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UP ALL NIGHT / SOCIAL CLIMES

Where Nostalgia Drives Them

March 05, 1995|MARK EHRMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Every Friday night, the old Bob's Big Boy in Burbank offers a little something extra with its burgers, fries and shakes: a free slice of American pie.

Around back in the parking lot gathers a glittering array of meticulously restored hot-rods, muscle cars and other hulking behemoths of Detroit iron, packing more horsepower under each hood than a showroom full of Hondas.

These kandy-kolored tangerine-flake streamlined Fords, Chevys, Chryslers, Packards and Studebakers hark back to a more innocent time before Vietnam, before free love, and surely before oil embargoes and emission control standards.

"This is something we did back when we were in high school," explains Frank Nay, a 60-year-old former student of Burroughs High School in Burbank who cruised this Big Boy back in the '50s. Nay is president of the Road Kings, a onetime drag-racing club a la "American Graffiti." Now, its members in their golden years, it's a hot-rod appreciation club.

When the new owners of Bob's restored the restaurant a year and a half ago, they invited the club down to help restore the era.

"We're trying to revive our childhood and bring in younger people to enjoy what we did in the '50s," Nay says.

Road Kings is strictly a hot-rod club, but anyone with an ogle-worthy ride is welcome to come down and toot his own horn, so to speak. These days, 100 to 150 cars show up. During the warmer months, the total can top 300.

On this recent Friday, Nay's posse of purple-jacketed club members includes 1963 and 1965 Winternationals champion Bob Muravez, who brings his family and his 1965 sea foam-green Chevy Impala. Nay is in his gleaming orange 1926 Ford roadster.

"It's a non-polluting vehicle! I swear!" shouts Jay Leno, arriving in a cloud of apparent exhaust. Indeed, the smoking monster underneath the "Tonight Show" host is a 1909 Stanley Steamer, a rare steam-driven vehicle that belches nothing more toxic than water vapor.

"People are always chasing me saying, 'Hey, you're blowing smoke,' " Leno says. An avid car collector, he has been a frequent visitor to these Friday night events.

"After work, it's fun to come over here," he says, as he signs autographs and answers questions. "There's always a nice group of folks hanging around. We have a good time."

Besides the occasional celebrity appearance, what really draws the crowds is plain ol' nostalgia.

"I first cruised this place in 1963," says artist Robert Williams, a protege of Ed (Big Daddy) Roth, legendary car customizer and creator of the cartoon character "Rat Fink."

Williams is part of a contingent of artists--many of whom make frequent appearances here--whose canvases are inspired by the car customizers of the '50s and '60s.

He brings his black '32 Ford three-window coupe, the model immortalized in the Beach Boys song "Little Deuce Coupe." He's got another '32 at home, and his wife has a '24 Ford sedan and a '57 T-Bird.

"This is like a fraternity for old farts who really love cars," he says. "I tried to outgrow these things. But somehow I keep coming back."

*

Where: Bob's Big Boy, 4211 Riverside Drive, Burbank; (818) 843-9334.

When: Fridays, 6-10 p.m.

Cost: Big Boy food prices; hanging out, free.

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