in the city of Modesto. What he saw played out on the silver screen was like a look back at his own high school life. Rod was 16 years old in 1964 when he became a hot rodder with his first car – a ’57 Chevy hardtop that he hopped up and street raced on El Camino Real, the go-to Friday night Bay Area cruisin’ strip in the ’60s.
College and business took a front seat for Rod in the ’70s and early-’80s, as did a move to the Sacramento area. In 1985 hot rodding came back into Rod’s life in the form of drag racing via a radio commercial for the local Sacramento Raceway. His first purpose-built race car? A ’55 Chevy powered by a big-cubic-inch nitrous-fed engine to race in the Top Sportsman class, and eventually Pro Modified.
For nearly three decades Rod would travel the West Coast racing with multiple independent Pro Modified associations ranging from Canada to Arizona. The old silver-and-red ’55 Chevy that he began drag racing with was sold to keep up with evolving chassis designs and improved aerodynamics – three different ’63 Corvettes and a ’70 Camaro followed over those three decades.
When Rod’s racing career was winding down, street rods and classics came back into the mix, as well as his silver-and-red ’55 Chevy (which he sold and bought back twice) and an admiration of American Graffiti. Rod’s collection pays tribute to everything classic – classic cars, classic rock, and a classic lifestyle.
The garage walls are lined with records (most of which Rod retained from his younger years), signs and memorabilia from the college band he was in at San Francisco State, The Knight Riders (they once opened for the Grateful Dead), automotive and neon signs, drag racing memories, and much, much more.
Each of Rod’s cars get driven and are regularly used to attend Sacramento-area car meets. His wife Ronda will sometimes gather up friends and hit the highway for a Lake Tahoe day trip. The cars are the stars in Pearce’s garage, but the Mel’s Diner bar top and kitchen comes in a close second and is another homage to American Graffiti. Like his restomod rides, the diner appears vintage, but the stove-top, oven, and refrigerator are all mechanically modern and fully functional.
Rod and Ronda Pearce happily share their collection with family and friends by hosting parties, celebrations, and the occasional poker night. The newest addition to Rod’s garage will be another ’57 Chevy that’s nearing completion at Graham’s Hot Rod Shop near Fresno, California, and is powered by a Steve Morris-built twin-turbo 427c.i. LS that already pushed 1,500hp on the engine dyno. Although he hasn’t made a blast down the drag strip in nearly a decade, Rod still hasn’t lost the appreciation for horsepower. And his newest ride will combine the best of both worlds.
Photos by Steven Bunker