Jeffrey Jones wrote the book on Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s radical twin-engine Mysterion hot rod. Actually, he wrote about his journey to replicate it. Two years after Jones’ book was published, his actual replica car could be yours.
RM Sotheby’s is offering the exceptional recreation at its Petersen Automotive Museum Auction on December 8. There is no reserve or pre-auction estimate, but the hot rod is expected to go for six figures.
Roth’s innovations and creations made him a major player in 1950s and ’60s Southern California car culture. His first “famous” custom car was the futuristic Outlaw. He is also known for the Beatnik Bandit, Orbitron, Surfite, and Rotar. His out-there customs often became Revell scale-model kits. A talented illustrator, Roth also created the cartoon character Rat Fink, which he referred to as “Mickey Mouse’s evil twin,” and he successfully sold Rat Fink-themed t-shirts and memorabilia at shows.
Mysterion is Roth’s most famous and least documented show rod. Built in the early 1960s, it appeared in numerous magazines but few build specs or detailed photographs exist. And the original car is long gone.
Jones says he fell in love with Mysterion as a teenager, and car show promoter Bob Larivee was obviously a big fan as well. According to Jones, Larivee owned Beatnik Bandit and Orbitron, and in 1965 he convinced Roth to trade Mysterion in exchange for the pair. Larivee later traded Mysterion back to Roth, but it never made it to Roth’s shop intact. Roth only wanted the front and rear axles, and the rest was parted out.
Jones vowed to build a Mysterion of his own someday, and in the early 2000s he finally got to work. Jones’ research revealed secrets and inaccuracies—some of which Roth created and perpetuated—and shed light on some design flaws (the original car was meant only to be a show piece).
Among his discoveries: Although the original Mysterion carried twin 390-cubic-inch Ford big-block engines (the setup resembles the wild LS V-8 setup that we saw at SEMA earlier this week), the original frame couldn’t handle the weight of even one engine and transmission and actually function as a driver. So Jones’ recreation has an additional steel-rod inner frame. And although it looks like the Mysterion is carrying two 390 V-8s, only one actually works. The other is hollow. The two engines are joined by a cross belt so that it appears they both work.
Mysterion’s asymmetrical styling included an oblong grille and odd-shaped nosepiece, with one large, pod-mounted headlight on the left and a smaller conventional light on the right. Its hydraulically operated bubble top has a small windshield up front. The recreation also has shag carpet interior and a television, and the car is painted gold Murano candy over white pearl.
All of Jones’ findings are revealed in his book, "Ed Roth’s Mysterion: The Genesis, Demise, and Recreation of an Iconic Custom Car". He concluded that Roth wasn’t a custom car guy in quite the same fashion of his contemporaries but instead was “an artist who used the automobile as his medium.”
Included with the RM Sotheby’s Mysterion recreation are a custom trailer and production molds—just in case you want to make more and have a garage full of these wacky things. Dave Shuten of California custom build shop Galpin Auto Sports actually did that already—his recreation was included in an Ed Roth tribute at the 2018 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
- by Jeff Peek