I just discovered that "Li'l John" Buttera, legendary street rod and funny car master builder died on March 2nd due to complications from brain cancer at age 68. His death came just four days after that of his fellow hotrod builder Boyd Coddington.
John Buttera was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1939 and began building dragsters there as a kid. A chance meeting with another racing legend, Mickey Thompson, led to his moving to Southern California in the late 1960s, where he worked on, among other things, Thompson's World Land Speed Record streamliner.
The trend setting Buttera went on to build and design almost every type of racing vehicle in the motor world, from street rods to dragsters, funny cars and Pro Stock machines, even customized motorcycles. After he opened his own chassis shop in Cerritos, Buttera’s skills led to working with many of the greats in those halcyon days of drag racing in the 1960s and 70s, including Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen, Shirley Muldowney and Don Schumacher. His Funny Cars were lightening fast pieces of art, with their sleekly elegant and simple lines, suspended low in a beautifully wicked stance. And they also won championships.
Buttera’s stellar reputation as a builder of street rods began in about 1974 when he redesigned a 1926 Tall T Ford, it would be the first in a long series of influential cars. His subtle craftsmanship and superior engineering skills were unmatched. Buttera’s rods like his white ’29 roadster, John Corno’s ’32 roadster (that won the 1980 Oakland America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award), and his ’33 Willy’s model 77, were in a class by themselves, constantly thrilling hot rod enthusiasts. He is credited as being the first to carve customized parts for street rods, race cars and motorcycles from solid chunks of billet aluminum.
Some of Buttera's other famous creations are the 1970 Indy-winning Funny Car of Don Schumacher and his own stock-block-powered 1987 Indianapolis 500 entry, which garnered him the Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award for technical achievement.
Many who knew him described Buttera as a real character, I’m not surprised. Recently STREET RODDER Magazine said of John Buttera, “He was the first true craftsman in the street rod industry, the pre-eminent car builder of his era, perhaps any era.”Buttera is survived by his son Chris, daughter Leigh, and two grandchildren.