Piero De Luca shocked the system nearly a decade ago and his Live Wire 1931 Ford coupe has stood the test of time
This article on Piero’s Live Wire was originally published in the no.17 issue of Hot Rod magazine
WHAT are you, Liberace?” Talk of wild ideas with metallic paint and chromed-out engine bays were often met with equally outlandish criticism during the earlier days of what’s now considered the revival of traditional hot rodding. At a time when the cognoscenti was more concerned about So-Cal Speedshop catalogues or how flat your black paint was, Piero De Luca dared to go against the late-2000s grain, envisioning a period-correct show rod that would leave most punters asking if it was a restored survivor.
If seeing freshly built period-style show cars in the flesh these days gives you nothing but the horn, then you probably have Piero to thank. The Live Wire coupe electrified crowds upon its debut at the 2008 Grand National Roadster Show and with that sparked a new appreciation for the traditional movement not only as a troupe of pre-War and lakes-style hiboys, but as a decades-long era of progressive and authentic hot rodding that included the 1950s and 60s.
Not a single piece of Live Wire went unconsidered when in the build – not even the valve caps. Picking 1958 as a cut-off year for parts and styling, Piero reasoned that it was the start of a new and eventually iconic style, when painters were beginning to experiment with candy and metallic paint and techniques like frosting and fades. The prevailing late-50s paradigm also stipulated that not only did the underside of the car have to look as good as the top, but so did the interior. Oh, and everything had to be chrome.
Like all good builds, Live Wire started off around 2006 with a chicken-coop-coupe fresh out of a farm in Texas. Enter some serious building know-how by the hands of Bob ‘Bleed’ Merkt and Johnny ‘Cola’ Koller, and Piero’s vision started to take shape. One of Bob’s custom made Aceholes frames got things off to a blazing start, stretching the wheelbase out to 106 inches (2.5in longer than factory) as well as sweeping the front rails and kicking the rear up 11in. Piero started piling on the chrome from day one, collecting and mounting as much of the vintage shiny stuff as physically possible.
The dropped Dago axle and split wishbones are, naturally, old chrome pieces sourced from former period hot rods both dead and alive. Chrome shocks and a Mr. Roadster spring pack lets the front wheels glide over bumps while the tail-end is held up by Aceholes ladder bars and a ’40 Ford front spring pack in an Aceholes adjustable rear spring perch that allows the rear to be raised or lowered.
The body, while in decent nick once the chickens had been evicted, still needed a bit of attention. Luke Di Ciurcio of Di Ciurcio’s Hot Rods in Oxnard, California got to working out blemishes like the half-inch thick wall of bog on the decklid and making the doors open and close smoother than a brand new Rolls. The top received a 3.5in haircut sometime in the 60s that was gas welded and leaded up, but this too got a rework before the body was channelled 4in and handed over to Donnie Baird at Imperial Customs. Here it received a squirt of metallic light blue and some custom dark blue fades. Donnie also went in and highlighted body lines with a faint pearl tone and applied fades to the engine block, steering column, gauge holes and even inside the trunk.
When it came to power, Piero already knew that only one of GM’s finest could shake and rattle this coupe. “I wanted a nice ride, a sealed interior, and a screaming Caddy mill.” A reasonable desire for most, I’d assume. The 331 Cadillac V8s were introduced in 1949, and by ’58 would have been relatively accessible for hot rodding applications. The Cad was given a tickle by Oxnard Machine including 30-thou overbore, Isky cam, early Edelbrock ‘Cold Series’ 4×2 intake and four brand new blinged-out Stromberg 97s. Every other piece bolted to the block was either polished up or chrome dipped. The ’39 Ford top-loader ’box sits in a custom made clutch/brake/trans crossmember by the ever artful Lucky’s Hot Rod Shop in Burbank, CA. The driveshaft and ’59 Poncho rear end were also given the ‘show rod’ treatment with metallic blue hues.
The super sweet combination of chassis, body and engine rolls on ’41 Ford spindles, ’47 drums and 15in chrome reverse steelies, the rear 7in wide hoops coming unmounted from an authentic 60s show car build. They’re shod in Firestone 5.60 and 7.00 rubber for a timeless rake.
Take one look inside Piero’s garage up in the hills of Rancho Cucamonga in Los Angeles and you’ll see the kind of obsession he has for period and NOS parts. Whatever he could find that suited the Live Wire regimen was bolted on to the car, including an old chrome nerf bar salvaged from a defunct hot rod, framing the ’50 Buick tail lights.
NOS Cal Custom headlights and other miscellaneous accessories like valve caps also got thrown in to the fray. The white spark plug connectors at the end of the NOS clear plug wires are made by Rajah and rarer than hen’s teeth; Piero says that he spent more effort getting his mitts on those than anything else on the entire pre-’58 build.
Inside reads like a checklist of authentic early show car styling, including black and white diamond-pleated trim, custom carpeting and blue-tinted windows. That radical dash is made up of a cut up stocker and a ’58 Edsel cluster, pleated in vinyl and filled with 60s Suntune gauges. The seating arrangement suits Piero’s 6-foot-2 frame surprisingly well and there’s plenty of room to throw gears while gripping that NOS Cal Custom shift knob and pointing the wheels in the right direction thanks to the 60s boat tiller.
If it could be trimmed it was, and Dave Martinez of Martinez Custom Upholstery threw as much stitched-up vinyl as possible at the car, including roof insert, interior, firewall, boot lining and even the factory holes on the inside of the decklid bear his work.
The end result? Rolling history. The hard slog that went into sourcing, building and completing a break-from-the-pack concept paid off immensely and the coupe bearing the namesake of a Motley Crue song set a chrome dipped benchmark for newer generations of hot rodding disciples.
As we approach a whole decade since the coupe body first traded hands, there is no end to the influence and inspiration Live Wire has spilled forth. An icon both on and off the screen, the coupe has racked up ink in over 20 mags and books, and not only does it have a series of Piero’s own Mad Fabricators Society videos. It’s taken home show gongs both big and small and continues to pound the bitumen, even being used as daily transport for a few months when the trusty beater gave up the ghost – those modern cars are damn unreliable, I tells ya!
Perhaps by the time you read this, the electrifying coupe will have changed hands and moved on to a new custodian, as great cars do from time to time [It has, bought by an Aussie now living in Florida – Ed]. Life has a funny way of pushing and pulling even the best of us, and Live Wire is currently up for grabs. If you don’t so much as entertain selling a kidney to fund its ownership (I know I did), then perhaps you should visit your nearest psychiatrist for a brain evaluation.
Oozing with attitude and class simultaneously, Piero’s maniacal creation didn’t just get some authentic old chrome pieces moving again but helped evolve a traditional and time-honoured style by bringing it back into the limelight. The Live Wire coupe sparked a wave of nostalgia ‘cool’ that will be felt for decades to come and if you’re ever even within earshot of that screaming Caddy, you’ll understand. As the great poet Nikki Sixx once penned: “I’m hot, young, running free, a little bit better than I used to be.”