Rudy Kutey is only 54, but he may be the last dinosaur of the auto industry. "Dr. Ru," as he's called, is the last known man to have been employed by a Big Three automaker as a pinstriper. Long a freelance striper from Southfield, Michigan, he was hired by Chrysler in recent years to perform his steady-handed art on five special editions of the Prowler (an example of which he bought for himself), which worked out to more than 2200 cars, many of which are signed and numbered in the manner of art prints. He continues to apply fine enamel-paint lines to a whole raft of classics for the Walter P. Chrysler Museum. Alas, now that the last Prowler has rolled out of the Conner Avenue plant in Detroit, Kutey is once again back on his own as a freelance striper, an occupation he has followed since quitting a good job as a plaster draw-die technician 30 years ago.
Dr. Ru grew up in Hazel Park near Detroit in the '50s. "I used to hang out at the A&W [root-beer stand] and watch this old guy named 'Stripo' pinstripe dashboards. I was impressed with his work and the fact he got paid a six-pack of beer." Soon after, Kutey began his striping career.
Kids today aren't crazy for pinstriping the way they were in the '50s, although Dr. Ru insists the thin, contrasting painted lines never really went completely out of fashion. In fact, they predate the automobile — it's called "coach lining" in England and was popular when the horse and carriage ruled. Most of the royal coaches at Buckingham Palace (and the queen's Rolls-Royces) have been pinstriped.
During the classic period in prewar America, automakers such as Cadillac, Packard, Stutz, and Duesenberg kept stripers on the payroll. When the luxury cars faded, so too did the art of striping. It returned in the '50s with the custom-car craze, reaching its zenith at the hand of Von Dutch, the famous striping icon (real name: Kenny Howard) who dreamed up the painted "flying eyeball" signature logo and dozens of exotic patterns still copied today. Two museums display cars striped by Von Dutch, who died in 1992. Another of the '50s renaissance stripers, Dean Jeffries, still has a custom-car shop in Los Angeles, although he is semiretired and only stripes his personal cars now.
Dr. Ru stripes every kind of car, from hot rods to modern sports cars, and continues to do boats and motorcycles. Why do people want their cars striped? "Individualism," he declares. "When they see their car in a parking lot, with the stripe, they know it's theirs."
Dr. Ru says, "You shouldn't have to pay more than $100 to get your car pinstriped. Anybody can do what I do. It just takes practice — lots of practice."
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