Standing in a shady underpass of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Roger Miret doesn't look like a car-show organizer. He's covered in tattoos, not tweed, and there's no clipboard in sight. But for the Rumblers, the hot-rod club Miret helped found twelve years ago, this gathering in Brooklyn's boho-chic Williamsburg neighborhood is Pebble Beach minus the manicured lawn.
Miret surveys the roughly 200 gathered cars, a scar-faced assemblage that includes 1930s rat rods, '50s Kustoms, and pickups so weathered that they seem to have migrated straight from the Dust Bowl.
"I guess I always related to the bad guys," Miret says of his lifelong love of hot rods. "I've got a '32 Chevy coupe, a '54 Chevy sedan, and a Cadillac Escalade, but that's mostly for my wife."
Expanding the club's reach while on the road with Agnostic Front, his pioneering '80s New York punk band, Miret counts about 100 members in chapters in cities such as Detroit, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and Hamburg, Germany. Veteran Rumblers are granted a certificate of sorts-a tattoo of the club's mischievous devil-head logo. At the show, other insignias mark cars of visiting clubs: Toledo Screamin' Demons, Road Rats, Rumblers Nomads, Latin Cruisers.
The hot-rodders make stops at familiar mile markers of outsider cool, starting with James Dean-the screen rebel with the '49 Mercury, not the actor who drove a privileged man's Porsche. And with seventy years of hot-rod history as a grab bag, influences get mixed and matched as freely as the turbocharged Corvette LT1 engine on view inside a chopped '63 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. The vibe is one part Carl Perkins, one part the Clash, with the ghosts of Jack Kerouac and Ed "Big Daddy" Roth never far away.
Owners say that before Chip Foose and company turned hot rods into seven-figure trailer queens, the hobby was all about low-budget, DIY improvisation. Despite pitted bumpers, Bondo'd fenders, and enough primer to douse a battleship, these street survivors still command attention. Paul "Squirm" Sabert, the club's cofounder, recalls driving his '50 Ford to a vintage event at Lime Rock. "Guys up there with their $2 million Jag D-types, I didn't know what they were going to make of my car," Sabert says. "But there was just a mob around it."
Mike "Mr. Kaves" McLeer, a musician and graffiti artist here with his '54 Buick Special, agrees that current hot-rodders weren't even born when these cars rolled into showrooms. "But my dad drag-raced with my baby booties hanging from his windshield. We're not so far removed from our fathers, working on cars and listening to rock 'n' roll." McLeer is one of those Brooklynites who traces his family line to Mitchell's Drive-In, the long-gone '50s hangout for hot-rodders, biker gangs, and teenagers in the largely Italian Bay Ridge area. "When they weren't racing cars, they were stealing them," McLeer says of the neighborhood. "If you gave the car back before the end of the summer, it was OK."