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The past returns on Mother's Day

For Canyon Country resident Jamie Lee Nudie, the best Mother's Day ever will arrive in a 1964 statio

Posted: May 11, 2008 4:23 p.m.
Updated: July 12, 2008 5:04 a.m.
or Jamie Lee Nudie, Mother's Day will arrive in a long, classic, 1964 Pontiac Bonneville Safari Wagon suited with rattlesnake hide - all the way from Canada.

The custom car, designed by her famous grandfather, Nudie Cohn - celebrity "Rodeo Tailor to the stars" - is expected to pull into her Santa Clarita driveway today, the final stop on an international journey home.

For Nudie, left parent-less in 1985, and who has struggled raising three kids and looking after her grandmother until she died two years ago, the custom car designed by her grandfather is coming home.

"I had tears in my eyes when I was told," she told The Signal this week.

Only 18 custom cars were designed by her grandfather.

One of them - a white 1975 El Dorado Cadillac fitted with Texas longhorns - remains on display at the Peterson Automotive Museum in West Los Angeles.

Two of the "Nudie Cars" were purchased by a Canadian oil man who recently sent Jamie Lee Nudie an e-mail saying he wanted to give her the Safari Wagon when he learned how much she loved and respected her grandfather after reading her 2004 book, "Nudie The Rodeo Tailor."

"He said he bought my book and was so taken by it and by my devotion to my grandfather that he said, 'I would love to see you buy it.," Nudie said.

Richard Koestsier of Calgary, Alberta, is going to sell his one-of-kind vintage car to the designer's granddaughter for the price of one dollar.

"I was just so overwhelmed by his generosity," she said, explaining that the car could not have arrived a better time.

Long journey home

When her grandfather died in 1984, Jamie Lee Nudie's oldest daughter Desiree was only 3 years old, her other daughter, Yvette, just 12 months.

A year later, her father died.

Then in 1990, the year her only son was born, her mother died, leaving Jamie Lee working to look after her grandmother, two girls aged 9 and 7, and a newborn, Marc Anthony.

"When my grandfather made that car, he told me that car was made for my grandmother to drive me around in," Nudie said.

She said she always wanted to buy the car, but tough times stood in the way of that ever happening.

That was until the oil man from Calgary contacted her. He had acquired the car for $26,000.

"I told him 'I don't have that kind of money.' Then he wrote back to tell me 'This car really does belong with you. I want you to have it,'" Nudie said.

It was at that point that Koestsier reduced his selling price to a single dollar.

"So, he's leaving tomorrow from his home in Canada," she said, "arriving at my door on Mother's Day."

Koestsier has reportedly put the car inside a van and is towing the vehicle to Jamie Lee Nudie.

"After he read my book he understood the drive I have to keep Nudie's name alive," she said.

She said she didn't tell Koestsier that the Safari Wagon - complete with guns and horns (the cattle kind) and rattlesnake skin - was purposely made for her grandmother to drive her around in.

"I was born in 1961. The car was (modified) in 1964," she said.

"My grandfather was the one who designed all these cars. I feel so blessed. My grandfather is in my thoughts all the time."

Power of rhinestones

Before he was Nudie Cohn, the Russian tailor - who quickly found acclaim in America fastening rhinestones on jackets emblazoned with images of pheasants and feathers - was Nuta Kotlyarenko.

That's the name baby Nudie Cohn was given in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1902.

He changed his name shortly after arriving in the United States.

He met a young woman in Mankato, Minn., whom he married in 1933. Her name was Bobbie.

The young couple moved to New York and Nudie began creating costumes for show girls.

It was there he learned the significant appeal of rhinestones.

In 1940, two years after Jamie Lee Nudie's mother, Barbara, was born, the Nudie family moved to California, bringing their rhinestone fascination with them.

Once here, Nudie struck a deal with Western icon Tex Williams (the Justin Timberlake of his day) to make band outfits with elaborate personalized piping.

Stars of the time quickly lined up outside the door of his shop, "Nudie: The Rodeo Tailor," including Lefty Frizzell, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and the biggest star of them all, Elvis Presley.

Business grew by leaps and lapels, convincing the Nudies in 1963 to open up a bigger shop on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood, a few miles from their original shop at Victory and Vineland.

Elaborate design and the secret power of rhinestones, however, convinced Nudie to do to cars what he found success in doing to costumes.

Although only 18 autos were made with fancy design, silver studs and gun decor, all with exotic upholstery, the vehicles earned a place of their own in Hollywood lore.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger can look back on "Twins," the movie he made with Danny DeVito, and see Nudie's enhanced El Dorado, steer horns and all.

Jamie Lee Nudie tried to keep the shop going after her grandfather died in 1984, at age 81.

Ten years later, when Bobbie Nudie turned 81, she closed the store.

Since then, Jamie Lee Nudie has been working tirelessly to preserve the name her grandfather made for himself.

To watch the 1964 Nudie-customized Bonneville Safari Wagon arrive at her doorstep - via Montana, Idaho, Reno and Bakersfield, where another of the "Nudie Cars" sits on display - will mark a positive new beginning, she said.

"I get goose bumps just thinking about the timing, the time it's supposed to arrive," she said.

No better time

Kelilani Nicole Valedez is expected to be born to Nudie's daughter Desiree on June 17.

"This is such a heartfelt time for me," she said, pointing out again that her grandfather designed the Safari Wagon for her grandmother.

"Now I'm going to be the one driving my granddaughter around," she said.

Her other daughter, Yvette, is scheduled to be married Oct. 24.

"I'm going to drive to her wedding in that car," she said.

As for her son, now 18, Jamie Lee said he can sit behind the wheel of the car but that she will be sitting behind him - with the keys.

"My grandfather used to pull me around in a little red wagon. I still have that wagon," she said. She might not follow her grandfather's practice of attaching the wagon to the back end of the Safari wagon, but she will use it.

And, when the Calgary oil man shows up on her doorstep with the keys, selling her the car for one dollar, Jamie Lee is going to pay him just as her grandfather used to do.

"He used to put a sticker with his own face on it, on top of the face of the president on the dollar bill," she explained. "He used to say 'When you get tired of me, just rip off the sticker and spend it.'"

She still has the sticker and plans to glue it to the bill when she pays for a very unique piece of family history.

She's going to leave her grandfather's sticker in place on the dollar bill because she hasn't tired of him yet.


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