In a shocking, unexpected turn of events, hot rodder and industry icon Pete Chapouris, co-founder of Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Parts and most recently President of So-Cal Speed Shop, passed away this afternoon due to complications from a stroke. He died peacefully in the hospital surrounded by his wife Carol, daughter Nicole and son Pete IV. He was 76.
His talent, passion, vision and good-natured smile made him one of the most popular figures in our scene. It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that one of hot rodding’s most influential figures is gone seemingly overnight. This one hits very hard. Where do we begin?
A native of El Monte, California, Chapouris cruised the streets of Los Angeles as far back as 1955 in his first car — a Model A coupe channeled over Deuce rails. Though quite active and popular in So-Cal hot rod circles in the ’60s, he caught lightning in a bottle when his freshly flamed black ’34 Ford coupe joined friend Jim Jacobs’ yellow ’34 Ford coupe on the cover of the November 1973 issue of Rod & Custom magazine. Many remember it as the “Chicken Coupe” cover. The iconic image and preceding build articles were courtesy of the late Gray Baskerville, who introduced Pete and Jake during their simultaneous chopped coupe builds. After the Chicken Coupe issue hit magazine racks, the resulting fame was a catalyst for the launch of Pete & Jakes Hot Rod Repair, which opened in Temple City, California, in 1974.
Hot rod historian Steve Coonan, publisher of The Rodder’s Journal recalled, “In the early-’70s guys started doing wazoo, super trick for-the-time IFS, and jag rear ends, and the like. But Chapouris and Jacobs had a back-to-basics approach for reliable, safe and traditional early Ford suspensions. Their goal wasn’t to win trophies but to drive long distances in comfort. They were also renowned for refining four bar suspensions in hot rods.”
As it turned out, Pete & Jake’s was one of a few core businesses that launched hot rodding to its current trajectory. Due to the experience and vision of Chapouris and Jacobs, hot rodders around the world were finally able to get safe, usable chassis and suspension components for their early Ford rods. Chapouris was always proud to have been a part of the rise of hot rodding to the mainstream. In a recent interview with the Goodguys Gazette, he was quoted as saying “We took chassis components and kicked them up a couple of notches, and that took the industry in a direction that it had never been before,” he said. “I’m proud that we brought safety to chassis components for hot rodders.”
Chapouris was a quick study when it came to marketing and PR. In that realm, he was just as quick off the line as his killer coupe. After he and Jacobs sold Pete & Jake’s in 1987, he went to work at SEMA in nearby Diamond Bar, California. While at SEMA, Chapouris was instrumental in the formation of the Street Rod Equipment Association (SREA). He then became a driving force in the transformation of the SREA into the Street Rod Market Alliance, a council of SEMA. Years later, Pete was also elected into the SRMA Hall of Fame. SRMA is known today as the Hot Rod Industry Alliance (HRIA) and has blossomed into the billion dollar behemoth it is today.
After a stint building hot rods with Bob Bauder and old friend Pete Eastwood in the high country of Southern California during the early-’90s, he opened a hot rod shop named PC3g in 1995, churning out a series of cover cars including Billy F Gibbons’ “Kopperhead” and others. It was at PCG3 where he led his most ambitious effort yet – the restoration and resurrection of the Doane Spencer ’32 Ford roadster. It was his crowning achievement and captured the first-ever Hot Rod Class at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
But professionally, the best was yet to come for Pete. At the 1997 NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, he scheduled a press conference at the host hotel to announce he had formed an alliance with longtime friend Alex Xydias to bring the famed So-Cal Speed Shop back to life. Soon after the announcement, a 30,000 square foot facility in Pomona was filled with 30-plus employees churning out hot rods and merchandise. Success was so instant, the So-Cal brand blossomed into eight retail stores coast to coast. Teamed with his friend Alex, rising star Jimmy Shine and other team members, the following decades provided the ride of his life. They even got a chance to return to So-Cal’s Bonneville roots building four land-speed cars for GM Performance, setting half a dozen records and putting four drivers in the 200 MPH Club. It was also at So-Cal were Pete mentored young up-and-coming rod builders, showing them the old way to build bitchin’ cars. Gen X and Gen Y players like the aforementioned Jimmy Shine, Ryan Reed, Aaron Broughton, the Veazie Brothers, and others are now thriving thanks to Chapouris’ teachings. His career had come full circle.
From his office in South San Francisco, Steve Coonan reflected further. “Pete was a guy that seemed to get cooler the older he got. He was unique in that way.” He built cars for rock stars; he wore the coolest shoes and had the backstage passes. “He was a perfectionist, too,” Coonan added. “I can remember talking to him 40 years ago when he sold the Cal Kid then bought it back. The engine was messed up. After Pete pulled the engine, he insisted on painting the firewall and getting different textures involved. He was brilliant at blending colors and textures together in his hot rods. And he always pulled it off. He never missed”
Rod builder and longtime Chapouris friend Roy Brizio swallowed hard when the news broke of Chapouris’ sudden death. “Pete was like a mentor to me,” Brizio said. “Along with my father Andy, Pete helped teach me the ropes of hot rodding when I just broke in. Too many of our friends are leaving. He and his wife Carol took their green ’26 Ford roadster to Canada for Deuce Days with us last summer. I just spoke to him a few weeks ago and he said it was the most fun he’d had in years.”
Pete Chapouris leaves behind a rich legacy of red-blooded American hot rods that have spanned decades, never aging. His industry contributions were revolutionary, their impact wide reaching. His fingerprints run through so many avenues of our industry. But above all that, his friendships, warmth and willingness to help others to succeed and grow outweigh all.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In Pete’s case, the cover of the November 1973 issue of Rod & Custom magazine was worth so much more.