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Doug Clark: Ryan’s Lincoln is red hot

Thu., Jan. 17, 2013

Attention Spokane car lovers.

The Hot Rod Lincoln, star of the world’s best car song, goes on the block Saturday afternoon at the big Barrett-Jackson car auction in Scottsdale, Ariz. (The event will be televised on the Speed Channel, so check your listings.)

Just thinking out loud here, but …

Wouldn’t it be great if one of our own fat cats won the bid?

That way this fine candy-apple red, 1930 Ford could come back home where it belongs.

The Hot Rod Lincoln, after all, is as much a part of Spokane as Bing Crosby or the Clocktower.

Sure enough, country singer Charlie Ryan built the hot rod right here in the mid-1950s.

About that same time he went into a downtown studio to record this catchy little ditty he’d been writing.

“My pappy said, ‘Son, you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’ if you don’t quit drivin’ that Hot Rod Lincoln.’ ”

Ryan released the recording in 1957 to rave reviews.

And the rest is music history.

More infectious than the flu, the song became a rare crossover that hit on the country charts as well as the pop charts.

1960 saw Ryan and Johnny Bond both making the Top 40 with it.

Twelve years later, Commander Cody unleashed arguably the song’s best version, earning a No. 9 ranking and an 11-week stay on the charts.

“Hot Rod Lincoln” has been covered so many times over the decades that it’s hard to keep track of who did it.

Asleep at the Wheel. Pat Travers.

Beavis and Butt-head.

There’s even a polka version of it out there, I’m told.

In 2000, Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) gave Ryan an award to commemorate an impressive milestone: Hot Rod Lincoln had graced the radio waves more than 1 million times.

I’m probably dreaming about the car ever coming back here, of course.

Chicagoan Larry Tarantolo told me the hot rod could fetch $200,000 and up.

Yikes. That’s more than what Mayor David Condon makes after his salary bump.

Tarantolo, by the way, is the guy who bought the Lincoln from Ryan’s widow, Ruthie, after Ryan’s death in 2008 at age 92.

I’m glad Tarantolo wound up with it.

I counted Ryan as a very good friend. And I worried about what would happen to his trademark ride after he was gone.

Tarantolo said he took the car to a number of shows before doing what needed to be done. He had the Lincoln taken apart and then turned into polished, painted perfection. The restoration process took over two years to complete.

(See the gleaming results on the Barrett-Jackson website.)

Although in decent shape before the makeover, this revamped Hot Rod Lincoln is several degrees beyond stunning.

A perfect tribute to a perfect tune.

Ryan loved telling and retelling his fans about how his song was based on the time he chased a pal’s Caddy up the dangerous Lewiston Grade in his ’41 Lincoln.

The fenders were clickin’ the guard rail posts.

The guys beside me were white as ghosts …

A lesser-known tale is how the song’s namesake came to be.

Ryan’s daughter, Bev Triber, said the project began in subterfuge.

Ryan didn’t want Ruthie to know about the money he was spending. So he had the car and parts kept inside a family member’s garage.

Then he asked all his friends to pitch in.

“They all helped and helped hide it from Mom,” said Bev, who plans to attend the auction with her husband, Rick.

These efforts at secrecy rarely work out, of course.

Ruthie, as expected, went through the roof.

For a minute or so, anyway.

I can tell you with firsthand clarity that Ruthie is one of sweetest people around. She not only “settled down,” added Bev, but soon “started helping and even did the upholstery.”

The finished hot rod became a traveling member of the Charlie Ryan entourage as he toured the country, often playing with the best of the best.

Bev remembers meeting stars like Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb …

Being just a kid, however, she looked at these people as just her father’s friends.

“He’d have everybody over to play music and everybody would have a blast,” Bev said. “When Dad picked up that guitar he dropped 20 years.

“There was never a shortage of good, good times.”

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432

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