Darryl Starbird is a legendary custom and show car builder from Wichita, Kansas. Darryl, known as the "King of the Bubbletop", was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1933. He was the second son of four children born to Austin and Marie Starbird of Auburn, Kansas. As the World War II broke out Austin moved his family to Wichita, Kansas, to work for the Boeing Airplane plant. In the third grade, Darryl and his six years older brother Kenny got a paper route together throwing the morning and evening Wichita Eagle. A year or so later, they also began caddying at a local country club to make more money for the family. When Darryl was 10 years old, his older brother Kenny became old enough to drive, and he went out and bought a 1926 Ford Model T Coupe for $25. The old coupe needed extensive work, and Kenny and Darryl began building their first dream car. As the coupe had no title or sales receipt, it didn't take many weeks before the law showed up and confiscated the coupe. Austin was never sure about wether his son had bought or stolen the Model T, but after many heated discussions he bought Kenny a nice 1934 Ford Coupe. Kenny was never attached to the '34 like he was to the Model T, so he only kept it for a short time. This was the beginning of a troubled life for Kenny, and he would have many run-ins with the law and his father. Kenny's short life ended when he was 19 years old, in a tragic accident. This was a very traumatic experience for the 14-years old Darryl, who was very bonded to his brother. When the war ended, Austin moved his family back to Topeka and opened up a small service station. Austin's mechanical ability gave him a chance to barely carve out a living, but his sons took his lead and took on part time jobs. It didn't take long before Austin gave up his self-employment dream, and moved back to Wichita to take a high paying job with Boeing as a Tooling Supervisor. A year later another tragedy struck the Starbird family, as Darryl's two year younger brother Larry Dean was killed in a motor scooter accident at the age of 14.
- 1 Darryl's First Car
- 2 Darryl's First Venture
- 3 Star Kustom Shop
- 4 The National Rod and Custom Car Hall of Fame Museum
- 5 Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed and the National Rod & Custom Car Hall of Fame Museum Announces a Merger
- 6 Darryl Starbird's Cars
- 7 Cars Restyled by Darryl Starbird
- 8 References
Darryl's First Car
Darryl's interest in customizing began after buying his first car, a 1941 Ford Convertible. Still in high school, Darryl started to restyle the Ford in his fathers workshop after school. He installed a Continental kit, a large 1948 Chrysler rear bumper and fenderskirts. The car was also given a what Darryl calls a real "Cowboy Rake". Having only a welding torch and a few body tools, Darryl set off to learn the trade of metalworking. In the book Darryl Starbird The Bubble Top King Custom Car Creations, Darryl recalls how he in the beginning would spend countless hours on his friend's cars trying to fill Ford and Chevy hoods, and how he after welding, leading, warping and hammering until his arms would give out, would give up in disgust and rather frantically would jump on them until they were a battered mess. After a few failures, he finally managed to turn out some reasonable straight hoods. 
Darryl's First Venture
16 years old, still in high school, Darryl approached his father with an idea to obtain a dealer's license to buy and sell used cars. Not wanting to defeat his only son's dream, Austin backed Darryl, and told him to go down to the city hall and apply. To Austin's surprise, Darryl got the dealer license. Now all he needed was some money so that he could buy some cars to push. Austin told Darryl to apply for a dealer's floor plan, an agreement between banks and dealers to finance vehicles they sell. After applying to numerous banks, Midwest Finance Co decided to give the young entrepreneur a dealer's floor plan. With a dealer's license in one hand and a floor plan in the other, Darryl set out to buy his first project. Along with customizing odd jobs for friends and projects for himself on weekends, Darryl graduated from high school with the class of 1951. After graduating from high school, Darryl set out for California, with his best friend Jerry Bray, to pursue his love for customizing. His dream was to obtain a job and enjoy the legendary California lifestyle. After three months in California, and after several employment rejections, Darryl returned home to Wichita. Back in Wichita, he married his high school sweetheart Donna Gray in 1953.
Darryl went on to Wichita University where he was working on becoming an Aeronautical Engineer. The three and a half years spent there were shared with a night shift job at Boeing Aircraft's plant as a design draftsman in the engineering department. In 1954 Darryl decided to drop out of school and focus on his own shop. Star Kustom Shop was opened up at 734 E. Mt. Vernon in Wichita, Kansas. The building was a former chicken coupe with a dirt floor that sat really close to the railroad tracks. Darryl recalls one night rolling Jack Bell's 1951 Ford out in the dark, locking up and going home. When he returned the next morning a train had taken off the back end and totaled the in-progress custom. In the beginning, Star Kustom Shop did mainly nosing and decking for friends, and the income was supplemented with straight bodywork. Not having any actual shop experience, Darryl has admitted learning a great deal at his customer's expense. The first real show car to come out of Star Kustom Shop was Darryl's own 1947 Cadillac Sedanette. His next full custom was a 1955 Plymouth that he finished in late 1956. Both these were featured in Rod & Custom Magazine. After this many partial customs went through the doors at Star Kustom Shop. Trying to get a car from Kansas into the magazines was though. The magazines had a little budget, and most of them were located either on the West or East Coast. By chance, Darryl met Spencer Murray, the editor of Rod & Custom, at a car show in Manhattan, Kansas in 1956. Spence who was touring the Rod & Custom Dream Truck across the country, suggested that Darryl could start submitting local car features to the magazines. Darryl liked the idea, and understood the potential in this offer, so he went downtown and bought his first camera, a Rolliflex. After learning the basics of photography, Darryl started submitting monthly stories to magazines such as Car Craft, Rod & Custom and Cars. Over the years he submitted a lot of featured stories and how-to articles. The $200 a story, did also come in handy for Darryl who by now was the father of Debra and Cliff.
In 1959 Bob Turgeon's 1957 Ford Thunderbird won the Sweepstakes and Top Custom Shop Achievement Awards at the NHRA National Championship Custom Car Show in Detroit. The win swept Darryl into national prominence and made him a definite figure to be reckoned with in future championship shows. Darryl's first full-blown show car was the Predicta. The Predicta won virtually every award available, and established Darryl as a respected custom and show car builder.
In 1995 Darryl founded the National Rod and Custom Car Hall of Fame museum in Oklahoma. Located on Highway 85A, an hour northeast of Tulsa, the museum was set up as a national nonprofit foundation to honor and preserve the efforts of the outstanding contributors to the great sport. A 40,000 square foot facility housed more than 50 cars of which 25 were of Darryl's personal creations. The museum did also include photos and memorabilia.
Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed and the National Rod & Custom Car Hall of Fame Museum Announces a Merger
In May of 2021, Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed and the National Rod & Custom Car Hall of Fame announced a merger. Located in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed is home to over 150,000 square feet of display over three levels. The museum was formed to present a continuous chronology of automotive Racing Engine and Speed Equipment development and to preserve, interpret and display items significant in racing and automotive history. Founded in 1992 by "Speedy" Bill and Joyce Smith, the collection results from their personal involvement in racing and hot rodding and their lifelong passion for collecting and preserving racing an automotive history over the past 100 years.
Darryl Starbird's Cars
Darryl Starbird's 1941 Ford Convertible
Darryl Starbird's 1947 Cadillac Sedanette
Darryl Starbird's 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham
Darryl Starbird's 1959 Buick
Darryl Starbird's 1961 Ford Thunderbird - The Star Bird
Dave Stuckey's Lil' Coffin
Cars Restyled by Darryl Starbird
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