Strong Arm Steady: Our Top 5 Picks From Viva Las Vegas 19

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Low and slow, engines roaring, and freshly pressed ink onto front ends, the 19th Annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend in Las Vegas was filled with passion to the world of customs, rodding, and old school American culture. It was loud. It was lively. The vibe at the show in Sin City was phenomenal as the crowd filled the parking lot at The Orleans Casino and Hotel.

Vintage Locale

Just off the Las Vegas strip, families, car clubs, and customs flocked to The Orleans to see what was in store. The lot was consumed with live music, delicious food that could be smelled from afar, and gorgeous pin-up models who competed for the show’s coveted title of Miss Viva Las Vegas.

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The show did not disappoint as it filled the venue with plenty of fab work and individual flair with each build.

With car clubs spanning from New York to Canada and Australia, the camaraderie at the show was nothing but respect and gratitude for one another. There were old school lead sleds, completely reimagined masterpieces, and builds with paint that seemed freshly sprayed.

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From glass packs to stacks, there was plenty of chrome, rust, patina, and candy paint to inspire an individual, young or old. We came to the show with no expectations and were delighted at what we saw.

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Viva Las Vegas brought builds of all stages to one place, and ranged from candy masterpieces to paintless lead sleds.

Speaking with spectators and car owners alike, they expressed their love for the event and what it offers each year. Sharing the passion of the automobile, let’s get into our Top 5 picks that stood out at this wondrous show under the warm desert sun.

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Best In Show

No. 5: Darkness Falls — Scott Maher’s 1929 Ford Model A

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Starting things off right, this beefy custom caught our attention during our first walk around the lot. It may not be the cleanest in terms of looks, but its modifications and fabrication scream for attention. Behold Scott Maher of Albuquerque, New Mexico and his 1929 Ford Model A 5-window coupe.

“The Ford is chopped 3-1/2 inches and channeled 4-inches,” Scott said. “As for the body, it actually sits on a 1927 Model T frame that has been extended, Z’d in the rear, and had its nose pinched.”

The interior is colorful, yet simple, and includes some solid seats to accompany the minimalist design. Heck, even the shrunken head hanging adds some character to Scott Maher's custom Ford.

Baring all, Scott’s Ford boasts a 632 cubic inch big-block Chevy that throws down 840 horsepower and 815 lb-ft torque. “The block is all forged, and also has aluminum heads and a deep sump pan,” Scott said. “Helping out the motor are K&N 5-inch velocity stacks with 5-inch air filters, which help to make everything breathe easier.”

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Scott looked to make a calculated attack with this build, which has paid off with major dividends.

Mated to the mill is a TCI Super street fighter TH400 with a 3,500 rpm stall converter. The rearend features a ’55 Chevy differential with Positraction and 3.8 gears. “This custom has really built an identity of its own over time,” Scott said. “The 632 big-block is what drags attention to it.” With plenty of power and a ratty aesthetic, it earned a spot on our list simply for its compromise between looks and power. The appearance may not be the grandest, but this is a rugged custom that is one mean machine that you won’t want to line up against.

No. 4: Rugged Aggression — Justin Ford’s 1935 International Harvester C-30

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Built to last with disregard for paint, Justin Ford of Dixon, California brought his 1935 International Harvester C-30 that had plenty going for it under the warm Nevada sun. Packed up in front of the custom is a 350 cubic-inch small-block with camel hump heads, Offenhauser tunnel ram intake, and dual four-barrel carbs.

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Not going for anything flashy, Justin Ford's C-30 boasts an empty truck bed that has all of its guts on full display.

The mill is mated to a TH400 four-speed automatic tranny and 2,500 rpm B&M stall converter to help translate all of the engine’s power to the pavement. The front axle features a Super Bell four-inch drop I-beam with Ford spindles and disc brake conversion, all sitting on mono leaf springs. On the rear axle is a Ford 9-inch Trac-Lock with 31 spline axles and 3.55 gears. The big difference, compared to the front, is that the rear four-link sits on air suspension, giving versatility out back.

“I chopped the top 4-1/2 inches as well as channeled five inches,” Justin said. “The frame was sectioned 3-1/2 inches, fully boxed, and then back halved.”

The bench may not look all that comfy, but it fits the build nicely, giving it some character.

Justin had a sense of humor that helped tell the tale of the tape regarding the interior and body. “The interior is grandma’s garden bench and the paint is brought to you by the rust of Mother Nature,” he said. Dubbed the “iHarvey” by Justin, the C-30 even has a bulldog emblem sitting atop the front grille like it’s Pride Rock from “The Lion King.” Keeping the theme of patina and rust buckets, we weren’t necessarily on the hunt for candy paint and expensive mods.

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No. 3: Gabriel Elizondo’s 1949 Dodge Wayfarer

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With all of the customs in the spotlight so far, let’s dial it back and showcase Gabriel Elizondo’s 1949 Dodge Wayfarer Business Coupe. Restored and kept all original, we spotted Gabe meticulously detailing his ride, which was shining from afar.

“This is the first show I’ve brought it to … and I actually drove it from Southern California,” he said. “My plan is to keep it all original, except for a few cosmetic trinkets I added inside. It was pretty immaculate to begin with, no rust.”

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The attention to detail on this 1949 Dodge is absolutely amazing.

Walking around, we could see absolutely no imperfections. The deep black paint glistened under the warm sun, and the chrome shined like it was 1949 all over again. “A friend of mine actually told me about this car, which I fell in love with at first sight,”Gabe said. “You don’t see many of these cars, they are rare, honestly.”

Indeed, Gabe was right, as the Dodge Wayfarer was only in production from 1949 to 1952. Built with no turn signals, this is a vintage automobile where hand signals out the window signified when turns were being made. Keeping everything pristine, Gabe’s Dodge was flawless, which drew us in. “It’s all stock, all the way down to the motor,” he said. “I bought it from a friend and spent two years fixing it up.”

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The only modification made inside was the eight-ball shifter. Everything else has remained original in Gabe's Dodge.

No. 2: Andre Jimenez’s 1961 Impala Bubbletop

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Strolling around the masses of customs and classics, we came across a jaw-dropping 1961 Chevrolet Impala owned by Andre Jimenez of Redwood City, California. “I drove it from the Bay Area to here, hitting a few dust storms along the way, which got my engine bay dirty,” he said. “But it’s here and it’s getting a lot of attention.”

Fortunate to have come across it, Andre is proud of his Impala. “I’ve owned it for 28 years and basically got married in it,” he said. “I was fortunate to get this car for only $550 years ago. It used to be white and red, but 10 years ago I flipped it to red and white.”

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Regardless of where you were standing, Andre's 1961 Impala is beautiful.

The Accord red paint that Andre put on the Impala really helps the car pop, highlighting its classic body lines and contrast to the chrome accessories. “When I first got the car, it was pretty much destroyed,” he said. “It was sitting on a lawn, windows down, all wet in south San Francisco.”

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A look at Andre’s 350 small-block mill, which he is looking to change out in the future.

A frame-off build, his Impala features a 350 small-block with an Edelbrock Performer intake, Edelbrock 750 cfm carb, and telescopic driveshaft — all mated to a 700R automatic tranny. “It’s all built to perfection so I can run good,” he said. “The car runs on Accuair suspension with auto leveling to keep the car safe and provide a safe drive. Being so low, I had to tuck my pipes out back because when the setup was up front, I was smashing the mufflers.”

The 14-inch vintage wheels roll on Coker wide whitewall rubber. “I drove this car here two years ago, but this time around I towed it to the show,” he said. “I got bench seats so it is not that comfortable to drive.” As for future plans, Andre said he wants to swap out the 350 small-block for an LS motor to get more power.

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Andre kept most of the dash original and is looking to install an air conditioning system to make it a comfortable cruise anywhere for his wife and himself.

Heading inside is a semi-custom interior. “I put a little twist on the console,” he said. “The stock gauges are not as accurate so I embedded a new set to get better readings and, of course, a Bluetooth stereo to play tunes while I’m driving with my wife.” A beauty in the eye of the beholder, Andre’s bubble top Impala was a wonderful ride to learn about as well as sit in and drool over all its greatness.

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No. 1: Beto Rojas’ 1951 Chevrolet Fleetline

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Taking home the prestigious Best Custom Award at the show, Beto Rojas and his 1951 Chevy Fleetline came all the way from Fontana, California. With friends and Gatos SoCal car club members by his side, we were lucky to have the opportunity to learn about his car, which he dubbed  “9 Lives.” In regards to the car club, Beto said, “We’re a bunch of guys who love cars, and don’t want to follow anyone else’s rules.”

Walking around this car, we were curious to learn the backstory behind this cool build. “We spent about a year building this car, which I actually bought off of Craigslist,” he said. “There was a guy who started building it, but he couldn’t finish it due to a financial situation.”

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Shining brightly under the sun, Beto's car was a wonderful mixture of custom and class.

The Inferno orange paint helps make the car’s curves pop even more. “It’s actually the same tone of orange as the brand new Camaros,” he said. “We made the color custom by adding some pearl gold into the mix, which came out great.”

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From the pinstriping to the stance, the Fleetline had us drooling over its timeless body lines and subtle chop that makes it so clean.

David Lobos of Lobos Pinstriping carefully crafted the nifty graphics on the Fleetline, which add some custom flair to the overall package. Surprisingly, the front windshield stemmed from a 1950 Oldsmobile, taking away the split windshield that these Fleetlines usually have. “As far as the interior goes, there’s nothing special other than the one-piece headliner due to the one-inch chop,” Beto said.

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Inside and out, Beto's Fleetline stole the show as it sat pretty next to the rest of the Gatos' builds.

“It’s been shaved, nosed, and decked. The rear was rolled with 1939 Ford taillights and the headlights were frenched to smooth everything out.”

The front grille is off a 1952 Chevy Fleetline, which complements the smooth, bubbly body. “The car actually runs on a Camaro drivetrain that consists of 350 small-block and 700R transmission,” he said. “The modern drivetrain really helps this car out, and we weren’t biased with any of the mods, bringing in a Mustang front suspension with front disc brakes so I can do 100 mph in this car.”

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Whether Beto is cruising this custom or throwing down the pedal to the metal, this Fleetline has everything right going for it. Seeing it cater to the young and old generations at the show, it is no wonder it caught the eyes of the judges.

In The End

Overall, the show was a great success as we are looking forward to the festivities lined up for next year, which will mark 20 years since the very first Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend. From the pin-up girls and car clubs to the diehard custom builders and Sin City allure, Viva Las Vegas lived up to our expectations in showcasing the kustom kulture.

Hats off to all of those who attended the prestigious gathering. We are thrilled to see hot rodding is alive and well, and here to stay for years to come.

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About the author

Nic Aguon

Nic Aguon is a graduate from San Jose State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and mass communications and holds a passion for sleek and unique automobiles. Serving as a Staff Writer for multiple publications at Power Automedia, Nic pledges to bring readers clean and concise storytelling that hits the nail right on the head. A jack of all trades, his interests range from imports to American muscle, hot rods, and Kustoms.
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