Valley native Jordan Graham, known internationally for his custom hot rods,
was named an “enfant prodige” by Hot Rod Magazine at the age of 19.
The fingertip disappeared in an instant, sliced away on a metal sheer, severed and“pouring blood.” He fainted while being rushed to the hospital.
It happened on the day before the final shoot in Santa Ynez, the end of three months of nearly nonstop work to finish a 1928 Ford Model A hot rod for his first starring role on television. He was 19.
When the camera crew arrived the next day, there he was, right hand and index finger bandaged up in surgical tape, star slightly woozy, still wearing his hospital wrist band.
But the show must go on. And he did.
Jordan Graham completes what he starts.
“Hey, we had to finish the show,” Jordan, now 23, recalls.
He was paid nothing. Zero. For three months of 10- to -16 hour days, rusty roadster to bright new pearl white hot rod, all on videotape, wounded driver at the wheel.
What’s it like to be 19 and the star of his own 30 minute feature show titled “Nineteen-28,” one that can still be seen on cable TV’s SPEED channel?
“It was easy. You just talk. It’s like talking to a bunch of my buddies,” he says. “You keep talking and they cut out what they don’t want. It’s just easy.
“Besides, I got a lot of work out of that job.”
He has had roles on six other shows and left an impression with the gods of television.
“Jordan is quite a unique talent,” said Dennis Zerull, an L.A.-based producer-director with Hot Rod TV who worked with Jordan on the 2007-08 project “Nineteen-28.”
“Very few young guys his age understand hot rods the way he does. And he is always very positive.’’
Like the fingertip, that car is gone. He sold it for $25,000 to a doctor in Las Vegas.
Despite the fact that he still gets emails from fans from as far away as Italy and strangers will stop him to look at his missing fingertip, the unsentimental artist has moved on.
“I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I just have always been preoccupied with hot rods and bikes,” Jordan said. “This is my drug of choice. This is my focus.’’
Today, Jordan is hard at work in his Los Alamos garage building another hot rod, a 1928 Ford to be attached to a 1932 frame. It is a project backed by Dupli-Color, an automotive paint supplier, that will be unveiled at October’s Specialty Equipment Marketing Association show in Las Vegas.
At the same time he is restoring a 1947 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead motorcycle for a customer in Florida. Old bikes are easier to find than 1930s cars and quicker to turn around.
…And working at the Santa Ynez Airport, doing everything from fueling planes to changing oil to renting cars.
…And raising a family with wife Kati and daughter Harley, who will celebrate her first birthday in March. She has already been to three car shows and two bikes shows.
Both mother and dad grew up in the Santa Ynez Valley and went to local schools. Kati Lynn is a stylist at the Secret Garden Salon in Solvang. Kati calls her husband “an old soul in a young body.”
“He has a passion for old cars and bikes, and I love that he loves it. Every man, every person, needs an outlet,” she said. It’s one she shares.
“It’s a way for us to bond. He makes sure he always includes me and Harley.”
Jordan says his passion is inherited from his father, Ballard resident Bill Graham, a master mechanic and former race-car driver, who graduated from Santa Ynez High School class of 1976. That was the same year as Kati’s father, Chris Paola, who lives in Solvang.
“That’s where I got it, obviously,” Jordan said. “My dad can fix anything, from airplanes to mining equipment. I’ve seen him fix stuff that no one else can fix. He even took apart Kati’s hair dryer and fixed it. I owe everything to him.”
Before he was old enough to have a driver license, Jordan was working on his first car, a 1968 Mustang his father gave him to practice on. He had been hanging out with older car guys, listening to stories, pouring through scrapbooks and car magazines, trading labor for learning.
Bartered yard work earned him his first hot rod. It was a “rusty, tired, stuck-in-the-dirt Model A five-window coupe,” lost treasure rusting away in the two-acre backyard of a widow in Solvang. He weed-whacked her lot in exchange for the hulk. He was 15.
“I couldn’t believe she just gave me a Model A. I wish I could do some more yard work for that again,” he said.
A year later he was driving his bright turquoise hot rod to high school, looking very much like time warp from the 1950s. After he put 20,000 miles on the odometer, he sold the car for $19,000 to a retired lawyer from Sacramento who still drives it.
Along the way, Jordan has taught himself how to weld—doing more challenging tungsten gas arc welding—and how to drop axles. He slowly heats 80-year-old forged car axles to 850 degrees and gently bends each end down. This lowers the hot rod’s profile and reduces wind drag. He charges $200 to $250 each.
His workshop is an antique adventure, featuring old tools from the 1940s and ’50s. Call it honoring a tradition.
“With a lot of the older generation going away fast, I wanted to carry it on for them,” said Jordan. “I’ve taken their advice over the years and did what I’ve done to impress them.”
One of those is Jack Chard, a Buellton resident who got his first taste for cars in 1944 at age 6.
“Jordan is a natural,” said Jack, who is now 73. He freely shares tips with Jordan, who was termed an “enfant prodige” by Hot Rod Magazine.
“There are natural ballplayers and there are natural car guys. He’s a creator, like a man painting a picture. “It’s amazing, his ideas parallel guys my age.”
True to the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s purity of American hot rod culture, Jordan believes in scouring Valley ranches, backyards, barns, and garages for old cars and parts. He calls it “hawking.” As much as possible you scrounge for what most see as junk, fabricating and restoring the old rather than buying shiny aftermarket replacements.
“People are always saying that California is all tapped out, that all the good old stuff has been picked over and taken,” he said. “No, not yet. Right now, just here in the Valley, I know where there are 60 old cars sitting in barns or on ranches.
“To me it’s like finding gold. I get so pumped up that I can’t sleep at night when I hear about something. Imagine a rusty old car getting somebody so excited, but it does. I start shaking.”
INFO: Jordan Graham email: email@example.com