The lights dim. The stage is set. A crowded dark room is blanketed by a subtle hush. Notes from a saxophone fill the air while a single spotlight shines an empty area on the stage. Out of the shadow, a subtle flick of a long slender leg and black heel dip into the light. Then another. Two flicks of a kick, and the rhythmic back beat drops in. A tall sexy blonde appears. Her body lightly covered in cabaret. She reaches out to caress a golden brass pole. With motion and sass, she teases the crowd, rhythmically circling, sexually flaunting. She — along with the other burlesque dancers are ready to start the show.
This is Tonya Kay, a Hollywood actress, owner — and one of the many show girls in “Tonya Kay’s Pin-Up Pole Show,” a vintage burlesque production that’s filled to the rim with pin-up girls and hot rods. So being that Tonya began this 1955-1965 themed sexual carnival, there’s no question if she’s a gear head. In fact, Tonya holsters serious wrenching skills with a ton of cool projects under her belt.
But first, lets step back before the days of movie screens and stage shows to growing up in Michigan with her dad — and a 1969 GTO. Tonya loved cars and was instantly attracted. She used to jump in and out the windows of the goat like the Duke Boys of Hazzard County. Years later, when finally able to drive, she picked up a 1974 Ford farm truck. With oversized tires and a clunky 4-speed pushed by a 390ci big block. “The gears were so low, I always had to take off in 2nd.” She said.
Unfortunately one winter, the low gears gave way to the icy roads a Tonya rolled the Ford into a ditch. Hanging from the ceiling by the lapbelt, she knew it was done for. The entire cab and body was crushed. Her dad was furious. But in this moment, he saw a chance to create a learning experience out of the situation. So she purchased another truck cab and restored it together.
“I was so angry at him for making me do it this . . . but by the time is was done, I had such a great time and it created an amazing connection with my dad.”
Several years later Tonya left home and headed to Chicago, New York and finally Los Angeles to perform. Between screen-time she filled her days maintaining alternative waste vegetable oil (WVO) fuel systems for several Volkswagen Jetta diesels. But since no mechanic shop would accept a car that runs on deep fryer grease, Tonya did a majority of the research and development herself. She ended up building three different autos — all running on vegetable oil
“Doing this, I found out how disgusting the grease we cook our food in is!” She said. She recalls that one of the weirdest repairs was a fuel line clog. The tank ended up being filled with sludge due the bacteria growth — from heating the grease to maintain the fuel mixture. Five gallons of sludge!
At this point, she decided it was time to move back to the basics. So the search began for something simple and classic. Something with flare and style. Originally looking for ’71-’73 Riviera boat tail, she spotted a 1965 on Ebay and it was love at first site. After a long conversation with the owner, the Riviera was flat bedded out from Ohio. Here’s an excerpt from her website recalling that day the Riviera arrived;
“When I unloaded her and fired her up for the first time … I thought I had made the biggest mistake in my life! She was filthy from the cross-country drive. Her brakes didn’t work hardly at all. She was stalling out on me and I couldn’t figure out how to open the doors with no handles.
I knew right then, that I needed to rearrange my perspective of what owning a classic car was going to be like.”
Tonya went straight to work rehabbing what she now calls, the “Grape Space Coaster.” Starting with basic restoration mods, she refurbished the braking system, a majority of the mechanical components, plus all of the little tid-bits’ that old cars need updated. Then she refreshed the driveline by rebuilding the original transmission B&M shift kit. Next was the motor.
Apparently, in one portion of the “Grape Space Coasters” past life, the third owner dropped in a 401ci big block in and the fourth owner modified it for drag racing. Though when Tonya first fired it up, the old 401 sounded pretty rough. So after some serious tuning and carb work, Tonya had all eight cylinders humming a healthy, muscular tune. Lastly, she freshened up the body with an update paint scheme of its current color, a lovely Amethyst Plum.
Now days the “Grape Space Coaster” is fenders deep in all kinds of local action. Not only is Tonya showcasing the Riviera at LA car shows, cruise-ins and sci-fi pinup photo shoots, it’s also become a center piece for Pin-Up Pole Show. “There’s an impressive number of female car owners that are now coming to the show . . . they’re coming because they are finding out that most the cast members are into cars, paint and customizing.” Tonya said.
So what’s next for the Tonya and the “Grape Space Coaster?” Tonya says that she’ll continue to drive it of course! Apparently taking the old Riviera on cruises from Hollywood to the Pacific Coast Highway are one of her favorite things to do. She also informed us about a new project that’s in-store – and with the amount crazyness this girl’s doing, who knows what it could be. All we can say is that it’ll be a site to see.
To see more about the complete history of the “Grape Space Coaster,” Tonya invites you to visit her car diary at www.grapespacecoaster.com
Plus! Check out her latest film projects and much more at www.tonyakay.com
Then don’t forget to visit Tony’s “Pin-Up Pole Show” event dates at – www.pinuppoleshow.com