Darryl Starbird and His Custom Cars

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This is where Maury first met Darryl Starbird
at Darryl's Star Kustom Shop in Wichita, Kansas
Photo used with permission

A Side Trip on Old Route 66
A few years ago I was able to connect with a memory made during my teen years in Wichita, Kansas. Back then I was really fascinated with drag racing, hot rods and customized cars. Every month I would buy the latest issues of hot rod and custom car magazines. At the time, my buddy was a fellow car-guy named Bob. He and I often went to drag races and on one occasion Bob even competed in an official drag race with his own car – a stock ’52 Ford – in a NHRA drag racing meet in Great Bend, Kansas.

We followed the hot rod and custom car scene by reading several car magazines each month. I even got caught once reading a car magazine during study-hall when I had a magazine hidden in one of my text books. At the time, the custom car action seemed to be a California thing. However, we were both very happy to learn that there was a cool custom-car shop right in Wichita.

On a weekend in 1959 Bob suggested we go down to the south side of town to check out the Star Kustom Shop to see what new custom car was being built. The owner of the shop was Darryl Starbird, who was one of my heroes when it came to custom car designs. A couple of others I remember are “Big Daddy” Roth and George Barris.

Because it was a weekend, we felt lucky to find Darryl in the shop where he was working on his latest custom car. Bob and I went into the shop to watch Darryl as he worked. I happened to be standing next to the driver-side of the car with Darryl working on the engine on the passenger side. The car was a heavily customized 1956 Ford Thunderbird with a 1957 Chrysler Hemi engine. I could not have recognized the car as a Thunderbird. While looking on as Darryl worked, he suddenly asked me to hold onto one side of the intake manifold as it was being installed. At the age of 17, I was a pretty good auto mechanic and I was happy that I understood what Darryl was doing. It took only a few minutes to lower the manifold into place, but this is a memory that has stuck with me my whole life.

I would learn later that the car Darryl was working on was named Predicta. It was his first bubble-top car, however, when I helped with the intake-manifold, the car didn’t have the hood or the special top installed at the time. Darryl would go on to create more bubble-top custom cars and became known as “The Bubble-Top King,” a well-earned title.

Fast-forward 50 years
I was on a cross-country road trip in my bright-yellow Corvette driving on parts of the old Historic Route 66. Before starting on my trip, I learned that Darryl had opened Darryl Starbird's National Rod & Custom Car Hall of Fame Museum near Afton, Oklahoma next to The Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees often just called Grand Lake. As it turned out, this location was a short side trip from Route 66. So, I took a detour down to see Darryl’s museum.

Click on the image below to see a map to Darryl's place

This sign, out next to the road, is what to
look for to get to Darryl's place

It took me a while to finally find the museum, but when I found it, I was impressed with the large grassy area around the museum building. I would learn later that car shows were held on the open grassy field. It was late in the afternoon and I was concerned that the museum might be closed as there were no cars in the parking lot. Of course, this may have been quite normal for the middle of the week. While driving up the driveway, I could see a man on a riding lawn mower giving the huge lawn a crew-cut. The sound of the mower filled the air as I walked up the path to the entrance of the museum.

Shortly after entering the museum, Donna Starbird came out of an office to greet me. I told her a very short version of my story and asked if the Predicta was in the museum. I also asked if Darryl was around. Donna told me that the car I came to see was in the showroom. She also told me that Darryl was the guy who was driving the riding mower until it developed a problem. I was directed to go on down to the garage where Darryl was working on the mower.

When I arrived at the garage, Darryl was working to repair his riding mower that he had been driving just a few minutes before. I was very impressed with the fact that with all the well-deserved success and fame that had come Darryl’s way, he was still a “Hands-on-get-your-hands-dirty” kind of guy. He and I walked back up to the museum as I told Darryl about my story and that it was a pleasure to see him again after all these years. Darryl saw my Corvette in the parking lot and said, “I see you still like cool cars.”

Once we were inside the showroom, I asked to see Predicta. It was behind a rope that was there to keep people from getting too close to the cars and it looked beautiful. Darryl said that he did a complete, frame-off restoration of Predicta; back to its original condition. I asked if I could get on the other side of the rope so I could stand next to this special car on the same side as when I helped with the intake-manifold 50 years before. Once I was next to the car Darryl took a picture with my camera. After this very special experience I toured the rest of the showroom.

Check out the photo page

I was taking a trip down memory lane as I walked; I had seen so many of the cars, that were on display, as photos in custom car magazines. Even as I was living my life into adulthood and becoming a family man, I still followed the custom car scene for many years. There were cars that also were movie stars. The showroom was laid out in such a way so as one walked around looking at cars on both sides of the isle, it would return to where it started.


Maury shakes hands with Darryl Starbird, who was
one of Maury’s heroes during his teen years.

— Photo by Donna Starbird —

Once back at the entrance, I purchased a photo of Predicta and a copy of Darryl’s big book that tells his story with a lot of photos of custom cars. I asked Donna to take a picture, with my camera, of Darryl and me. Just as the photo was about to be taken Darryl reached out to shake hands. This concluded my time with Darryl and his wife Donna and it was just about closing time. I was so very glad that I was able to visit with Darryl and Donna as well as getting to see their beautiful collection of custom cars. If you ever find yourself in this part of the country, do yourself a favor and visit this homage to custom cars and the people who design and build them.

From Darryl's place, I found my way back to the historic route 66 and continued to Baxter Springs, Kansas. From there I found my way to the highway that would take me back to Wichita, Kansas where Darryl’s story began and where I would visit my family. This had been a wonderful side trip that took me down memory lane.


I want to thank Donna and Darryl for showing me a good time while visiting their place at the end of their day. I must say that I think part of the reason for the Starbird's success is the way they treat people like old friends. When I first visited the Star Kustom Shop in Wichita, Darryl made my buddy and me (just a couple of kids) feel right at home as if we had been friends for a long time. I felt the same way when visiting Donna and Darryl in Oklahoma.
Thanks again for a fun tour and visit
— Maury —

 


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