Hot Rod Lincoln - The Car & The Song
The creator of Hot Rod Lincoln is Charlie Ryan. He fashioned both the car and the song.
Charlie Ryan is a musician, songwriter and a car guy. In the late 1940s, he purchased a used 1941 Lincoln Zephyr four-door sedan. After a couple of years, he decided to make a hot rod out of it. He removed the Zephyr body, cut two feet off the frame to shorten the wheelbase and dropped a 1930 Ford Model A coupe body on it. At first, the car was painted black with red wheels. Charlie installed a '48 V-12 engine in it along with the 3 speed + overdrive '48 transmission. The car has a lot of Lincoln touches on it, including cut-down Zephyr bumpers, a Lincoln emblem on the radiator, an the Lincoln greyhound radiator ornament. The interior has a narrowed '41 Zephyr dashboard. At first, the car was painted black with red wheels. Later, in 1960, the car was repainted red. It was repainted again in 1986 in Datsun Z-car red. Charlie says, "The paint's the only Japanese thing on it."
While he was working on the car, Charlie was thinking about the song. By the early 1950s, he had the lyrics worked out and began performing it. Charlie Ryan recorded 'Hot Rod Lincoln' in 1955; it was released as a single by Souvenir Records in 1957. It became a major hit in many regions of the United States. While traveling to perform, Charlie and his wife Ruthie often took the Hot Rod Lincoln on tour. By 1960, it needed another engine. Charlie installed a 1939 Lincoln V-12. It's still powering the car today.
Other car songs were written before Charlie's, everything from 'My Merry Oldsmobile' (1903) to Jackie Brentson's 'Rocket 88' (1951 - and, with Ike Turner on keyboard, it's considered by many to be the very first rock n' roll song). But 'Hot Rod Lincoln' was the first car song to become a major hit and make the Billboard top ten list.
'Hot Rod Lincoln' has been performed by many artists - Johnny Bond had a regional hit with the song in 1959; Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen covered it in 1972. In the 80s, Asleep At The Wheel did a very nice version. In 1995, Jim Varney (Ernest) recorded a cover which was used in 'The Beverly Hillbillies' movie.
Today, at 83 years old, Charlie Ryan is semi-retired - but he still occasionally performs the song. At the Lincoln & Continental Owners Club's 1994 National Meet in Silverdale Washington, Charlie brought the car and gave a live performance of 'Hot Rod Lincoln' - to the cheers of a room filled with over 300 Lincoln enthusiasts. Charlie and Ruthie (married 62 years) have been awarded lifetime memberships in our Club.
They spend their summers at their Spokane, Washington home - their winters are spent relaxing in Arizona. And, after all these years, they still have the car.
We hope that Charlie will never "quit drivin' that - Hot ... Rod ... Lincoln!"
Article copyright 1999 Joseph M. Sherlock. All Rights Reserved.
Update: Charlie passed away in early 2008. Here is his obituary:
Ryan, Charles "Charlie" S.: Passed away February 16, 2008. Charlie was born in Graceville, MN on December 19, 1915. His parents moved to Polson, MT, and he attended school there. He met and married Ruth Scheffler on December 22, 1937 in Polson, and they had three children when he was called to serve in the Army during WWII. After his discharge, he moved his family to Spokane in 1943.
Charlie was a cowboy and spent his life as a songwriter and entertainer touring with his band with Jim Reeves and Johnny Horton, to name a couple. Charlie wrote and originally recorded the 'Hot Rod Lincoln' song. He was a member of the Country Music Association, Dukes Auto Club, Lincoln Continental Owners Club, VFW #1435, DAV #51, and Local #98 Carpenter's Union. He was a member of the Music Hall of Fame in Arizona and Minnesota.
Charlie is survived by his wife of over 70 years, Ruth Ryan, of Spokane, WA; daughter, Beverly Triber and husband, Rick, of Spokane Valley, WA; daughter, Terri Hambrook of San Juan Capistrano, CA; son, Joe Ryan and wife, Carolyn, of Valley, WA; 14 grandchildren; 28 great-grandchildren; and eight great-great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, three brothers, one grandson, and one great-grandson.
Memorial services were held Friday, February 22, 2008 in the Alwin Chapel at Hazen & Jager Funeral Home, Spokane, WA. Following the service, there was a gathering at Spokane Valley VFW Post 1435, Spokane Valley, WA.
More information on Charlie and his famous car can be found here.
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