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The Stoner T: How to build a hot rod in 10 years (and influence people), part 16

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In probably not the most shocking news, we’re doing something a little less expected for the seats of the Stoner T. All photos by Tim Conder/Conder Custom, unless otherwise noted.

When I was a young advertising industry art director, one of my mentors-slash-bosses had a son who’d just gotten his driver’s license. And, to my surprise, the kid wanted something old as his first car. Now, he and his family were fairly recent California expats on the East Coast and this was the mid-’90s, so I was more than willing to plug them into the old-car network I had spent most of my life developing. I made a few calls and found that my best friend’s dad was selling a bone-stock ’51 Chevy truck and would the kid wanna go check it out? We made a day trip one Saturday to go up near the Bald Hills of York County, Pennsylvania, to see this thing, and the kid was duly stoked about it. The truck didn’t run, but it was complete, and the price was more than fair. As I was making the “what’s-it-gonna-take-to-get-it-running” list in my head, I remember being interrupted by the conversation my boss was having with his kid who was clearly coming out of his skin with excitement: “Now, look, son–first thing you gotta think about is what you’re gonna do for an interior. If you can’t sit in it, you can’t even roll it around to work on…”

Now, the interior was about the last thing on my mind, obviously, but he said it with such conviction, and I knew this was not the moment to plant the seeds of doubt in a newly-minted 16-year-old driver’s head when it came to his dad’s decrees. But it got me thinking about the importance of all the decisions crammed into an interior restoration. And here I am, some 25 years later, finally thinking about an interior for a car that finally needs us to think about its interior.

If you remember back to earlier chapters of this story, Tim came up with an idea for a Chinatown-opium-den sort of approach for the cabin of this car, and I was johnny-on-the-spot with it. The focal point would be a gold Buddha statue for a bellhousing-straddled dashboard and all kinds of red dragons and tassels and silk, and I think there was even a chocolate fountain and some intermittent rain storms and thunder and lightning in the mix. Hey, we’re art majors first, hot rodders second, dig?

The Stoner T

The interior of the car as it was seen at Jay Ward’s Motorama at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California, years ago. This was probably the most complete the interior had ever been… till now.

Anyway, Silk-Road-beaded throw-pillow dreams gave way to the limits of a ’27 Ford Model T coupe cabin and here we are, figuring out a roll cage, space for three pedals… and seats. Let’s start with the seats. We’re not giving up on the opium den theme–oh, no we are not–but, like my old boss had once said, “If you can’t sit in it…”

The Stoner T

The text that launched the interior project all over again. It was all just starting to make sense. Till now, I had been thinking about everything from a handcarved opium bed to a wicker rickshaw deal. Jeez…

One fine afternoon last fall, Tim had to run some errands and ended up at one of those discount department stores that sells last year’s Hugo Boss suits for, like, $37.00 and shot me a pic of a kick-ass clear Plexiglas chair his helper, George, spied in the Home Fashions department. “GET THESE” was all I needed to hear and I knew he was onto something.

Tim picks it up from here…

The Stoner T

Yep – there they are, right in the middle of the floor at the Kwik Kleen Laundromat in Carmel, Indiana: Eames Plastic Side Chairs in one of a million such custom configurations. Photo:

“It’s 1968, and I’m sitting in the laundromat waiting for my broke bachelor Uncle Billy to finish his laundry. The chair I was sitting in was made of fiberglass. Probably a dead orange color and worn-out enough that the gelcoat was leaving, exposing the fiberglass mat underneath.

“Just a chair in a laundromat somewhere in Kentucky. Nothing to see here. But, you’ve seen them plenty. In dune buggies and go-karts, church recreation halls, VFW posts, and bingo parlors. Just a ‘chair.’

“But, that throw-away, barely-noticed thing to sit on was designed by two of the baddest, most creative and flat-out tasteful designers who’ve ever lived: Charles and Ray Eames.”

Ray and Charles Eames at the height of their career. They’re both long gone, but their influence is still being felt as much as ever. Photo: ©2018 Eames Office LLC (

Tim’s talking about the Eames Plastic Side Chair. And he’s right. You’ve seen a million of one of the greatest mid-century industrial designs ever unleashed on the American public, but you’ve never really seen one before. The Eameses designed it that way: You’re supposed to live your life in these chairs–or at least take a break from it in them for a few minutes. When it was released in 1950, it was the very first mass-produced plastic chair ever made. And with it, the duo basically brought to life their credo, “We wanted to make the best for the most for the least.”

And here’s the cheap knockoff Eames Plastic Side Chair we have at Hemmings West. Kinda like that secret that you whisper in the ear of one person at the end of a long line of people: By the time it’s shared all the way down the line, it’s barely the same secret, anymore.

The Plastic Side Chair originally had a few different bases designed for it, too: wooden leg, steel leg, and even a delicate steel-wire version called an “Eiffel Tower” base. These days, the DSR (“Dining Height Side Chair Rod Base”) is one of the most common combinations, and I had a feeling I knew where Conder was going with this. He continues…

“Crisp and clean, this chair is. Simple, compact, and to the point, with excellent style. I had no idea I’d appreciate them so much 50 years later, and now I want them everywhere. I never thought they would still be in production and timelessly popular… but, if you told me, in 1968, that someday I’d grow up and put two clear plastic ones in a mean little hot rod, I would have LOVED IT.

“I loved clear plastic stuff on hot rods! It was magical to me. Can’t explain it. Lots of show cars had see-thru parts on ’em: model kits of everything from cars to humans could be had, and I had ’em. LOVE THE ‘SEE THRU’ STUFF!

Charles and Ray Eames roughly two years before they introduced the Plastic Side Chair. RULERS. We don’t have heroes like these two, anymore. Do you know who designed your recliner? Your computer table? Your kitchen stool? Did the guy who designed your Polar Roller ride a bitchin’ Velocette? No. Probably not. Photo: ©2018 Eames Office LLC (

“Anyway, the T needs seats. I have no idea if uptown Charles and Ray would approve, but then that’s the reality of it: You send your art out into the world and it comes back sometimes in ways you never could have imagined. Cool.

“Now, if I can do all the damage needed to install these things without ruining their crystal clear finish…

“An interior story is good.”

The DSRs as they showed up at Conder Custom. I had to order them as the ones in the text above had already been snatched up before we moved on them. Here, you can see those Eiffel Tower bases as Tim deconstructed them for the Stoner T. Tryna keep the plastic bags over those delicately polished clear plastic seats ain’t easy.

So, I found a pair of DSRs online, placed the order and had them shipped right to Conder Custom in Santa Rosa, California. I figured it was best to have as few handprints on them as possible till Tim could get his own on them and work his sorcery.

Could Charles and Ray have ever imagined one of their chairs in a hot rod? Photo: ©2018 Eames Office LLC (

Conder goes on, “These two Eames-inspired chairs were delivered in the mail. The legs on these are period-perfect, but much more busy and elaborate than usual. Most times it’s just a couple pieces of tapered stainless tube for legs.

“These seats may or may not remain completely see-thru, but we’re gonna say they are, for now. This means that whatever mounting system they have, has to look cool.

“I thought I’d start with the ‘stock’ bases and just cut them down. The bent bar supports are definitely Sixties-era, and rewelded, then chromed, might look kinky.

“At the very least, they’ll help me get started on placement. So, out comes my zip wheel…

Like a hot knife through thin rods of copper-colored butter.

Started with cutting the legs off at the base structure, leaving all the rod where the supports are strongest.

This is the kind of industrial design very few people ever really pay attention to. Tell you what, though, nothing like literally cutting up great design to make you appreciate it.

“I’m keeping everything I cut off, as some of it will definitely find its way back into the project. Then I bolted the supports to the seats.

What do you call the Eiffel Tower cut down to just one story? Steiffel Tower?

“Now, when it comes to figuring out the seats in a car, one mistake many folks make is to assume the seat, itself, is what holds you in the car. Yes, the seats must be mounted well and feel solid, but the SEAT BELTS keep you from flopping around inside the car like a meat snowglobe. You just want the seats mounted well enough that they aren’t flopping around in there with you.

Stoner T

In the ’60s, show-car interiors were rarely useable, but they looked so cool. This interior just might center attention more on the seats than the Buddha dash, when it’s all said and done.

“That being said, while the belts get mounted to the chassis/cage, the seats will be bolted to the floor and the floor supports.

Stoner T

Kinda makes you wanna do see-thru floorboards, too, right?

“These seats are cool. The mounting systems/legs on them were cool. But we’ll need to support the seat from the back, too. Just a good thing to do. Learned it from the best.

Stoner T

Swanky photography lofts in Manhattan and L.A. wish they had chair-and-floor combinations this cool.

“They look awesome. They’re also 6 inches too high. See how the tops of the seats curl back over the cage tubing? Cool! But that also means I gotta cut all that tubing out and move it down 6 inches, then create a completely new mounting setup for the seats. I keep going back to work on the cage and trying to finish it, yet I’m constantly moving tubing on it to accommodate other things.

Stoner T


“The car is coming together like a slow ride around the neighborhood: Start at your buddy’s house, but then you have to get your Hot Wheels, so you turn around. Then you think, ‘Man, that’s too far to ride,’ so you turn back around and then there’s that jerk Finklestein kid and you remember HE has enough Hot Wheels to fill a skating rink so you… Where was I?

Stoner T

Look at all that game-changing industrial design crammed into one phone pic. It’s like glass and steel, or maybe water and concrete. Or Stevie Nicks and Don Henley.

So, this is the beginning of the seat story, which will get interrupted by the ‘Where’s the shifter gonna go?’ story and possibly augmented by the ‘But what about a headrest/airbag system?’ suggestion.

I’m meeting with super-machinist, Ken Rawson, again today in the hopes of turning a block of aluminum into a magic EFI-friendly barrel valve for the Gotelli fueler motor. Wish me luck!”

To catch up on other installments of the Stoner T build, click here.