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The widow of famed hot rod designer Boyd Coddington surveys the Coddington-brand name creations at Poor Boys Hot Rods in La Habra. These include: The Lizard King, a shiny metallic green 1960 Mercury station wagon recognizable from the reality show "American Hot Rod" and the Boydster II, a semi-famous spinoff of a 1932 Ford roadster. Boyd Coddington died Feb. 27 at age 63. He left behind 10 partially built cars, dozens of designs and renderings of future cars, a hot rod consignment business and a custom wheel shop. And no will. Since Boyd`s death, Jo, 51, has trudged through a litany of challenges, trying to keep her husband`s legacy - and her purpose - alive. Her vision was to stay involved in hot rods.
Jo grew up in Paradise, Arizona, the youngest of two girls. Her father owned a gas station and an auto repair shop. As a hobby, he refurbished cars. The old man`s vehicles were primitive versions of hot rods. But if Daddy was a car guy, Jo naturally grew up a car girl. At about age 6 Jo started racing, first go-carts, then motorcycles and sand rails. She raced anytime, anywhere. And she kept racing into her 20`s. Jo was always hanging with the "hot rodders", during a time, she says, when "nice girls weren`t supposed to hang out with hot rodders." She got married to Thomas McGee at age 18, had two sons, Thomas and Robert, and divorced. Eventually, she moved to Orange County. Jo then married again. Her second husband, Gary Callahan, had been in a head-on collision prior to their marriage. Though he was never diagnosed as neurologically impaired, Jo suspects he may have suffered brain damage. He also kept a gambling habit secret from Jo. On Jan. 11, 1996, Callahan was visiting Jo`s father in Arizona and talking on the phone to Jo, back home. "He said he was going to kill himself," Jo recalls. "He said, `I`m done � it is over. I can`t go on.`" Then she heard a gun shot. Jo slumped into depression, blaming herself for her Callahan`s death. She had nightmares for years after the experience, waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of gunshots in her dreams.
In August, 1997, a friend introduced Jo to Boyd Coddington at Hot August Nights, an annual hot rod festival in Reno, Nevada. Jo teamed up with Boyd - romantically and professionally - as he began rebuilding his business and his reputation. He started a wheel company in the late 1990`s, opened a shop in Anaheim and eventually moved it to La Habra. Jo and Boyd married on Aug.28, 2002. Good fortune came when the Coddingtons were approached about staring in a reality show about hot rod building. "When we first started the TV show, we knew were going to live in a fish bowl. But Boyd thought there would be more plusses to it then negatives," Jo said. "He wanted to be able to make a difference in the industry. He would tell his guys we are making history." The show, "American Hot Rod" aired on the Discovery Channel from 2004 to 2007 and the Coddingtons gained celebrity status transcending beyond the hot rod world.