Sundays with Von Dutch

Front Cover
MBI Publishing Company LLC, 2007 - Transportation - 124 pages
2 Reviews

A famously crazed presence in the hot rod movement of the 1950s, rediscovered in the 1980s when ’50s nostalgia swept pop culture, Kenneth “Von Dutch” Howard spent more than a decade essentially missing-in-action from the scene he’d helped to create and define. It was during that time—on four consecutive Sundays in 1970—that Richard Karl Koch visited Von Dutch in his Calabasas, California, home to photograph the father of modern pinstriping and soul of the hot rod movement for a cover story for the Los Angeles Times’ Sunday supplement, West magazine. Koch’s candid and colorful photographs from those shoots, the vast majority published here for the first time, provide a window on Von Dutch’s missing years.


Here we see the enigmatic icon in his many guises, from cantankerous genius to freewheeling goof, machining handgun parts in his famous workshop/bus, casually clowning with vehicles left at his home by his friend Steve McQueen (including the car Von Dutch built for McQueen’s 1969 film, The Reivers), and working at the pinstriping that sealed his fame. Accompanied by captions that bring to light further facets of this period of Von Dutch’s life and career, these photographs illustrate a little-known and largely fascinating chapter of hot rod history.

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According to reviews of the print version (temporarily out of print) this is quite a different portrayal of Von Dutch than most prior works on the subject. Many people like this book for that very reason. Rather than showing the version of him that he had cultivated for himself, the one of a badboy nonconformist troublemaker, this book shows him at ease with his friends and family, and zeroes in on his pinstriping and gunsmithing genius. It was shot by Richard Karl Koch ( in 1970 as a freelance commission for the Los Angeles Times West Magazine, but this book was published in 2007 and includes all of the photos made on those four Sundays back in 1970. At times Koch focuses close in on Dutch’s hands and shows the laser-like intensity of the man’s amazing concentration with those pinstriping brushes. Other times he is shown as a regular guy shooting the breeze over beers with his pals who came to watch a living legend do his art. Unfortunately, this preview in Google Books shows only three of the photos Koch shot of Von Dutch and his work. For some reason the people who laid out the Google e-book preview included the publishing information page with the Library of Congress registration and a few other pages of text related to the publishing, but very few photos of VonDutch or his work, but inserted nearly all of the small historical archival shots in the book – vintage shots of hot rods showing the development of Dutch’s colossal presence in the field. Those were put in the book to set the background for the actual visits Koch made on those four Sundays, but they are not photos made by Koch on his assignment from the Los Angeles Times. The book (including the e-book) is a picture book of Von Dutch but the review shows almost none of those pictures! With the exception of the cover photo, none of them show him at work and only one of them shows his artwork. Google needs to redo their preview of the book to let viewers know what the book is really like for as it is, the preview does a very poor job of showing it. (But again, the e-book is the complete book) Koch made shots of numerous striping jobs in progress and on cars on the street and the sequential set of about 22 shots of Dutch pinstriping the Moon globe shows the entire sequence of him creating one of his most spectacular works of pinstriping art. On one of those four Sundays Koch brought with him an unopened carton and set it down in Dutch’s driveway. Dutch is caught looking at it several times with what appears to be suspicion and then after his curiosity got the best of him he finally opened it cautiously and then laughing when he finally gets the contents in his hands - a Rand McNally globe of the Moon. Koch asked Dutch to do something with it - anything. Given Dutch’s penchant for black humor and nastiness, like often refusing to do a striping job if a client had the nerve to dictate what it should look like and his by then well-documented love of sarcasm and destruction (His legend includes having blown the peak off a small mountain out in Arizona with a cannon he had made from scratch) there is no end of possible nasty things he could have done with that Moon globe had Koch made the mistake of telling him what to do with it.. But instead and as evidence of his inner harmony during those years he created one of the most beautiful pinstriped masterpieces of his life. In under an hour he laid down a series of swooping arcs that, unlike his car striping jobs, have no beginning and no end. And then as the piece de resistance, he signed his work with what is arguably the smallest Von Dutch logo ever done with a brush. The logo is, according to many, the smallest logo he ever painted, measuring 13 mm in length, and he did it with a striping dagger brush that has 3-inch long bristles! The logo reads “Von Dutch Calabasas 1970”. There is a macro photo in the book that shows a 1970 penny next to the logo and the 0 in 1970 is slightly smaller than the zero on the penny!
Signed, Richard Karl Koch Yes, I am the photographer

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I have used this book as my bible during the restoration of Von Dutch's Bus, The photos taken by Karl were creative and very helpful as reference for authenticity when re-creation was necessary. Karl was excellent to speak with,and as much help as I could ask for, thanks Karl.
Steve Kafka

About the author (2007)

Richard Karl Koch began his architecture career while still a university student. He abruptly transitioned to photography and spent the next 12 years as a successful architecture and lifestyle photographer. While shooting a story about the Santa Monica Pier, he decided to create the West Wind Sailing Club and School there in the summer of 1975. For the next five years he was involved with West Wind and with the Pier Promotion Program. He also ran (unsuccessfully) for Santa Monica City Council on his own “Save the Pier” platform, and following a major storm that washed away his sailboat fleet and business premises, he became involved in two lengthy real estate acquisitions. In 1981 Richard designed the “Wonderboom,” a conditioning device for windsurfers that he patented and manufactured, marketed, and sold for five-plus years. In 1991 he returned to the less physically demanding practice of studio photography. Medical problems forced him to retire in 1996. As of this publication, he was struggling to convince cranky contractors to complete the small unfinished house he purchased in 2005 near the foot of Bartlett Mountain in the high-desert community of Joshua Tree, California, also known as “The New Bohemia” for its thriving artist community. His plans—if the house is ever finished—are to involve himself in his studio and in the activities of the Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council, and to photograph the wildlife on his 5-acre front yard overlooking the basin. He shares his life with his much-loved and faithful companion, Buddy the Lightning Dog.

Tony Thacker is the executive director of the Wally Parks National Hot Rod Association Motorsports Museum and the author and co-author of several books on hot rods and customs, including Hot Rods by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth (Motorbooks, 1995), SO-CAL Speed Shop (Motorbooks, 2005), and '32 Ford Deuce (Motorbooks, 2007).

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