Russ Roberts is surprised when his 1932 Roadster wins Culver City Car Show
By Gary Kohatsu
Russell Roberts takes life as it comes… usually with a rush of wind in his face, via one of his show cars or his “everyday driver, a motorcycle.”
Roberts is one of those guys who grew up tinkering with engines and cars, which led to his present-day devotion to rebuilding cars.
“I am the guy that wants to fix what’s not working… all the time, even on vacation,” Roberts says from his Westchester home. “I do love the challenge and most of all, ordering parts and waiting for them to show up, hoping they are the correct part needed.”
Roberts most recent claim to fame was taking the Best of Show prize at the 2019 Culver City Car Show, organized by the Culver City Exchange Club and held at Veterans Memorial Park in Culver City. His winning entry was a 1932 Ford Highboy Roadster, which he purchased around seven years ago from a friend in New Mexico.
Winning the grand prize at the car show, however, was the last thing on his mind.
“I had no clue at all (that I would win) and I still feel I’m not worthy of this honor,” Roberts, 68, says with a grin.
“But I did take it.”
At the Culver City Car Show, Roberts says that he was given a yellow card to indicate that his roadster was among vehicles being considered for a prize.
“After walking the grounds and seeing all the amazing cars and clubs there, I didn’t think on any level this was coming my way,” he recalls. “When they started giving out the awards, they did say the ‘best roadster was…’ not mine, I thought. It had to be (the other roadster entered).”
“That’s MY DAD,” Meghan Majdi Roberts screamed, when her father’s name was announced.
Russ Roberts was stunned.
He worked his way to the stage to claim his prize as his adult daughter cheered him on in the crowd
“To hear my daughter, that made my year,” Roberts says. “I have never been so proud.”
Roberts grew up in Long Island, N.Y. in the 1950s, one of five sons born to George and Bernadine Roberts. His dad worked for RCA.
“I started with a lawn mower engine on the back rack of bicycle,” Roberts says regarding his burgeoning love of fast cars. “After the police brought me home three times, it had to stop. But it didn’t.”
He built his first motorcycle in the family basement.
Although the Roberts family did not have a lot of money, Russ and his dad rebuilt car engine in the backyard, enduring some harsh New York winters.
“My first car was a (Oldsmobile) Delta 88, which was only $250,” Roberts says. “And all four tires were of different sizes, and it ran on only five cylinders. Thank goodness the gas prices were only $.35 cents a gallon.”
His dream car growing up was a roadster that his cousins in Florida built and drove to Long Isand, to show off. Roberts says his cousins “are still racing cars today.”
He recalls spending ample time and ink drawing an “open-engine, convertible roadster on all my school books for as long as I remember.”
Roberts says his dream car shifted to a “De Tomaso Pantera.”
Today, Roberts runs a West Hollywood company called Art Services Melrose.
“We make mounts, pedestals and archival frames for high-end art,” he says. “Getty, Huntington Library, Gagosian Galleries, MOCA, and (for) all collectors who want to protect their investments.”
Rebuilding cars is his lifetime hobby. The world of car restoration and weekend shows is like a fraternity to those involved.
“I love all the people you meet along the way,” Roberts says. “When you can’t fix something, there are always friends who will help or that will know someone to ask.”
He owns a 1952 Chevy truck, which he occasionally enters into car shows.
“(The truck) has all original parts — except for the fatter tires,” he says. “It’s love when people see (his Chevy truck) coming down the street and they wave and give thumbs up,” Roberts says. “And the old guys always saying that they too “had a ’52 truck.”
Roberts commutes daily on his bike, an R1200RT BMW — rain or shine. His ridden the streets and L.A. freeways on a motorcycle for 45 years, he says.
“Now that traffic is the way “it is, with all of the over-building going on with the roads, I will get there first.”
He drives “his vintage cars every weekend, his truck on Fridays and his bicycle to the Cal Yacht Club, so I can ride Venice beach.”
He reserves Sunday for his roadster, “to see the boys.”
Which brings him around to his imminent future.
“I’m looking to sell ‘the Best of Show’ roadster,” Roberts says. “So I can get another toy to build… because it’s all fun, but it’s the maintenance that kills you.”
Roberts admits to having a “bucket list.”
Someday, he plans to “motorcycle the world.”
“I have been all over Europe and all of the Alps. Next trip, this year, is New Zealand both islands… and being with family. Both daughters are teachers,” he says.
Lesson learned: follow your dreams, before heading into the final sunset.