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"Big Daddy" Ed Roth's Mysterion Proved Two Engines Are Better Than One

The original Mysterion is gone, but these old photos of the custom car's development are incredible.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: "Big Daddy" Ed Roth built the fun stuff. The sort of wild and whimsical cars that tickled the fancy and pickled a kid's imagination for life. Back in the day when Roth was at the peak of his artistic career, creating cars such as the Mysterion, we were all snot-nosed little kids, and it was square to call him "Big Daddy" Ed Roth—simply "Big Daddy" Roth or just "Big Daddy" was how the cool guys said it.

Today, Roth's Mysterion exists mostly in the memories of those who saw it in person. Fortunately, Jeffery Jones, a guy who's as much a madman artist as Roth himself, re-created the Mysterion. In fact, the image above is of Jones's Mysterion. There's no doubt Jones is the world's leading authority on Roth's legendary twin-engined custom car.

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Roth had a pair of 1950 Oldsmobile V-8 engines in place mated to Hydramatic transmissions in the earliest stages of the Mysterion's creation. The Ford Motor Company, by way of Bud "The Kat from AMT" Anderson, got wind of the build thanks to a Rod & Custom article and shipped three big-block engines to Roth.

Some recollect that the Blue Oval sent over a trio of high-performance 406-cubic-inch engines, but after extensive research, Jones concluded the V-8s were 390-cubic-inchers from the Ford Thunderbird. Roth fitted two of those big bent-eights into the Mysterion. The third ended up in his 1955 Chevy gasser.

It took some engineering tricks to turn the Mysterion's canted dual-engine configuration into something that drove. As such, only one of the engines actually ran. The other was stripped out and turned into a decoy engine that concealed an alternator spinning internally on a front two-main-bearings-supported jackshaft.

The sale of Jones's Mysterion at a Sotheby's auction held the car-collecting crowd in awe. Despite selling for $246,600, or double what it was expected to go for, Jones likely barely walked away with any actual earnings in his pocket given the cost of materials and amount of time he poured into the project. The car now resides in Chesterfield, Michigan as part of the Stahls Automotive Collection.

Powered by Ford: "Big Daddy" Roth's Mysterion

Roth's dual-engine Mysterion no longer exists, but Jones's re-creation of Roth's Mysterion displays fanatical attention to detail throughout—including its use of Ford big-block engines. Stahls Automotive Collection added sparkplug and coil wire boots to the car—incorrect additions that neither Roth nor Jones used.

1950 Olds Rocket V-8 Engines

In this Rod & Custom magazine photo (taken from a rickety wooden ladder, no less), Roth mounted the two 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 engines in the Mysterion's chrome-plated frame. The Rocket 88's V-8 was introduced in 1949 and is considered integral to the first wave of post-war muscle car engines.

"Big Daddy" Roth and the Mysterion's Iconic Cyclops Eye

This image shows Roth sculpting the iconic cyclops eyeball headlight of the Mysterion. Fiberglass laid up with a plaster mold was Roth's medium of choice for constructing car bodies. Roth never built one of his creations with a steel body.

More Artist Than Car Constructor

Looking back at Roth's body of work, one realizes he was more an artist than a builder of custom cars. This view of Mysterion's frame rail reveals the wall thickness of the steel is too light a gauge to function as a platform to suspend two heavy Oldsmobile or Ford engines.

"Big Daddy" Roth: Kustom Kulture's Krazy Pioneer

If Roth's Mysterion was relegated to a modern art museum in 1964, it would likely be around today. Instead, it bounced about in a trailer going from custom car show to custom car show until the brittle frame, which Roth told differing descriptions about, buckled with the unbearable weight of two Ford big-block engines.

"Big Daddy" Roth's School of Customizing First Rule

One can't help but notice the fresh chrome on the Mysterion going way back to its earliest days. The frame rails sported chrome, as well as the front I-beam axle. Roth clearly had the chrome plating done early on—when the Mysterion was still Oldsmobile powered.