Custom cars and California may go together like candy paint and chrome, but you would've been hard pressed to prove that back in the early 1980s. Just as it had nationwide, the California custom scene had dozed through the '70s. As a new decade dawned, a fledgling custom revival was beginning out in the Midwest following the first Merc/Deuce Reunion and the formation of the Kustom Kemps of America, but for the first time in history the West Coast seemed to trail in its tail-dragging enthusiasm.
Rich and Penny Pichette and their friends were about to change all that. After organizing a monthly cruise-in at the Jet Drive-In in Sunnymead, the Pichettes decided to form the West Coast Kustoms, and hastily set about planning the club's first big get-together in 1982. They chose Lake Nacimiento, just outside Paso Robles, California, because of its strategic location halfway between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Organized mostly by word of mouth on short notice, and hampered by a storm the night before, the event drew fewer than 100 cars. What it lacked in size, though, it made up for in stature, with pioneering names like Joe Bailon, Gene Winfield, Rod Powell, Eric Rickman, and others in attendance.
In many ways, that first event set the pace for the two-dozen West Coast Kustoms Cruisin' Nationals that have followed. It has never been a huge show by today's standards-official registration has been capped at 800 vehicles for the past decade-but it has always drawn great cars and the hobby's most significant personalities. The Cruisin' Nationals really seemed to find its groove when it was moved to Memorial Day weekend and took up residence in Paso Robles' quaint town center and park in the mid-1990s. It's an idyllic show setting, and the city has long cooperated in closing off the main drag, Spring Street, for a Friday night cruise.
There didn't seem to be much hoopla made over the show's 25th anniversary this past Memorial Day weekend, but in many ways it wasn't necessary. After all, it's the laidback feeling that has long made this annual Saturday-in-the-park gathering feel so special. The show's casual structure has long been a hallmark, too. As always, the Friday night cruise was followed by Saturday's show 'n' shine, with the park hosting the latest flashy offerings from the West Coast's biggest names, as well as plenty of cool "average Joe" cruisers of both the shiny and suede variety.
Saturday afternoon there was a short ceremony to induct Marcos Garcia, the extremely talented NorCal painter from Lucky 7 Customs, into the WCK's Hall of Fame. His inclusion shows the true respect and encouragement the WCK has for the younger generation of custom enthusiasts and practitioners. Later Saturday evening the park's bandstand jammed to the sounds of Vicky Tafoya and the Big Beat. On top of that, throughout the weekend the club raised more than $5,000 for the Alzheimer's Foundation through a 50/50 raffle, several auctions, and the sale of the WCK's new history book.
Johnny Cash's "Sunday Morning Coming Down" played over the park's PA system at one point the next morning, setting a quiet, relaxed, melancholy tone for the show's last day. The park is usually only about half full on Sunday, as many choose to forego the afternoon awards ceremony and hit the road early for a relaxed drive home.
It seems there has been regular speculation for the past several years that "this might be the last Paso." Well, we have it on good authority from Penny Pichette that such rumors are false. Plans are already underway for the 2007 Cruisin' Nationals, so you'd better start making hotel reservations now. After all, if 25 years of West Coast Kustoms tradition have taught us anything, it's that there's always plenty worth seeing on Memorial Day in Paso.