Wood, Wood, and the Power Tour
The Adventures of Maxmotive’s 1949 Chevrolet Step Van
A vehicle is a reflection of its owner. How much more so its builder. And if the builder is the vivacious, energetic, and jovial Rutledge Wood, then the vehicle must be overflowing with personality. Rutledge is well-known as the host of TV’s Top Gear. He loves his job, loves meeting new people, and loves building unusual vehicles. It’s even better when he can do all three at once.
The Hot Rod Power Tour began in 1995 as a showcase for rodders to actually drive their creations. They drive them on highways. They drive them on dragstrips. It’s a combination party, car show, and exhibition of mechanical ability and creativity. By the time the 2014 event came around, the idea of showing up in an ordinary street machine or street rod was becoming old hat. Yes, for most participants, it’s simply run watcha brung. You have a hot rod in your garage, and maybe with some extra prep, off you go on the Tour. Certainly a great opportunity for a great time. Others, such as shops, builders, and customizers, see this as an opportunity to create something special, and possibly show off their skills to the rodding world. In either case, the main criteria are usually comfort, fuel economy, and other considerations such as reliability. Why? Well, the Power Tour is the largest Hot Rod road trip in the world, covering around 1300 miles. That’s a lot of driving, especially in a classic car that may need a little extra TLC to be driven that far. And, while there are certainly lots of willing and able comrades, many of whom bring lots of tools, to help in the event of a malfunction, it’s hard to avoid being a little embarrassed if your ride breaks down among all the cool vehicles out there. Leave it to Rutledge Wood to construct a 1949 Chevy Step Van to make the trip. Comfortable? Fast? Beautiful? It may not be the first platform that comes to mind for such a project, but that’s part of the charm.
In true Rutledge fashion, he didn’t make the trip alone. Others were along for the ride, including Elana Scherr from host Hot Rod Magazine. Elana documented the adventure, and her experience with the magnificent Wood and his “flying machine.” Historically, the project is reminiscent of Jack Lemmon’s “Professor Fate” in the movie “The Great Race.” Look that one up. It’s hilarious. But unlike the Professor’s contraption, “The Hannibal Twin 8,” Scherr reported that “what was really impressive about the van is that the thing really moved.” Wood hides a Chevrolet LS3 in this beast, pumping out a healthy 525 horsepower. You see, Wood, being the people person that he is, has connections. So headers from Summit Racing, a complete Magnaflow exhaust system, along with a 4L80E automatic fortified with goodies from Performance Automatic render the truck somewhat of a sleeper. On the comfort side, Recaro bucket seats certainly don’t hurt, and the vehicle is equipped with such niceties as a Vintage Air climate control system. Although most of the time, Wood drove with the slide door open and one leg outside.
One of the famous scenes of “The Great Race” became known as “the greatest pie fight ever.” While there were no food fights on the Power Tour (that were recorded anyway), the theme of stopping to eat was a big one — especially at McDonald’s, which Wood loves. At each of these stops, there was schmoozing with fans, lots of pictures taken, and even videos. Rutledge can work a room, even one as big as half the country. He didn’t baby the truck either. At one point, he drove through some tree branches with the wheels kicking up gravel. But they made it, with lots of stories, not the least of which is the hot rod 1949 Kurbmaster among all the Hemi Road Runners, ‘69 Camaros, and Corvettes on the Tour. And unlike Natalie Wood’s (no relation) character Maggie DuBois from The Great Race, Elana Scherr knows and loves cars. Monitoring the van’s performance strictly by feel (what she calls her “butt-accelerometer”), she estimates that the bare aluminum-bodied build could cover the quarter mile in the 14-second range – classic muscle car territory. With it’s air-ride suspension and dozens of other tricks, this ‘49 Chevy Step Van is a true custom with functionality proven on the Power Tour. Now this storied vehicle resides in the Maxwell Family Collection. It has seen duty at various shows as the “Memorabilia Van,” because it’s the perfect hauler and backdrop for the massive collection of road art at Maxmotive. (Click “Memorabilia” at the top of the page at www.maxmotive.com). So this famous truck is living an easier life now, but oh the stories it could tell. Push the button, Max!