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Star Custom Shop; Darryl Starbird
Darryl Starbird; Star Kustom Shop 1954-present
Associated Builders


Custom Rodder Profile: Darryl Starbird

By Bruce Hampson, March 1981 Custom Rodder

For a quarter century Darryl Starbird has remained one-of the premier automotive customizers in the world, pioneering many of - the innovations used even today to achieve that "one of a kind" look.

The car itself bore little actual resemblance to its original body contours. Gone was the box-type styling prevalent to the era. Gone, too, were the windshields, hood, bumpers, stock wheels and whitewall tires. The entire vehicle—or what was left of it—had undergone extensive restyling. Rear fender wings were accented dramatically. A tubular grille was fitted into the modified front end. Wheel wells were completely opened up.

All this, and more, however, went almost unnoticed when Darryl Starbird first unveiled his aptly named Predicta during the 1960 Oakland Roadster Show. Utilizing a'56 T-Bird as a base vehicle, Starbird created custom history by designing the first-ever bubble-top automobile. With features such as stick center steering, driveability from both passenger and driver sides, push button controls and more, the futuristic bubble-topped car took away the Sweepstakes for "Car of the Future" and found its way onto the cover of four national magazines. Motor Life picked it as the "Top custom of 1960." Car Craft presented a plaque for the Predicta being in its Top Ten Round-up.

If there had been any misgivings about the Wichita, Kansas customizer being a "flash in the pan" due to his stunning upsets the year before when touring the show circuit with another modified T-Bird (a '57 model coined Le Perle), Predicta silenced them. More than that, it established Starbird as a true heavyweight in the world of custom automotive creations. Darryl went on to build an array of plexiglass-topped customized cars, each in its own right a show stopper. The Predicta led the way for 15 more bubble-topped versions, earning Starbird the monicker "Bubble Top King." By the time the bubble-top had given way to other custom trends, Darryl was an easily recognizable figure to every kind of car enthusiast.

Starbird's success with his metal sculptures is all the more amazing when his background becomes known, a back- ground which included no specialized automotive classes or commercial body shop experience to draw from! His decision to leave Wichita State University in 1954 in order to open the Star Kustom Shop was undeniably the start of the longest customizing career in the automotive industry (he is still responsible for designing and building custom cars today), but even Darryl himself may have questioned the validity of it at a time when customizing automobiles was an almost unheard of profession. He picked up experience as he went along, repairing crunched fenders, front ends, side panels and the like for shop customers. Any spare time to be had found Starbird slowly reworking various body parts on his '47 Cadillac— what was to become his first show custom. Next came a'55 Plymouth, featured in Rod & Custom magazine. Starbird's talents flourished in the small Wichita facility, and his trial and error period constantly produced new innovations to his growing array of street rods.

Darryl hit the big time in 1959. At the NHRA National Custom Car Show in Detroit,. the Sweepstakes and Top Custom Shop Achievement awards were given by a virtual landslide to a candy-coated '57 T-Bird called the Le Perle, and the Star Kustom Shop. Then came Predicta, unveiled in Oakland in 1960 after being in construction for eleven weeks. In '61 it was Forecasta, a four-seater bubble-top car with all handmade metal, extremely modified body, and rear engine. Starbird created Fabula a year later ... the first Mercury ever to be chopped and sectioned. With many of his rods, Darryl used the most popular autos of the day as "base cars;" some subtly done, others so outlandish as to be utterly unrecognizable.

Other times, however, he used his design draftsman background to construct one-of-a-kind customs. The Futurista was the first "car" Starbird built from the ground up. An ultra-modern experimental street machine, the long, slim and uncluttered rod featured a completely handmade body. It was supported on three wheels, sported a single headlight and a double bubble- top. A stick steering column located between the seats allowed driving accessibility from both sides The top, doors, and a host of accessories were all actuated electronically by push buttons. Considered futuristic even by today's standards, Starbird introduced the car in 1963. It was a Monogram model car prototype coinciding with Darryl's working relationship as design consultant for Monogram Models Co., a subsidiary of Mattel, Inc. Monogram reproduced at least fifteen of Starbird's designs in model kit form in both 1/24th and 1/8th scale.., ultimately selling over a million kits with his name and picture on the bdx

In 1966, Darryl Starbird retired from competition and started showing professionally as a feature paid-attraction. Soon afterward, he quit building cars as a service to others, concentrating wholly on constructing feature cars for his touring company, the Star Car Caravan.

Though not directly competing, Darryl is still heavily involved in some fifteen annual car shows nationwide. In 1957 Starbird was responsible for the success of the Wichita Rod & Custom Auto Show. He channeled his energies into promoting more programs for the rapidly-increasing number of street customs, and in later seasons added National Auto Shows in such cities as Kansas City, San Antonio, Nashville, Albuquerque, San Francisco, and El Paso. Just recently Starbird became partners in the famed Oakland Roadster Show, returning; in a manner of speaking, to where it all started. It was the Oakland Show, remember, that thrust Starbird into national prominence. Darryl pioneered auto customizing, and it is fitting that he initiated the National Rod and Custom Association (NRCA), devoted to all types of vehicles. Now in its fifth year, the association has over 2,000 members, and awards some $26,000 worth of prizes annually.

Darryl Starbird still prefers to build his cars himself, though today he gets a big assist from his son, Cliff, who appears destined to carry on with the Starbird touch.

In '75 Cliff redesigned a 1972 Camaro with the help of his father. The then-sixteen year old youth sectioned the body four inches, handbuilt the rear quarter panels, flared wheel wells, added distinctive styling to the front end, and implemented several other body refinements for an outlandish-looking street machine!

In case you haven't noticed, 1980 was a birthday of sorts for Darryl Starbird ... a  milestone, if you will. For the past quarter century he has remained as one of the eminent custom craftsmen in all of rodding. It goes almost without saying that twenty-five years is an unbelievably long time to remain at the top of a business as competitive as automotive customizing. As long as Darryl Starbird can still fantasize about dream cars, though, and so long as he allows his imagination to run rampant if need be, he'll always be the “Star" of the custom world.

If something is worth doing, then its worth doing with flair!








Bruce Hampson - Custom Rodder Profile: Darryl Starbird, Custom Rodder, March 1981 issue

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