Featured Motorcyclist: Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Extreme Motorcycle Customizer and Builder



The impact that Ed Roth had on people with any gear head tendencies back in the 1960’s is probably immeasurable, but it must be huge. Impressionable, we picked up car and motorcycle magazines at the newsstand, or saw Roth’s work on the shelves of hobby shops in our home towns, Revell plastic model kits to build. Maybe we were lucky enough that our dads or big brothers took us to a car show where we saw Beatnik Bandit or any of his made-from-scratch two, three and four wheel creations. If you got to watch him air-brushing t-shirts you probably met Rat Fink, his scary but lovable green beast.
You might call his impression on us mind expanding; Ed Roth knew no limits to what fun transportation could look like, or how long a motorcycle fork or sissy bar could be. People were already removing fenders from bikes and old Ford roadsters and coupes, but Roth showed us far wilder machines. He mastered the torch, hammer and dollies as well as molding fiberglass into shapes there were no prototypes for. Cardboard, styrofoam and wood helped him form his sculptures, refinement of the shapes led to final molds. A trip to the junkyard inspired as well, and offered the powerplant and axles, maybe a steering wheel. Metalflake paint and outrageous combinations of transparent paint and wild pin-striping and upholstery, finished off his work. But there were also extreme wheel and tire setups.
Everywhere Big Daddy went he attracted attention because he was so “out there,” taught us by example there are no rules when you are building custom bikes and cars. In fact, the overall message was that being different or weird was okay, and being a Fink or a Weirdo was cool. It was a lesson some of us never forgot, probably benefitted from. When you visit the National Motorcycle Museum you can see Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s creativity in his Buick powered three-wheeler, Asphalt Angel and numerous pieces of original artwork and even a period film being screened. He was gone in 2001, but will never be forgotten.
9 replies
  1. Rochelle M
    Rochelle M says:

    RIP Big Daddy! Used to go to the Oakland Roadster Show every year with my Dad & got to meet & talk with Big Daddy on several occasions. Definitely one of the coolest guys ever on the planet. Him and my Dad were two of the biggest reasons I’m a Gasoline Girl! And, I still have my old airbrushed Rat Fink sweatshirt from 1971!

  2. Bradah Ben
    Bradah Ben says:

    Big Daddy Ed Roth has been a big influence throughout my hot-rodding and bike building career. Besides his crazy designs, dead gorgeous curves and paint jobs he was a humble man. In an interview he replied something like this: “You don’t have to build the next show winner or greatest custom out there. Just get a car or bike or whatever and just start doing stuff to it!”. And that I did!
    Thanks Big Daddy!
    Hang Loose, Bradah Ben

  3. Dennis Pearson
    Dennis Pearson says:

    As a fan of Ed Roth since the sixties, I actually got to meet him at a local show in the mid nineties, and it was very cool! He was so kind to my (then) young sons as he autographed his artwork for us-I never forgot that kindness! Cannot wait to get to Anamosa this summer to see his creations as well as the entire museum!
    Hats off to the Parhams’ for creating such a treasure!

  4. David Aguilar
    David Aguilar says:

    I met Big Daddy in the late 90’s.we talked for a few unforgettable minutes.He graciously let my wife take a picture of the two of us, singed a cap for me. That was a real thrill for me.WHAT A KIND GESTURE. Thanks for the memory. See you up there someday

  5. John Nastasiagain
    John Nastasiagain says:

    Terry Holmes a friend of Ed’s owned the asphalt angel when I did the custom body and paint.Ed came to the shop in orange ca. to check it out ,

  6. John NastasiTerry
    John NastasiTerry says:

    Terry Homes a friend of Ed’s owned the Asphat Angel at the time that I did the body and custom paint.disapointed I’m not mention in the copy


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