Isanti County News | The story behind Joel Pennington’s guitar car

Joel Pennington’s dream car was a 1974 Ford Ranchero with guitars instead of doors.

Joel Pennington at Bert’s Auto Body in Braham with a newly painted guitar ready to be affixed to the car. Photos provided

Passersby on Ashland Street in Cambridge may have noticed the unique vehicle parked at the side of the road, right across the street from the guitar shop Pennington owns. The car is sort of mascot for the store.

The Ranchero was donated to Pennington by a friend from Rock Island, Illinois.

“When I got it, it was a rusty mess,” Pennington said.

Pennington refurbished the car with the help of friends and locals. The guitars were cut by Metal Coatings & Mfg. in Isanti and painted by Bert’s Auto Body in Braham. Pennington rebuilt the car’s back end himself. He drives it to work when the weather’s nice enough to allow for a car with no doors and brings it to some public events in the area, such as Cambridge Customer Appreciation Day.

The inspiration for the car goes back to Pennington’s childhood, when he attended stock car races and built model cars.

“I’ve always been kind of a car and motorcycle guy,” Pennington said.

One of Pennington’s heroes growing up was George Barris, who designed prop cars for television shows. Barris built the car driven by the spooky title family in “The Munsters,” as well as the Batmobile from the Adam West-starring “Batman” TV series of the 1960s. Pennington became familiar with Barris’s work by building models of his cars.

“His big deal was crazy, wacky, didn’t make any sense,” Pennington said.

Another notable car Barris designed was the Vox-mobile, for Vox, an instrument manufacturing company known for its guitars and amplifiers. The Vox-mobile was a car with giant Vox-brand guitars along the sides of its body, which served as a company mascot. The Vox-mobile is a major inspiration for Pennington’s guitar shop car.

Joel Pennington’s dog, Pirate Pete, poses in the back of the car.

“It was a guitar that drove,” Pennington said.

The first question people usually ask Pennington about his car is whether it’s legal to drive without doors. It is, as it turns out. The necks of the guitars provide some protection the way doors would, and that coupled with the mirrors and seat belts make it legal.

“No worse than a Jeep,” Pennington said.

Pennington is still adding more to the car as time goes on. He put in new seats the first year he had it and later added a new windshield.

“It’s a little more of a rat than I like,” he said.

One of Pennington’s goals for the car is to drive it in parades with someone playing guitar in the back through its sound system.

Joel Pennington’s Guitar Shop is located at 218 Ashland St. S. in Cambridge. Call 763-558-9339 for more information on the shop and its services.


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