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Charles City’s Lloyd Pierson headed off to Las Vegas for SEMA’s Battle of the Builders

  • A 1957 Ford 300 transformed into a "rat rod" that was built by Lloyd Pierson of Charles City. The "gasser" will participate in the 2019 International RATical Rod Build and Drive-off next week. Photo submitted

  • A 1957 Ford 300 transformed into a "rat rod" that was built by Lloyd Pierson of Charles City. The "gasser" will participate in the 2019 International RATical Rod Build and Drive-off next week. Photo submitted

  • A 1957 Ford 300 transformed into a "rat rod" that was built by Lloyd Pierson of Charles City. The "gasser" will participate in the 2019 International RATical Rod Build and Drive-off next week. Photo submitted

  • A 1957 Ford 300 transformed into a "rat rod" that was built by Lloyd Pierson of Charles City. The "gasser" will participate in the 2019 International RATical Rod Build and Drive-off next week. Photo submitted

  • Lloyd Pierson's 1957 Ford 300 with its 390-inch cubic Ford FE engine exposed. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Linda Pierson (left) and Lloyd Pierson stand in front of their 1957 Ford 300. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Lloyd Pierson's 1957 Ford 300 with the hood up. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Lloyd Pierson stands in front of his 1957 Ford 300 before he heads off to Las Vegas with the vehicle and competes in the SEMA Battle of the Builders during the second week of November. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

By Kelly Terpstra, kterpstra@charlescitypress.com

The 1960s are considered by many car aficionados as the greatest era in automotive history.

American muscle hit the roadways in full force with the introduction of Ford’s Mustang, General Motors’ Camaro and the Dodge Charger.

You could say that’s when Lloyd Pierson’s love affair with cars began.

Growing up as a kid in that time period, Pierson had a front row seat as vehicles pulled up to the pumps at his uncle’s filling station in Nashua.

Shep’s Standard was where Pierson, now 59, would spend the bulk of his summers back then.

“Everybody knew Shep’s,” said Pierson.

Around the same age kids were learning how to ride a bike, Pierson was checking the oil and filling up gas tanks for full-service customers.

“They gave me a step stool so I could wash the windows and reach the dipstick on some of these old cars,” laughed Pierson.

“I was hanging out there at 4 – drinking pop and eating candy bars,” he said.

The holidays also gave Pierson a chance to check out his relatives new fleet of vehicles. It’s also the first time he ever saw a speedometer break 150 MPH. But that’s a story for another day, Pierson said.

“Thanksgiving was always a big deal. My grandmother would always make sure that everybody would come back. It was like a car show in the driveway.”

Some 50 years later, Pierson and his wife, Linda, will live out a real-world fantasy starting Monday when they begin a 1,400-mile cross country journey to Las Vegas and one of the world’s coolest car shows – SEMA.

Is it a dream come true for Pierson?

“It is for us to actually have a car there. I’m pretty nervous about it. This is quite an honor,” he said.

Pierson, representing Team Iowa, has one of 14 cars that will be competing in the 2019 International RATical Rod Drive-off. All of the builders will travel together in a group before they reach “Sin City.”

The drive-off will feature some of the world’s best auto body builders. They’ll meet in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Monday and then cruise the countryside, hitting three spots along the way with their automotive creations before reaching the 2019 SEMA Battle of the Builders.

“We drive all the way to Las Vegas with these cars. The wife will chase us with one of the diesel trucks and probably my big-end closed trailer with our tools and tires,” said Pierson.

Pierson’s ride will be a 1957 Ford 300 custom. The two-door sedan, also called a “post,” has been transformed into an old-time “gasser” and is what is called a radical rod or “rat rod.” These custom hot rod cars show rust, look purposely worn down and have an unfinished look.

“See some of this is still kind of on the ratty side – the part we’re into. Once you get to SEMA, some of these cars, they’re the nicest, most expensive, craziest builds that you could ever hope to see in the whole world,” said Pierson. “You got over a million dollar cars there. We’re on the cheap and dirty on this.”

The Battle of the Builders is one portion of the show that Pierson and his crew will be involved in. Participants need to have an application approved and line up a sponsor to be included on the showroom floor. Almost 300 entries competed in the 2018 battle.

“You got to land a sponsor. We worked at it probably three, four months before we even got a sponsor – let alone a sponsor that would give us a spot at SEMA,” said Pierson.

SEMA is a four-day aftermarket industry event that brings in more than 160,000 attendees and more than 70,000 buyers from the automotive field. Attendees come from all over the nation and 140 countries to see more than 2,400 exhibiting companies.

Pierson has attended SEMA the last five years with Michael Lightbourn, a friend from El Paso, Texas, who has been involved in the automotive industry for 40 years.

“Were were hauling for Michael and last year represented his car because his wife was going through chemo,” said Pierson.

The drive-off portion is not affiliated with SEMA, but cars participate in SEMA to promote their sponsors.

“The common everyday person can’t get in until SEMA Ignited on Friday,” said Linda.

The SEMA show runs from Tuesday, Nov. 5 until Friday, Nov. 8 and the Battle of the Builders will be broadcast on Motor Trend television.

While Pierson’s ride won’t be flashy, he is hoping to draw some positive feedback.

“You go out there and you hope you get noticed by somebody. Some of these guys will put diesel engines in them. These are rat rods. It’s a mixture of a bunch of junk put together, basically. I shouldn’t say it that way. It’s a helluva a lot of work,” Pierson said.

Pierson’s main sponsor is Stewart-Warner, an American company that specializes in making replacement and service car parts. Lizard King is another sponsor they’ll be promoting while set up at a booth with their car.

“This is huge. We’re in the main aisle,” said Pierson. “Being a first-timer, getting in this is hard.”

Pierson and Linda are the owners of Classic Cars by Lloyd, located across from Taco John’s on Gilbert Street in Charles City. Pierson, with the help of his wife and and several other friends, have been working close to nine months transforming the 1957 Ford into what looks like a re-created drag-strip racer.

“I’m an old body man and old painter. We specialize in the older cars. We’re your hometown hot rod shop. We’re kind of a mechanical restoration shop. We still do the oil changes, tires, brakes,” said Pierson. “This is our passion, these older classic cars.”

Look for more on Pierson’s journey to Las Vegas in next week’s Charles City Press, and find out how his “rat rod” was discovered and what it took to transform the classic car into a true drag strip “gasser.”

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