Saturday, September 20, 2008

Car Creator Merges Work, Hobby

Car-Creator Merges Work, Hobby

Coke Machine On Wheels

By Rick Johnson-Indianapolis Star, September 17, 1972

Tipton, Ind.-A town surrounded by cornfields is an unusual place to find a one-man corporation.

But Steve Tansy is just that. And with the characteristic tough-mindedness and independence of the majority of the citizens here, Tansy has become an automotive engineer and designer, businessman, showman, promotions and public relations expert, and drag racer.

Tansy, 31, always has been fascinated by mechanics, and it would have been easy for him to have become one of the best of tractor mechanics. But Tansy, without knowing it, he admits, wanted more.

He bought his first car for $20 when he was 15, an old Model A Ford coupe which had no engine. He was the first youngster at Tipton High School to make the restoration of his car a high school shop project.

To build the car he wanted, the way he wanted to build it, he worked at a service station to earn money for the parts he needed. Then, he had to wait until he was 16 to drive his creation.

He tackled several other customizing jobs after he finished his first car, and in 1959 he was graduated from Tipton High School and got married.

He took a job at the Perfect Circle Piston Ring plant here, continuing to rebuild and customize cars as a hobby. And he began entering his creations in various auto shows.

Tansy’s work drew attention at Tipton, but it took others longer to recognize his ability. Steve was patient. He examined the automotive creations of others, stored the knowledge, and waited.

He picked up several awards for his machines, but had to wait until 1967 for his big chance.

That year, Tansy’s car, a glittering, slick, customized Model T Ford, won the best-car-in-the-show award at a Custom Car show at Cincinnati.

George Barris, of North Hollywood, Calif., “the King of the Customs,” was at that show. He was looking for someone with time and talent to take over the maintenance of some of his creations and take the cars on tour.

Barris had built such cars as the Batmobile, the Green Hornet, the Munster Koach, as well as dozens of other custom cars for movies and television. He also had built cars for various stars.

“Barris tried to get another well-known car builder, Dean Jeffries, to take the job,” Tansy said, “but Jeffries was unable to accept. Barris asked me to take the job. At first, I couldn’t believe it, and I didn’t know what to do.”

“I had my job and family to consider. I told Barris I would have to talk it over with my wife. He agreed to give me some time to make a decision,” Tansy said.

“I talked the whole thing over with Judith when I got home. She knew this was something I always wanted to do, and she encouraged me to go ahead.”

For the rest of 1967, Tansy worked maintaining and hauling Barris’ creations, and at other times cars Jeffries had built, to different auto shows. And he worked in Barris’ California shop for a time.

Tansy with Linda Vaughn (Kokomo Tribune Photo)

“In 1968, I began buying my own equipment to haul cars around for Barris and Jeffries. I met a lot of people, and I learned a lot. In my spare time, I worked on my own creations.”

“One car I built, but never got much credit for, was a replica of the wedge-shaped No. 60 STP Turbine car. The people at STP didn’t want to take the chance of hauling the real $500,000 racecar around the country.”

Tansy built the replica of wood and fiberglass in two months of full-time work. “And it was a real slick job,” he said.

In 1969, Tansy combined one of his ideas with those of a Tipton neighbor, Glen Yeary, and built “The Coke Machine,” a far-out creation, which brought national attention and money.

“I knew Glen had a chassis and an engine built, and I talked to him about getting together and making a Coke machine body to put on the chassis.”

“The Coca-Cola people made us no promises, but we went ahead with our plan. When the car was finished, I took it to Atlanta, Ga., and they liked the idea, and the car went on tour.”

Not long after that, Model Products Corporation (MPC), a division of General Foods, bought the rights to the design so they could make a model kit of the car. We still get royalties from the sale of the kit.”

“The car has been on tour now for nearly three years, and that’s a lot of mileage for a couple of old Coke machines,” Tansy grinned.

Since the “Coke Machine,” Tansy has built two other show cars, the “Dune Buggy Zinger,” and the “Dodge Supervan,” for which MPC also had bought modeling rights, and pays Tansy royalties.

Dune Buggy Zinger (Rick Johnson Photo)

Photo courtesy Hot Rod Magazine

Dodge Supervan (Rick Johnson Photo)

Photo courtesy Hot Rod Magazine

After the “Coke Machine” success, accessory companies such as Cragar Wheel Company, Champion Spark Plug Company, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Pennzoil, and the Kustom Header Company, began taking pains to see to it that their products were installed on or used in Steve’s handiwork.

Unlike the “Coke Machine,” which would run, Tansy’s other two creations are novelties which feature huge engines mounted in undersized bodies. “Sort of hot rod nightmares,” he said.

“They don’t run. They were built with the models in mind, and the youngsters really like them.”

“I have some other ideas in mind now for new cars,” Tansy said, “but I never discuss them. In this business, you have to be first, and you must be unique. And it frequently happens that ideas are stolen.”

In 1969, after several months of making the various auto shows under International Championship Auto Show sanction, Tansy got the urge to branch out.

“I’d been watching, to learn how the various promoters handled their shows. Each of them did it a bit differently, and I decided I could roll it all up into one big ball and do a better job”

Tansy admits he thought he knew it all, but he learned just how much he didn’t know at his first show at Omaha, Neb., in 1969.

“I had $6,000 invested in that show, and it grossed only $4,500. But I learned some things. My next show was at Springfield, Mo., and I just broke even on that one. The next one at Sioux Falls, S.D., made money and wiped out my losses.”

“And I haven’t had a loser since.”

“I’m not sure I have worked out the formula, but I believe it is this.”

“1. Stay away from unknown buildings in out-of-the-way places.”

“2. Actively promote the show in advertising to get it across that you have a unique product to display.”

“3. Convince the press you have a worthwhile event, and don’t just depend on buying advertising.”

Tansy regularly stages auto shows under International Championship Auto Show sanction at Sioux Falls, S.D., Rockford and Rock Island, Ill., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala.

“I do all the advance publicity work, rent the buildings, make arrangements for various builders to come to the show by paying their expense money, and handle the sale of programs and tickets. My shows average about 10,000 attendance, and it’s a pretty good living,” he said.

Toward the end of 1971, Tansy understandably had the feeling that he had mastered the details of being an auto show producer. He began looking around for a new challenge, and the one he chose, drag racing in the “funny car” ranks, could be his roughest choice yet.

“I decided to go drag racing in January, and I jumped in right at the top, in one of the hottest divisions. All things considered, we didn’t do so badly.” Tansy passed his driver’s test in April, and since then, has made about 100 runs.

A blown engine eliminated him from the qualifications during the recent Nationals at Indianapolis, but not until he turned a 6:81 second elapsed time at 218 miles an hour. (The winner turned 6:60 at 220 miles an hour).

Tansy’s “funny car” is an $18,000 Plymouth Barracuda with a fiberglass body. The machine is powered by a Keith Black-prepared, 426-cubic-inch Chrysler engine, with a supercharger, that churns out 1,500 horsepower. The huge engine gulps nearly five gallons of nitro-methane fuel during the quarter-mile run down the strip.

Tansy and his funny car (Rick Johnson Photo)

“I’d like to chop about 150 pounds off of this car (it now weighs 1,940 pounds), and I’ll likely go to an engine with the crankshaft stroked a half inch. I’ve got some other ideas too, and I just might get in the top fuel division (slingshot dragsters without cockpit covers).”

“I’ve never met so many nice people as I’ve met drag racing. Even the top guys…there isn’t one of them I can think of who won’t take time out to help you, loan you a part, or even tell you a little secret.”

“At the Nationals, there were all sorts of youngsters who wanted autographs and pictures of the car. I’m going to see if I can’t get some pictures printed of the car with my autograph on them so I can give them out to the kids. I know they’d like that.”

“I believe that’s the sort of thing racing needs. I was on the outside looking in once myself, so I think I kinda know how it feels from either side of the fence.”

Parked in front of Tansy’s shop are two new pick-up trucks and large trailers, and a van type truck he uses to haul his cars.

He now has two young men, Jeff Richardson and Danny Towe, to drive the trucks.

“I’ve been lucky, but I’ve been determined and, frankly, this whole thing has been an ego trip for me”

“Any man is lucky when he can make his hobby, a thing he really enjoys doing, become his life’s work.”

Tansy in 2008, reliving the good times. (Kokomo Tribune Photo)


Blogger's note:
Soon after Dad wrote this article, he came home with a couple of the "Coke Machine" model kits. I'm guessing Mr. Tansy gave them to Dad. My brother and I both got one of the kits.
I carefully put together the kit, paying attention to detail and stuff, and trying to make it look groovy. After weeks of work, the model was finished, and it sat proudly on my bookshelf gathering dust.
I'm not real sure what happened to my "Coke Machine," but it probably suffered the same fate as most of the plastic model kits I built as an unsavory and malingering and recalcitrant youth...
More than likely, I blew it up with fire-crackers!


  1. George Barris DID NOT build the Black Beauty! I'm tired of seeing him taking credit for cars he had nothing to do with! Love the Coke machine. Barris is a liar though!

    1. you are right barris did not build the geen hornet or the monkee mobil the article on me was done by a local news paper, would like to correct some of thear mistakes first i was working for dean not george all these was turned around in this newspaper story it was dean that hired me to haul monkee mobile ,black beauty every thing was ass backwords in this article i worked for dean in his shop in summer months when shows were back east i have transported bat mobile shows.sorry for this mistake in newspaper .if it was't for Dean Jefferies Steve Tansy. Steve Tansy thanks

    2. one more thought just ran into dean at autorama in detroit past week with the mantray still on of best cars ever built was good memories for us Thanks again Steve Tansy

    3. Mr. Tansy: If you were so incensed about the inaccuracies in the story regarding who built what car, why didn't you get with my father to correct the errors you claim he reported?

      My father was a very approachable guy, and I get the feeling he was very impressed with your abilities.

      He interviewed you in person, did he not? It is obvious my father was at your home or place of business to take the black and white photos presented here.

      You seem to be presenting the impression that my father was a "hack" reporter and didn't care about getting the facts straight.

      My father's body of work says otherwise. He is not alive to defend himself, so I'll do it for him.

      The story here is a word-for-word transposition of the original piece.

      I made no changes to the text.

      I added the color photos and some of the black and whites to give the story more appeal.

      If you have any more corrections, please feel free to post them here.


      Paul Johnson

    4. Paul,first i yould like apologize for any thing that might have offend you , i rember very well meeting your father at my shop some 30+ years ago ever thing he said in article is correct about coke machine, zigers and my funny car picture he took and me with zingers. somthing was backwards on my enploment with Dean Jsfferies and Barries not sure what happend no offence things happen,hope this helps sorry, yes i did give him modles of coke maching.Thank you very much, Steve Tansy

    5. Mr Tansy:

      Thanks for responding.

      I was not offended, but I will defend my late father when I need to.

      No hard feelings here.

      The old man wasn't perfect, and I can accept that he got which guy you worked for at what time, and what cars you had a hand in transposed.

      It can happen.

      What I know for a fact is that he was an old-school reporter, and was concerned about getting the truth. He would have had no problem making corrections to the story.

      I also know my father was a hard-core car guy, and he had a great appreciation and respect for your skills, as do I.

      By the way...sorry about what I did to your model. I was a punk kid at the time!


      Paul Johnson

    6. Paul,thanks again for your support on showing some of my highlights of my career in a business i have loved for many years i am 71 years now and would not disrespect him in any's all cool keep up the hot rod and custon car show articles of the past.Best Regards Steve Tansy

  2. Steve between you and Johnny Owens you guys drove my Mom crazy with all the noise. LOL. But she loved you guys just the same. I miss the old neighborhood when you had the shop on Oak Street and Johnny lived next door to Mom on Mill Street. But nothing stays the same. I enjoyed your creations. Stay well. George Stacey oldest son of Maddie Head.

  3. Thank you for writing this article. It brings back memories and even after many years people are still talking about the Coke Machine. Even though Coke would never own up to supporting it,now days. thank you again. Chris Yeary (Glen Yeary's son.)

  4. Mr. Tansy thank you for giving all of something to tell our own children about.

  5. I have a question is Mr Tansy still around the central Indiana area. I remember seeing his work sitting in his yard when i was younger in Tipton Indiana. I have a couple of items i would love to get him to sign. He was always so nice when our teacher would take us to see his cars.

    1. Yep...still In Indiana and alive and well as far as I know when he contacted me about this story a couple of years ago.

    2. Thanks so much Walter, I remember as a kid seeing the Batmobile and Green Hornet car as well as the Coke Machine car sitting on his drive way. I will have to try to track him down.

    3. Steve Tansy has been my neighbor since we moved to town in 1996. He still has some of the coolest cars around and ALWAYS has time to share his passion for old cars anytime I stop by to visit. He and his wife, Judy are 2 of the finest folks you'd ever want to meet.

  6. Barris is a thief, all he has ever done is promote & take credit - he has never Created, designed; or built a thing - he is the Show Car Whore.

  7. Steve tansy is still working on cars he was in Murray's body shop a half hour ago getting some sand paper for his own stuff .Steve is a legend.


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