Phil Hamilton is ready to take your cherry ’59 Bonneville convertible into warp speed over Miami Beach. In moments, the powerful Pontiac’s tail lights become afterburners, clouds become vapor trails and the ageless muscle car heads into, well, classic car eternity — pure reverie.
Then an incoming phone call brings the popular Placerville barber back to earth. A hair appointment is set, and he quickly returns to the computer and its potent Photoshop software.
There are stacks of ultra classics, cool jalopies and custom buggies waiting for their translation into Hamilton’s better world. And that’s just today’s volume.
“It was just an experiment at first,” he recalled biting into a ham sandwich. “I shot some pix of a classic car parked in town and printed them. Something wasn’t right. I mean, here was an elegant machine representing the age of triumph, coolness, innocence, dreams, chicks and drag races, crammed between two very ordinary vehicles on a drab side street. This baby deserved better.”
So with some imagination and newly acquired software, Hamilton changed the car’s setting.
Now the iconic car was solo, perched on a beach road with palms, moon and whitecaps.
It wasn’t right yet, Hamilton thought, because the car still lacked life. And that isn’t what muscle cars were designed to do.
“Photoshop gives you whatever you want,” he grinned. “Including the illusion of motion.”
The result was overwhelming to classic car owners looking to recapture the whole experience.
“Build a better mousetrap …,” Hamilton mused, quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson.
He gazes at a Mustang image emblazoned on a metal plate.
“We designed a new one,” he said.
Hamilton soon outgrew his home office and motored to the Thompson car complex on Forni Road. There he found the once-sprawling auto campus had become an industrial park for small, vehicle-related businesses.
“How cool,” he said. “I’m home.”
With photo-dreams filling his walls and flying out the door, Hamilton began looking at other canvasses.
“These car memories wind up on coffee mugs, gifts, T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, beach towels … and believe it or not, wall-hanging tapestries,” he said.
Then he discovered the infusion process and special gel inks which transfer brilliant color images to aluminum plates. Business hit a new level with racetracks and car clubs.
For this self-taught, entrepreneurial barber, the whole enterprise started as a labor of love. Not anymore. His business name is “Hot Rod Art” by Phil Hamilton.
Business is good enough to bring on partners. Local businessman John Johnson and racecar artist Tim Grant bring logistics and artistic depth.
Hamilton’s own road goes back to the first Corvette and last Edsel.
“I have loved cars and racing since I was able to notice them. I’m not a mechanic like somebody might expect a car nut to be. I express my passion for cars through digital art. It’s just as satisfying,” he said.
Starting with a ’64 Datsun, the good-natured and focused Hamilton has witnessed enormous changes.
“Cars are pretty much about convenience today,” he said as he watched the traffic stream by on Main Street.
“Fifty years ago it was different. There was a mystique about cars, muscle cars especially, we all came of age with them. That’s cathartic. You know, people say, ‘you can take the boy out of the car but not the car out of the boy.’” He chuckled, nodding at the computer and printer system. “I discovered you can take them both to new heights.”
Hamilton still runs the barbershop at 259 Main St. in Placerville as Hot Rod Art takes off. He has a a loyal hair-cut fan club.
“If I had only one word to describe him,” said frequent customer Eric Pateer, “it would be ‘gentleman.’ No, make that intelligent. Decent conversationalist, too. Knows his cars. Good barber, for sure. I guess one word doesn’t do it.”
Hamilton can be reached at 530-621-3807 or check out RPM PhotoArt on Facebook or e-mail email@example.com.