Since Robert Graham was 14 years old, he’s been building and restoring cars. It’s a passion that he’s passed along to his two sons and his grandsons.
So when his grandson, Landon Graham, approached him with a wild idea six years ago to build a custom hot rod, Graham knew it would be a special experience.
“My grandson drew a picture of it on a paper towel…he said “Pawpaw we need to build this car,” so six years later there’s the result,” said Graham as he motioned to his Surf Rod.
The design was clearly born from the mind of an inventive 13-year-old. With large tires in the back, the engine sticking out in the front, a black body and wood paneled doors, Graham and his grandson truly brought to life the possibilities they had envisioned.
Graham said it wasn’t an easy process, and he used the experience to teach Landon about saving money and putting in some elbow grease to make their dream a reality.
The duo limited themselves to build the Surf Rod on a budget of $25 per week, teaching Landon valuable lessons in saving money and managing his priorities while spending precious time in his grandfather’s garage.
The car was completed the week before Thanksgiving in 2017, and had its debut at the Turkey Run car show in Daytona.
“It was a real hit down there. Just couldn’t believe it. I’ve had a lot of high end street rods … never has anything got the attention like this ole car has,” Graham said.
A lifelong Hot Wheels enthusiast with 22 totes filled with his collection of die-cast cars, Graham was excited to travel to Dawsonville from Cartersville for a chance to partake in the Hot Wheels 50th Anniversary Legends Tour on June 30.
Over 275 cars registered for the sixth stop in the 15-stop national tour, all vying for their chance to be selected by a panel of judges as a finalist in Hot Wheels’ search for the next Legends car. Hot Wheels has been touring the country in search of the next unique car to add to their massive collection to commemorate their first 50 years.
“This morning when I first got here I was one of the first cars in here and when I was going over to get my picture taken my door came open and I reached to grab my door and ran into a light pole,” Graham said. “So I was so upset with it I was ready to load it on the trailer and go home and they convinced me to stay.”
By the end of the show, Graham was glad he stayed, as he was announced the winner for the Atlanta leg of the tour.
Graham and his Surf Rod will travel to SEMA 2018 in Las
Vegas for his chance to have his car immortalized in the Hot Wheels collection.
SEMA stands for the Specialty Equipment Market Association.
“I really enjoyed it but it just goes to show you that a little bit of mindset and you know it’s like the thing we always say ‘take a kid to a car show.’ It’s good for them because I’m afraid we’re going to be the last ones that do this,” Graham said.
The Dawsonville leg of the Hot Wheels Legends Tour was refreshing to see, according to Hot Wheels designer Mark Jones.
Jones has designed 173 Hot Wheels cars in his 19 years as a designer for the brand. When he was younger, he too collected Hot Wheels, and was happy to see that the Hot Wheels tradition is still going strong with young children in 2018.
“The kids are equally excited about the cars as they are the toys. It’s so fascinating and it’s powerful,” said Hot Wheels Director of Marketing Ricardo Briceno.
At the end of the event, Briceno confirmed the
Dawsonville leg was the largest turnout for the Hot Wheels Legends Tour. Over
2,500 spectators came to Walmart Saturday morning to check out the custom
hotrods, play in the kid’s zone and sit inside the life-size versions of their
favorite Hot Wheels cars, including the most popular model the Twin Mill.
Part of the large turnout is due to the deep roots of car culture in the community as Dawsonville prides itself on its NASCAR history. It was one of the reasons Hot Wheels chose Dawsonville to represent the Atlanta leg of the tour, Briceno said.
The Hot Wheels Legends Tour saw an incredible blend between car builders and kids, which is something Briceno is really proud of as it represents how Hot Wheels has made an impression for generations.
“It’s about multigenerational. It’s about dads and moms and their kids and the boys and the daughters and the grandparents but it’s also about the car guys,” said Briceno. “One thing that’s really unique is the diversity of cars that we see here so it’s like we’re able to create this melting pot of that. That’s kind of what made Hot Wheels what it is or what it’s been for the past 50 years.”
Car enthusiasts came from all over the region to be a part of the special anniversary event, including the famous Cruisin’ Cone, a 1950 metro van, from Knoxville, Tenn.
“My husband saw it in a field in 2013…and he came home and said ‘you’re going to think I’m crazy but there’s this van and I can’t explain why but I just feel like it needs to become an ice cream truck and I want to do this,’” said Cheryl Burchett.
Along with her husband, P.J., they set off to purchase
the dilapidated van and transformed it into a classic retro ice cream truck,
complete with red and white stripes and a large cone on top.
It took 18 months of hard work to get the Cruisin’ Cone finished and the Burchett’s custom creation debuted at SEMA in 2015.
“He grew up with Hot Wheels and that’s where he first got the idea that you can invent something new and custom and kind of the joy of making your own look from doing that, from taking them apart and putting them back together,” Burchett said.
The Cruisin’ Cone is currently touring the country as well, and the Burchetts plan to follow the Hot Wheels tour at some of its next stops.
“We are so excited about just having this opportunity. As a normal person car builder working out of their own garage, I can’t think of any other time you’d have this opportunity,” Burchett said. “When we heard about this and its 15 places and 15 people are going to have that chance, it’s just unbelievable. It’s so fun and so generous of them to provide people with this opportunity.”
All across the packed parking lot were smiling faces as kids elatedly pointed out their favorite
cars to their parents while car builders discussed their custom builds with
“This is awesome, my kids are in love, they want every car,” said Dawsonville mom Mandy Chattin. “I’m pretty sure we’ll be inside the toy section afterward, hunting through cars.”
“It’s a wonderful show,” said Shawn Kilgore, who owns Country Boy garage in Cumming.
Kilgore didn’t have to travel far from his Dawsonville home with his 1970 custom Ford for the show and was happy to let kids sit inside his custom ride.
“I think it just makes their heart race, just like when I was young, sitting in my grandpa’s hot rods,” Kilgore said.