Hot-Rod Home

Photo by James BunoanOne-bedroom, one-bath body shop in industrial space, Anaheim

2,000 square feet (not counting a loft in the planning stages)

Occupant: Anthony Castaneda

Rent: $1,000 per month

He's no Boy Scout, but Anthony Castaneda is prepared. Recently, when he heard that an all-steel 1936 Ford roadster—an original 1950s custom—might be available, Castaneda sold his house and dropped a quick $12,000 on the car. Now, the former owner of Anaheim's famed Doll Hut is living in it. Well, almost. He's living right next to it. In a body shop. I go over there to get the grand tour—all 10 minutes of it—and Castaneda explains himself: he builds hot rods and buys and sells old cars, classic American stuff from the '60s and older. So, he figured, why not make the most of the situation and create a live/work space?

“This space is perfect,” he says, confiding that he “crashes there” most nights. He's technically not supposed to live there, amidst a jumble of Model A Ford parts, trim from a '63 Ford Galaxy and an empty gas can or two. “Most places like this are 65 cents a square foot or higher,” he enthuses. “This one's 50.”

A member of Orange County's notorious Shifters car club, whose initiation consisted of driving through Orange Circle naked, Castaneda has grown up. While it may seem a bit unorthodox, he assures me his living arrangement suits his hard-won maturity. “I'll start working around 9 or 10 and then just work all night if I get going,” the 31-year-old says. “Then I'll crash until 10 or 11 [a.m.] and start all over again.”

This particular afternoon, he rolls in—late!—around 5 p.m. in a lowered, white '64 Pontiac Grand Prix hardtop that's up for sale. How come people who drive fast cars always run late?

Apologizing profusely, he gives me the walk-through, and well, if I were expecting neatness, sweetness and light, I'd be disappointed. His bed, in the small front room that should be a front office, is a daybed—one of those '50s couches wide and deep enough for sleeping. And it sure looks slept in, but the room is so dark I can't tell. In the gloaming, I glimpse a '50s Steelcase desk and a bitchen George Nelson-style clock on the wall. It's still 99 percent Shirley Muldowney and 1 percent Martha Stewart.

Two customer cars, a '57 Chevy and a Lincoln sedan of the same age, repose in the shop proper. They're boring; we hate 'em. The '36 is there, all black primer and chrome wheels. Two Model T roadster bodies are leaned up against the dark-red wall. And there's the Brown-Neck Bandito—the pice de rsistance, as it were. The Brown-Neck Bandito is Castaneda's tongue-in-cheek answer to seminal customizer Ed “Big Daddy” Roth's classic creation, the Beatnik Bandit. Made from a Model A roadster crossed with a '59 Impala trunk lid, it's got an Oldsmobile engine with more carburetors and horsepower than are probably legal in this state. Everything on the car is either metallic lime green or chrome, except the bubble top—a huge Plexiglas bubble, just like the Roth car. How very . . . baroque.

This is the dcor. He's decorating his home with cars. Does Martha Stewart know about this?

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