Saturday, May 2, 2015

Going Out on a Limo

Justin and Andrea M. Plackett with their son Zachary Nelson, next to their pride and joy on wheels
Out on a Limo - PDFStretching 26 feet from stem to stern, the bright yellow Hot Rod Limo is a sight to see. And if you live in Santa Barbara, you’ve no doubt caught a glimpse as it cruises State Street and Cabrillo Boulevard. If you live in the Riviera, you might have even heard it rumbling by your house. 

The limo has been adding personality to the streets of Santa Barbara and Montecito for two years now. In fact, when it debuted on April Fool’s Day 2013, people might have thought it was a joke. But it’s serious business for Andrea and Justin Plackett, the owners of the limo, since it typically does four to five tours around town per day.

The limo’s story began nearly a decade ago, when Justin spotted a stretched red 1923 Ford Model T in Los Angeles doing Hollywood tours. On a subsequent trip down there, he ran into it again, and talked to the owner, getting some insight into the ground-up build that was required.

Fast forward several years, and the Placketts decided to add a hot rod limo to the roster of A and J Limousine. We talked to Justin about the history of this unique vehicle, and what it’s like to run it in Santa Barbara.

The build began in 2012 with a 1927 Ford Model T, the final model year of that car’s two-decade run. While the frame is from the T, the rest of the vehicle is pretty much custom, giving it the classic hot rod look of a 1932 Ford. If you hear the designation Deuce Coupe, as in The Beach Boys song, it’s referring to the final digit of the seminal year for Fords, as those are the most sought-after starting points for hot rodders.

While the initial build took about a year, Plackett says, “Unfortunately, the first year we had it in service, [it] was basically a research and development vehicle.” There were several issues that had to be addressed, but they got lots of help from local mechanics. Plackett gave a shout-out to Mike Newton at Kennedy’s Automotive Center, who helped whip the car into shape that first year.

Even with all the major issues worked out, it’s still a classic car, which generally means some unexpected pit-stops. Luckily, mobile mechanic Dan Roan is on call, so it’s rare for a tour to actually be cut short.
On the off chance that the Hot Rod Limo does conk out, A and J can send one of their other limos to the rescue.

That’s really only happened once that Plackett can recall, and he says, “They were totally fine. They understood that it’s a custom vehicle.” Those guests even refused to accept a refund.

The Hot Rod Limo truly means business with a handful of tours daily
The limo is powered by a Ford 351 Windsor motor, attached to a 3-speed auto transmission. The exhaust has a fairly laid-back tune to it, since its important that passengers can hear the driver as he narrates, and also to make sure that it doesn’t tick off the locals. But the setup is powerful enough that it can do an inadvertent burnout if the driver’s not careful.

“I’ve accidentally burned rubber around a corner before,” says Plackett, but he tries to avoid it.

The construction included seating for eight, with trick electronic door releases on the passenger’s side – the “doors” on the driver’s side are fake – and custom seats in all rows, due to the fact that the cabin flares out wider toward the rear. Each row has speakers that can blast the limo’s signature ‘60s surf-rock mix, with a heavy emphasis on The Beach Boys.

Driver Joe Dammann, aka Hot Rod Joe, has been with the limo since the beginning. His tour route starts at the visitor’s center by the beach, and heads up State Street to experience the heart of downtown – most of his passengers are tourists, so it’s a great way for them to see State for the first time.

The route includes the courthouse and the house with the bronze dog, which apparently has an interesting story behind it – possibly involving the honored dog saving the family from a fire, but this was news to me – and by the Old Mission.

From there, the route takes what some might see as an unexpected turn, winding up Alameda Padre Serra through the Riviera.

This wasn’t originally part of the tour, says Plackett, adding, “We kept getting tourists coming up to us... saying things like, ‘We’ve done the trolley, we’ve done the Land Shark, we get it, we’ve seen the city. Is there any way we could see where people actually live?’”

While 26 feet is long for a vehicle navigating the narrow passages of the Riviera, “it’s not as long as you’d think,” he says, and the limo is just short enough to negotiate the roundabout on APS. From up there, riders can also get great pictures of the ocean and harbor, especially when there are cruise ships in town. Then the tour continues around toward Montecito, cruising Coast Village Road and driving past the Biltmore, before returning along Cabrillo. 

In addition to the standard one-hour tour, riders also have the option to hit the Funk Zone for some tastings for an extra half-hour, but many passengers opt to end their ride there, since there’s so much to see. 

The limo also handles private tours, and there’s plenty of wedding and birthday business. The Placketts do have some loose plans for a second hot rod limo, or perhaps even a franchising opportunity. For now, though, they’re just enjoying the response they’ve gotten to the original. 

“I’d definitely like to give a shout- out to Santa Barbara, the people here, because we have had, I would say, 98-percent satisfaction,” adding that the resdients seem to really embrace the idea. 

To score tickets for the limo or to book a private tour, visit


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