“Reclaimed Rust: The James Hetfield Collection,” currently on display at LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, highlights a selection of custom cars owned by — and created in partnership with — Metallica co-founder and front man Hetfield, who also has a deep passion for heavy metal of the rolling variety. The vehicles chosen for the display represent Hetfield’s special interest in Kustom Kulture — the cars, motorcycles, fashion and art of hot-rod enthusiasts from the 1950s until today. Originally organized by the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, “Reclaimed Rust: The James Hetfield Collection” is open to the public through January 2023 at the car museum in Tacoma. What follows is a cross section of unique vehicles now appearing in the exhibit.
When Hetfield purchased the 1956 Ford F100 used to build Str8 Edge, the truck had already been “modified” with a lengthened cab, flatbed and fiberglass fenders revealing plenty of Bondo used during the initial resto process. Built by Scott Mugford of Blue Collar Customs, the truck was first restored to its original steel panels. To customize it further, Str8 Edge received winged taillights as well as hood vents from a 1953 Buick to create a futuristic 1960s look.
Str8 Edge Colors
Hetfield wanted to follow the style of custom cars from the 1960s for Str8 Edge’s visual impact, with colorful paint hues made possible by translucent candy colors and metalflake paints. The truck features a multi-tone purple paint scheme with dark violet scalloped details, black and white pinstriping and a glittering roof.
Str8 Edge Power
Str8 Edge draws power from a 455-cubic-inch Oldsmobile V8 engine. The interior is Pearlized Vinyl by Ward Auto Interiors.
Before this 1936 Ford Coupe became Iron Fist, Hetfield drove it as a “Rat Rod” with a chopped roof, lowered suspension and large exhaust pipes. Rat Rods refer to early hot rods that were modified for performance at minimum expense, and the look is deliberately unfinished. Customs, on the other hand, although also modified have a highly finished, extremely refined appearance.
Iron Fist Retooling
Scott Mugford of Blue Collar Customs also built Iron Fist, reshaping the trunk lid from its original square design to an oval. The car features a fabricated metal roof, air suspension and an air-conditioning system from an electric car that lives in the trunk. Iron Fist is powered by a 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet V8 engine. The interior is Oxblood leather by Franzini Brothers.
With its bare metal exterior and polished chrome engine, Iron Fist sits somewhere between the two extremes of Rat Rod and Custom. Iron Fist is part of the Petersen Automotive Museum collection, given as a gift of the Hetfield family.
Built by Rick Dore Kustoms, Crimson Ghost is inspired by the glamour of the 1920s and the gritty gangster films of the 1930s such as “The Public Enemy.” Described as a tough but tailored design, Dore lengthened the fenders of this 1937 Ford Coupe to give Crimson Ghost a smooth silhouette.
Crimson Ghost Aggressive Accents
Following the style of 1930s gangster movies, Crimson Ghost combines graceful lines with aggressive accents such as a lowered roof, thick acrylic headlights and a custom angled grille. The Crimson Ghost is powered by a 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet V8 engine. The interior is by Erin Ruddy with leather stitching by Devine Custom Upholstery.
Part of a series of cars in the Hetfield collection that reflects the styling found on cars of 1930s, Crimson Ghost is often described as a bridge between the coarse design of Iron Fist and the elegant style of Voodoo Priest.
This 1937 Lincoln Zephyr called Voodoo Priest — another collaboration between Hetfield and Dore — began with a car owned by a Vietnam veteran who abandoned it after returning from his tour of duty. The Zephyr sat for more than four decades before Dore acquired the car for Hetfield to begin the Voodoo Priest build.
Voodoo Priest’s Zephyr Origins
The Lincoln Zephyr debuted in 1936 as a combination of American and European flair. It became the best-selling streamlined car of the 1930s. Based on a prototype by Dutch designer John Tjaarda that was modified by Ford stylist E.T. Gregorie, the Zephyr design features teardrop-shaped fenders, a sloping back, downward sloping side windows and molded headlights flush with the front fenders.
Voodoo Priest’s Original Spirit
Hetfield wanted to retain the spirit of the original car while also creating a custom that included elongating the fenders, smoothing the exterior and creating a teardrop shape toward the rear of the car to emphasize Art Deco styling. Voodoo Priest is powered by a 267-cubic-inch Lincoln Zephyr V12 engine. The black mohair interior was completed by Craig Hopkins.
Inspired by a lowered 1936 Auburn Boattail Speedster that Hetfield saw, Slow Burn is based on an official Glen Pray recreation of an Auburn Boattail Speedster. The fiberglass body makes it difficult to perform extensive modifications, so Hetfield and Dore focused on details to create a custom Boattail Speedster.
Slow Burn Geometric Accents
Hetfield and Dore added a sloped, Carson-style convertible top to emphasize the curved lines of the car. The fenders are finished in a Root Beer paint to highlight the shape and provide contrast with the darker color of the body. Additional accents such as the geometric grille, taillight trim and custom wheel design represent Hetfield’s style of custom cars. The custom taillights were created from Chevrolet housings and lenses from a 1959 Cadillac. Bob Devine and Rick Dore created the interior of Egyptian leather.
Slow Burn Inspiration
While Auburns of the 1920v were associated with glamour and wealth, the Auburn Boattail Speedsters designed by Gordon Buehrig and built from 1928 to 1936 were more about racing and performance. The theory behind an aerodynamic boattail design makes it more difficult for competitors to draft during races. Slow Burn is probably faster than the original Speedsters, given that it’s powered by a 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet V8 engine.
The Black Pearl
The Black Pearl began as a project to customize a 1948 Jaguar Sedan, but the car ended up with a completely new aluminum body inspired by Hetfield’s drawing of the “ultimate cool shape” for an automobile. The aluminum body created by Marcel’s Custom Metal combines the curved Art Deco lines of 1930s French cars with an aggressive profile and lowered roofline of 1950s American hot rods.
The Black Pearl Origins
The original 1948 Jaguar frame remains, but The Black Pearl now features independent front and rear suspension with airbags, as well as a four-link 9-inch rear axle. A 375-horsepower 302-cubic-inch Ford V8 engine delivers power through a C4 automatic transmission.
The Black Pearl
The Black Pearl features a cream leather interior by Ron Mangus. The car won the Custom of the Year award at the 2014 Goodguys show in Pleasanton, California. The Black Pearl is now also part of the collection of The Petersen Museum — another gift of the Hetfield family.
Hetfield and classic-car customizer Josh Mills created Blackjack as a tribute to 1940s hot rodding, with the goal to create a 1932 Ford Roadster that appeared as if it was being modified by teenagers in the latter 1940s. Blackjack’s 1932 Ford Roadster body was found in California, while the chassis and frame came from the Chicago area.
Blackjack Parts Sources
Hetfield and Mills acquired parts for Blackjack from many sources including swap meets as well as other car customizers, similar to the way hot rodders in the 1940s and 1950s would locate parts. The duo used Hot Rod magazines from the time period as reference material and modified the engine using only parts that would have been available from 1932 to 1949, such as Stromberg carburetors, an Edelbrock intake manifold and Osieki Racing cylinder heads.
This custom features a Cafe Roaster Brown leather interior by Burt Litton. It is powered by a 296-cubic-inch Ford V8 engine. Blackjack is also now part of The Petersen Museum collection as a gift of the Hetfield Family.
Inspired by French coachwork of the 1930s with an American twist, Aquarius is a custom-built, one-of-a-kind creation by Rick Dore that continues Hetfield’s blending of French Art Deco with American hot rod design first seen in The Black Pearl. Built on a 1934 Packard frame, the design was influenced by the 1939 Delahaye 165, which was introduced at the 1938 Paris Motor Show with bodywork by French coachbuilders Figoni & Falaschi.
Billowing teardrop fenders, pointed trim, a split grille and overall silhouette are signature elements of the Delahaye Type 165 that are all part of the Aquarius design. Dore lengthened the nose and stretched the doors comparable to the Type 165, and also added American hot rod touches including the split windshield and removable hardtop. The aluminum bodywork was hand formed by Marcel’s Custom Metal and attached to the metal frame.
Aquarius Details, Power
Exterior details of Aquarius include pointed accents inspired by the hooked ends of medieval battle axes — artistic details added to the grille, side exhaust pipes and rear window trim. Ron Mangus added the dark blue leather interior. Aquarius now rides on air suspension and is powered by a 6.2-liter General Motors LS3 crate V8 engine. Similar to other cars from the original exhibit now on display at America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Aquarius is another part of The Petersen Museum collection.
This 1953 Buick Skylark called Skyscraper won Most Elegant Custom at the 7th Annual San Francisco Rod, Custom and Motorcycle Show in 2007. Skyscraper was the first car Hetfield created with Rick Dore of Rick Dore Kustoms.
When Buick created the 1953 Skylark it was already a custom, based on the 1952 Buick Roadmaster with hand-modified body panels. The windshield was based on designer Ned Nickle’s sketch for a chopped windshield for his personal car. Other customization includes rounded wheelwells, lowered door height and chrome “sweepspear” side trim.
Skyscraper Accents, Power
Dore further customized Skyscraper to accentuate its shape by removing the badges and smoothing the front bumper. Inside, Skyscraper features a bass-drum pedal for the accelerator, and the gauges resemble Fender pearloid guitar picks. The interior was created by Erin Ruddy with vinyl stitching by Jeremy Donkersley of LUX interiors. Skyscraper is powered by a 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet V8 engine.
The Dead Kennedy
The first car modified extensively by the Metallica front man himself, Hetfield was inspired to create his 1963 Lincoln Continental “The Dead Kennedy” by a friend’s 1960 Lincoln. Hetfield found this 1963 Continental for sale by the side of the road in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Dead Kennedy Lines
Hetfield wanted to emphasize the long lines of typical 1960s luxury cars and was also inspired by cars like the 1966 Chrysler Imperial “Black Beauty” from the television show “The Green Hornet.” Modifications included widening the grille so headlights are positioned behind it, custom wheels, wide whitewall tires and new paint that includes green flames on the hood and sides. The car has been repainted in flat black with a black metalflake roof.
The Dead Kennedy
The interior of this car with its historically and musically macabre name, The Dead Kennedy is finished in black leather and crushed velvet, with a 430-cubic-inch Lincoln V8 engine under the hood. The green turn signal lenses are a tribute to the green headlights of “Black Beauty” from “The Green Hornet” TV series.