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Classic Cars Add Spice to Bean Pot Twice a Month

August 14, 1986|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

With his black beret, dangling earring and punk attire, 17-year-old Dan Phetteplace of Tujunga is a child of the '80s, part of a generation weaned on doom-gloom music, suburban alienation and Johnny Rotten.

But two evenings each month, Johnny B. Goode gains the upper hand as Phetteplace wheels his '56 T-Bird into a Foothill Boulevard eatery and skids into the Brylcreem past, along with about 60 other classic-car collectors.

Unlike the cruisers who used to plague Van Nuys Boulevard on Wednesday nights, the auto aficionados who re-create the 1950s at Rudy's Bean Pot in Tujunga are a mellow, mainly older crowd that views burning rubber as a social transgression akin to public belching.

Teen-agers like Phetteplace are the exception here, not the rule.

Big Investment in Wheels

"I've got too much money invested in this car to even think about street racing," says Patrick Grams of La Crescenta, pointing to a blue 1915 Ford roadster he painstakingly rebuilt over five years.

Grams, a 46-year-old machinist, equipped his machine with a 327 Corvette engine, '68 Camaro disc brakes, a Powerglide transmission and a '57 Chevy differential with 456 gears, among other things. He's mighty proud of the results.

Soft drink in hand, Grams and others mill about Rudy's parking lot from dusk to about midnight on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, swapping car lore, rubbing fenders and whistling admiringly at rare machines like the 1937 Graham-Paige Supercharged Coupe that glided into the drive-through last week in the Tujunga twilight.

You half expect to see American Graffiti playing at the Rainbow, an Art Deco-style theater right across from the Bean Pot.

Patrons say Rudy's, which celebrated its one-year anniversary last Wednesday, is one of two places in the San Fernando Valley where car buffs can gather to display their vintage autos. One popular hangout, now closed, was a burger joint called Kevin's in Reseda. But car club members say Kevin has opened a new restaurant on Roscoe Boulevard at DeSoto Avenue in Canoga Park that attracts the car crowd on Friday nights.

Meanwhile, Bean Pot owner and impresario Rudy Ramirez says he is delighted with his own turnout.

"They called this the corner of doom," Ramirez said gleefully, waving his arms at the corner restaurant. "This used to be a taco place, then a burger joint, then some other fast-food place. They all failed. But my business is great."

Wearing shorts and a chef's apron, Ramirez, a genial 42-year-old who grew up in nearby La Crescenta, likes to mingle with the crowd and admire the street rods that line his lot.

On a recent night, they included a red-and-white '58 Corvette, a 1923 canary-yellow Model T and a cherry-red Model A Ford roadster. All stood with their hoods open for inspection.

Then there was the cream-and-brown 1976 Clenet, a reproduction of an antique touring car built by Alain Clenet Coachworks in Santa Barbara. The car, one of only 250 made, is owned by Pauline and Robert McCleary, a dapper Tujunga couple in their 60s.

'Makes Us Feel Young'

"It's not our go-to-the-market car, but it makes us feel young," Robert McCleary said.

Ramirez surveyed his empire happily, while his wife, Sandi, kept an eye on the restaurant.

"I'm a boat man, myself, but I'm thinking of buying a 1940 Ford," he confided.

In fact, it seems that most of the car owners who frequent the Bean Pot are men. One exception last Wednesday was Irene Stringham, a spunky woman in a silk camisole whose husband also collects classic cars.

Irene said she bought her first car at 17. "It was a black-and-white '56 T-Bird with little portholes. A real beauty," she says. The car also led to her first ticket. "Speeding," she recalled in disgust.

Her brother first piqued her interest in cars, Stringham recalls, as she was growing up in the Maywood-Bell area of Los Angeles. She also owned a '38 Buick Roadmaster and a '36 Cadillac convertible. Now, she drives a wine-colored '68 hot rod Corvette convertible.

Her husband, Bill, owns a 1940 Willy's pickup called Moonshine, black with painted blue flames. They share a powder-blue '64 Corvette.

Last Wednesday, classic-car collectors, mostly from the foothills area, gathered with their families to show off vintage cars, stock cars and customized cars, sway to the crooning of the Coasters, and chow down on chile verde burritos made from a recipe that Rudy says was handed down by his grandmother.

Along busy Foothill Boulevard, traffic slowed as passers-by craned their necks and honked in greeting. Teen-agers in a beat-up gray 1966 Chevy screeched up and down the boulevard several times, much to the annoyance of the classic-car crowd. A black-and-white police car cruised slowly past.

Los Angeles Police Sgt. Dennis Zine, who monitors Valley traffic, says there have been "no complaints whatsoever" about Rudy's.

And collectors want to keep it that way.

"We hope it doesn't draw . . . kids that like to drag-race. We just want to get together and talk about cars," Stringham said.

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