The Original "Coke Machine" was a Monte Carlo driven by NASCAR legend Bobby Allison in the early 70s. This team and others had a lot of success on the NASCAR race tracks with the First Generation Monte Carlo.
The Coke Machine was a very research intensive build. Imagine the research it takes to do an all original build, then multiply that by 10 and multiply the level of difficulty by 10. The one thing I had on my side was time. No money, just a lot of time. And when you combine a lot of time and the Internet, well, you get the drift.
First things first, would Bobby Allison mind if his famed car be replicated and if so, would he mind if his name script be put on the roof above the window? Somehow I was able to get his phone number. So I called him. I had to leave a message explaining what I planned to do. When he called back we discussed quite a bit. He told me he would be glad if I did this project and would help with any advice he could give. Turns out, according to him, there never was a small block Coke Machine Monte, perhaps for road courses (as I had hoped to keep costs down), and in order to find the exact correct paint codes, I would need to contact his painter (which he called by name), among other things.
Now back to the Internet....the problem was that even on the web, there was a void of information about Bobby and Juniors Coke Machine. It seems like you could read on for days about the late sixties winged era, but nothing about 1972.
Even though, in my opinion, 1972 was a pivotal year in NASCAR history.
I started out with a couple of pictures that I ordered off eBay. They were reasonably high resolution prints of Bobby racing around the Riverside Speedway. That particular year it was dubbed “The Fog 500” because of the unusual fog that covered the speedway during the race! The photo was good enough that I could start to make out some of the detail of the smaller stickers on the front fenders and see some other detail.
I could tell by looking at those pictures the obvious things. The front wheel arches were radiused and the rear wheel arches were made taller. How I was going to do the rear spoiler started to come into focus. A set of front headlight covers would need to be made, etc.
I then ordered a bunch of “Stock Car Racing” Magazines from 1972 and 1973. These proved to be a gold mine of information. Some of these magazines even have cover shots of different First Gen Monte's on the Track. One month in particular shows Bobby Allison holding a Coke Bottle with his foot propped up on a Race Prepped Monte Carlo chassis, with a new green 72 Monte in the background. The words “How Bobby Builds a Chassis” showed on the cover with him. Inside were some pretty good pictures of the roll cage and my roll cage builder was able to replicate it by looking at these pictures, even the unusual way that the halo bar connects to the main loop.
It was with these magazines that I was able to piece together the details that make up what’s special about the Coke Machine – 10” wheels, front drum brakes, frame stiffeners, bare floorboards, 4 speed trans, special fabricated racing dash, lack of front inner fender wells, windshield retaining bars and tabs, front air dam, rear spoiler, special grille frame with mesh, etc. There are some things I decided to do without. Among them are the quarter panel mounted fuel filler neck and related components, totally gutted doors, and full-floating ford 9” rear. I also decided to add some personal flair to it, with the dash mounted tach, modern instrumentation, and silver painted bumpers instead of chrome.
Somewhere among all this I was able to obtain a 427 Big Block in running condition. And thanks to a picture in a magazine of famous engine Builder Yates pulling the motor, I was able to see that the coke machine's engine wore aluminum ribbed valve covers. So I found some vintage M/T covers with 427 stamped onto them.
Over the years as more pictures were collected it was more and more apparent that Bobby and Junior had many different Coke Machines. How many? I'll never know, but each one had a different decal scheme and even number font. You can tell them all apart. I decided to try to duplicate the riverside race scheme for two reasons. #1 Riverside is a road course and my tribute was going to be street legal – driven on the road; left AND right turns! And #2 the Riverside Car had the cleanest most attractive scheme in my opinion.
Throughout all my research there was something missing. Something that was very important. I could not for the life of me find a picture of the rear of the coke machine. I must have had 30 to 40 pictures of the front and sides of the car but none of the back. Until one day I finally found a very low resolution picture of the car in the pits. I cold barely make out what was written on the back of the spoiler but I finally figured it out, “Roy Buckner Chevrolet, Bessemer, GA” - then on the bumper “Hueytown, Ala” and on the back of the trunk lid “Its the Real Thing, Coke”. I found out about some of this after the decals had been ordered and the Roy Buckner decal is still missing from my replica!
Well the time finally came to start thinking about paint and graphics. I decided to order all the stickers and decals out of the Sears Catalog. No, really here's how that went: Many of the small fender contingency decals were found on eBay, some common, some very rare requiring years of searching. As for the rest of the decals including the GIANT 12 on the roof, the GIANT coca cola scripts and others, well, they had to be custom made out of 3M high quality vinyl. In my job, I do computer aided drafting (CAD) where I was able to draw out all the graphics to scale. I took a handheld scale and measured every aspect of each decal as it was shown in photographs and scaled them up to real life. In other words I know how many inches the door of the car was in the picture, and I knew how many inches the door was in real life, so I measured the decals in the picture and used that formula to scale them up. The guy who graciously helped me here already had the classic “Coca-Cola” script and believe it or not, already had the graphics for the Coke Bottle art you see on the side of the car. With my CAD computer file, the graphics were cut by machine to the exact specifications. You may notice the 427 CI decals on the hood are much bigger than they are supposed to be. An error on my part, but if you look at it, it looks better than the original (to me at least).
Since I could never get in touch with Bobby's painter, I decided to paint the car a true coca cola red from that era. I was able to get access to the door jamb of an actual coca cola vending machine of the 60's or 70's. It was the kind that dispenses long neck glass bottles. Armed with a paint chip book of what seemed like 1000 different shades of red, I narrowed it down to the closest. This red is a blood red. If you park this car next to another red car, it makes the other car look orange or pink.
As for the gold, I used to have a 1998 Grand Prix GTP that was a real gold nugget color, and a color I knew I liked, and had to be close to the gold used for the coke machine. So that’s what I went with. Turned out great.
I painted the car at a high school vocational center just in time for the Indianapolis FGMCC Meet of 2007. Not all the decals were on the car yet, and truth be told, the car wasn't really even finished, and some of those final touches were to be completed at the meet. I was having a great time at the meet, but I never knew what would be in store for me.
The most memorable moment by far is being able to meet Driver Bobby Allison himself, the legendary NASCAR icon, and Junior Johnson himself, the storied moonshiner from the rural South who became one of the early superstars of NASCAR in the 50's and 60's before becoming car owner and crew chief of the Coca Cola Monte for just that one epic year. My uncle had told me that they would both be attending the Mountain Moonshine Festival in Dawsonville, Georgia. Early that morning I arrived at the Festival and car show which attracts many vintage race car owners because of its early NASCAR roots and ties with Moon-shining. I pulled up and crawled out of the car and began talking to a guy there about it. After a few minutes the guy pointed and said “You do know Bobby is eating breakfast in that restaurant right now, don't you?” I just so happened to have parked right directly at the front door of the restaurant. I had to see it to believe it. Sure enough there he was, a hero of race fans around the globe. THE Bobby Allison. When he emerged several minutes later, he immediately grinned from ear to ear and walked around it as if he couldn't believe his eyes, as if he was reuniting with an old friend that he hadn't seen for decades. We spoke and he told me many stories about the car, and about the year that he and Junior Johnson were a team. It's no secret that he and Junior could not get along, and they both don't have any reservations about it. In fact, the Chapter about 1972 in Bobby Allison's Autobiography is titled “Hey Junior, Kiss My Ass”. I recommend the “Bobby Allison: A Racers' Racer” as a coffee table book, and “Miracle: Bobby Allison and the Saga of the Alabama Gang” for a good sit down and read type of book.
Bobby signed the car on the drivers side sail panel with a special paint marker and posed for some impromptu photos by the car for fans that had gathered around. The morning went on and it was time for the Moonshine Parade to begin. Now, Bobby was the Grand Marshall of the Festival that year so he was the lead in the Parade. He rode in an early 80's Buick “Miller” car that replicated the one he won his one and only NASCAR points championship in, in '83. Jared, who had arrived, and I jumped in the Coke Machine and got in the parade line and followed him up to Main Street. We looked back to see how the rest of the parade was forming up and who was behind us? Junior Johnson in his moonshine haulin' 34 Ford. So, here we were sandwiched in between 2 historical NASCAR figures going through a parade of cheering, rowdy Georgia folks. It might as well have been the President of the USA coming through there. At the end of the parade I was able to catch up with Junior Johnson. I was real nervous about asking him to sign the car. I knew that he had followed us through the parade and had seen the car but I wondered if he would turn me down, citing the bad blood between he and Bobby. But he simply just said, “Sure I'd be glad to.” He walked over to the car, signed it on the opposite side sail panel (which is sort of symbolic, don't you think), smiled for a picture, then somehow disappeared into the crowd. He didn't stay and linger to talk about the car or chit chat (which is again, kind of symbolic). Junior Johnson is one of the five charter inductees of the NASCAR Hall of Fame which is to opened its doors in 2010. Bobby Allison was a finalist. Surely he will be inducted in '11.
A year or so later I made arrangements to be at the 10th annual Eastern FGMCC Meet. At this event the car was noticed by a Hot Rod Photographer who approached me about doing a photo shoot. And somehow, as if by fate, the car ends up on a NASCAR track once again for it. This time its the Charlotte Lowe's Motor Speedway. We did about 30 miles on the track and its infield road course. The photographer was able to capture a once in a lifetime shot of the Coke Machine at speed on the banked asphalt, while zooming past a
big red coca cola billboard on the side of the track. It is now a gigantic framed poster on my computer room wall. At the Charlotte Meet the car received the George Lines Best Modified Award; and with the NMCA, Peoples Choice Runner-Up and Best Special Interest. The article showed up in Hot Rods annual "Dare to Be Different" issue titled "No Boring Cars" as a 2 page spread.
Finally, The FGMCC message board and club members played a huge role in figuring out many aspects of the mystery behind pieces and parts and just got a lot of support and help. For that I am very grateful to you all. .I would like to specifically thank Leo Konik and family and Jared Richey for their help. What is in store for the Coke Machine in the future? I do not know, but if the past is any indicator, then get in, sit down, shut up, and hold on... its gonna be a wild ride!
UPDATE 2017 - The Coke Machine was sold to the Coca-Cola Company. I owned the car for over 15 years and enjoyed every moment of it.