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Larry Pointer Files

October 2, 2015

Confessions of a Conquistador Part 3

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Written by: Larry Pointer
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CONFESSIONS of a CONQUISTADOR Part 3

 

Putting “Aside” I have to confess isn’t actually sending “Away”. Anyway, some say there is no such thing as “Away”, especially for our Planet’s material wastes. Or in my case, “no matter where you go, there you are”. I had laid ”Aside” my custom car passions to focus on schooling, but the closest to putting those passions “Away”, was more like “Layaway”.

 
I did say this was an addiction, didn’t I.

I was at school, February 3, 1959, the day the music died. Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens were playing a gig that stormy night at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. After the dance they got on a plane they had chartered to get to their next venue at Moorhead, Minnesota. Six miles out of Clear Lake, the plane went down in a corn field. All were killed. My roommate in college was Phil Fisher. He was from Clear Lake, and actually had been at the performances at the Surf Ballroom that fateful night. He was profoundly affected. As were all of us of the rock ‘n roll generation. Don McLean expressed this grief for each and every one of us in the lyrics of his song “American Pie”. It was, indeed, the day the music died.
 

CCC-pointer-confesions-conq-buddy-03-02Buddy Holly performing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

 

 
 
When I returned to school in Iowa in ’62, I was newly married and had two quarters ahead of me before the passing of the sheepskin across the palm. I was driving a lowered, Cameo Coral/Snowshoe White ’53 Ford Victoria. To me, that hardtop was a class design, with a just-right loft to the roofline designed by Gordon Beuhrig. He is best remembered, though, as the stylist who also had created the ’35 Auburn and the iconic coffin-nose Cord of 1936. There is one more thing I can tell you about that honeymoon Ford. With cut coils, when I hit the concrete slab highways of South Dakota, the rebound rate of those springs matched perfectly the arrival at each next expansion joint in the concrete. We literally rocked back to Iowa.

That Victoria carried us through, from Wyoming to Iowa, back to Minnesota for more school, and back to the old hometown for even more school. This last, however, would bring a role reversal. I was to be the teacher. But none of it would have worked out that way, or even might never have happened, were it not for another of my Conquistador friends. I had purchased the Victoria just before time to return to Iowa in ’62. To my chagrin, a faint but tell-tale tick could be heard from down inside the Ford flathead. Rod bearings! Dick Holcombe rumbled up to my dad’s garage in his Olds powered ’32 Plymouth coupe. “No problem, put it up on blocks, go down to the parts store and pick up some new inserts. We’ll fix ‘er right up.” And he did, just like that. No problem.
 

CCC-pointer-confesions-conq-03-Ford-03Impression of my Cameo Coral-Snowshoe White ’53 Ford Victoria in 1962.

 

 
 
I owe a debt of gratitude to Conquistador Dick Holcombe that I never can fully repay. He and I had grown up together, neighbors from before school, and classmates for twelve years more. I have always admired his unflappable, can-do attitude, and wickedly funny sense of life’s absurdities. We are verging on 75 now, and Life’s funny and not so funny twists and turns have taken us down divergent pathways, to different zip codes. But whenever I pick up the phone, or pass through his neck of the woods, it’s like we never had been apart. Friendships are Life’s most precious Treasures.
 
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When we rolled in to the Twin Cities in February, ’63, the Ford was towing a trailer filled with all our earthly possessions. We hit Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis at rush hour in the bitter cold. As I pulled onto a side street, the lowered Ford dropped a front wheel into a chuckhole, and high centered right there in the middle of the street. There I was, stuck. Car, covered trailer, the whole shebang. I got the bumper jack out and levered the Ford up to teeter in the air, while I found something…probably school books… to slide into the chuck hole beneath the tire. Welcome to Winter in Minnesota!

It wasn’t all bad for a car addict back in the Midwest, though. In Des Moines and again in Minneapolis we attended car shows like those I’d seen in the little pages, and only had dreamed of ever getting to see first-hand. I wandered, dumb-struck, past customs I’d only read about: Carl Casper’s Empress. Dave Puhl’s Trendero. A bit over the top. But several out of the Alexander Brothers stable really spoke to me. Those, and a ’48 Plymouth coupe, mildly chopped to create a perfectly proportional sleek form. That car had silver metallic flecks in its black lacquer paint. Metallic Black! I did take photos, but they never made it through with me. Only the images burning in my feverish mind.
 

CCC-jenkins-confesions-conq-03-caspersCarl Casper’s “Empress” (photo courtesy of of Dave Jenkins)

 

 
 

CCC-jenkins-confesions-conq-03-trenderoDave Puhl’s “Trendero” (photo courtesy of of Dave Jenkins)

 

 
 
CCC-jenkins-confesions-conq-03-victorianFrom my favorite builders, the alexander brothers, the Ford Victoria.  (photo courtesy of of Dave Jenkins)

 

 
 

CCC-aboss-confesions-conq-03-adonisAnd the Alexander Bros created Adonis.

 

 
 
At the Minnesota Dragways in ’63, I thrilled at the Whoooosh as the Arfons brothers lit the afterburners of their Green Monster Jet Car and blasted down the dragstrip. Did I mention I had a “Forrest Gump” kind of life path?
 

CCC-pointer-confesions-conq-03-monsterThe Green Monster Jet Car. (photo courtesy of Woody Barber)

 

 
 
I got to thinking. The old flathead was getting a lot of miles on it. When I finished school, I thought I would upgrade the running gear. My covered trailer was empty. So I made my way down to a wrecking yard on the banks of the Mississippi there in St. Paul. An Olds 98 had just come in. As they were preparing to part it out for salvage, I asked if the engine was good. “Yeah, it drove in here on its own power. Here, I’ll fire it up and you can listen to it.” I did, and I bought the engine. They pulled it out of the car and dropped it into my trailer. I could get it back to Wyoming at Christmas.
 
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One bitter cold early Saturday morning as I walked to the St. Paul campus, I saw a commotion at the door of the Student Center. There, wedged against the doors was my crude “Beverly Hillbillies” trailer. Students guffawed and tittered, while I scratched my head. I had parked the covered trailer with other student trailers, beside the street leading by the school. Across the street sat a row of Fraternity Houses. The light came on! Frat Rats had a Friday night party, thought a bit of mischief was in order, spied my trailer and the lot of them dragged and pushed it up the steps to the Student Center. I went home, got my Ford Victoria, and some of the same fellows who had placed it there helped me get it down and hooked onto my car. “We were wondering why that thing was so heavy,” one confided, when they learned they had been moving about a trailer with an 800 pound Oldsmobile V8 inside!
Are we having fun yet?
 

CCC-pointer-confesions-conq-03-05St. Paul Student Center entrance.

 

 
 
With the changing times of the world of custom cars, it was the creativity of Larry and Mike Alexander that I identified with most. Inevitably, the sketchbook came out, and a design began to evolve for my ’53 Ford Victoria. I always was impressed with a ’52 Ford Victoria owned by Chuck Johnson of the Tacoma Toppers and featured in Custom Cars, June, 1958. How the ’50 Mercury grille shell cleaned up the front end especially was striking. I still was impressed with Frenchy Holbert’s use of ’53 Buick headlight rims. For a grille, the ’54 Pontiac just seemed a natural when surrounded by the Mercury shell. To cap off the grille bar ends, a pair of bullets would complete the look of Smooooth!
 

CCC-pointer-confesions-conq-03-Chuck-johnson1952 Ford Victoria created for Chuck Johnson of the Tacoma Toppers was the inspiration for the front end on my own 1953 Ford. (photos courtesy of Dick Page)

 

 
 

CCC-pointer-confesions-conq-03-skets-00First series of sketches for my own 1953 Ford Victoria from early 1963.

 

 
 
Along the sides of the Ford envisioned in my sketch of ’63, I again paid tribute to Frenchy Holbert’s brilliant borrowing from Oldsmobile in ’55 with their “flying colors” trim piece, this time a total reverse of the Olds configuration, running forward and downward from the side window back edge to meet the forward tip of a horizontal spear, mounted low on the body. I raised the rear fender openings and added flares to match those of the front fenders. This change reflects the ‘60s trend away from fender skirts, and a nod to the Virgil Exner’s flair fashion in the Chrysler stable beginning in 1955. Baby moon hubcaps stick with the “less is more” lessons I slowly was learning.

CCC-pointer-confesions-conq-03-Buick-01The brand new 1963 Buick made a huge impact on me, and I wanted to incorporate many styling features of the Buick into my 1953 Ford.

 

 
 
By 1963, bumpers were giving way to a variety of nerf bar inspired designs. And finally, I added a pair of scoop depressions in the hood. I had dropped in to the Buick dealership in St. Paul to take in the new Buick Riviera models. Wow! With Champagne tastes and a Near Beer budget, I could only dream of owning such rolling sculpture. What a surprise it would be for me one day to be able to meet the car’s designer, David North, and learn he had grown up in Billings, Montana, three years ahead of me. That, and his breakthrough designs for the Pontiac GTO and the Toronado, are stories for another time.

Around back, the Buick Riviera influence of ’63 is most apparent. The large wraparound Ford rear window has been replaced with a roofline that incorporates sheetmetal panels, and a simple rectangular backlight. Sharper edges were beginning to appear on Detroit’s renderings, and these also have been used to define the roof’s rear “break”. Almost a tribute to the top bows that defined the shape of a convertible roofline.
 
 

CCC-pointer-confesions-conq-03-skets-01This set of sketches really show how much impact the 1963 Buick had on me. Notice the double hood depressions and rectangular rear window.

 

 
 
Buick Riviera also helped my shaping of the rear fender caps. The Ford tail light “barrels” have been removed to achieve more of a ’52-’53 Mercury form. I’m not sure today what I would have used to create the long, thin tail lights in the design. The rear bumpers are borrowed from the front of the ’55 Pontiacs. As were the Ford’s front bumper configuration in an earlier drawing.

On a break from school, I located a pair of ’50 Mercury grille shells, and molded them together with the front fenders to create the full oval grille opening I had admired on Frenchy’s Mercury Monterey. I also came up with a pair of 53 Buick headlight rims and frenched them in place of the round, recessed ’53 Ford items. I liked the look. By now I was using a catalyzed plastic filler of the STAR brand endorsed by Ford. It was much more flexible that the earlier Bondo materials. For interim tail lights, I cut away the center projection of the stock Ford light, and inserted a bullet shaped ’51 98 Olds lense to ride within the outer plastic Ford ring. The only photo of the car, taken of the car in Minnesota in November, 1962, shows the work in progress.
 
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The next Fall back in Sheridan, I walked into my very first class to teach. There in the front row was a line of my old buddies, some just back from the military. In the middle of the row sat “Butch”, the little brother of Conquistador Harry “Tank” Larsen.
Welcome back, Kotter!

Little brother Fred Larsen now was 6’6”, and solid as a rock. He was on the school rodeo team, and one day would be a National Finals Professional Steer Wrestler, an FBI agent, and a movie star! He was King of the Cowboys in the Paul Newman film “Buffalo Bill and the Indians”.

That Olds engine from St. Paul never made it into my custom Ford Victoria. I learned of a ’54 Buick that had been wrecked on a country road outside town. This car was the smaller Special model, but it had a “nailhead” v8, and more importantly, a rare three-speed standard transmission. With the help of fellow Conquistadors Harry Schwartz and Jimmy David, I put the entire running gear, torque tube and all, under the Ford. Harry Larsen fashioned a dropped tie-rod to clear the Buick oil pan, and the drag racing team of Conquistadors Bob Prill and Jake Jacobson re-did some distributor wiring I had gotten backwards.
 
CCC-pointer-confesions-conq-03-engine-02
 
The torque tube rear end necessitated extending the rear wheel opening back two inches. I recall patching the inner wheel tubs in my father-in-law’s basement level garage. I caught some undercoating on fire and about smoked the whole family out of the house. My long-suffering father-in-law owned the local bottle gas business, and by this time surely wished he hadn’t supplied me with acetylene! What finally plagued me most was my faulty “engineering” of a hydraulic clutch mechanism. But it was up and running again. Somewhat.

That Olds engine from the St. Paul wrecking yard I traded to Slim Richards father-in-law at Sheridan Wrecking for two sets of ’55 Pontiac front bumpers and their accompanying sheetmetal. I also had chiseled (cut-off tools weren’t invented yet) the rear section of a ’49 Ford sedan with plans to one day graft it onto the Victoria to replace its wraparound rear window area.
 

CCC-pointer-confesions-conq-03-skets-02Sketch showing the 1949 Ford Sedan rear window and the 1955 Pontiac bumpers added.

 

 
 
But, “the best laid plans of mice and men…” never came to fruition for me and my ’53 Ford Victoria dream car. Life is what happens while you are laying your plans. We were a family now. A precious son; a beautiful daughter. Priorities sort themselves out, even for custom car addicts. Dependable transportation was essential, and a 1958 Pontiac two-door post became our daily transportation. The Ford Victoria and its Buick powertrain were to find other transformations.

I still have my drawings of what was to be. I have those, and the memories…

 

Go to Part Four

Go back to Part TWO
 
 

 

 

(this article is made possible by)

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About the Author

Profile photo of Larry Pointer
Larry Pointer
Larry Pointer is a fan of Rik Hoving and the Custom Car Chronicle. He was a member of the Conquistadors Car Club of Sheridan, Wyoming in the 1950s. As he looks back over a lifetime of passion for the styling of the traditional custom car, he writes in tribute to those who influenced him, and for those who carry on the torch of passion. He is retired from the National Park Service, a former college instructor and rodeo advisor, author of western history, and now realizing his dream in building "Neferteri", a streamline moderne custom, based on a 1936 Diamond T truck.




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2 Comments


  1. Profile photo of Torchie

    Great article Larry. It is a familiar story for many of us.
    Torchie


  2. Profile photo of Tom Nielsen

    I enjoyed the story of your life after high school and starting a career while also working on a custom ’53 Ford. “The joy is in the journey!”



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