Black-and-Gold: Just for the Hel-o-met

1950 Willys Jeepster decorated in tribute to the Pittsburgh Steelers

“The Helmet,” Ray Kasunick’s 1950 Willys Jeepster Steelermobile

The hood ornament is a six inch goal post. It’s planted right where it ought to be, just past the end zone of the white-lined football field spread across the hood of the car. Side mirrors are housed inside enameled half footballs and you’ll find bottle openers mounted on each of the rear fenders. A polished, functioning pony keg is bracketed to the back bumper.

What you’ll notice first, however, is the enormous dome-like roof. In every way–from the rounded ear-protecting extensions, windshield eye cutout, face mask, and team logos*–it is a Steelers football helmet fit for a giant.

grill and hood of 1950s era Willy's Jeepster decorated in tribute to the Pittsburgh Steelers

Goal post ornament perfectly placed for the hood football field

“The Helmet,” Ray Kasunick’s ultimate Steelermobile, came about by a series of chance events.

The Willys-Overland Motors Company ceased to exist more than 50 years ago. Their convertible Jeepster model was produced for just three years, between 1948 and 1950. In the world of classic cars, the Jeepster is a rare breed.

It’s not every day that you inherit three of them all at once. But that’s exactly what happened when an old friend of Kasunick’s moved out-of-state and couldn’t take his trio of classic Willys carcasses with him. So Ray ended up with the lot. Having already resuscitated a pair of pre-war Fords into slick, chopped hot rods, Kasunick seemed like an ideal candidate to bring one of the Jeepsters back to life.

detail of 1950s era Willy's Jeepster showing "HELMET" personalized license plate and mounted bottle opener

The Helmet’s personalized license plate and one of two rear fender mounted bottle openers

By this point, Kasunick’s friend Joe Grimm had converted a mid-60s Plymouth Belvedere into a certified black-and-gold flag-waving Steelermobile. Seen in an undated photograph, the two-tone paint job cleverly outlines the boxy squared-off shapes of the Plymouth. The car’s crowning glory, quite literally, was an oversized Steelers helmet placed squarely at the center of the roof.

The die was cast, the gauntlet thrown down. Kasunick and a small crew of friends spent the next couple years filling his North Hills garage/workshop with paint fumes and bent steel, wood frames and blown fiberglass. The Helmet was on.

two classic cars decorated in tribute of the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Helmet with one its inspirations–Joe Grimm’s mid-60s Plymouth Belvedere Steelersmobile [photo courtesy of Ray and Kathi Kasunick]

Rehabbing an old car from bare metal is plenty of work all on its own. Constructing a high-concept, functioning, street-legal football helmet roof is quite another challenge.

Kasunick, working with his friend Ed Staley, created the form from arched quarter-inch steel rod, chicken wire, foam rubber, and finally a blown-on fiberglass shell. The rough black surface comes from pickup truck bed liner. Paint job details for the Steelers logo and football field on the hood were applied by a very steady, dedicated hand.

polished half beer keg mounted onto back bumper of car painted in tribute to Pittsburgh Steelers

Rear bumper working keg/cooler

The rest of the features–including two rear seats from Three Rivers Stadium, team-specific interior fabric upholstery, and a football-shaped translucent rear window–all fell into place, friends chipping in where they could. The split football side mirrors come from a donated trophy, cut in half and bracketed to the window frames.

A number of the design elements–most notably the shiny keg, but also the twin Penn Pilsner tap handles on the front bumper, mounted bottle openers, and inside door decorations–all point to Kasunick’s past life. If the name is familiar, you probably remember Kasunick’s eponymous beer distributor on East Street, Northside. He recently retired after forty years in the business.

roof of Kasunick Steeler car signed by Frenchy Fuqua

“I’ll never tell.” The Helmet signed by #33 Frenchy Fuqua

Today, Ray and his wife Kathi enjoy taking The Helmet out–to games, to car cruises, and tailgate parties–often including nursing or retirement homes. “Anywhere it can bring a smile to someone’s face,” Kasunick says.

So far, The Helmet has been signed by one Dynasty-era Steeler, Frenchy Fuqua, who included the teaser “I’ll never tell.” Michigan native Fuqua reportedly told the couple, “I need a picture with you to show them how you do it back in Detroit.” The Kasunicks would love to get additional Steelers to autograph The Helmet.

two seats from Three Rivers Stadium used as back seats in a Steelers tribute car

The Helmet’s back seats came from Three Rivers Stadium. Its rear window is a translucent football.

No matter where you stand on boofing, ralphing, summer skiing, and the devil’s triangle, it’s been a rough week all around. It feels a little like the whole country got beat up and no one’s recovered yet. So it’s probably a little pollyanna to focus on sports fandom when there are much more important national discussions going on.

But one of the great things about sport is its ability to unify in a way few other things do [the weather, maybe? is it Friday yet?]. Not everyone likes professional football–and there’s a lot to take issue with–but every type of person does. In this time of such great division, the simplicity of one antique car, lovingly turned into a fantastic, goofy game-day oddity feels like just what we need. Why? Well, just for the hel-o-met.

Ray and Kathi Kasunick in front of their 1950s era Willy's Jeepster painted in tribute to the Pittsburgh Steelers

Ray and Kathi Kasunick in the home garage where The Helmet was built, North Hills


* Yes, The Helmet (the car) has Steelers logos on both sides; the team has the unique helmet design where the logo only appears on one side. The Orbit failed to ask Kasunick about this design decision, but it looks great.

Black-and-Gold: Steelermobiles

car painted gold with black trim, Pittsburgh, PA

Type B: Heinz Field

PANTONE: PMS 1235 C. The bright color is undeniably in the yellow family, but it’s a deep-hued, bold, traffic-stopping yellow. It appears in street lane markers and yells loudest when you really need to pay attention. It’s also rich and warm with a lot of orange–not like those namby-pamby lemon yellows, canaries, and daisies.

Around here, the color is better known as Steelers gold (never “yellow”) and an outsized portion of Pittsburgh’s motorists have special-ordered it from car dealers, then washed, buffed, and shined it in their driveways to preserve maximum luster.

Collectively, these vehicles are Steelermobiles and there exist three distinct categories of dedication.

black SUV decorated with Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates stickers

Type A: Strip District

black and gold SUV with Pittsburgh Steelers logo

Type A: South Side

Type A: Certified Steelermobiles

The prototypic, incontestable, four-wheeled Steeler machine. These are black-and-gold hot rods, pickups, and sport utility vehicles so clearly decorated for Steeler fandom there can be no confusion or argument to the mission of their decoration. These cars exist to win professional football championships–or, at least to convey die-hard Steeler fans to the region’s purveyors of malted beverages, jalapeño poppers, and loaded nacho platters.

To fit this category, the vehicle must be fully painted in the Steelers black-and-gold color scheme. Typically there’s a base coat of one with significant detail accents in the other. These often take the form of sporty racing stripes to reinforce the athleticism of the Durango or PT Cruiser.

Additionally, the owner needs to have decorated his or her ride with the team name, insignia, and/or other after-market über-fan branding in a (semi-)permanent fashion. Those clip-on game day window flag attachments ain’t going cut it.

black and gold Hummer in front of single-family frame houses, Arnold, PA

Type B: Arnold

black and gold Ford Mustang in front of gray wall, Arnold, PA

Type B: Arnold

Type B: Black-and-Gold Road Warriors

These vehicles are almost entirely of the Steeler gold color, but with enough black detail work that we can assume the color selection was no coincidence. They must also be outfitted with Pennsylvania plates and be located in metro Pittsburgh or be spotted in one of the Heinz Field parking lots. Otherwise, it just starts to get too iffy.

Type B Steelersmobiles won’t, however, have the explicit labeling that’s required to be A-1 prime. We imagine that’s where a lot of spouses have drawn the line. Honey, you can have the bright yellow color, one might say, but you don’t get to put your football stickers all over my brand new Grand Cherokee. If only congress could achieve this level of compromise.

black and gold vehicle, Pittsburgh, PA

Type C: Friendship

convertible Volkswagen Beetle painted gold, Pittsburgh, PA

Type C: Steelers Beetle, Bloomfield

Type C: Goldenrods

The vaguest of the bunch. Type C Steelermobiles are painted predominantly in our old friend PANTONE 1235, but with no other identifying visual. In any other metropolis, the lollygagging ne’er-do-well spotting this vehicle on the street would simply remark on its garish electric orange-yellow paint job and move along. But in metro Pittsburgh, that particular color takes on a very special meaning.

This one brings up all sorts of psychological questions. Did the owners of these vehicles choose the color simply because they like bright yellow? Or instead because they’re die-hard football fans? Would they consider themselves in the category of the former, yet be subconsciously swayed to the latter by the pure osmosis of Mike Tomlin’s juju? It’s a heady subject, indeed.

black and gold Smart car, Pittsburgh, PA

Type B: Mendelson “Steeler Heaven” mobile, East Liberty

Smart car painted black and gold for A-1 Transit, Pittsburgh, PA

Type A: [Steelers logos on other side], East Liberty

As we know, correlation is not causation. Also, there are plenty of gold/yellow cars owned by people outside of Allegheny County who couldn’t give a damn about professional football. Some will dispute this whole theory. It’s a pretty weak frame to hang an investigation on, sure, but hear this blogger out.

The sheer volume of local cars and trucks tricked-out in electric Steeler gold makes this a phenomenon worth our attention. The dozen or so photos collected here are but the tip of the iceberg–there are so many Steelermobiles around town that we simply stopped bagging them after a while due to the incredible overload of options.

black and gold sport utility vehicle, Pittsburgh, PA

Type B: Lawrenceville

Ford Mustang painted gold with "Serious Issues" decal, Pittsburgh, PA

Type C: “Serious Issues 2”, East Liberty

Gone are the days (sigh) where the true faithful hand-painted their pop-up campers and shaggin’ wagons in team colors for the Sunday ritual. [Yes: we’re doing our best to collect these as we see them, but they’re few and far between.]

Like the players on the field, the bleacher crowd has moved on to a whole other level of box seat business professionalism now–factory-perfect paint jobs, mass-market team-official decals, license plate holders, and trailer hitch covers. Like punk rock apparel sold in chain stores at the mall, the fans have come out of the closet and parallel-parked their fleet of high-gloss war machinery right out front for everyone to see it.

black and gold pickup truck, Pittsburgh, PA

Type B: Lawrenceville

gold pickup truck, Pittsburgh, PA

Type C: Lawrenceville

Ram pickup painted in Pittsburgh Steelers black and gold

Type A: [with “Lord of the Rings” license plate frame and team logo trailer hitch] Bloomfield

Jeep painted gold with black details and Steelers decals, Hyde Park, PA

Type A: Hyde Park, PA

Jeep painted gold with black convertible top

Type C: Route 28, headed south

Jeep painted gold with black convertible top, Pittsburgh, PA

Type C: Bloomfield

front grill of a 1970's Cadillac with "DUBL YOI" Virginia license plate

Type B: DUBL YOI [Tribute to late former Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope], Schenley Park