About David/Michelle

David E. Zivot as a young lad was encouraged by his father to pursue and work on “old cars”. Thought it would keep him out of trouble. Has been in trouble ever since. Interest was always the early roadsters and customs from the era 1929-1958. Michelley, without whom the boys wouldn’t keep their stories straight, documents the history, wisdom, and enjoyment, portrayed in the cars.

Bob Aguilera 53 Mercury

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Plain, simple, tastefully done. That would be the best description of my favorite 1953 Mercury restyle. The Bob Aguilera 1953 Mercury.

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The Art of Restraint-
Aguilera’s 1953 Mercury

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Plain, simple, tastefully done. That would be the best description of my favorite 1953 Mercury restyle. Plain and simple not in the sense of uninteresting, unattractive, or common… No, it is in the sense of free from distraction or complication, neither pretentious nor affected. In other words, tasteful.

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Rod & Custom December 1954 issue showed Bob Aquilera’s 1953 Mercury as part of the Reader’s Car of the Month on a two-page spread.

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This ’53 Mercury Monterey two-door hardtop appeared as a two-page spread featured as “Reader’s Car of the Month” in the December 1954 issue of Rod & Custom. The owner is listed as Bob Aguilera of San Bernardino, California. I have little information on Bob. I do believe he was a member of a fairly well known San Bernardino custom car club that featured more than a few 1952-54 Mercurys.

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1953 Mercury Brochure.

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The restyling work was performed by Dick Richardson of the same name custom shop located at Arrowhead Av and Mill St, also in San Bernardino. Although I’ve been told by a few custom guys in the S.B. area that were there, that the shop was actually owned by a guy named Al Andratti, who was the custom body man, Richardson being the very talented paint man.

The bill of particulars includes complete smoothing of hood, deck and doors, doors and trunk are of course solenoid operated. Hood scoop dechromed and altered so that it appeared to actually flow air (contrary to the R&C article, it did not). The same treatment was given to the rear fender scoops. Of course the Mercury was lowered a practical amount, 6 inches all around, with just a tiny bit more at the rear for that just right profile.

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The R&C piece sums it up beautifully, “Good taste in automotive design cannot be purchased so therefore it is priceless”.

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The ’53 grille (in my opinion the best of the ’52-’54 models) was left as is with just the small trim bars being eschewed. The hubcaps are stock. Rear bumper guards shaved. Dual exhaust with twin chrome tips exit just under the bottom edge of the bumper, although in one rear shot in the R&C feature the pipes have been artistically lengthened. Stock headlight rings sealed and blended.

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This photo, and the other three-quarter view of the front, were both taken in July 1954. These two photos were offered on Ebay a couple years ago. I think there were others in the same auction, showing club members and additional cars.

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Aftermarket flared skirts reworked and fitted to conform and blend into lower part of fender scoop area, as well as the rocker panel from the trailing edge of the stainless rocker trim. To finish this area off, three chrome windsplits are incorporated into the intake of the scoops, with small matching body color peaks formed just aft of the openings, very subtle.

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Close up shows the subtle and very well designed work that was done on the rear quarter scoops, the shortened stainless teeth, small added spears blending into the teeth, and extended down, lipped and reshaped flush fender skirts.

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And finally the wonderful use and application of the 1954 Packard Clipper model taillights. Here they are used with the stock Clipper housing, and are very nicely fitted and conform beautifully to the slightly extended fender line and curved trailing edge as it falls into the bumper. The open horizontal chrome edge of the Packard housings are again, subtly blended into small spears or fillets that finish off the taillight to fender transition with grace.

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1954 Packard Clipper taillights with stock housings are beautifully blended into the reshaped Mercury rear fenders. The small body colored spear at the leading edge of the taillights is similarly shaped as what was done on the quarter panel scoop teeth.

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Side profile from the R&C article shows the beautiful stance, slightly lower in the rear.

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This may have been one of the earliest examples of the utilization of the ’54 Clipper taillights. When this Mercury was restyled that taillight was only about five months old. Others could have used it first, but I think perhaps this was the earliest use on the 1952-54 Mercury. And in my view the most attractive element of the restyling.

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The article does not mention the interior, nor is there any indication of the paint color…I would assume seafoam or mint green, or a warm shade of cream. Both with a medium green metallic top of course, or even a powder blue or bluish grey with matching medium blue metallic top?

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The two photos of the Bob Aguilera Mercury that were offered on ebay are now part of the Zeke Carrillo Collection.

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I am not aware of any other features or articles on this mild but well executed Mercury. Any further info or car club affiliations concerning Bob Aguilera or his car would be much appreciated. Please leave a comment if you know more.

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The Original Kustoms of America

 

ORIGINAL KUSTOMS of AMERICA

 

1954 the Custom Car business was booming Nation wide. Time for George Barris to take the Custom Car Club to a new level. Kustoms Of America was founded, and would attract members from all over the US. The Original Kustoms of America.


by David E. Zivot

    George Barris, ever mindful of the monetary possibilities inherent in mass marketing, decided in late 1953 to take the Barris Kustoms mystique nationwide. And, if all went as planned, a worldwide association to spread the word, was certainly not out of the question. The term, “Kustoms”, was now going to be applied to a much wider audience than the mostly informal one loosely organized around a small group of pals that had coalesced in the mid 1940’s as “Kustoms Los Angeles”. Now, a formal organization, that would have an executive director, Ben D. Martin, and of course a president, George Barris would be created. With formal dues, newsletters, and the pride of exclusive identification; membership cards, decals, plaques, and club jackets = national bragging rights and standing. It should not be assumed that this new undertaking had a direct lineage or connection from the 1947-53 era “Kustoms Los Angeles” club, as there really wasn’t. The officially Barris sanctioned club would be known as “Kustoms of America”.

Club Plaque – Very rare original “KOA” plaque with 99% of paint finish intact. Unusual example cast in steel. May be prototype or master. All other examples I have examined are aluminum.
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The club had two basic purposes or goals. One was to promote the sport of tasteful automobile restyling and customization. This was summarized in the first roll out of the new club’s membership drive advertisements in early 1954, “The club’s goal is a sound program with aims and purposes to publicize the sport in its true light of fellowship, craftsmanship, and ingenuity.” The second purpose, and clearly a main driver for George, was the opportunity to promote the shop and its services, make a percentage on dues, membership and promotional materials, and especially a sizeable piece of the action on sales of speed parts, chrome accessories, and services provided by other related businesses, such as Gaylord upholstery, Belond Exhaust, etc. The first “KOA” ads, some of which were full page, appeared in Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Rod & Custom, Motor Life, and Car Craft.

The first Kustoms of America announcement in the magazine was in te April 1954 issue of Rod & Custom magazine. A full page add was created with the Barris name very well displayed.
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The Discount Katalog was first mentioned in the full page ad ran in the November, 1954 issue of Rod & Custom magazine.
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The KOA also ran a series of smaller ad, here is a sample from the July 1956 issue of Rod & Custom magazine.
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What would a prospective custom enthusiast get after sending in his membership form and two bucks (I should say his or her, as the club was open to women as well, and “no car necessary”)? Mailed directly to you would be an introductory letter on formal “KOA” stationery signed by George himself, a beautiful windshield decal, a membership card with your name and member number, and sometimes an Ansen’s speed equipment decal. In subsequent mailings you would receive the special discount catalog and monthly newsletter KOA Klub News. The club newsletter, which made its debut in early 1955, was then changed to a bi-monthly newsletter renamed Club News sometime in mid-1956. Members were encouraged to send in photos of their cars and report on their activities. In the first edition of the newsletter in 1955, Milton Curtis was listed as editor and William Stecyk as associate editor.

Once you singed up to be a KOA member, you would receive an envelope in the mail including an introduction letter, a personal Member Card (Charter Member Card in the photo above) and the Kustoms of America decal. (Ronnie Dragoo’s “KOA” Letter and envelope– Courtesy Bill Layman.)
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The KOA introduction letter from George Barris.
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    A note on the membership cards and decals: When first launched a charter membership timeline was offered to those who joined up prior to the cutoff date of August 1, 1954. Those who took advantage of this would receive the special charter member card in light pink, as well as the charter member decal, which also had “Barris Sanctioned” at the top of the crest. Those who joined after this date were supposed to receive the standard card in white, and the standard windshield decal with the “KOA” acronym on the crest. When each year’s dues were received, a new card would be issued with 2nd year, 3rd year, etc, printed, then later ink stamped, so as to indicate the member’s seniority. In actual practice, the Aug 1 ’54 date was largely ignored, as there are numerous examples of charter memberships well into 1956.

Plain Kustoms of America Charter Member Card.
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The white Kustoms of America Active Member Card.
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Windshield Decals– The Charter Member  version on the left and the regular non-charter member window decal on the right. These window decals as well as club jackets, patches, plaques, pins, etc, were all manufactured by “Sylized Emblem Company” in Los Angeles.
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This is how a used Kustoms of America Charter Member card looks like. Robert H. Dzemske was member since 1955. Notice the “Second Year” on the ’56 year card.
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Don Coulter Barris Restyled Oldsmobile was photographed in 1955 with a dark red painted Kustoms of America Plaque on the front bumper. The plaque was painted maroon. (Ina Mae Overman Collection)
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The “Special Discount Catalog”, which was printed January 1955, consisted of a special edition of the standard Ansen’s speed parts catalog, featuring a “Barris Kustoms of America” front and rear cover. There were eighty-eight pages of the usual hot rod and speed parts offerings. Added to the middle of the catalog between pages forty-four and forty-five are fourteen additional pages alphabetically arranged from A thru P. All the items in this special “KOA” section, including all the other Ansen’s stuff were supposed to be offered at 10% and greater discounts. In actuality the discounts only applied to very select items. (Interesting note is that the KOA catalog, at least the version we had access to, had both the top and bottom of the pages cut too short, cutting off parts of the text and photos. This indicates that the ANSEN Speed Equipment catalog might already have been printed and cut and later the KOA material, based on the Ansen catalog size was added to it. To make it all look like one catalog the three sides of the catalog had to be cut once more, hence the cut off text and images on some of the pages)

Cover and back cover of the Kustoms of America Special Discount Catalog.
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Inside pages showed all the options for KOA Members and some background about the Barris Kustoms Shop.
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Besides several pages of “regular” Custom Car products that was offered to the members with a 10% discount, there were also a few pages devoted to the Kustoms Of America Club. Including these pages for shirts and jackets, and trophies, and special KOA plaques.
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The general list of things that could be purchased were common but still desirable fare; custom grille bars, connie kits, skirts, electric door and trunk kits, spotlights, push button window lifts, hubcaps, club jackets (in the official maroon and white colors of “KOA”), a couple of blank order forms, approved plaques, lapel pins, special trophies, Gaylord “Kustom Karpets”, and so much more. The last page in the special “KOA” section had a selection of glossy 5 x 7 or 8 x 10 photo prints, featuring twenty of the more well-known Barris shop subjects.

Page with the photo print options and where you could order Gaylord Upholstery material. Barris and Gaylord have been advertising together since 1949.
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The Kustoms of America Jacket from the Catalog (Photoshopped image)
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Original 1954 Kustoms of America Award. from the James Washburn Collection.
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Now, having joined and received the membership package and attendant privileges, what activities would club management promote and recommend to its members? According to the few club newsletters that I have access to, the general focus was on the latest Barris automotive restylings, new accessory offerings, some simple and cursory customizing techniques, and interesting mentions of foreign membership from exotic places, such as Hawaii, Cuba, Argentina, the Panama Canal Zone, and Scotland. Photographs of member’s cars, projects, ideas, activities, and shows were popular. There were ambitious plans to award trophies every year for the best custom automobile in each state, concluding with a nationwide competition for the official “KOA” national champion.

The Kustoms of America Club Newsletter is very rare, the one on the left is the first issue Vol 1 – No 1. This comes from a photo taken at the special Barris Kustoms Exhibit at the NHRA museum in 2007 Only part of the newsletter was visible at the time. Originally the newsletter was named KOA Klub News with a “K”, but later it was renamed KOA Club News with a “C”.
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I spoke with a few fellows that were original members. These are some of their remembrances. This is all I could find as these guys are getting scarce.

  • Bart Bartoni – California charter member. “Well, I joined up in 1954. One of the first ones. Put the neat decal on the windshield of my car. Pretty proud of that. There were no meetings or activities that I remember. Just the Pride of being a member.”
  • Milt Goodman – Nevada active member. “I think it was late ’55-early ’56 when I became a member. Got all of the paraphernalia, decals, “KOA” plaque, club jacket. I had a semi-custom ’53 Mercury. Two other fellows from my class at Las Vegas High School joined up as well. We had one official club meeting. Two of us got girlfriends, and that was the end of the meetings. The Barris name was great status.
  • Junior & Herb Conway – California charter members. “My brother Herb and I heard about the club early in 1955. Didn’t fill in a membership blank. We went down personally to the Barris shop and gave the two dollars for the first year directly to George. There was no actual office or clubhouse where meetings took place. I think there was someone hired at another address to handle the mail and business. I’m pretty sure George sold the rights to the club after a few years.”



My research on the origins, activities, and ultimate purpose of “Kustoms of America” requires and warrants further investigation. There remains precious little information and documentation regarding this club. Who really ran or administered this organization is open to question. The club envelope return address is the 11054 Atlantic Ave Los Angeles location. Hershel Conway tells me there was no office or desk that took care of club business. The letters were perhaps sent over to the first “KOA” address of 5880 Hollywood Blvd, or the later (as of November 1954) 5864 Hollywood Blvd. And who was Ben D. Martin, listed as executive director, who disappears by March of 1956? It also appears that the membership figures were inflated. The number of actual dues paying members is not known.

A few samples of Custom Cars with the KOA decal on the windshield. (Decal on the right is from a Barris 1940 Mercury, photo by Rod Powell, now in the collection of Luke James Horton)
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Anne DeValle was a member of the Kustoms of America Club, and she had one of the Kustoms of America plaques on her Barris Kustoms created 1942 Ford. (Anne’s Ford was previously owned by Marcia Campbell.)
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There is also the question as to how long the club was in existence. The latest year on a membership card I have encountered is 1959. The couple of newsletters that I have examined have dates between 1955-58. Former members have told me that the newsletter just stopped arriving in the mail… no explanation. I must also mention that there have been a couple modern attempts to revive or reclaim the original “KOA” identity and traditional reputation. They are “Kustom Kemps of America” (KKOA) estab 1980, and the modern “Kustoms of America” estab early 1980’s. Both of which are fine clubs, but according to my research have no direct lineage or connection with the original “KOA”. One curious aspect of the promotional material of the modern “KOA” is the claim of being descended from the original “KOA” starting in 1949. That date is nebulous, as the original “KOA” was established in 1954. The earlier “Kustoms LA” origins can be traced to 1947.

I would encourage and appreciate any further information or input concerning the original “KOA”, please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle with any info you have concerning the Original KOA Club. All cynicism aside, I must conclude that ultimately George Barris was sincere in his efforts and motivations with regards to the club and its purposes. As quoted in the Big Book of Barris, George said that he wanted to, “Bring together anyone interested in custom cars, have power of association, gather like minds together for shows and events, a place to communicate news on activities in the customizing world, and generally focus attention to the achievements and contributions customizing has made to automotive design and engineering.” Indeed a worthy sentiment.







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(This article is made possible by)






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Carson Style 36 Ford

CARSON STYLE 36 FORD

David E Zivot wanted a California Top 1936 Ford Roadster Custom. Restyled in line with how the cars were built shortly after WWII. He was able to create this stunning example of the Carson Style Custom.


© by Michelle M. Yiatras
Timechanic ™
(Original article from June 2011)


Carson Style

Like Clark Gable might have felt before the War started (joyfully married, with an Oscar) and after it ended (drinking with reckless abandon), when a fellow parked his stock roadster to enlist in the Good Fight, he returned with a heightened perspective. Although he may have made the ultimate sacrifices (a limb, a spouse, a brother or uncle), he didn’t sacrifice style. These designs were stirring deep inside and reverberated in many post-War customs that matriculated from the college of WW2. Upright men and women returned to shepherd a more dignified era.

Eddie Martinez at his workbench in the summer of 2011.
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Eddie Martinez is a funny old guy, and he was a funny young guy. When he was six and his Mama told him to put the scrap boot on the beans, he thought she meant in the pot instead of in the coal stove for fuel. So that night they had “frijoles a la zapata”. When you see him today (June 2011) in his mid-70’s shuffling like Tim Conway and sore arms wrapped in gauze like the Mummy, a lot of it is for dramatic effect. He wants you to feel a little sorry for him because he knows he’s a little annoying. Eddie (Darryl Starbird’s National Rod & Custom Car HoF) has been multi-awarded for his quick draw with the sewing machine. Eddie was always the go to when you wanted upholstery or a correct Carson style top.

Eddie’s business card from back in the early 1950’s.
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He furnished a myriad range including from his first ’40 Ford (Car Craft front page & Long Beach Best Upholstery) in the mid-50’s, Barris’ ’29 Ford Model A roadster “Emperor”, Ed Roth’sOutlaw” & “Beatnik Bandit”, Larry Watson’s ’57 Cadillac Eldorado, Stone-Woods-Cook ’41 Willys Gasser, Dan Houck’s ’46 Ford convertible, to the Duncan Emmons Merc. So when the day arrived for Eddie to pass the torch over to custom and hot rod upholsterer, David Martinez (no relation), of Martinez Industries, there was definitely some fireworks. Eddie shuffled one way across David’s shop and out the door muttering, “I guess I’ll just go kill myself,” from the side of his mouth, and then shuffled back through with, “I forgot something.

David Martinez at his Martines Industries shop.
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Martinez Industries was at the time the ’36 Ford was built, located in Gardena, CA. (now located in Palm Springs, CA.) David Martinez, supplanted from Indiana, is mid-30’s and yet has the sensibilities of a post-WW2 timer. Usually he’s at his bench or in the car’s trenches applying his reet pleats to the tune of Artie Shaw, Jack Benny, or Dragnet, echoing Philco radio shows, not Eminem. He’s clad in vintage coveralls and has an earnest eye and handshake. It’s no wonder that he and David Zivot would become fast friends.

John & Virginia Wolf  at El Mirage dry lakes in 1949.
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David Zivot acquired the stock 1936 Ford roadster from AHRF Pioneer, John Wolf of Sherman Oaks, CA. David & I visited John and Virginia several times at their original So-Cal home, surrounded by magnolia trees and hummingbirds, they’ve lived in since they first got married in 1950. They are vigorous and feisty in their late-70’s and regularly attend V8 Club treks. They still look as youthful as they did at the dry lakes when they began courting in 1948. John got the car from Ray Brown (another AHRF Pioneer). Together they built the ’46 Mercury V8 flathead displacing a 3 3/8” bore and 4” stroke, J & E forged pistons, Winfield SU-1A cam, block letter Edelbrock heads, Super-Dual intake, a pair of Chandler-Groves mixers, ’39 trans with Lincoln Zephyr gear set, terminating in a ’40 Ford rear end with 3:54 cogs.
All of which Zivot freshened up mechanically and made reliable as a daily driver.

Ray Brown and Bud M. (photo courtesy AHRF).
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Before any miles could be racked up, the car was invited to be part of the GNRS 2011 special display “Customs Then and Now”, as representative of an immediate pre-War/post-War California custom. Although the car was stock when David Zivot acquired it, the goal was always an authentic as possible, chopped, black lacquered, tear drop skirted, rolled and pleated, solid hood sided, Carson top padded, boulevard runner.

Restoration work, turning the Stock ’36 Ford Roadster into an 1940’s Custom Car.
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Zivot always admired what was once known as a “California Top”, “Which has its genesis in the 1920’s, when middle to upper income owners wanted a smooth, unbroken, contour on their flashy roadsters and cabriolets. This look necessitated that the top be a non-folding, removable as a unit affair, that set the look of these so equipped cars apart from others on the street. The popularity of this style of top reached its apogee in the immediate pre-War period, interrupted by the Second World War, and continued to be popular into the early 50’s. Some of the more renown and accomplished makers of these tops were Hall, Gaylord, Switzer-Fraizer, and of course Carson-Hauser. After diligent research, Eddie Martinez was one of the only craftsmen left who could make the top accurately, with the proper materials and profile.

Building the padded top frame with the just right shape for the ’36 Ford.
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Building the headliner first so that it can be easily worked on before the outside covering is added. The the frame gets covered with straps that will hold the padding.
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With all the straps added the padding is applied and shaped. 
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Padding is followed by the outside canvas beautifully stitched.
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Nearly finished car in dark gray primer, black wall tires with Single Bar Flipper Hubcaps and the finished padded top. Just like how they looked back in the early-mid 1940’s.
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After the body was painted super gloss black David Martinez created the two tone interior with nice wide and rounded 40’s style Rolled & pleated.
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This may well probably be Eddie’s last Carson top, and elderly illnesses interfered with him finishing this top he initiated. So David Martinez, proprietor of the metal fabrication and custom upholstery shop, was enlisted. He was the driving force in completing this Carson style top in a reasonable time, and it wouldn’t have happened if not for his intervention and assistance. You’ll recognize his work on Bugs’ ’35 Ford coupe “Ruby Deluxe”, Ralph Whitworth’s ’16 Ford Model T bucket “Trojan”, Piero De Luca’s ’31 Ford Model A coupe “Live Wire”, Von Franco’s ’22 Ford Model T roadster “Lightening Bug”, and Kurt McCormick’s ’41 Cadillac convertible “Westergard Custom”, among others. The venerable Kennedy Brothers of Pomona, CA, did the preliminary suspension work to bring the car closer to earth, filled the deck and door handles, and chopped the windshield down to a manageable height. The black lacquer job was the finale work of Zivot and Alan Brunson.

Rick Lefeldt ’36 Ford Roadster from 1946.
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David Zivot is unrelenting, “The Rick Lefeldt ’36 Ford Roadster built in 1946 in Modesto, CA, was a strong influence on the ’41-46 War Years style I was after. As Don Montgomery referred to it in Authentic Hot Rods, ‘This was a very desirable car.’ To build a traditional style car and stay true to the tradition is a distinction difficult to obtain and not always accomplished. The distinction is between proper customization and over customization. There are sins and omissions that are allowable and can be overlooked. However, base coat/clear coat paint is a cardinal sin, and the particular color one chooses to paint their car ought to mirror the photographic evidence of the period. No amount of Hail Mary’s can absolve these. Yet, I didn’t nail it 100%. This car was built to a standard rather than an ideal.
Driving this car, or any type of vintage vehicle, in a modern town like Las Vegas (or Los Angeles), represents something that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s like trying to resuscitate the Rat Pack. “Especially one composed with American historical veracity,” Zivot is wistful, “The audience doesn’t get the references.






GNRS 2011 Customs Then & Now

The 62nd annual Grand National Roadster Show (aka the Oakland Roadster Show), January 28-30 at the Fairplex in Pomona, CA, Building #9, featured 75 of the most significant historical custom cars in an exclusive indoor display, “Customs: Then & Now”, as the theme for this year. Rik Hoving was one of the organizers of this part of the event, contributing his tremendous graphic design and photojournalist skills to the array. Rounding up in attendance the likes of master builders George Barris, Jack Stewart, Dean Jeffries, Blackie G, Jesse Lopez, Hershel Conway, Gene Winfield, Greg Sharp, among others, including himself, to light up the room. The cars were dazzling jewels in the constellation of customs, the Frank Kurtis Tommmy Lee 37 Ford Speedster, Harry Westergard 32 Ford Roadster, Bob Hirohata 51 Merc, Kurt McCormick 41 Buick Roadmaster, Glenn Johnson 37 Ford Roadster, Mox Miller 58 Chevy Impala, Larry Watson 58 Ford T-Bird, Mark Morton 54 Merc, so many the room was sparkling.



Overview photo of Building N0. 9 at the 2011 GNRS Customs Then & Now exhibit.
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Organizing administrator, Axle Idzardi, invited David Zivot to display his 1936 Ford roadster with the custom Carson top to represent an accurate pre-War/post-War early custom of the WW2 influenced era. Besides diligently photographing all the exhibited cars for publication reviews and archives of the Show, Rik spent weeks in advance of the Show designing and constructing the brilliant and radiant graphic signage that graced the stages. The first thing one noticed was the two large banners that were in the front of Building # Nine. Those were huge photos, with the Show logo on them. He also created 24 ceiling hanging banners, 36” X 60”. All 24 were double-sided, specially selected by Rik to complement on one side an original Business Card, and on the other side one of the cars in the room. On Sunday afternoon the banners were auctioned as collectibles and the proceeds went to charity.


These Show events don’t manifest with a magic wand. We’re always grateful and astonished at the magnum opus as a result of marvelous effort in this case by Axle Idzardi and Rik Hoving. We trust they keep their cars in the race.

The ’36 Ford banners.
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David Martinez posing withe the ’36 Ford at the GNRS 2011.
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At the GNRS Customs Then & Now in 2011.
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Side view shows the really wonderful shape of the Eddie Martinez designed padded top. 
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TECH SPEC

Original Owner: David & Louis Zivot (car has been sold to new owner)
Occupation: Historian
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Designer: David Zivot
Engine Builder: David Z
Year: 1936
Make: Ford Roadster
Color: Tuxedo Black
Paint Type: Lacquer
Painter: Jeff Savage & Alan Brunson
Engine: 1947 284 cid Mercury, br 3 3/8” x str 4”; J & E forged pistons; Winfield SU-1A cam
Trans: 1939 Ford with Lincoln Zephyr gears
Exhaust: Cast iron Fenton with dual Porter mufflers
Intake/Carb: Original Edelbrock Super-Dual with 94 type carbs
Ignition: Modified Ford crab type
Rear End: 1940 Ford banjo 3:54 final drive
Suspension: Stock Ford transverse leaf
Brakes: 1940 Ford juice
Wheels: Original 1940 Ford steelies
Tires: 600 x 16 Firestone
Seats: 1936 Ford Coupe
Upholstery: Rolled & pleated Carson style; designed by David Z; laid out & executed by David Martinez Industries
Dashboard: Stock chromed
Steering Column: Stock column with 1937 Ford box
Gauges: Stock
Headlights: Stock
Taillights: Stock
Horn: Original Garvin air horns
Steering Wheel: 1936 Ford banjo
Body: 1940 Buick skirts; 1940 Olds bumpers; 1940’s Eastern Auto Accessory solid hood sides; Original 1940’s accessory bull nose; knobs all original 1930-40’s Bakelite

Michelle created this Carson Top Shop based car show sign for the 1936 Ford.
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1936 Ford Roadster Early Style Custom

© by David E. Zivot
Timechanic ™



The ‘36 Ford roadster was never a plentiful commodity. Very seldom seen today, they were uncommonly encountered even during the 1940’s and 50’s. When featured in car oriented publications during those decades, the terms “rare”, “scarce”, and “not often found” were applied. Talking with fellows who are old enough to know (80+), ’36 Ford roadsters were coveted and well used whether hopped-up, warmed over, or customized. They say “well used” because rolling stock being hard to come by during the War years, and a couple years after, they drove the hell out of ‘em. Especially since they were light, easy to maintain, and thrifty. But most of all they were girl-grabbers. Stylish and sporty, and when lowered, smoothed, and customized, even more so.

Notice that the car’s stance is rather “high”, just as they were back in the 1940’s.
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I’d had a ’36 rag top in my past, but it was largely junk. My desire to have a really solid and straight one was complicated by the unfortunate fact that most of what you will find in the world today are not too far removed from the earlier one I had. I was close to giving up the chase when I was informed that a real hot rod guy by the name of Johnny Wolf might sell his. Now John Wolf is no ordinary early Ford V8 guy, and his roadster was no ordinary early V8. John has a long history of dry lakes, street, and Bonneville hi-speed runs. His hand at building flatheads that pour on the coals is equally legendary. So this roadster of his looks River Rouge stock on the outside. Under the hood is one of John’s Mercury flathead motors circa 1946, built by him and Ray Brown. Yes, that Ray Brown. The car was owned by Ray before selling it to John. Considering this remarkable pedigree, and that the car had this very hot flathead, I made the deal.

The round shape of the padded top flows nice with the shape of the trunk of the Ford.
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The 1940’s Eastern Auto Accessory solid hood sides make the car look so smooth.
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Now stock high-hat height Fords are not my way. So it was time for lowering all around, chopped windshield, solid hood sides, tear drop skirts, bullnose, streamline bumpers. A shave here and a shave there, and of course black nitro lacquer. The only other thing to do was the ultimate Los Angeles golden era touch. A Carson padded top. I mean Carson, because I wouldn’t have one that wasn’t as accurate and as clinically exact to the product that Glen Hauser was turning out from 1938-46. I wanted the type and profile seen just before WW2 and was in vogue until about 1947. It would only make sense to have a complementary 1940’s Carson style interior as well, right?

David Zivot studied countless old photos to capture the right mid 1940’s Carson Top Shop interior look. David Martinez was able to make it look a perfect as possible.
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This is a real Ford roadster that is set up the way they were done in California during the period 1940-47. From the City of Los Angeles proper, east to Pasadena, south to San Diego, heading west to Santa Monica, or north to Santa Barbara, this was the most desirable custom ride of the time, and represents the high end of that restyling. This particular approach is the most traditional, and yet timeless in its taste and appeal. ’36 Ford roadsters were few and far between even during the 40’s and 50’s, and were much sought after. Finding one of this caliber is even more improbable when considering the former ownership.

The two owners prior to me, Ray Brown and Johnny Wolf, both of whom are extremely well known and respected original California hot rodders, engine-chassis builders, racers, and inductees to the American Hot Rod Foundation. Ray Brown owned and drove this roadster regularly, then sold it to John Wolf, who also drove and maintained it impeccably. The built Mercury flathead motor and drive train are a result of their efforts. Anyone who knows these guys or does the research will attest to their skills at engine building and putting together old Ford roadsters. Ray Brown’s ’32 Ford roadster currently resides at the Peterson Museum (they paid $135,000 for it in 1999, valued at $350,000 today).

Michelle posing with the Ford.
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Other legendary talent had a hand in this car. Eddie Martinez built his final authentic Carson style padded top for this roadster, accurate in every detail and line. He had the expert assistance and quality workmanship of David Martinez, also a Carson top and upholstery specialist. David Martinez Industries was responsible for the exact replication of a 1940’s Carson or Gaylord interior, down to the proper carpet and contrasting binding. Plus a spot-on set of side curtains. As for the subject of California tops, they were also a very fashionable (and practical) addition to touring cars, phaetons, roadsters, and runabouts, in the U.S. during approximately the same period. It’s interesting that a motorist could acquire one through expensive coach maker and dealer sources, as well as do-it-yourself kits that the owner could assemble and install himself. I have seen evidence of these on all makes from Packard to Model T. Some appearing to be a facsimile of a folding top, while others look like later Carson style so-called padded top. Because of their construction, very few have survived for historical inspection. However they can readily be seen in the background scenes of silent films shot in sunny Southern California, featuring Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, and others.

David Martinez was also responsible for the spot-on set of side curtains for the chopped Ford.
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1940 Oldsmobile bumpers, Firestone 600 x 16 white wall tires, Hollywood flipper disc hubcaps with beauty rings on black painted ’40 Ford wheels.
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The short list of period approved modifications done, with attention to period essentials, and were considered must haves in the 40’s: lowered (pre-War) stance, chopped windshield and posts, removable padded top with headliner complementing upholstery, solid hood sides, bull nose grill, ’40 Olds bumpers, centered plate mount, smoothed deck and doors, ’40 Ford 16” rims with Firestone wide whites, Hollywood flipper disc hubcaps, ’40 Buick teardrop fender skirts, teardrop accessory sealed beam headlights. Hand rubbed black lacquer of course. Interior modifications and upgrades of the era include: ’36 Ford three-window coupe seat and seat frame (backrest lifts up for access to trunk area), chromed dash, banjo steering wheel. The two-tone rolled and pleated upholstery is done in the correct fashion of individually hand stuffed pleats and rolls with correct form and contour. Chassis, engine, and driveline highlights: ’40 Ford steering, original Ed “Axle” Stewart dago’ed (dropped) axle, tube aircraft type shocks front and rear, ’41 Ford dropped spindles and hydraulic brakes, ’40 rear end with 3:54 gears, ’39 Ford heavy duty 3 speed trans with early 26 tooth Zephyr gears. ’46 Mercury V8 flathead engine as built by Ray Brown and John Wolf to their usual specs: 284 cid, 3 3/8 bore, 4” stroke, J & E forged pistons, Winfield SU-1A cam, NOS early original block letter Edelbrock heads and early NOS Edelbrock super-dual intake manifold with a pair of NOS Holley 2110 carburetors. Ignition 59A 12127 crab style distributor. Original Fenton cast iron headers flowing into 22” Smitty’s. NOS original ’36 Ford radiator. The grill is perfect. Car runs very fast and strong, handles and drives well. This car was a low miles Ford, and retains all its original sheet metal and components that it was delivered with.


This roadster, was chosen from a very select number nationwide to participate in a limited gathering of famous, influential, or otherwise iconic customs, in a separate Building #9 at the 2011 Grand National Roadster Show at the Fairplex in Pomona. This exhibit known as “Customs Then & Now”, organized by Axel Idzardi, Rik Hoving, Jeff Neppl and Luke Karosi, displayed these representative historic customs from the early 1940’s up to the 60’s.


I was able to get the result I wanted. Thanks to Jason & Joe Kennedy (chop & lowering), Eddie Martinez, David Martinez (top & interior), Alan & Carl Brunson (paint), Michelley, & lots of design and wrench work by myself. Bart Bartoni’s 1946 photograph of Rick Lefeldt’s epoch ’36 was a spectre of inspiration.







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Mexico Runaway

 

MEXICO RUNAWAY

 

La Puente California resident Tom Hutchinson shared some of his old photos with David Zivot. He also shared an very interesting Ayala story told to him by his father, who knew the Ayalas.


Tom Hutchinson Jr from La Puente, CA. who shared these photos and the story with David E. Zivot is the little boy in some of the photos. The ’39 Merc pre-War custom and the ’36 Cabriolet were both built by and belonged to his Father Tom Sr.

CCC-hutchinson-collection-36-ford-01Tom Hutchinson Jr as a little boy with his mother and his father’s Custom Restyled 1936 Ford Cabriolet in the late 1930’s.
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CCC-hutchinson-collection-39-merc-02Tom Sr. created this chopped and padded topped (Most likely by the Carson Top Shop) 1939 Mercury Convertible. Tom replaced the stock Mercury taillights with teardrop ’38-39 Ford units.
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CCC-hutchinson-collection-39-merc-03Tom Jr. a little older now with his mother and in the background his father’s ’39 Mercury with chopped padded top.
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CCC-hutchinson-collection-39-merc-01This photo of the ’39 Mercury was taken in 1943, by then a set of ’37 DeSoto bumpers replaced the stock units. Notice that the car ran two Appleton Spotlights, during a period that the cops were not always pleased with that.
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CCC-hutchinson-collection-38-ford-01The Gorgeous Gal in the other two photos with Tom Jr is his Mother Imojine. The Debonnaire Dame in this photo with the pre-War custom ‘38 Ford convertible, is Tom’s Aunt Dorothy.
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Runaway to Mexico…

a story by David E. Zivot.

This story is based on what Tom Hutchinson Jr has told David E. Zivot. The story is about Gil Ayala’s 1940 Mercury with chopped top, full fade away front fenders and Cadillac fish-tail rear fenders. Tom Jr.’s Father, Tom Sr., was good friends with both Ayala’s, and actually did the plastering work inside the House of Chrome building. It needed work because it was run down and did not meet building code.




Gil Ayala’s ’40 Mercury in Mexico?

Tom Jr said his Dad told him that one of the Ayala Brothers (He was not sure if Gil or Al, but more than likely this was Gil, because we know Gil was very much into racing.) was doing some very fast street racing with the ’40 Mercury when the cops spotted him and gave chase.

The Ayala that was driving crossed the border into Mexico and hid out there for a few days until the heat died down.

He returned to Los Angeles without the ’40 Merc. Just think, the car could still be somewhere in Mexico sitting in an old rambling shack.

Remember the Roth custom that was discovered a few years ago in Mexico? I like to think that this is not an apocryphal story, and that it still exists somewhere down Mexico way, and that somebody would discover it and return it to the U.S. for all to enjoy!

Another thought is perhaps one of the Ayala’s, probably Gil, was driving it when Richard J. Stickley already owned the Mercury? Tom Jr told me that the municipal court judges were really cracking down on street racers at that time. They were making the guys sell their cars, and even ordering that their cars be crushed, and that they do six months on a prison farm.

So it seems understandable that they would head over the border and not come back with the car, maybe hoping to pick it up later.




CCC-gil-ayala-1940-mercury-05Gil Ayala’s 1940 Mercury parked at the Gil’s Auto Body Shop in East LA in 1949-50.
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Early Hot Rods

Tom also shared two very early Hot Rod photos, both photos were taken in 1938 and are part of his fathers old collection. This shows once again that Custom Cars and Hot Rods went hand in hand together in the early beginnings. The Custom Cars were just more practical if you had a family like Tom Sr. was just starting in the late 1930’s.


CCC-hutchinson-collection-model-a-ford-01One shows Bob Loschi’s Model A Roadster which looks to be mostly stock except for the removal of the front fenders, raking of the windshield and addition of the E&J (Edmunds and Jones) headlights, a rare aftermarket item, also known as the E & J Type 20 Bullet lamp.
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CCC-hutchinson-collection-2-roadstersDelmar and Hellman both had ’32 Ford Hot Rod Roadsters. A little fuzzy photo, but these two near identical early Hot Rods are just too good not to share.
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Dick Carter’s Essential ’41 Ford Convertible

 

DICK CARTER 41 FORD

 

Dick Carter padded topped Ford, the very quintessence of the 1946-48 Restyled 1941 Ford Convertibles.



By David E. Zivot

1941 Ford ragtops have been a consistent favorite of mine…If restyled in the manner that became popular in Southern California immediately after the end of hostilities in the summer of 1945. Although there were a few nice examples from late 1940 into early 1942 when these cars were purchased new off the dealer’s lot. However it was from 1946-48 that some of the best examples of this model Ford custom were built. Some of the finest coming out of the Barris shop. And in my opinion Richard “Dick” Carter’s being the very quintessence of that style.

Richard Carter attended Bell High School with Jesse Lopez, played football, ran track, chased girls, and like Jesse, had a passion for cars that were cool and fast. He was sixteen when he got his first real car; a ’36 Ford three-window coupe, customized and gowed-up, of course. After graduating with his pal Jesse, and seeing him build his ’41 Ford coupe with the Barris boys, he wanted a ’41 Ford also. But his just had to be a convertible. They were much in favor at the time.

It is interesting and not widely known how many of the early custom guys liked them, and owned the template re-styled Super Deluxe ’41 Ford convertible, before their more famous cars. A few notable ones being: Wally Welch, Bill Gaylord, and Joe Graffio, who all built similar examples. It appears that the popularity of the nicely done, chopped, but otherwise conservative, custom 1941 Ford convertible had run its course by late 1950.

CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-article-1951The only magazine publicity Dick Carter’s 1941 Ford ever got was in the July 1951 published first Custom Car Annual, Trend books No. 101. I asked Richard about Chavez providing the padded top (as mentioned in this booklet), he insisted most ardently it was Gaylord, and notice it has the Gaylord flow. He also was amused at the “channeling” mentioned in the article, that never occurred.
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Richard’s car was completed in early 1949, and along with Jesse, George, Nick, Snooky, and all the other caballeros of “Kustoms Los Angeles” participated in all the outings, car shows, and impromptu get-togethers and drive-in burger joint activities. The only period publication I know of that featured Dick’s custom was a small article in Trend Book No. 101 Custom Cars, from July 1951. What is it in particular about Carter’s ’41 that makes it stand out? Well, all the wonderful to be expected custom tricks are present. Tasteful well-proportioned chop, flowing and tight Gaylord padded top, standard issue Barris lowered stance, foreshortened hood side stainless, filled center grill panel, dual 112 spots, ’46 bumpers, and the deep organic opalescent metallic maroon lacquer finish.

Additional early Barris shop touches, mainly the result of Dick Carter’s and Jesse Lopez’ labor and craftsmanship included; handmade Lucite bumper guard taillights, tubular license plate light (subsequently copied and offered by Eastern Auto, and later Cal Custom), chromed dash panel, and translucent red Lucite appliques. Shaved doors, hood, deck, front and rear molded gravel pans, small flipper bar hubcaps, skirts, echo cans, fender mount antenna, are for all intents and purposes standard fare. The fact that this ’41 retains its stock headlight rings is unusual, but is one of the things I like about it.


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CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-golf-01Two never published shots of the Carter ’41 taken at the Municipal golf course.
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In summation, what makes Richard Carter’s ’41 Ford custom stand out is that it shouldn’t. Most ’41 Ford convertible customs were built conforming to most, if not the complete menu of items previously outlined. However, there is something about the way these templated and expected elements come together on this particular car that perfectly represents the encyclopedia entry or art school definition of “Early Custom ’41 Ford Convertible”.
Richard Carter passed away August 2015. I spoke with him on occasion and found him to be an informative and cordial gentleman. He remembered his times in “Kustoms Los Angeles”, George, Jesse, the Barris shop, and his custom car compadres, with exceeding nostalgia.

CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-edison-01Dick Carter’s ’41 Ford at the Edison Plant. A slightly different angle than what was used in the Motor Trend booklet. The photo shows the great proportions of the car and beautiful flow of the Gaylord padded top.
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CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-edison-01bEnlarged section shows an “KUSTOMS LOS ANGELES plaque on the concrete planter!
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CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-edison-02The rear 3/4 photo is identical to the one used in the Motor Trend booklet.
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CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-edison-02bEnlarged section shows that the rear bumper. license plate and taillight set-up is near identical to that on the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford.
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CCC-barris-dick-carter-41-ford-color-02The pride of my custom ’41 Ford photo collection, a never before seen color photo taken at the Los Angeles area Edison Plant, where other well known early Barris customs were photographed. A lot of them in Kodachrome. I’ve heard of and seen published, as well as hints of, other important cars shot in color on this spot… Where are Matranga’s Mercury, Lopez’ Ford… One day perhaps?
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All photos are from the David E. Zivot personal collection courtesy Marlene Carter & Family.





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(This article is made possible by)








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That Illustrious Sanguine 1940 Merc

 

© by Michelle M. Yiatras Timechanic ™
(Nick Matranga – That Illustrious Sanguine ’40 Merc! – original written February, 2014)


David E. Zivot and Michelle M. Yiatras are on a quest to create a truly accurate re-representation of the Nick Matranga Barris-built 1940 Mercury. Important part of this quest is a series of interviews Michelle did with Nick and many of his friends, about the Merc and many other historical details. Michelle turned this historic information into this wonderful story.

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Part one

Due to the length of this article from Michelle, we have split it up in three parts. Be sure to click “NEXT PART” at the end of this article to see the rest.

It was during one of their deep discussions over the phone about the ’40 Mercury, and the twilight of the Lost City, that David (E. Zivot) broached his intention. “Say, Nick…What would you think if I applied a serious approach to recreating your Mercury…I mean with your advice, insight, and critical judgment from beginning to end? I think I can do better than some other copies of your car. With your approval and assistance, and with your blessing. I’ve studied the car and am familiar with the proper techniques, colors, and materials that were used at the time.” After a pause, “Yeah…I’d be in on that. That would be bitchin’!” Nick replied. He perceived that David was genuinely capable of exacting justice. Going by David’s track record with the original Joe Nitti roadster discovery and restoration, as well as other projects, Nick knew he was at least cognizant and competent. David has the perspective and appreciation for the era of the American custom car that emerged from Southern California, from the immediate pre-War to post-War period, through about 1953.

Unlike other attempts that missed the target, the color was not candy apple, matte burgundy, nor freckle face strawberry, as in other interpretations. The George Barris/Nick Matranga paint job, mixed at M & H Paint in L.A., was lead based nitrocellulose lacquer alchemical blend of middle note ’41 Buick maroons called #º«@! & #¤¿« $@#%^ (what was later to become known as Barris Maroon), like a veritable gem, with deep black base note lowlights and >>>>> top note highlights. Resulting in a dusky etheric glow. A swift mercurial spectre destined for legend, haunting Nick himself, “Someday I’d like to build an exact duplicate of it…” Nick advanced on his eighties with a half-checked to-do list of life’s obligations. This particular tall order was required to wait.


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David Zivot, with his detective’s discernment, sat holding the last known remaining parts of the demolished prototype, the pair of 1948 Appleton Model 112 spotlights. Purchased from a guy named Pete in San Pedro who stripped them from the wreck in a junkyard in late 1952. The rest of the wreck was promptly scrapped and crushed. The few other salvaged parts were unwittingly sold off. The spotlights were all that were left.



CCC-matranga-oakland-51-03-wNick’s 1940 Mercury at the 1951 National Roadster Show in Oakland California. George Barris took the car to the show, while Nick had left for Korea.
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The otherworldly photo of Nick aside his Merc in the Barris stance catches the breath. An icon frequently leaves the hands of the originator and belongs to the ages. This car was shown in Oakland, CA at the National Roadster Show in Feb 1951 without Nick, and sold in Sept-Oct 1951 without Nick, because he was in Korea. Did he feel detached from it, or still connected to it, while in Korea? What plans was he making for it when he returned?

CCC-To-David-Nick-MatrangaNick Matranga signed photo for David.
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Nick aimed to keep the car. He told David that he was going to put an OHV Cadillac engine in it, probably by the Yeakel Brothers. He also mentioned he was fatalistic about making it back, so he instructed his mother to get ahold of George, that he would know what to do. George Barris, who escorted it to the Oakland and mysterious Montebello big tent (Rodder’s Journal #49) shows, made the sale arrangements. A ready line of enthusiasts had the long green $2500, the cost of a new fully loaded car. Nick had about $1800 invested, so he profited $700, and his, “Mom could sure use it.” It is presumed that a nineteen-year-old named Stanley Hannenberg of Artesia, CA, purchased it, and within several months of owning it, in Jun 1952, smashed out of control in the rain, shearing and splitting off Edison Co power poles and mailboxes, on the corner of 168th St. and Pioneer Blvd.


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The photo in the Jun 1952 Hot Rod Magazine (below) at the first annual Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run, showing the driver’s side open door interior view, with admiring kids looking in, could be the last known photo, taken Mar 30. Hannenberg was possibly a member of one of the attending Long Beach car clubs, and possibly knew Danny Lares, who bought the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford custom.


CCC-1940-mercury-hot-rod-52-magazineThis photo was taken at the first annual Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run and featured in the June 1952 Hot Rod Magazine. 
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Nick deployed for boot camp in Feb 1951, later that year the car was sold, and he returned from Korea in Jan 1953. Born Nicholas Joseph Matranga, April 21, 1930 in Los Angeles, CA, died March 27, 2010, in Torrance, CA.

CCC-Nick-Off-to-the-Army-1951Nick off to the Army in 1951.
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CCC-Nick-In-the-Army-1951Nick (center back row) in the army in 1951.
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CCC-Nick-In-the-Army-DischargeNick’s Honorable Discharge from the Army.
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A few months before his abrupt respiratory sickness and passing, I asked Nick, “Did you choose the maroon-ish (’41 Buick #¤¿« $@#%^) color? Did you participate in the idea to blend the black and >>>>> with it? Did you prefer any other colors over the maroon?” He confided, “I picked it all. It was the color I wanted. Everybody’s car was maroon, but I wanted the color, as well as the custom, to be outstanding. We started adding black lacquer to it. We’d shoot panels and let them dry and look in the sunlight. Then it was too dark. We were thinking about the >>>>> dust anyway. The >>>>> dust looked so you wouldn’t even notice it in the evening, just dark blackish maroon. In the sunlight you would see it wasn’t black, it was opalescent,” “Like a ruby star?” “Yeah!” It was properly finished suiting.

He continued, “It was originally going to be black, but there were a lot of black cars out there. Then I saw a customized Buick in the ’41 #¤¿« $@#%^, and I thought it was so pretty. But I wanted to hop that color up. Nobody’s hit it yet but me. I have to salute George Barris for his patience with me. We shot so many panels and let them dry and looked at them in the sun. In them days it was pure lacquer. We’d shoot the car and color sand it. And let it dry for a month. And color sand it again for the final rub out. A lot of guys got impatient and let it dry only a week. I wanted to be sure that it sweated and breathed before its final color sand and rub out. So that the thinners in the paint wouldn’t shrink. George was a great painter, and he was careful not to put it on too wet. We would always use wet sandpaper. I was never a dry sandpaper man. If it went on too wet and run, we had to let it set a little and then use the wet sandpaper, super fine grade. It’s good when the paint goes on wet, but you have to control it. You don’t want it over sprayed. You want the paint to lay flat, without waves. So it is color sanded flat.”


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I further queried, “Did you save any part yourself from the car before you left for Korea?” He confirmed, “That car was completely not saved. We modified everything we were doing with parts available. Everything had to have a line with me, from where we mounted the taillights to the top chop. I was a fanatic. Johnny Zaro got me started on the ’40 Merc. The ’40 Ford standard coupe has a similar front end and grill look that the ’40 Merc had. I would have done my ’40 Ford. Then I decided it was a one seat coupe that wouldn’t look good chopped, so I found a ’40 Merc. Just happened to be driving by a used car lot when I spotted a cherry low miles grey-green coupe.


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The factory Merc had two seats, driver front and passenger back, called a club coupe. It had more length that was better to chop, that would look like not just a hot rod at Bonneville, but a custom that was just there with the look. Started out the butt ugliest Merc, and I knew it had potential to conform to the most beautiful lines, once drawn and cut. Everyone who chopped the ’40 Merc kept the post, and it looked like crap. ‘That post is gone!’ I said, to make the car flow longer. We wanted the side door windows to channel with the top line. I wanted the curve of the window frames to align with the top, in a matched flow. From the hood to the doors to the trunk, the line just flowed from the nose to the tail, it just keeps going.” “Like wind through the wings of the Mercury quicksilver insignia?” “Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to say! That’s why I moved the bumper guard mounted tail lights, the line from the trunk goes right to it.


CCC-Circa-1952-courtesy-Danny-LaresThis photo shows how nice the shape of the top and the window frames flowed on the car.
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The engine was custom built by Phil Weiand, installed with Weiand heads and intake, who I was good friends with, and I hung out at his shop. He gave me a good deal on the motor. Gaylord did the interior. The carpet was dark maroon, the upholstery was dark maroon and ivory DuPont Fabrilite. I insisted that anyone, including my girlfriend, remove their shoes before entering my car. My shoes were always impeccable. Once a girlfriend spilled a Coca-Cola on the carpet and giggled. Next day I got over her.”

CCC-nikc-matranga-carson-interiorInterior in Nick’s 1940 Mercury created by Bill Gaylord’s Top Shop.
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Jesse Lopez of Bell-Riverside-Downey, CA, on Nick

“Nick lived in a different part of town than I did. He was from the West, Fremont. Him, Rackemann, Ortega. And I was from the Southeast side, Bell, Huntington Park. Don Rackemann was a good driver at Bonneville. We were 20 miles apart. All the So Cal guys were different than the rest of the country, we dressed different, talked different, different cars. East L.A., Gil and Al Ayala’s shop. So Cal was a big area with no freeways, all surface streets.

Nick was so fun to pal around with. I fixed him up with a longtime girlfriend, Lil, from the East side. I had girls from all over. Nick was steady. She was my girlfriend, Joyce’s, friend. Pretty and blonde lady. They hit it off real good. Later he married his wife for life, and we didn’t see him much after that. He was a family man. After the War (Korea), me and Nick and Zaro weren’t together any more. Nick went his way with his wife, and years later he bought a truck shop. Early on he didn’t like to get his hands dirty. Zaro got married too.


CCC-johnny-Zaro-41-ford-marriedJohnny Zaro just got married with Fay. The photo was taken shortly before leaving the scene in Johnny’s 1941 Ford.
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CCC-Nick-Connie-JosephineA young Nick, his sister Connie and his mother Josephine.
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Nick had a happy personality. His mom, Josephine, made us Italian food at their restaurant, on Florence on the West side. (Nick was proud of his lifelong 26” waist. He was able to stay trim even though his family had a restaurant, and his favorite food was Italian.) We filled up on homemade ravioli, salads with real imported olive oil, fresh bread. Mama Matranga’s long johns saved my life in Korea, and she always hugged me and took the place of my mother when she passed in 1957, at 49, from a botched operation. When I met Nick and we went to his mother’s Italian restaurant, it was the first Italian food I ever had. There was only one Mexican restauraunt and only a couple Italian then. Nick’s mother was so very good. She sent me care packages with food and long johns. The Army really strung us out and wouldn’t give us enough food and clothes. I’da froze to death if it wasn’t for her. No one else did that for me.”

CCC_Jack-Stewart-KUSTOMS_PlaqueThis is Jack Stewart’s original Kustom’s L.A. Plaque.
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Discussing the ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ club plaque. “Mine was rusty maroon molded out of aluminum pot metal. An original one. The letters protruded, not made out of tin. The background recessed and the letters were more rounded, not squared. The frame edge had about a ¼” lip all around. The letters and frame edge were polished out, so they shined and stood out. Members were not given number stamps in order of joining up. #3 was Nick’s. The large ‘S’ at the end of ‘LoS Angeles’ had no particular meaning.

Nick had a ’53 Monterey, it was the complete body change, not like the ’55. It was factory black. He got that Merc and met his lady and got married. We didn’t hear from him for a while after 1956. Custom cars only lasted maybe 10 years. Then people got new cars, and they didn’t do anything with them. Johnny Zaro traded his Merc for that ugly bathtub car with the fadeaways, that ’41 Ford. There was a lot of work done to that car but it was ugly, different strokes.


CCC-johnny-zaro-barris-41-ford-02Early version of Johnny Zaro’s 1941 Ford build by the Barris Custom Shop.
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Recently Johnny didn’t show up at our Hemet, CA, CoCo’s get together. Twenty-two of us old Kustom’s guys. Pete Werrlein checked in with him, and Johnny said he couldn’t make it, heart problems with old age. Johnny’s always been hyperactive and nervous. I’d make fun of him for constantly eatin’ his fingernails to the quick. He had his peculiarities. He talked in riddles mostly. We’d be talking about something and he’d come up with something off the wall. He was driving his ’40 Merc from 77th St and Compton Av, just got it done, and ran into a parked car on Nadeau St. Just completely done and painted leaving Barris’ going home. For years Oren Breeland thought it was me that ran into that car. Johnny was a bad driver. He sat on the curb crying when they went to pick him up. Coming down from the Crestline San Bernardino Mountains on a crowded summer holiday with live music and dancing, he was excited because he met this girl up there, and was on his way to visit his mom. Through the rolling hills of the grape vineyards was a severe curve at 90-100 mph, and he wedged the car between two trees, and dented both sides and the top. Everything got dented because the car was sandwiched between the two trees and buckled on top. He took it to two guys in San Bernadino to work on it. George was mad and wouldn’t fix a total car wreck. So these two guys fixed it pretty good. At Barris’ we would only work on cherry cars. When I saw it I thought that son of a bitch was good. Johnny wrecked the car a couple times at least. He was so hyper he wrecked the car.


CCC-johnny-zaro-barris-41-ford-03A later version of Johnny’s 1941 Ford with a new grille and painted a new light color.
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A fat little fellow named Tony brought his ’41 Ford convertible over, and George talked him into channeling it. I told them then they’d have trouble to drop the hood and goddamn it looked like a pancake on fenders. I told them the hood would be too flat, and it was. I thought that car was an abortion. It was built for Little Tony, not Zaro. The metal work was bad, and the fade aways. A lot of waves, not so straight. Little Tony wanted it Barris Maroon, and I think it showed a lot of mistakes. It looked rough. So they changed it to off-cream to cover it up and not see the imperfections and ripples. It was never meant for Johnny, and he had nothing to do with its creation. What made him want to trade is that his car had been pounded out a few times from wrecking it. Johnny and I thought differently, and he thought Little Tony’s car looked nice. It had a floating grill, something to fill the gap. They traded cars and a little money about 1949. Johnny was real happy to have it.


CCC-zaro-andril-40-merc-old-photosAl Andril’s blue Barris-built 1940 Mercury and Johnny Zaro’s maroon version next to it.
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Johnny and Al Andril were neighbors and best friends for many years. Now Al lives by Marge and Bill in Downey, CA, and they meet up when they take walks. I like it there. I had a lot of girlfriends in Downey, and my ex-wife. Practically all my relatives and friends in Bell moved to Downey. Sister Rose has a big house there too. We all used to go to ‘Harvey’s Broiler’ (Harvey and Minnie Ortner, partners in the ‘Clock Broilers’ of L.A., founded ‘Harvey’s Broiler’ in 1958, the Downey drive-in restaurant and coffee shop, on the corner of Firestone Blvd and Old River School Rd, that became a Southern California car cruise ritual draw and later was renamed ‘Johnie’s Broiler’ in 1968.) I used to pull in with my new ’58 Bird in ‘Kandy Lak’. One of the first to roll out of King Ford in Huntington Park. Black with black interior, I drove it straight to Lynwood, and dropped the bumpers, and also the chrome gingerbread, and sanded it to paint it. I lowered the front to rake. No one ever saw a new ’58 Bird, let alone a Kustom Kandy one. My formula of candy lacquer. Joe Bailon coined ‘Candy Apple Red’ at the 1952 Oakland Show with a ’41 Chevy. His was not as bright for me. I made it just right. My secret formula. It just freaked people out. After George’s wife, Shirley, saw my Bird I sold to Rackemann for his wife, Jo, she had to have one too, her ’59 Bird in ‘Kandy Lak’.

CCC-HarveysHarvey’s Broiler’ Ca. 1958.
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Nick wasn’t into racing and mechanics like me and Rackemann were. He was more into looking good with his good personality. Johnny Zaro was a real handsome rascal. Nick could make a believer out of you with his talk. Johnny did his stint on his own ’40 Merc, whatever George told him to do. George designed and made the plaques first for his cars. Later he started and made the club. We decided to have meetings. Now he can barely remember the shop on 77th and Compton. When I ran the ‘Kustom’s’ plaque it meant something, there was only about fifteen of us. We didn’t run ‘Kustom’s’ plaques on stock cars like Nick’s Monterey or my Cadillac, even though they were nice.

CCC-Nick-Late-1950sNick Matranga in the late 1950’s.
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The clubs didn’t exist after we got back from the Korean War, no meetings because there was no more real custom cars. George might have given some plaques away, but they didn’t run ‘Kustom’s’. Formed the club when George had the plaques made for us guys who had the cars, from 1948 to the early 50’s.
Don Henchman, Bob Ruble, Richard Carter, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Oren Breeland, Bill Ortega, Paul Janich, Shorty Brown, Harold Larson, Carl Abajian, Jack Stewart, Vard Martin, Les Callahan, Nick, Sam, George, and myself. They voted me in as President.

We’d meet and go to Balboa, Crestline, or the Big Bear Mountains. We weren’t kids anymore, we were young men with responsibilities. We’d just plan get-togethers. No official club. Dick Fowler was a squirrel, just weird, he never fit into our clique, he belonged to Fox Florence gang. Not a nice-looking car. (The Dick Fowler ’38 Ford coupe was a very early Sam and George Barris effort, about 1946-47, when they first came down from San Francisco/Sacramento.) I knew him pretty good, he hung out at the Barris shop even before I got there because he lived by the shop. It wasn’t a real custom, not a nice chop, just changed the Packard grill, and kept it kinda black.

CCC-barris-dick-fowler-38-ford-01Dick Fowler’s 1938 Ford Coupe.
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In Bell Gardens, we raced from the corner of Eastern Av and Slauson Av, in front of the Dodge and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, down Slauson ¼ mile, to Garfield Av, or further on to the ½ mile at Anaheim-Telegraph Rd. We’d go through the Russian cemetery to get away from the heat, and get a good view of who was winning. Bill always talks about him and Margie in the back seat of my car, when he was watching it while I was away…”


Continue reading about Nick Matranga in the NEXT PART


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That Illustrious Sanguine 1940 Merc 2

 

© by Michelle M. Yiatras Timechanic ™
(Nick Matranga – That Illustrious Sanguine ’40 Merc! – original written February, 2014)

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Part two

Due to the length of this article from Michelle, we have split it up in three parts. Be sure to click “NEXT PART” at the end of this article to see the full article.
 

David Zivot on Nick and his Merc

So…Why another Matranga Merc? “It isn’t just another one. We don’t need just another one. That automobile was an amalgamation of the thought processes of Nick Matranga, Sam Barris, and George Barris. Nick related to me, while inspired by the J. Zaro and A. Andril Mercury’s, he wanted something more advanced and stylish that would set his ’40 Mercury coupe apart from more common customs he saw around L.A. There were other ’40 Merc coupes running around then and none met Nick’s sense of style. As a high school kid in 1948 L.A. he was influenced by pillarless hardtops like the ’49 Buick Roadmaster Riviera, the ’49 Cad Coupe de Ville, and the ’49 Olds Holiday. I saw enough Matranga-style attempts in mags and at shows, and I was a bit disappointed in the lack of commitment in trying to achieve an accurate rendition. Not that accuracy was necessarily the goal of some of these builders. But Nick was clearly chagrined that no one quite ‘got it right’.

 
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Nick and I discussed the inexhaustible popularity and emulation that his senior year project provided custom car guys through the years. He actually had plans to replicate his most memorable car himself. Nick was very polite to other builders, and often autographed their visors and dashboards, but was let down by the missing verisimilitude of most that he viewed. Then I presented him that with his help and advisement I’d take a shot at it. I took extraordinary efforts and pains to assure it would be as accurate and true to nature as humanly possible. He took an immediate interest because he observed my authenticity for historical and technical concerns.

He’d say, ‘How the hell did you know that? I haven’t thought about that in 50 years!’ Nick was a consummate gentleman, well-mannered and well-informed. If I asked a question and he didn’t know the answer on the spot, a week later I’d get handwritten letters in his perfect penmanship, ‘Now I remember how I did that…’ We talked about more than his iconic car; we talked about J.C. Fremont High School, his neighborhood, the drive-ins, hanging out at George’s and Sam’s place. How it was the best being a teenager in L.A. in the 1940’s. And all the really neat cars you’d see driving around every day, very well done customs and hot rods, and not as well done but sincere efforts. It was fun and the weather permitted. He told me they’d go downtown and see Gary Cooper or Clark Gable coming out of Eastern Auto or Musso & Frank Grill or a men’s clothing store. Also he mentioned some of his relatives in charge of L.A.-based back-east interests, like restaurants and bars. They’d pick up the check for him and his friends so he could act like a big shot.
 

CCC-Nick-High-School-Senior-Autoshop-L-Fremont-48Nick at the High School Senior Autoshop L Fremont ’48.
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CCC-Nick-High-School-Senior-Football-Letterman-Fremont-48Nick High School Senior Football Letterman Fremont ’48 Back Row 2nd fr L from Nick’s 1948 Fremont High School senior yearbook, gifted to David & Michelle.
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I’m a proponent of a high degree of exactitude in representing an automotive artifact. The original car existed a brief couple of years. It’s important to have a representation that would exemplify Nick, as well as Sam and George, and the time period. Nick said if you were a good-looking guy and had a keen car you had no trouble for Fri and Sat night dates, and you could just be driving down the street and girls would jump in your car. As a teen you have a lot less cares and concentrate on the important things like cars, hamburgers, and skirts. Nick said if he hadn’t gone to Korea, he woulda really had a good time in his car, but the time he did have was too short.”
 

George’s Greek aesthetics of color and form were amazing and unfailing,
especially early on.”

 
Technical regards… “He’d seen other Barris lacquer jobs, including George’s own car, that had the deep majestic maroon that George would conjure up by using toners and custom blends that he would supervise at the paint store. George’s Greek aesthetics of color and form were amazing and unfailing, especially early on. Nick thought that patrician maroon stood out and glowed on the street, particularly at night under the street lights. Nick knew what he wanted in his mind, Sam knew what he wanted in his mind, and when they started cutting the roof they arrived at, ‘That’s it!’ Both Sam and Nick agreed that the flow of the roof, at the sail panels, a product of CA metal shaping, the raised windshield header area, and other refinements, and the most important omission of cumbersome B pillars, were much more advanced and pleasing developments than what was done on the Zaro or Andril cars. Nick was adamant about these things. Phil Weiand built and modified Nick’s ’46 Mercury block, with full Weiand racing equipment, and Winfield cam, and took special care in its assembly and cosmetic appearance. Nick wanted it sound with plenty of pep for street reliability.”
 
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Examining the ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ club plaque. “Hmmm…Color photographs of a ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ plaque, that’s neat. And also serves to confirm that they were most likely royal purple, as the contrast between the California black plate and the deteriorating Ektachrome or Kodachrome photographic print would tend to distort the true color. The photo of the aluminum plaque on Jim Skonzakes’ ’49 Buick is clearly purple. Refer to the back of the photo, July 22, 1952, #12, dated.
 
CCC-barris-kustoms-plaque-01Color photo from Jul 22, 1952 of Jim Skonzakes his 1949 Buick shows what looks like an aluminum Kustom’s plaque with a purple painted base.
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CCC-barris-kustoms-plaque-02Color photo from Oct 4, 1951 shows a brass Kustom’s Plaqueon on the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford with what appears to be a black painted base.
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The original plaque that I am in possession of, which was gifted to me from Nick Matranga a few years ago, has a numeral ‘3’ stamped into the back. It measures X” W x X” H x X” thick. The recast that Kurt McCormick makes measures X” x X” and varies in thickness between X” and X”. All early originals, let’s say the first twelve to fifteen, were cast art bronze, and had the telltale large ‘S’ at the end of ‘LoS’. Jesse Lopez was the first President of ‘Kustom’s L.A.’, and was instrumental in its formation in 1948. The plaque that Nick gave me is his original off the ’40. He got an additional plaque when he came back stateside in 1953, when the Korean War ended. He purchased a brand new ’53 Mercury Monterey two-door hard top, on which he attached the plaque. He could not remember who gave it to him, but I have an idea that all the original members were given a number as to when they joined up or when the club was formed. Just a theory.
 
CCC-michelle-nick-matanga-plaque-01Nick’s Original Kustom’s L.A. Plaque; this was Nick’s original that was emblazoned on the ’40 Merc, also ran on the ’53 Mercury Monterey, gifted to David.
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As to the aluminum one at the NHRA museum, I wouldn’t discount it out of hand. I know a fellow in Los Angeles who’s had an aluminum version of this plaque since 1952. George Barris had an affinity for Greek nobility and the trappings of royalty, that’s why he favored purple and the royal coat of arms that he fabricated for the affected Barris crest. It’s a Greek thing. In the realm of small details, notice the pair of ‘Kustom’s L.A.’ club plaques that have been removed from Nick’s car and probably Johnny Zaro’s that are stacked together in Nick’s booth at the 1951 Oakland Show. They are leaned up against the wood divider in front of Nick’s car right by the hacksaw that’s lying on the ground. One of these days one of us will spot an ethereal image of Mother Mary in the ripples of a lacquer paint job.”
 
CCC-barris-kustoms-plaque-03Two Kustom’s plaques are up against the divider wall with Nick’s Mercury on the left. (the full photo can be seen in part one)
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Tony Pisano of the Pisano Brothers, on Nick

Joe and Carmen Pisano, Tony and Frank’s oldest brothers, were family tight with Nick, like Nick was another brother. Tony Pisano, of the Pisano Brothers, who built the Pisano/Ogden ’41 Buick chopped custom with an original Gaylord Carson top, was a drag racer. He owns ‘Worco Powder Coatings’ on Cherry Industrial Circle, in Long Beach, CA. “I was in the scroungy war, when we were all into putting together the cars in different combinations. I was drafted into the Army. Nick was pals with my brother, Carmen. They met at the drive-ins and shops. Carmen hopped up some of his engines. Nick’s dad had a night club, ‘The Mint Tulip’, on Florence near Normandy. The memories are sad because it hurts to remember. Nick had a hot-headed sense of humor. He could be critical. Nick was a good-looking guy, he had all sorts of broads. Nick was a fun guy, he could walk by a woman and say, ‘Wow, what a great ass!’, and they would say, ‘Thanks for the compliment.’ He was likeable and could get away with it.”
 
 
 

Frank Pisano of the Pisano Brothers, on Nick

Born in 1939, and native to L.A., owns ‘Venolia Pistons and Rods’ on Cherry Industrial Circle, in L.B., CA. “Nick came over to Tony’s ‘Worco Powder Coatings’ every Saturday to have his ’37 Chevy powder coated. We all hung out and ate at ‘Curley’s Cafe’ for hamburgers. When I first started driving my funny car ’67 Camaro at Lion’s Drags in 1968, Nick made sure I was seat belted tight in before I got to the starting line. He’d close the door and pat me on my head. He had the side windows made right specially for me out of plastic. He hung out with my older brothers, Joe, Carmen, Tony, Sammy, and me the brat. He’d always go to the races with us to make sure everything was OK. Nick was that type of guy, loving. More than a friend. We were there for each other and helped in each other’s businesses. Carmen supervised setting up the car racks at Nick’s transmission shop. Tony painted and powder coated for Nick. If we needed a transmission done he took care of it. When you’re Italian you trade. We didn’t exchange money.
 

Nick in his days was a good-looking guy, always well dressed. And he didn’t like to get dirty

 
I first met Nick about 10 years old. My brothers brought him over to the shop, on 52nd and Western in L.A., ‘Bigelo & Pisano’. Carmen was the smart one, our leader. Joe was the car salesman. Tony was the painter. Sammy was a general contractor. I was the mechanic helper. I helped with the race cars. Nick in his days was a good-looking guy, always well dressed. And he didn’t like to get dirty. You look at him and he would talk to you, and he was very nice looking and very nice person, and you wondered if he was a gigolo. When I got to know more of him I learned he was a very true and honest man. If he didn’t like you he’d let you know about it. If he did like you he’d give his heart to you.
 
CCC-Nick-James-Mahaffey-R-1947Nick in the middle and good friend James Mahaffey on the right in 1947.
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CCC_James-Mahaffey-at-Catalina-Island-1947-Fremont-High-48James Mahaffey at Catalina Island 1947 & Fremont High Senior Grad ‘48”; Jim Mahaffey got killed making a pass and upset in his ’32 coupe at Russetta sanctioned El Mirage dry lakes in 1947 at 17 years old, erased but not to be forgotten on the speed record chalkboards; from Nick’s personal collection, including an insert from Nick’s 1948 Fremont High School senior yearbook, gifted to David & Michelle.
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They all allowed me to hang out with them. They’d say, See you at the drive-in, ‘Scrivener’s’ in Inglewood. We’d have coffee and hook up to race. We’d park in the back and talk about our cars, motors, and chops. I started driving at 13, not supposed to without a license. ’53 Studebaker trucks with Cad motors. After Korea in the ‘Screwdrivers’ club of Culver City, with my brother, Joe, and Don Rackemann and Nick. I rode with my brothers while street racing between Culver City and Inglewood. On 190th in Inglewood was a root beer drive-in that we met at to race. As fast as you could go, and whoever was way ahead would shut off because the other guys couldn’t catch him. There was no measured stretch. We had so many cars that we moved around and changed around, ’32 roadsters, Model A coupes, and Chevy coupes, 32’s-33’s-34’s, and later ’55 and ’57 Chevy’s. Before Korea we mostly worked at our race shop. It was a gathering and BS place. We always had black cars. Nick said it was important to keep it clean and polished.

He always hugged me and said I was doing the right thing by keeping ‘Venolia Pistons’ going when Joe died. Joe died in my arms at the races from a heart blockage. I took care of my mother and father when they were sick, like Nick took care of his wife and son. We always stuck together. We all had our shops on the same street on the Cherry Industrial Circle in L.B., and that was our later hang out.”
 
CCC-Russell-Lenarz-High-School-Senior-Fremont-'48Russell Lenarz High School Senior Fremont ’48”; the elusive hot rod racing photog in composite from Nick’s 1948 Fremont High School senior yearbook, gifted to David & Michelle. Russell Lenarz took the ‘Jesse & ’41 Ford 1949 Turf Club’ photo, and so many others.
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Herschel ‘Junior’ Conway, ‘Junior’s House of Color’, of Florence Av, Bell Gardens, CA, on Nick

“I was the youngest kid working at Barris’. I met Jesse in 1955. Jesse came around a lot more than Nick did. Nick already got rid of his Merc and was back from Korea by the time I met him. Even the 1960’s had passed by the time I really got to know him, even though in the early 60’s he talked to me about painting a ’57 Chevy Nomad black. I was wary, I had plenty of business, and knew he was very particular. I knew Jesse and Hirohata well. Nick and I didn’t hook up until the 1970’s. He took the Nomad to Barris’ to have Tubs paint it. And he wasn’t happy that the job wasn’t detailed enough for him. He called to tell me about it. I passed. Then he sold the Nomad, and later in the 1970’s went to build a ’32 Ford coupe.
 


CCC-Nicks-57-Chevy-Nomad-Barris-Paint-bNick’s Barris shop painted 1957 Chevy Nomad.
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He had Barris’ doing body work, his guy Dick Dean. One day he called me up to inspect some parts and redo some body work. Next I was doing all the rest of the bodywork on it. I was doing high end sports car work (Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Rolls), and he liked how I finished, fit, and detailed cars. We’re in the process of bringing it to paint. It cost a lot, so he had Boyd Coddington paint his ’32 in the early 1980’s.
 
CCC-cover-street-rodder-nikcs-32-fordNick’s black 1932 Ford coupe, painted by Hot Rods by Boyds made it onto the cover of the April 1984 issue of Street Rodder magazine.
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I’d go visit him and have him do transmission work and he’d visit me. He’d say, ‘You are the best painter, at everything you do, your detail finish work, you’re just too expensive.’ I had too much work to do, and Nick always wanted a deal. To do the custom work today to my level is very expensive. I can’t give a guy that kind of work and keep it affordable. A lot of guys are running into that. In the early days, I didn’t plan it. I made the car and we all traded out. That is the only way those cars got done. Jesse and Nick both worked two, three jobs to afford their cars, materials alone.

Today’s kids read a magazine or see a TV show and think it’s easy. I was a young boy that came from Kentucky in 1952, and I too read the mags and wondered how they afforded to do this. I questioned how Jesse and Nick had the money to spend. When I got here I realized it was a lot of bargaining and horse trading to get it done. I had Sam black out my bumpers so the bolts didn’t show through, and he leaded the hood so it didn’t have chrome molding anymore. It took him two full nights. It took me two weeks of painting his house trim to work off that trade. George wanted to include my car in a car show with others. He needed it finished so he took money out of my paycheck to pay for the labor a whole year after George and I finished my car, my senior year of high school, 1956-57. Had it not been for people like George and Sam Barris, at any shop, if not for being able to work on your car in the facilities that they had, and shared with you, the expense would not have been possible. I was very young, younger than the rest. Seventeen when that car was finished and in shows, thanks to them. I worked for Barris until 1961. By 1960 Jesse and I did ‘House of Color’, until I took it entirely over in 1961, ‘Junior’s House of Color’.” Junior’s ’50 Ford business coupe custom, painted ‘Sam Bronze’, went away by 1970, and was accurately rebuilt by Jerry Daman of Dallas, TX, who is also rebuilding the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford club coupe custom.
 
 
 

Don Rackemann of San Pedro, CA, on Nick

Lifelong best friend of Nick’s. Ran Saugus Dragstrip. Lou Baney and Lou Senter owned Saugus, Don ran as manager and starter 1951-55. Owned ‘Don’s Speed Shop’ 1950-52, with partner Lou Baney, running at lakes and building hot engines. Changed to ‘Lou Baney Automotive’ when he sold him his share. From 1952-55 went on as ‘Ansen Automotive’ representing after-market hot rod parts to speed shops. Now owns ‘Fuel Savers Group’ MPG3 fuel enhancer. “I knew Nick since junior high. We went to different junior highs, and then later went to John C. Fremont High School. We were both small guys in the 10th grade, 15 years old, maybe 100 lbs, 5’2”. But we thought we were cool. We got in an argument and a fist fight in the quad. We were hitting each other and not doing any damage because of our small size. The other kids looking on were stunned. We weren’t even aware until the coach pulled us apart and told us we were making a spectacle of ourselves. We stayed friends. At 16 on California nights all year round us hot rodders went to the drive-ins: ‘The Wich Stand’ on Slauson by W. LA and Inglewood; ‘Scrivener’s’ on Manchester Blvd in Inglewood; ‘DeMay’s’ on Slauson in Culver City. We’d cross paths. Then for a year we didn’t.
 
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In the meantime I built a ’32 three-window coupe in stock brown-black, sitting on the corner of Hoover, and the car next to me is the primered Merc, and it’s Nick smiling at me. ‘Nick! What are doing on that lead barge?’ At that time Jesse was building his car at Barris’, I was a hot rodder, not a customizer, and I had to show him how the cookie crumbles. I revved the engine to let him know I had the horsepower. He scrunched his head and declined because he had a stock engine in it still. So I hit the throttle and went on down the road, 60-80-100 mph, in 1949. Nick’s car took a lot longer to complete than my coupe. I put my car in the hot rod show at the L.A. Armory 2nd show 1951. I took first place in the competition coupe class they put me in. A man came into the show on Saturday with his son. They went gaga and wanted to buy it. I hesitated because I just finished the paint and upholstery. Next day on Sunday he came back and offered me $100, so I took it and sold it at the show. A Merc bore, stock stroke, Offenhauser heads and manifold, three Strom 97 carbs, stock ignition, Iskenderian ground cams. Stock good street machine. Only engine I ran in it. It taught me a big lesson.
 
CCC-Don-Rackemann-32-FordDon Rackemann’s 1932 Ford Coupe at an early 1950’s Motorama show. The photo was taken by Walter Wyss and is part of the Jimmy Barter Collection (Thank you for sharing it with us Jimmy).
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CCC-Nick-Pals-in-25-T-Track-Roadster-1947Nick (rear L) & Pals in ’25 T Track Roadster 1947.
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Some guys had exotic stroker engines. My car ran so strong. It had Lincoln gears in the transmission, a longer 25 tooth cluster gear, 4:11’s rear end, 6.00 x 16 on the front. Without planning it, that combination with the compression, and the cam, and the carburetion, ran really fast with the gear ratios. I sold that car and opened up a first shop with that money, ‘Don’s Automotive’, located kitty corner from ‘Scrivener’s’ on Slauson and Western in S.W. L.A., 1951. I built engines for my friends who wanted to go fast. The first drag race at Santa Ana, 1950, before the Armory show, I raced that ’32 coupe, rolling start quarter mile, and won first place coupe and sedan class. Beat Joe Reath in the semifinals, and Dean Moon in the finals.
 

CCC-Clark-Gable-1949-Jaguar-XK120-Roadster-'Gable-Grey'Clark Gable & his 1949 Jaguar XK120 Roadster ‘Gable Grey.
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I still had the ’32 coupe and my wife was still pregnant. We were driving out to Malibu. I just finished the engine and it was all clean and chromed, putting some miles on it. Winding along the 101, on our way back through Encino, I glanced to the left and going opposite I noticed the new green Jaguar go by, and realized it was Clark Gable. I whipped a U-turn and caught up with him at a signal. He glanced over at my engine and raised his eyebrows. I revved my engine a couple times. So he smiled. He reached over to put his in low gear and then the signal changed. He jumped on it. My car with those gears I could run 70 mph in low gear. I just stayed right beside. He bangs his shift into second and I still stayed right beside him. He smacked it into third gear, I jumped on the throttle, put mine into second, and smoked his ass. I had to shut it off for the next signal. Then he pulled up next to me at the signal, and smiled and said, ‘Pretty fast, son, pretty fast.’ I was twenty years old. Sue, my first wife, just giggled. Nick and I were the same age, born the same year.

After the ’32 three-window was sold and I opened my shop, 1951, Nick went into the Army. When he came home, the first thing he did was call me and said, ‘I hear you have a really, really hot coupe!’ I said, ‘I’ll pick you up at 7 o’clock!’ He looks it over and says, ‘Aw, this is bitchin’.’ We went to ‘DeMay’s’ drive-in. There were a couple guys and cars we didn’t know. He says, ‘Is there anything here you can’t beat?’ I said, ‘No.’ So he says ‘How about that guy that just pulled in?’ A ’32 roadster. Nick walks over to him and says, ‘You wanna try it?’ ‘Yeah sure,’ thought his roadster could beat my coupe. We went to Lincoln Blvd, behind L.A. International Airport. The runways were so long and Lincoln stretched diagonally across that back of the airport. Nick said, ‘Where do you want me to get out?’ to drop him off while I ran the race. I said I can’t because the floorboards that were angled had screw down bolts. Mine fit real tight so I didn’t put the screw in, and I put carpet over them. So I would have someone sit next to me and put their feet down on them and hold them when the car went over 100-110 mph. So he had to ride the race with me a lot to hold the floor boards down, at least three times a week going street racing. He already sold the Merc.

From the late 1940’s-50’s, to the early 1960’s, Nick’s dad, Nick Sr, had a family Italian restaurant named ‘Nick’s’, on Florence Av in L.A. I ate dinner, mostaccioli and spaghetti, many times. We’d end up there before racing. Later in 1958, after I got Nick to quit laying bricks and come be the vice-president of my company, ‘National Bonded Cars’, the first company to ever put out a mechanical failure warranty on used cars. Jack Hershey also worked for me in sales. Nick’s first wife, Gayleen, and my wife of 60+ years, Jo, were friends. Nick’s brother-in-law Larry, and my wife’s brother Jon, were also real good friends. They figured out a system to make money in Las Vegas. They showed it to us, and we acted like it was nothing. Jack Hershey, who was our pal, got me and Nick to practice this dice rolling system on the living room floor, and it worked! We said, ‘Let’s go to Vegas,’ and the three of us went. Jack writing the pad, I’m working the money, and Nick’s watching the action. The first weekend we went we each put up $150 in the pot for the bankroll. At the end of the weekend we came home with $3600 each. We stayed at the Sahara Hotel because Louis Prima and Keely Smith were headlining. We really thought we were hot stuff, big time gamblers. We drove a white 1957 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Next week we flew and did the same. It started out ahead, and then it turned and we lost everything. We called our wives to wire another $450. We lost again. They’re mad, we’re mad. On the plane home we’re not even talking to each other. I had just purchased, as the owner, the company ‘National Bonded Cars’. So we got home Sunday night. On Thursday I got my first commission check $2000+. We took that check and got back on the plane to Vegas. Hershey had the paperwork from the other runs, I put up the money. This time we won $36,000 ($12,000 apiece). This time we had a bankroll that kept us going to win. Our system worked.

 
CCC-Bonneville-1955-bThe ’29 roadster on a ’32 frame was painted Iris Blue, and striped and flamed by Von Dutch.
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At 1955 Bonneville, the ‘Iris’ light blue color, it was very subtle and really stood out with the Von Dutch red, yellow, and orange flames. Lou Baney was service manager over all three Yeakel Brothers; Cadillac, Olds, and Chrysler-Plymouth. We were sponsored by Yeakel Cad. That year of 1955 the ‘Iris Blue’ Cadillac was their prime chip color. I had all the embroidered shirts and painted vehicles in that color. Nick put up the money for the second engine that we built and won the records, that was Nick’s engine. Us hot dogs (Nick Arias Jr, Lou Baney, Teddy Evosavich, Bill Likes, Nick Matranga, Danny O’Brien, Don & Rich Rackemann, Don’s wife Jo) had Nick Arias’ Jimmy in the car the first couple days. Nick M.’s stroker in the car for the last three days that we went the fast 189 mph in 1955. We came in second. Art Chrisman’s roadster with a Chrysler, beat us that weekend by 3 mph, he got first place.”
 
CCC-Nick-Yeakel-Crew-Autographed-Aug-2001-rc-magNick & Yeakel Crew Autographed Aug 2001 Rod & Custom. As personally autographed from Nick & the guys to Dennis Loehr, gifted to David & Michelle.
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Inspecting a blurry ghost I titled ‘Drag Races 1956’ from Nick’s personal photo collection, Don comments, “Fran Hernandez was a drag race icon. At the beginning was three or four people that made the dual and three and four carb manifolds for the Ford flathead. The most popular was Edelbrock (my first was a two carb), and the first I ever saw was Eddie Meyer. Just after the War, Fran H. and Fred Offenhauser (nephew of Offy Indy engines) made a deal for Fran’s designs of a set of heads and manifolds. Fran was the machinist, and was promised 25%. Fran got the idea that the Offenhauser name carried weight. He was young and without paperwork, it wasn’t called a ‘Fran’, it was called an ‘Offenhauser’. Fran’s designs were very popular and sales were great. A few years later Fred told Fran he wasn’t getting his 25%. When Vic Edelbrock heard Fran was leaving Offy, he offered and hired him on the spot. When Fran came over to Edelbrock in 1949, the cemented guys, Bobby Meeks and Don Towle, got a little bent out of shape. Because when Fran came in he was a made dude, because he was so smart, and the lead guy in lakes and drag racing. Fran became the main man at Edelbrock. It worked out well.
 
CCC-Drag-Races-1956LF. –Bill Likes getting it fired up, LB. –Fran Hernandez legendary hot rod racer and mechanic bending over engine compartment, C. –Don Rackemann driver putting on helmet, RF. –Lou Baney, RB. -Ted Evosavich; from Nick’s personal collection, gifted to David & Michelle.
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That’s Danny O’Brien’s ’29 roadster on a ’32 frame with a ’55 Olds Hydra. Fran built the Hydra-Matic we put in that car at the drag strip. Fran did the hydramatic modifications before B & M did, Fran was one of the first, way before. I quit driving the car because it ran very well on gas or alcohol, but when we ran nitro I couldn’t control the transmission, it didn’t have enough stall speed. Even though we had the record at seven drag strips, we never lost. Fran was working on solving that. Fran was liked by everyone. Very abrupt and so bright, everyone wanted him to tell them what to do. He knew everything. An extra good guy that everyone loved.”
 
CCC-Nick-Rich-Don-RackemannL.-R. –Rich Rackemann, Don Rackemann, Nick Matranga; as taken by Dennis Loehr in Nick’s office at Advanced Transmission.
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Rich Rackemann of San Pedro, CA, on Nick

Don’s younger brother, a partner and executive of automotive marketing, advertising, and promotions, for ‘Beaumont Design Group’. “I was a tag along. My brother and Nick were eight years older and brought me with them. I started hanging out when I was 12-13. Started going to drag racing, Bonneville, the lakes, all that. Nick grew up a little more affluent than the rest. His folks owned the Italian restaurant. Some of the guys went in the kitchen to eat. Nick always had nice equipment, all his stuff was very detailed. The way he dressed, carried himself, his hair, his cars, that was very important. He goes and buys a ’40 Merc, the club coupe. His Mother said it was the ugliest car she had ever seen! He told her, ‘Ma, I have a vision. Then it will be the most beautiful car you ever seen!’ And he worked on the Merc and when it was done she agreed with him, ‘Nick, it IS the most beautiful car I have ever seen!’ He’d say, ‘Richie, it’s all in the top, the way the top chop was cut and fitted. The other guys always get that wrong, and the bumper guards in the back placed wrong. Heck, they even get the color wrong.’ He said he was enjoying himself working on the last car because the guy’s (David) head is in the right direction. Junior Conway and I went to Lynwood High School together, same grade Class of 1957. In 1955-56, Nick was building a ’41 Ford pickup at Bob Grossie’s garage on 48th St, L.A., a very nice truck with a very hot Cadillac motor. Just finished it. I told him I had a date and needed a nice set of wheels to go out in. I had the date, and also had a street drag race set up. He said, ‘Sure, come and get it.’ When I got the truck his parting words to me, ‘Richie, don’t break it!’ I told him I’d bring it back sometime Saturday at Grossie’s. Which I did, on the back of a tow truck. His only comment was, ‘Did you win?’ And I said ‘Yes, three times.’

In 1981-82, before he started the black ’32 Ford coupe, he had a line on getting the car. I had built a chopped ’32 Tudor sedan, and I finished the car and was really proud of it, and wanted to take it over to show him. He had been very busy building his business, ‘Crown Transmission’ (before ‘Advanced Transmission’) on Redondo Beach Blvd in Gardena, CA. When I took the car to him, he was very impressed, and very jazzed about getting and building another car. And just after that, the gentleman who had the ’32 coupe passed away, and the wife called Nick and asked if he still wanted the car. He immediately went and got it and started to build it. My ’32 gave him the press to get his, and make it so nice.

In 1955 we went to Bonneville. He had built a Cad motor. We put it in a ’29 hi-boy roadster on ’32 rails. Lou Baney, Don Rackemann, Danny O’Brien, owned and rebuilt the car in 1954. We were gonna run it in three different classes. We had two Cad motors, one owned by Nick, one by Lou Baney. The other built and owned by Nick Arias Jr was a GMC 302 ci 6-cylinder motor. That car won ‘Best Appearing Car and Crew’ at Bonneville, Aug 1955. Hot Rod Magazine published a great pic of the car and crew. The paint, the dress, all the support vehicles (Don Rackemann’s F-100 pickup, Lou Baney’s Cadillac, + the Baney-Rackemann-O’Brien roadster, was considered a rock-around-the-clock lakes, salt, strip, and street quadruple threat!) matched. Theme color ‘Iris’ (light blue iris) with Von Dutch flames and custom pinstriping and painting was Don Rackemann’s idea. Our uniform was white narrow legged pegger pants, special short-sleeved bowling shirts made ‘Iris’ color with the sponsors names (Yeakel Bros Cadillac). Nick always treated me with respect and as an older brother. I was part of their group event though I was younger. Frank Pisano and I were younger, we were the tag alongs.”


 

CCC-Bonneville-1955-c-at-CA-ShowLined-up at a California Hot Rod show.
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Continue reading about Nick Matranga in the NEXT PART
 
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That Illustrious Sanguine 1940 Merc 3

 

© by Michelle M. Yiatras Timechanic ™
(Nick Matranga – That Illustrious Sanguine ’40 Merc! – original written February, 2014)

 

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Part three

Due to the length of this article from Michelle, we have split it up in three parts. Be sure to see part one and two which are linked at the end of this article.
 
 

Karpo Murkijanian, ‘Deuce Week’ Chairman of the Petersen Museum, CA, on Nick

“Nick and I were friends for 27 years. We met in 1983 when his ’32 three-window was getting painted at Jarmo Pulkinen’s shop next door to Terry Hegmen’s shop, where my ’32 three-window was getting chopped, in Stanton, CA. Their shops were around the corner from Boyd Coddington’s shop. These guys did a lot of work for Boyd at the time. In my spare time I’d meander over to Jarmo’s and we’d all go to lunch together.” Karpo growing up in Montebello next to Whittier and East LA, was surrounded by hot rodder and low rider car culture in the 1960’s-70’s. “We hit it off right away. He was naturally drawn to my Armenian nature. He was my father’s age, and he taught me about customs as my mentor. He was like a father I never had. He always encouraged and pushed me.” In business and life he was very motivating, not just with cars.
 

CCC-nick-matranga-32-ford-1984Nick Matranga and his 1932 Ford three window coupe.
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He spent time with me at his shop and on the phone.” Karpo was like the son Nick couldn’t have because his own son was handicapped with MS.
“Nick just sold his ’40 Ford in 1949. He was driving down the street. He saw the Merc on a used car lot. He stopped and checked it out, 8000 miles on it. He bought it then and there. He brought it home, and his mom came outside and said in her Italian accent, ‘Nicky, that’s the ugliest car I ever saw in my life!’ When it was all finished, his mother and father said it was the prettiest car they ever saw in their life!

He told me a story about the Korean War. He left the car in the garage. He got a letter from his mom saying George Barris inquired to sell the car. He and some fellows were in a fox hole getting bombarded. He was literally shaking recounting the story 25 years later. They were getting hit left and right, and the next thing he knew, he was the only one left alive. And so he saw all his friends die, and he realized he wasn’t coming home. He loved his mother and wanted her to have the money. So he wrote her back and said, ‘Sell the car!’ So when he got back home, the first thing he did was go to Barris’ to buy the car back. Then he found out it got totaled. He was very disappointed, but realized it was time to move on.
 He told me early on, ‘You’re never gonna make big money working for someone else, or by yourself. You’ll make money having other good people working for you, and treat them well. Because of the volume. One man can’t do it all. With a crew you can work in volume. Treat people and your workers with respect, and kindly, because they’ve been through it. Listen to the successful older guys, and listen well. They know a lot and you’ll get way ahead by paying attention to them.’
 

CCC-Horse-Races-Family-Shauna-AnthonyHorse Races Family Shauna & Anthony.
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In 1986 at the Los Angeles Race Track, Nick had several Sulky thoroughbred harnessed race horses with painted and pinstriped buggies. He loved to talk about and show his race horses, he had box seating. He would recommend what horse to bet on and we were winning. Once I wanted to bet on one of his horses and he said, ‘No, no, no, bet on this other one…’ Another time I wanted to bet on one of his horses and again he said, ‘No, no, no, bet on this other one…’ Then I realized he personally knew all the horses racing, and their owners, and he could evaluate who would likely win a race. He would be sure to tell me when to bet on one of his horses. If I listened to him I always won.
 When Shauna, his wife, died from MS, he did change. He didn’t want to go out as much. He sold his ’32 three-window that Jarmo painted and Boyd worked on. He hadn’t even put on a couple hundred miles. The medical bills ran up and he needed quick money to pay it, and sold it in 1989. As it was on the cover of Street Rodder magazine April 1984. And then later in 2006 I’m on Ebay looking at ’32 Fords. I scroll down and see this black three-window. I recognized it immediately. A performance car dealer, Brian Burnett, from Los Gatos up north, was selling it, and in the description didn’t even know what it was. He could tell it was a high quality build. I called to let Nick know and he shat. So I called Brian and informed him that it was Nick and Boyd built. He remembered Nick and me from Boyd’s. Whoever buys it, we asked that it be displayed at the Petersen’s ‘Deuce Week’ 75th Anniversary of the Deuce, of 380 Fords. A super nice Canadian, Mike Seelbinder, bought it, and obliged.
 

CCC-Nicks-Office-1966Nick in his office 1966.
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I was co-chairing and organizing the event, and when Mike and his wife showed up I directed them to park it in the exclusive ‘Cover Car Row’ for the weekend. The black lacquer still looked brand new. It was the first show in twenty years that Nick attended any event, and the last time. The big day Saturday was hectic. Nick tapped me on the shoulder. I was surprised to see him because he rarely turned out for a car show. He loved that car. We went over to see it, and it looked so good. He wanted to meet the new owners. Nick and Don Rackemann walked around and found out that the new owners were at the hospital because they got hit by a car, walking from their hotel on Wilshire Blvd, Friday night. They were seriously hurt. Nick was winded, so he didn’t stay long. And that was the last Nick ever saw it. We sent them copies of Nick’s pictures of the car and a ‘Deuce Week’ poster. They still have the car and are in good shape. Nick really didn’t build another car until the ’37 Chevy coupe he started in 2005. He got to drive it a bit before he died, just needed final interior.
 

CCC-Nick-37-Chevrolet-Coupe-aNick Matranga with his 1937 Chevy.
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CCC-Nick-37-Chevrolet-Coupe-cNick’s Chevy at Nick’s Advanded Transmission Shop in in Torrance, Ca.
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Another major thing Nick taught me, is that when you’re building a car that has a lot of custom trick stuff done to it, put it in primer, and then drive it to get the bugs out of it. Then blow it apart and paint and chrome. That’s how he did the Merc. He drove it out to the Santa Monica beach one day. When he pulled in and parked the car, people gathered around. He went to eat. When he got back, there was a swarm of people around the car, and he couldn’t even get to it. When Hirohata’s was getting chopped at Barris’, he asked Nick if he could use his side windows to copy the design. Nick said, ‘Yeah!’ George Barris wanted him to use the LaSalle grill and Nick refused, so he used the stock ’40 grill.”
 
David says one beautiful thing about the stock ’40 Merc is the stock grill.
 
“The first ten years I knew him, in the 1980’s, traditional customs were not popular. It was all about hot rods for me, growing up in the 1960’s-70’s. Nick had a really bitchin’ three-window. I didn’t even know he had a Merc until the 1990’s, when I started coming around the transmission shop, and I saw all the Merc and Bonneville pictures on the wall, I had no idea. Now that was bitchin’, and he told me the stories. I didn’t even know he was a Bonneville competitor. I really looked up to him. The last time I talked to him he said he loved me, right as we were hanging up. I was shocked because it was the first time he spoke like that. He usually spoke no holds barred, but it was, ‘MF this or MF that.’ A week later he was in the hospital and couldn’t talk. Nick was blunt and to the point.
Either he liked you or didn’t like you. Very opinionated. Once I didn’t call him for a bit, and I called and said, ‘Eh?’, and Nick said, ‘Where the f–k have you been! Who are you banging?’ I said, ‘A Sicilian!’
 

CCC-to-nick-from-george-barris-bTo Nick From George Barris.
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CCC-to-nick-from-george-barris-aBatmobile promo-photo to Nick From George Barris.
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Frank Baney, Lou Baney’s son, of Inglewood and Huntington Beach, CA, on Nick

A finish carpenter by trade, a race dragster restorer by hobby, owns the ‘Yeakel Plymouth Special’ ’64 top fueled dragster, fellow ‘Screwdrivers’. Father, Lou Baney, General Manager of the ‘Yeakel Plymouth Center’, S. California car dealership, sponsored the top fuel dragster. “In 1963 I was 8. My father, Nick, Joe Pisano, Nick Arias, Don Rackemann, and all their families went on a big vacation weekend on the Colorado River at River Shore Resorts at the CA/AZ border, in the town of Earp, CA. They all had boats. Don was the ringleader. Everyone was waterskiing, and I had never skied before. So I was left sitting in a cabana on the beach. Nick had a broken hand because he hit a wall, and he was stuck on the beach with me. So he sat with me and talked to me a couple hours about how I could do it, ‘It’s so much fun. I know you can do it. I’ve seen you ride your bike and skateboard. You’ll pop right up.’ He went and wrapped his hand in a plastic bag and silver taped it up. He said, ‘Sit in my lap, and I’ll hold your knees with the skis sticking up from the water.’ He hooked us to the boat and said to them, ‘Hit it!’ The ski rope tightened and pulled us up, and Nick stood me up and let me go, and off I went skiing. After that first run I wasn’t afraid anymore, and from then on you couldn’t get me out of the water. I’ve taught both my kids and their friends how to water ski in the same way and in the same place. We’ll teach my grandkids that way too.

He along with the other guys were big heroes and racers. He was always so down to earth and nice to bother with me and talk and listen to me. When I was 17 and broke a transmission in my truck, I took it to him at ‘Advanced Transmission’. Just a kid and he told them to take care of me. Then we went for a ride in his black ’57 Nomad fully restored and customized. When we got around the block he asked me if I wanted to drive it. When I got behind the wheel he directed me to a big open street and then he said, ‘Hammer it!’, and it took off, a big block 396 Chevy engine. That was the fastest I ever went, it wasn’t how fast we went, it was how quick we got there. The first time I ever got pushed back into the seat. I thought mine (’61 Chevy pickup with a small block 327 Chevy), and my buddies cars were badassed hot rods. It was a real racer’s car with all the expensive good stuff in it that I wanted. Here’s a grown up that can have anything he wants and he took time with me to drive in his car. I looked up to him and he was a kid at heart.
 

CCC-Nicks-57-Chevy-Nomad-Barris-Paint-aNick with his 1957 Chevy Nomad that was painted at the Barris Shop.
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Nick knew my dad before my dad knew me. My relationship with Nick was in the moment of the 1960’s. In the 1970’s he told me to stay away from horses, both as a hobby or betting, because it’s just a place to throw money, you’ll go broke. Although he loved them. He would walk me around his shop and go over his latest cars with me. He treated me like I was somebody even though I was a kid with big eyes and my tongue hanging out. As far as he was concerned business stopped when I came in and we talked about race cars. I collect dragsters, boats, motorcycles, pretty much anything with a motor in it.”
 
 
 

Nick Arias, “Nick Arias Jr Racing” piston and engine shop, of Normandie Av, Gardena, CA, on Nick

“Later on I got to be better friends. The Yeakel Brothers sponsored us at Bonneville 1955. Don drove it. And Danny O’Brien. I built the 6 cylinder GMC engine, I ran it in the B class. We ran pretty good. Horning 12 port head. Alcohol-nitro 50-50 blend. Hilborn fuel injection. ’29 Model A on ’32 frame. All painted powder blue. Three cars, the ’55 Cad 4-door sedan for the crew; Danny’s F-100 Ford pickup; and the roadster, Cad engine A by Nick M., and GMC engine B by Nick A. Lou Baney ran the whole crew. Nick was a good guy and worked hard. He had a job as a bricklayer mason before he got into his transmission shop. We were part of the crew. We all got along. We all pitched in. We ran the Yeakel car that won. I used to stop by and say hello at his transmission shop while he was working on the ’32.”
 
CCC-Bonneville-1955-aBonneville 1955. Don Rackemann’s F-100 pickup, Lou Baney’s 1955 Cadillac, and the Danny O’Brien, Rackemann, and Baney highboy. All cars  were painted the same Iris Blue, then striped and flamed by Von Dutch. From left to right. Nick Arias Jr, Bill Likes, Danny O’Brien, Don Rackemann, Jo Rackemann, Rich Rackemann, Nick Matranga, Lou Baney, Ted Evosavich; famous shot by Hot Rod magazine, from Nick’s personal collection.
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Dennis Loehr, financial advisor, of Torrance, CA, on Nick

“I knew Nick well the last eight years of his life. Nick has not changed one iota since his youth. A feisty tailed dart, more energy than he knew what to do with, a dynamo. A guy came into his office at ‘Advanced Transmission’ in Torrance, a foot taller than Nick’s 5’5”, said something smart alecky that inflamed Nick, and Nick knocked him down and out with one punch. He was very strong for his size. He was a very proud and private Sicilian. If he didn’t like you, that was it. His arms were severely burned in Korea, and he was a very patriotic guy.” 
Dennis composed the video for Nick’s (& his lovely sister, Connie’s) obituary.
 
 
 

David Zivot, of Las Vegas, NV, on Nick’s ’40 Merc

“I can tell you that using photographs to scale anything from can be a tricky business. Case in point, the famous Marcia Campbell photograph of the almost dead on side view of Nick’s car in front of John C. Fremont High School. When I started my project, I produced a 1:1 scale blowup on a vinyl banner from a fellow’s computer that had the hard drive space to process a life size (apprx 14’ x 5’) hi res digital file of this. I lined up the door and the stainless trim, for a horizontal starting point, matching it with an actual piece of stainless off my ’40 Merc. I also used the known diameter of the Cadillac sombrero hubcaps for both horizontal and vertical measurements as well. Proceeding to chop the top from this blowup or any templates made from it, were not to the degree of accuracy that I was after. I threw away all templates, blowups, etc., and used my own eye. In fact, using any of the photographs for precise measurements is asking for trouble, because of the distortion factors involved. The metal man that finished the chop had something the others didn’t…an eye!

In the final analysis, the compound curves that are demonstrated on those wonderful creations, especially after they are chopped, are best replicated by getting as close as you can in the ballpark with measurements, but finalizing it with your eye from every angle possible, from multiple distances, and knowing the documented data of the car. There are many little tricks and details on how I think I finally captured this chop on Nick’s car that I’ll relate to you at a later moment.

 
CCC-matranga-merc-colororized-01Marcia Campbell photo of Nick’s Mercury in front of John C. Fremont High School.
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CCC_Matranga-Merc-by-Marcia-Campbell-early-1951-aTwo photos of Nick’s 1940 Mercury at the Hall of Justice on California Avenue in South Gate, Ca. more on this photo shoot can be seen in the Line-Up Photo Shoot article. These were gifted to David & Michelle by Jesse Lopez from his personal collection of never before seen originals of Nick’s car taken by Marcia Campbell, bearing her stamp on the back.
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I’ve experienced in the past that sometimes the most unreliable sources can be the original owner/builder because memories fade with age. Not so in this case with Nick, he was acute.
Some observations on early paint jobs, including Barris Maroon. My initial plans were to find a meticulous match to what was known as Barris Maroon circa 1946-52, that was based on ‘41 Buick #º«@! $@#%^. My researches indicated through discussions with George Barris, Junior Conway, Nick Matranga, Jesse Lopez, and Dick Bertolucci, boiled down to this. You can only get so close, and barring finding an untouched never been in the sun 60 yr old example of an original Barris paint job would have told me only, that particular paint job only looked like that. In other words, Barris Maroon could vary from car to car, depending on amount of >>>>> powder used, what time of the morning George Barris sprayed it, and who was bugging him that day. Plainly put, numerous variables. So to get as reasonably close as possible, I personally mixed ’41 Buick #º«@! & #¤¿« $@#%^, using toners only, with no <<<<< powder added, put in differing amounts of fine >>>>> powder (in this case a 65 yr old can of Crescent brand), dipped each shade in a light bulb, sent them off to Nick, and said, ‘Nick, when I hit it on the nail, tell me.’ Five or six light bulbs later he said, ‘You got it, kid!’ All of this is to illustrate that you have to use as close as possible the available materials at the time, talk to the original owner if he is still alive, and in the final analysis, go with your gut and understanding. You also have to satisfy yourself. The most important thing is not the quality of the paint job and the accuracy of the color, but does it look ‘1949-50’ or not?!
 
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Guys that have original color photos to extrapolate from are lucky…No base coat-clear coat, just plain old fashioned lacquer. One pint tin can Crescent >>>>> powder, late 1940’s, from John Carambia’s collection of NOS. ’41 Buick #º«@! $@#%^ modern acrylic lacquer. An original can of nitrocellulose was too deteriorated so had to use modern. All the constituent parts had separated and the solvents and binders smelled funny like stagnant turpentine. George Barris confirmed my suspicion that it was #º«@! $@#%^, rather than just the very close #¤¿« $@#%^. I tested a can of #¤¿« $@#%^ and it was too brown. The #º«@! $@#%^ was very rich with some purple like blue blood. When you buy the #º«@! $@#%^ it commonly comes mixed with <<<<>>>> powder. Trial and error determined the degree of >>>>> highlights just enough so it glowed in the sun like 24 carat, not copper, bronze, nor Roman. In those days, M & H mixed the Rinshed-Mason base and George added the >>>>>. I got a dealer of authentic vintage lacquers to mix my base and I added the >>>>> touch. Nick verified the result.
 
CCC-marcia-campbell-29A-08Marcia Campbell with the Model A Pick-Up built with the help of the Barris shop.
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I knew of Nick since I was a youngster from his outstanding custom cars. When I finally got to meet him later on he offered encouragement and advice, and a friendship developed that not only encompassed our mutual interests, also in seeing the world as it really is as well as how it really was. His reminiscences brought the days of the early hot rod and custom era to life, and perhaps more importantly what it was like to be young when it was good to be young in Los Angeles, USA.”

Nick was a paisan whose family matriculated from a neighboring village in Palermo, Sicily. His mother knew all the families and their folklores. So he knew by your family name what calibre of people you were. When I told him my family name from Detroit, he said, ‘They are good guys but formidable guys, don’t mess with one.’ Nick was very steadfast and straight forward. He was Proud to Serve both his family and his country in their times of need.

Godspeed, my good fellow, on uplifted wings. He was a hot number in a hot custom – That Illustrious Sanguine ’40 Merc!
 
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Nick & Custom US Postage Stamps, made for Nick by David as a surprise gift.
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Jesse Lopez of Bell-Riverside-Downey, CA, on Johnny Zaro, Fritz Voigt, and Gary Wise

“I just got back from Fritz Voigt’s 90th birthday party at Fritz’ house in Downey, CA, on Saturday, March 22, 2014. Quite a few of the old guys I hadn’t seen in a while, and his family and kids, all of Fritz’ buddies. I went with Pete Werrlein and my nephew, JohnBeanieAcosta. We all went and looked at Beanie’s chop of my car, and I critiqued the rear window cut, like I critiqued Jerry’s. My club coupe was ugly like a turtle before it was chopped, but it had the slope to make the right cut. Isky was at the party with his unlit cigar and English racer cap, he has a pretty sharp smart memory. We liked to wear those butcher caps, white cotton. They’d get dirty from messin’ with cars, so at night we wore a clean one, but they’d get grease anyway. I had half a dozen myself. Mickey Thompson’s ex-old lady, Dixie, was there. Fritz ran around with her for quite a few years after her and Mickey broke up. She still looks good and takes care of herself.
 Fritz looked pretty good even though he’s in a wheelchair to get around. His wife is a nice lady and helps him get around. His memory’s good.

We sat and bullshitted about street racing. He tells the story when he was testing the dragster on gas right on Slauson Av in Maywood by Fritz’ shop, west over the L.A. bridge. On the other side was wide open at Bell Gardens by the Ford/Mercury plant. We all took turns. Finally a cop came along and wanted to know who was doing the driving so he could write them up. I said, ‘Give it to me, I’m going in the Army!’ It was a couple weeks before boot camp in 1950. So he wrote me up. Bill Ortega and a bunch of guys got jobs at that big new Ford/Mercury plant. I even thought about it.
 An hour after Pete, Beanie, and I went home, Pete got a call at his house from Johnny’s son that he passed away that day, peacefully. He had heart and nerves health problems the past few years, that’s why he wasn’t hangin’ around much. Johnny’s son was trying to reach me, but I wasn’t home yet. They’ll let us know the details. I called Al Andril and some others and let them know. Al and Johnny were neighbors growing up in Maywood and built cars after they were in the Navy together.
 Craig Wise was at Fritz’ party. Craig’s older brother, Gary was a good friend of mine. He was a nice guy, worked for Hampton’s in Downey, they built blower setups for engines in their small speed shop. Building manifolds to set the 471 hemi blowers on, Chrysler, Ford. Gary was a machinist.

Fritz wasn’t the easiest guy to get to be friends with. He was one of a kind. He was my mentor. I first loved drag racing before customs. That’s why my custom hauled ass. Fritz advised me and built the 3/8 strokers I ran on my car. I’d hurry out of his shop and tore them old flatheads apart and put them back together again in one day. Fritz always made sure we kids were doing it right, my 15-16 to his 20-21, those five years made a difference. Walter was his two years older brother, was walking without a cane at the party lookin’ good, he was even taller 6’3” than Fritz’ 6’. They were good sized Germans. Art the younger brother and I were in the same grade and ran around in high school, he died young in his 50’s from cancer. He wasn’t into cars like Fritz, Walt, and me. That’s how I got to be more friends with Fritz and Walt. Us Germans and Mexicans got along. In Catholic grammar school I learned formal English and math from the nuns, so my siblings and I were the smart ones by the time I went to public school. They’d kid me that my handwriting was like a woman’s it was so neat and beautiful.

Fritz said he didn’t wear shoes until eighth grade in Cudahy, CA, at Bell High School, we were all so poor after the Depression, War, and all.
 My friend, RogelioRoy’, recommends and is driving me over to a new kind of therapeutic hospital at Mexicali, Baja, for a couple weeks, to get a full checkup and get off the meds for PTSD. I’m so healthy that I don’t need the anti- anxiety/depression drugs the VA put me on. At the old Veterans Hospital, all they know you by is your last four and serial numbers. This new treatment hospital gives advanced and personal attention. Other folks that went there were greatly improved. PTSD is a big issue for soldiers. The great American Army forgets about the soldiers when it’s done with them.”
By the way, Jesse’s keeping his ranch land in Riverside County, even though he sold most all of the roosters, because he needs the breadth of country fresh air and landscape to get away. The city life of Downey is too dense for him full time.
 
CCC-johnny-zaro-41-ford-walter-wyssJohnny Zaro ’41 Ford 1951 Oakland or L.A. Roadster Show Walter Wyss Collection Custom Car Chronicle. Possibly John Manok (who worked for George with his brother Ralph at the Lynwood shop) polishing the hood, George Barris polishing the bumper guard, Jack Stewart leaning on the driver’s front fender, possibly Gene Simmons (who hung around the shop as George’s Hollywood buddy and first brought over Jesse’s gal, Flo, on his motorcycle) on the far left. Zaro’s car when it was Barris Maroon, had more metal work on it than any other car in the shop, the darker and iridescent colors showing the imperfections.
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Craig Wise of Downey, CA, on Gary Wise, and Fritz Voigt

“Early in Gary’s career as a machinist he worked for Stricker Engineering in Maywood, CA, a few doors west of Fritz Voigt’s Shop. Gary made precision aircraft parts for the government. Rich Stricker owned and drove the ol’ SoCal Coupe for a few years with a front mount blower on a Caddy motor. When I was 15-16 years old I to work in that machine shop as a clean-up boy, sweeping the floor & cleaning the machines. When I was finished with my cleaning duties, I would go to the back room where the ‘34 coupe was stored, I would pull the old WWII canvas drop cloth off the coupe then get in and make like I was racing at ElMo and B-ville! I even talked to Rich about selling it to me. He told me he could not do that; said if anything bad ever happened to me in the coupe it would be very hard for him to deal with.
 Gary worked for 25 years with the Stricker’s, then he moved on to Don Hampton’s shop ‘Hampton Blowers’ in Downey. Gary & Don knew each other from Bell High School. Don started drag racing back in the 1950’s while he was still in high school. Don started from the bottom and raced his way up to the top. If I remember right, he was top eliminator at the 1965 Winter Nationals in Pomona driving his beautiful front engine blown Chrysler dragster. Don had a very successful career with his blower business, he’s still in the shop 6 days a week. He was elected into the Dragster Racing Hall of Fame a couple years ago.”

 

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Go back to part One, part TWO
 
 
 

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Jesse Lopez – Lo! & Behold

 

© by Michelle M. Yiatras Timechanic ™
(Jesse Lopez – Lo! & Behold – original written in august, 2011)

 

“And shall bring forth a rod from the stem of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”
~Isaiah;11:1



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Due to the length of this article from Michelle, 5 chapters, we have split it up in two parts. Be sure to click “part two” at the end of this article to see the full article.

Chapter 1

Born August 3, 1929, in Monrovia, CA, to Henry and Frances Lopez, the third oldest child, first born boy of eight siblings. Sisters Mary, Angie, Rose, Margaret, Cecilia. Brothers Memo & Henry. Daughters Debi and Juliette. Sons Jesse Jr & Jeffrey. Longevity with several family members 100+ yrs old, the Lopez’ are movie star handsome and university smart. As a child Jesse spoke Spanish at home, one of only four Mexican families in Bell.

CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-09Jesse at age 11 with his first pony.
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We talked several occasions at his rooster ranch in Riverside County, CA sitting on stacks of fifty pound chicken feed bags with hundreds of roosters crowing in the ambient background. This farm is virtually pristine and ordinate due to Jesse’s lifelong conscientious and rigorous work schedule. He’s built many cars, homes, businesses, and farms.

“When I was eleven years old I was already into cars. I’d pump my bike and hang out at Bell Auto Parts. You can imagine the sensation when here comes Pop Evans, Connie Weidell, Phil Cook, Phil Weiand, Vic Edelbrock, Clay Smith, Jack Kukura, all these guys pulling in, and they’d be in A V-8’s and T V-8’s and I’d be on my bike. Right where I grew up in Bell. That’s how I got started. ‘Richard’ is the guy that taught me how to drive after I bought my first ’29 roadster pickup without the bed, so it’s my son’s middle name.” 


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Johnny Zaro, Dick Carter, and Jesse all went to Bell High School those days. Nick Matranga and Marcia Campbell went to John C. Fremont. “Huntington Park used to be the cleanest safest town, now it’s bad. We were the tough guys then and we were the champs on our high school sports companies. Back then people were honest, you didn’t worry about locking your car or your house.” In high school he was steadily in gymnastics, football, and track. He weighed 141 lbs at 6’, the slimmest in the varsity line of 200 lb+.

CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-10Jesse was very active in High School Gymnastics.
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CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-11Jesse with his High School Football tam. Jesse is on the far left with number 59.
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CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-12Jesse in action during High School Football team practice.
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CCC-JL-High-School-Graduation-1947Jesse’s 1947 High-School Graduation photo.
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“Us guys got together three, four times a week with our cars at the Lynwood Clock drive-in at Atlantic and Imperial. George liked to ride shotgun with Buzzy, a street racer, in his ’29 with a Cad engine, a hell of a runner. Sam was the craftsman and painter. George mostly handled the business administrations, and kept everyone straight. I wish I had the lead paddle today. Everyone’s car was worked with that.”

He met George Barris at the first ever SCTA Hot Rod Exposition show at the Los Angeles Armory in January 1948, featuring George’s ’41 Buick. The hood on the Buick was opened and he had the door open on the left side revealing the interior, all roped off. In line straight eight with chromed valve cover and dual carbs hanging on to it. He says, testing young George, “How much to paint a ’32 roadster? It’s pretty cherry.” “Well, it’s probably pretty cherry in your eyes, but I have to see it.” “OK…Maybe one of these days I’ll come down to see you…” “You do that…” So Jesse turns away with his high lakes speed embroidered on the back of his jacket. Then he feels someone poke him, “Say, are you a racer? You into speed?” “Yeah.” “You do mechanical work?” “Yeah.” “You see that Buick? It’s not running now. We had to push it in. We can exchange work, whatever. Be sure to come down and see me.”


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A case of the contractor’s house doesn’t get done, because everyone else demands first. So he did. He drove the ’41 Ford over to Compton for George and Sam to customize how he wanted it. “George was always respectful with me, not so to Nick or Zaro. And nobody better mouth off with him. We hung out at the Barris shop every day after work when I was doing a car, after work for hours working on the car, Sam would help. And at the drive-ins. The Wich Stand west side LA, the original Bob’s Big Boy Pasadena, so many in those days. I crashed with Sam a lot at his place a couple blocks from the shop. None of us ever drank beer nor booze. Most of us didn’t even smoke cigarettes. No pot. We were all pretty clean cut. We were dedicated to cars. And pretty ladies. We competed for both.”


CCC-jesse-lopez-barris-shop-earlyJesse’s Ford at the Back of the Barris Compton Avenue shop. Parked in front of Sam’s 1940 Mercury. Johnny Zaro’s ’41 Ford is in the background. This is an early photo when Jesse ran a set of single bar flipper hubcaps.
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CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-02Russell Lenarz took this picture of Jesse and the Ford in front of Hollywood Track Turf Club in black and white, Rik Hoving later added the colors digitally.
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He started his ’41 Ford himself in 1947 when he got out of high school, stock original and cherry as could be, and it was finished at the Compton and 77th shop in 1948. Jesse decided on a club coupe over the short door, business coupe. He knew he was going to chop it before he bought it. He spent a few hours determining that the business coupe had two fold down opera seats, and the club coupe had a regular seat in back, and even though he preferred the business coupe he couldn’t make the top chop contour look right. That’s why Snooky’s and the others look different from his, because they have the business coupe. Fritz Voigt, AHRF Pioneer, built the motor in his ’41 Ford.

“I actually added the McCullough blower after the car was chopped and I decided to start drag racing with it. The car was too heavy and low to race, but I wanted to race it so I put the charger on it. I always had a large engine in it. I pulled out the stock ’41 Ford engine and put a 59AB block 3/8” x 3/8” stroker, Edelbrock manifold, Edelbrock heads. I raced in the street with this. I put the blower on for the drag strip, and ran it without the hood. Lincoln Zephyr gears in the transmission with the blower, we all used Lincoln gear boxes. I had to have a special made big radiator because it ran so hot, 4” core and 4” tank. One carb off a Buick Roadmaster with a large venturi to let more air in, Fritz figured that out. He built the motors for most of us back then. He did most of my engine work. He built engines for me well into the 50’s when I got away from flatheads into bigger engines, a Chrysler that was identical to one he put in his world record gas dragster. A ’56 Chrysler 354 cid hemi, I put it in a brand new ’56 Ford pickup, I was street racing it. Everybody went to Fritz, he was the big man for speed. Then we all quit because we didn’t want to go into the hi-tech fuel racing, not like our daily driver street racers.”


CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-08This photo was taken just before one of the repaints. The rear of the car and the running board covers are in primer, possibly due to some repair work. If you look carefully you can see the McCullough blower on the engine.
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His car was painted ’47 Chrysler adante green Rinshed-Mason with fine metallic gold highlights, M & H in LA mixed it. At Barris’ they test shot a motorcycle tank for the curvature. “Sam sprayed it. Sam, George, and I developed the color together. I picked the chip and the guy at R-M mixed it.” Jesse stripped it and kept it in primer all the time he was at basic training because he was driving it back and forth routinely from LA to Fort Roberts.

“The lacquer paint back then didn’t hold up like today’s. The streets were really bad back then and we’d get chips in the paint and running boards. I was a painter so instead of spotting it I went ahead and repainted it and refined the color in nicer shades of green/metallic. I gave it the final paint job, a nicer lighter shade of the dark green with more gold flakes, I actually liked that paint color the best. Everything was experimental then, nothing was concrete, always wanting to improve, and they were constantly making things better.” 



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CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-05Jesse and a pal at Basic Training in Camp Roberts in 1951.
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Yes, he was the first to build the taillights into the bumper guards, “I was good at doing plastic work and I got the bright idea to set them in the indentation of the bumper guard, about 1 3/4” x 3 3/4”, a small light fit into the back of the guard. I made the plastic formed and recessed to the shape with 1/8” grooves cut inside with a triangle file to reflect. It’s easier working with plastic than metal. I was the first one with that car with a lot of things, the chopping of a big coupe, the rolled running boards, the ’48 Cad grill had a custom curve to it since I took the bottom row out and dropped it down lower and smaller and made it a little smaller than the stock.” He was friends with the son of the Cadillac dealership owner, and they special ordered at cost a brand new ’48 Caddy grill. Again his idea to customize with this grill type.


CCC-jesse-lopez-front-close-upClose up of the front end gives us a good look at the front edge of the fender line, and the cut down 1948 Cadillac grille.
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He designed the front fenders by removing the chrome strips from the creases and filled them in with lead and made the fenders loop around at the end kind of ’46 style. “Sam helped me with the grill and taillights. I was a speed guy, Sam was the metal guy, so I got to be a pretty good metal man with what he taught me, it was my ideas but Sam did most of the work.” The Appleton 112’s were wired and worked, the spot handles were green Lucite to match the Lucite on the dash. The doors kicked open by buttons hidden under the rocker. He had a shut off switch to turn the juice off by putting his hand through the grill on the left, he always hid a little key there so the juice could be shut down. A stock latch unlatched the hood. He didn’t run casters, he just hit the driveway sideways.

“My dual exhaust stock mufflers got me pulled over by a motorbike cop. Dual exhaust was illegal even though I had stock mufflers. When he found out I had a custom car the judge gave me four days in jail. My dad said ‘No’ and bailed me out.”



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He put the Cad sombreros on later in 1949. Founding members of the 1948 KoLA club; George coined the phrase “Kustoms”, Kustoms stood by itself; Sam, Nick, Bill Ortega, Oren and Loren Breeland, Oren’s mom took care of the boys, Gordo, Fuzzy, Don Nassar, Carl Abajian, Richard Carter, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Buzzy. Jack “Fat Boy” Stewart, Paul “Snooky” Janich, Dick “Peep” Jackson, Hershel “Junior” Conway, Bill Taylor were a few years younger and came later, a different era. “Bob Hirohata’s nickname was “Walrus”. He came later, but I was pretty tight with him, he sort of idolized me, very proper Japanese, polite and smart. The guys would all greet me ‘Esele!’” It was the history making of hot rods and customs. In 1948-51 the whole gang, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Bill DeCarr, Dick Carter, Carl Abajian, George and Sam Barris, Nick Matranga, and Jesse would getaway in their customs on the holidays to Crestline and Lake Arrowhead by Big Bear Mountain. “Hundreds would watch us drive up in the ’40 Mercs, ’41 Fords, ’41 Merc, ’41 Buick, ’42 Ford coupe, and ’42 Cad. They’d be waiting for us. It was a spectacle!” They would also caravan to the legendary Balboa Beach Rendezvous Ballroom.

CCC-jesse-lopez-rendezvous-ballroomDifferent views of the legendary Balboa Beach Rendezvous Ballroom.
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“I wouldn’t dance, I watched my car. George would dance the jitterbug though. He could really slap leather. We’d get there late, like ten p.m. We were busy working on our cars all day, and Balboa was an hour out to get there. Looking sharp in our aviator jackets, Kirk Douglas spotted us one night. He was just getting started and he looked so familiar. He was friendly. He wore elevator shoes. If I could get someone to watch the car I’d go into the big ballroom. George always went in.”

The Trade Winds in Inglewood also had jitterbug contests on Tuesday nights. All the guys would go to see Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Louis Prima, the same crowd as the Balboa. “My friend Pete Werrlein shined Mickey Cohen’s shoes. Later Pete got the rights to Mickey’s story.” Pegged pants rolled twice and thick crepe wedged shoes were the So Cal style. Sacramento boys wore their pants pegged and straight down, so the So Cal boys did that too. All the fads; flat top and peroxide hair, t-shirts (undergarments weren’t acceptable in public), pegged Levi’s, tiny waistlines, started as So Cal beach style.

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“A lot of winning NASCAR Southern hotdogs had their cars built by the Drake Bros in Haywood. They got their speed parts from Bell Auto Parts.” “Me and Nick and all of us, we didn’t know, we didn’t take pictures. The only ones really taking pictures was Marcia and Russell Lenarz. His brother Dick worked at Bell Auto Parts for a long time. George got into it especially after he saw our cars on the cover of Motor Trend. Then he realized them pictures were worth something. Russell took the pictures of mine and all the cars in front of Hollywood Track Turf Club background. He’s the one that wrecked George’s ’41 Buick. That’s the guy that ran into the railroad ties.

Lenarz pulled the Buick out of the driveway and George got out. These envious guys kicked the side of the car in. That’s what started it. At the Lynwood Clock drive-in. (There was also one at Huntington Park, and the Bell Clock, my hangout, where everyone came to race. The last one built was at Lynwood. It was pretty big.) So anyways, George pulled in and these guys from Fox Florence kicked the side in. So George got out and tussled with the guys. I came over from the Bell Clock. Russell got inside the Buick to pull it out and drive around the back street across Imperial and turn left. He wanted to come back and didn’t know it was a dead end, and he plowed into it. He just wanted to get back in the drive-in loop. So they got me and my group to come over from the Bell Clock to get in a fight with those guys. But by that time the cops were there. Russ hit a telephone pole and stack of railroad ties laid long ways so they didn’t move when he hit them. George’s Buick was wasted. I’d say 1948.”


CCC-barris-buick-wreck-01George Barris 1941 Buick after the accident. George did however rebuild it, and updated the front at while at it.
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The Buick was George’s first notoriety car. The Cad was a ’42 Cad with a Carson top and had a ’47 grill. That Cad was a 1940’s GM Buick royal maroon color. This was George’s car after the Buick. He didn’t have the Cad long. After that he got the ’53 Lincoln Capri. Russell Lenarz’ widow Jacqueline informed me that before Russell & his brother Richard both passed in 2003, in a fit of Alzheimer’s Russell trashed every scrapping photograph of the cars, the kids, family holidays, vacations, & the house docs. He thought he was helping her clean up. “Russell worked for the company that made DMV cameras, & he worked at a photo lab. He was a professional camera technician.”

The Lenarz brothers attended John C. Fremont High School, same as Nick & Marcia. Russell & Marica, as well as accredited Hot Rod July 1950 Russetta dry lakes photog, Joe Lingrey, matriculated from the Smith-Hughes Vocational Technical Act photojournalism school at John C. Fremont, that resulted in many world class photographers (Life, UP, NBC, military, Hollywood). Joe reveals, “Taking pictures afforded me the cars I was into. I was using a Speed Graphic 4 x 5 format, that’s what I shot all the 1948-50 El Mirage posters with while still in high school. When I was sixteen my first deal was a ’36 Fordor humpback, then a ’34 three-window coupe, and then a ’48 Cadillac belden blue ’32 Ford roadster similar to Nitti’s that all the girls loved. I also drag raced my roadsters at the dry lakes and Saugus airstrip. Later at twenty-two in 1953 I shipped off to Pusan, Korea as a U.S. Army 507th Signal Corp photographer for sixteen months.”



Chapter 2

Jesse’s girlfriend from 1949-51, Florence, who was so beautiful that Lana and Janet had nothing on her, drove Jesse’s coupe around town. He wrote her a dear mary when he was drafted. She ran around with his sister Rose and waited for him. Alas, it was the late 1950’s before he settled down with Wanda and then again married Marlene. After Jesse’s car got sold he wasn’t into the shows. The only show that Jesse took his car to was the first Oakland show in 1950. Nick and Jesse missed the Oakland show in 1951 while in Korea, but George chaperoned their cars on the date, Nick’s in the official line up.

“Nick got drafted a few months after I did, I was finished with basic training and shipped overseas before he got in. I did infantry at rattlesnake infested Camp Roberts, CA. They sent us in to clean it up, sixteen weeks basic training. During training I drove my ’41 Ford coupe back and forth on furlough passes. I lost contact with all the rest of the guys when I got drafted. I was in the army and they were out having a good time. If I got to come home at all it was to visit my family or girlfriend. Us guys never wrote when we were separated. Nick’s mother was the only one who kept in touch and she’d send me letters, goodies, long johns, a very gracious lady Josephine.”


CCC-jesse-lopez-motor-trend-sept-49The September 1949 issue of Motor Trend magazine has a full page feature on Jesse’s Ford. Comparing it with a stock long door coupe showed the reader how much was done, and how incredibly nice the car had become compared to the stock Ford.
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“I was in Korea from December 1950 – February 1952, for a whole year. I made all my points (4 points a month) on the front line. So I got rotated in nine months and then stationed in Japan for a few months at Camp Youngans near Sendai our main headquarters. We were occupation forces. I started as first sergeant and finished master sergeant. Nick was wounded in 1952. I left Camp Y to go to Yokohama. Nick was already there a sergeant.”


 

CCC-jesse-lopez-1950-oakland-showJesse at the 1950 Oakland (National) Roadster Show.
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I was in the first Oakland Roadster Show in 1950. I’m standing with Miss CA and the trophy. So later I’m in Korea. The big So Cal DJ Peter Potter was a cocky young blood there, and it was his girlfriend after all. He was jealous of that picture. He’d ask me if I put the make on her. I’d say, ‘Aw man, she wasn’t very good looking.’ Small world. She had even sent me a letter saying, ‘Hello handsome guy!’ I showed it to him. Also the full bird colonel was a car freak and recognized my car from the Motor Trend article. I got pretty good privileges especially when I got to Japan. He’d call me up and says, ‘Sergeant Lopez, I want you to be here at 0600 with a jeep. We’re going into Sendai,’ all business like. I’d pick him up and off we went, hey hey. That’s also why I made so much rank, too.”


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Nick Matranga’s 1940 Mercury and Jesse’s 1941 Ford side by side. We can see the Road Kings plaque on the front, so we know Danny Lares was the new owner at the time this photo was taken. The side trim on the hood is still the short version, the way Jesse created it, later Danny added a longer trim piece on the hood. This must have been 1951, possibly not to long before Nick’s Mercury was totaled.
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CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-01Danny Lares in his Road Kings car club jacket standing against the cherished ’41 Ford was forensically circa 1952.
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Jesse left the ’41 Ford to Memo when he went to Korea with instructions to sell it. George sold it in summer 1951 for $2300 to Danny Lares who later ran the Lions drag strip track. Dannny Lares worked at LADS (Lions Associated Drag Strip) timing association from 1955-65 as tech timer and official starter flagman, and was a founding member of Road Kings Car Club Long Beach. He went to post-Korea as an air support flier. He also passed away in 2003. A time capsule of relics belonging to Danny Lares has surfaced via his nephew George Lares into the dependable custody of Trace Edwards to be unveiled at his Long Beach Motorama Car Show this September 30, 2011, among other surprises Trace is diligently preparing. Danny’s not the one who wrecked it. He adored the car and chivalrously squired it at car shows and races, seen in his personal photographs in the good company of Matranga’s Merc. He sold the car for $500 to another guy named Stan Crabtree in the San Pedro area and Stan less than two months after wrecked the car into a tree totaling it.


CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-03Danny Lares (with cap on) showed the 1941 Ford at many car shows in the early 1950’s. By now Danny had added the longer side trim on the hood sides, but the Barris crest had not been added yet.
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CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-04Danny Lares winning another trophy, still no Barris crests.
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CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-trophiesDanny won quite a few trophies with the 1941 Ford. No wonder, it was as stunning car.
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“Isn’t that funny though that Nick’s car and my car, among the best, and they both got totaled?” Both sold while their creators were sergeants in the Army and stationed in Japan after braving the Korean front lines. Although Jesse had other concerns when he returned from Korea and Japan, he is adamant that his car was totally wrecked soon after he got home. Jesse never met nor knew the guys Lares nor Crabtree. Lares probably avoided Jesse in case he would want his prize car back. “I would have heard about it if it was still around much after I got back fall 1952, so not too long past the mid 50’s. You’d think I would have known about it if it lasted into the later 50’s. We would have heard about it if it was fixed up. George would have known before me. He was into that car. It helped Kustoms get noticed. Many of us would have heard about it, nobody could have hid the fact that it was rebuilt, there were too many people involved.”


CCC-danny-lares-41-ford-1953This photo (scanned by Paul Kelly) has a 1956 development date stamped on it. But more than likely the photo was taken before 1955. The Barris crest was added on the cowl, by the time this photo was taken.
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The photograph of Danny Lares in his Road Kings car club jacket standing against the cherished ’41 Ford was forensically circa 1952, right with the three other photos from Danny’s scrapbook that show it flanked by the Matranga Merc and others. Perhaps the ’53 Ford pickup truck that is seen in the background of another outdoor show photograph was purchased in late ’52 or into ’53, and the date stamp was a tardy developing date, and the ’54 Olds seen in the upper right corner of the Thrifty drug store photograph had an introduction date Oct ’53 in CA? One can surmise that this last photographic evidence of the car would be late ’53 or early ’54, or in other words wintertime during the transition of those two years. The Thrifty car show was clearly in the wintertime as the folks are dressed for cold weather CA style. In any case I don’t think there is substantial evidence of Jesse’s car being around in So California much past the mid 50’s. Any allusions to it beyond that is a Jim Morrison sighting or Elvis buying Sno Balls in 7-11, or at least suspicious.


CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-02From the Danny Lares collection comes this photo showing the Ford with the Road Kings plaque hanging from the rear bumper.
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Those cars had soul, and not just anyone can own one properly. It seems as if these cars, like certain cowboys’ horses, didn’t want to be owned by anyone else. Both Nick and Jesse had moments thinking they might not be coming back, and gave it all. “I did 75% of the work on my car, and I did a lot of work on Nick’s car too, I showed him a lot about engines and customizing. I helped his interest in racing and mechanical work. Who knew that cars were going to be what they are?! If I’d a known, Corvettes and ’Birds…” George Barris gets a lot of heat for taking credit where credit is not due, and some of that heat is justified. However, I can tell you that he was a skilled craftsman in numerous ways with myriad great ideas. Just one example would be his work on Nick’s car in addition to Sam’s, and his idea for the “pillarless” hardtop side window treatment on Nick’s Mercury. There are other examples we won’t go into here. George Barris was the maestro.

CCC-jesse-lopez-girl-friend-acapulco-02Jesse and his girlfriend Joyce in Acapulco 1954.
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After Korea, Jesse could be found lying on the beach in Acapulco 1954-55, “Like King Farouk, with Don Rackemann and Hershey (Hershel Conway). We made a trip like you wouldn’t believe. I ran with Joyce for on and off seventeen years, she was a good lady and I should have married her. In the beach pictures I was twenty-five and Joyce was twenty.”

Jesse and his brother, Memo, owned a Mobile gas station in the mid-50’s in Vernon outlier LA, “Lo’s”, they used to call him Lo. “George called me “Chili” or “Beaner”, I called him “Beaky Buzzard”. Jack Stewart said to me last week, ‘Remember old Beaky Buzzard, tee hee?’ I learned to rebuild racing engines and deliver parts after high school, and I memorized Ford parts numbers like a computer.” “Carl, X, and me were inseparable. We went to Mexico together, we went to Catalina, Crestline, and everything. But Carl and X got into a deal. X married Carl’s cousin, and X was mayor of Bell. So he got the license to build the first casino in Gardena and Bell. He got the Y involved and I told X, ‘Don’t get them Y into your love life, man, hey you got a problem.’ So he did. His cousin-in-law, Z, rolled over on X and X done two years for fraud. He had the casino 51%, he had it in his lawyer’s name. Z got tapes and turned it over to the feds. That’s how I got involved in X’s casino deal. He wasn’t supposed to go near the place.


CCC-los-gas-station-bell-ca-mid-50sLo’s Gas Station in Bell, CA in the mid 1950’s. The Gas Station Jesse and his brother Memo ran for some time. 
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CCC-jesse-lopez-wife-mid-1950s2A well dressed Jesse with his wife in the mid 1950’s.
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My name got involved so the feds come to me, they thought I was on the Y side. I was out in the chicken yard feeding and these two FBI’s come up in suits. But one guy was wearing cowboy boots, ‘Hey man, you got some beautiful roosters!’ They were coming up and I sez, ‘Whoo…I got problems.’ They hung the badge on me and said they wanted to talk. Real calm. Real nice. ‘Hey, you know what, I grew up with the Y. Carl and I went to grade school and high school and ran around. I don’t like what they done to X and I want nothing to do with it. You do what you have to. But you’re in my house.’ And I had this big house, a mansion that I built in Azuza. And I had my dinner/night club in Azuza by Hwy 39 with live music, the Canyon Inn. They made some movies on location there. This was from 1980-early 90’s. A natural rock foundation and fireplace. I had the rooster ranch on a couple acres there. I sold it to Buddhists who made a monastery of it. They put a retreat in the chicken yard, right against the mountain with deer. The guy with the boots was sympathetic and they went away and left me be. But they had me on tape with that Y…”



CCC-jesse-lopez-56-ford-pickup-hemiJesse’s 1956 Ford pickup with Hemi engine. This 1957 dated photo shows the car how it was painted with the Candy Lacquer finish he had developed himself. Sadly this photo has faded and does not show the color to well.
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Carl Abajian died in 1986. He had the ’42 Ford coupe that Marcia Campbell traded her powder blue ’49 Chevrolet convertible for. Gaylord ruined the first interior on Jesse’s maroon ’51 Cad, Carson redid it. “Everyone said it was the most beautiful upholstery ever done. Imported German mohair, maroon and crème. I changed it with dual exhaust fishmouth bumpers and put a ’52 grill on it. The guy at Rinshed-Mason doctored it up with gold metallic. So many did our plush cars in that popular color. We didn’t have a lot of colors to go by then, and that showed up nice in the light.” The 1956 Ford pickup truck was first painted “Sam’s Maroon”, the 1940 GM ruby and Buick royal maroons dazzled with gold dust, the same color tricked for Nick’s and Johnny’s Mercs, George’s Buick, Richard Carter’s ’41 Ford convertible, Oren Breeland’s ’34 Ford chopped three-window coupe, and several others.

While Jesse worked at the Huntington Park Chanslor & Lyon auto parts and paint store, and built engines for his friends in the machine shop in back, in 1955-56 he developed a stabilized formula, involving DuPont toner red and viscous amber clear (measuring one small Minute Maid lemonade can of red to one gallon clear, the paint codes differ today), of candy lacquer to spray his 1958 T-Bird, and actually advanced the science of automotive paint. He gave the formula to George Barris who named it “Kandy Lak” in his line.


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“The first perfect candy went on my ’58 Bird. It was a perfect beauty. Simply customized, not like a too made-up woman. That car color drew more attention because the car style was brand new and the paint style was brand new. Nobody ever saw that before. A lot of others came after with that patent paint. I sold the Bird in late 1958 to Don Rackemann for his wife.”

What a doll. Content and forever young on his ranch home by a streaming lake, “I also built this house in Riverside County from the ground up. No contractors. I had to relocate because of the zoning on the chickens. I’d love to be at the ocean. We were body surfers. I don’t enjoy fishing, though, because after Korea I never liked to shoot or hunt. It did something to me. My car, Snooky’s car, Hirohata’s car had a lot done to them, so much more complicated work customizing and chopping than even Nick’s superb custom chop. Metal work, hard top chops, channeling, different grills and bumpers, fade away fenders, finessed chrome, stylish pleats and paints, a lot of work defines a custom. Engines define the speed.”

There is more…. much more, so…

Continue reading in PART TWO of the
Jesse Lopez Lo! & Behold story.

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NO PERMISSION is given for anyone to reproduce or utilize this article for ANY PURPOSE.


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Continue reading on PART TWO of the
Jesse Lopez Lo! & Behold story.



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Jesse Lopez – Lo! & Behold part 2

 

Continued from part ONE of the Jesse Lopez Lo! & Behold story.

 

© by Michelle M. Yiatras Timechanic ™
(Jesse Lopez – Lo! & Behold – original written in august, 2011)

 

Chapter 3

Jesse didn’t attend Trace’s Motorama this weekend (2011) because he just got home a few days ago from a week in the Veteran’s Hospital. I didn’t either because I was taking care of family business. So we spent Saturday night talking on the phone like homebodies. “Just so you know, when you fight a war on the frontlines, it’s not like in the movies when a guy gets shot and just falls down. In real life the guys get shot up and blown up, and they are torn apart in pieces, and you hear them make cries like you never heard any human make. And you can’t run out and get your buddies like they do in the movies because you’re next. Sometimes you can get them, but most times you have to stay put. You remember that your entire life. It affects your sleep. I talk with other veterans from WW2 to Viet Nam to Afghanistan. Post traumatic stress happens to us all.”

He reveres Fritz Voigt since childhood friendship. “Fritz was my main man. I was into speed before I was into custom cars. Before drag racing was legal there was a lot of speed racing. Fritz was five years older so he got a head start. After the Second World War socially they didn’t like Germans, and they didn’t like Mexicans, even though Germans and Mexicans fought for America and the Allies, so we sorta teamed up. I ran with Fritz’ younger brother, Art, we were on the same football team together in high school. We tagged along with Fritz. When you’re young 5 years older is quite a bit, but Fritz was good to me. Fritz was at the beginning of everything, along with Cook and Edelbrock. Bob Rufi had the pre-War record in the sand at Muroc with his 4-cylinder Chevy motor in a rail frame. We didn’t like the name ‘hot rod’. We liked A-V8’s, T-V8’s, roadsters, or buckets. A lot of guys ran buckets without the beds or tops, just the windshield. They ran better without the weight. In 2009 Fritz got inducted in the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, with Don Garlits and Snake Prudhomme.”
 

CCC-santa-ana-drags-early1950sSanta Ana Drag Strip in the early 1950’s.
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“The Santa Ana Drag Strip at Orange County Airport was the first legal drag strip. They gave it to us in 1950 to keep us off the streets. It was slightly downhill, wasn’t entirely flat. The cars got a rolling start before they gave you the flag. The rear ends, axles, and trans would come apart at a standstill start, we’d blow them. They weren’t built like they are now. That’s why there was a rolling start. Fritz’ first records came about 1950. He was already turning 133-136 mph with his Chrysler hemi in a rail frame. A lot happened after I was away in Korea. Man, the speed went up.”

“Fritz did so much for Mickey Thompson. He oversaw the design and engine build on Mickey’s car, the 1960 ‘Fastest Man on Earth’ record for him, exceeding 400 mph at Bonneville. Four Pontiac motors in the Challenger 1 streamliner. Fritz set them up to run simultaneously. GM approved them brand new Pontiacs for Fritz. GM wanted the advertisement for their Pontiacs. Fritz preferred Chevys and thought they could have gotten ten more mph out of them, but GM insisted on the Pontiacs. Thompson was a fast talker and made the deal with GM to push the Pontiacs. Fritz went through and redid them to crank them up. Fritz didn’t get the credit he deserved. Mickey didn’t like to get his hands dirty, he was the driver. Fritz was our mentor.”
 

CCC-fritz-voight-dragster-craig-wiseFritz Voigt in one of his dragsters on the left.
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Jesse was very attached to his father and his mother. Henry worked at a cast iron foundry and as a truck driver. Frances was an angel who never hollered at the eight kids. She wore her hair in a lovely braid wrap, and prepared handmade tortillas and pinto beans for their sustenance. “In 1937, my Dad went to buy a lot in Bell Gardens, the LA River separates Bell on the west bank and Bell Gardens on the east. We kids learned to speak English in Monrovia Catholic School in the first and second grades. We were so far ahead of the public schools, I have really nice handwriting and penmanship and spelling as a result. I get teased, ‘Man, you write like a broad’. My Dad put the money down payment on the lot. His best friend who also worked at the foundry, another Mexican named Cordero, went to buy the lot next to my Dad’s. They told him they ‘don’t sell to Mexicans’. He said, ‘You sold to Mr. Lopez.’ My Dad was fair complexioned like me and they didn’t know. When they found out they gave his money back. That was tough how they treated Mexicans then. Joseph Cordero’s son Richard taught me how to drive. So my Dad and Mr. Cordero bought a couple lots next to each other in Cudahy, and built our houses and farms. Fresh milk and eggs and produce are why all of us kids have our own teeth today.”

Jesse’s Mother passed away in 1957 at age forty-nine, from a botched goiter operation, when she was starting to enjoy some leisure after raising all the kids. He took it hard, he was her “consentido” favorite. Regarding the fraternity with George Barris and Hershel Conway, “In those days it was so different, as friends a handshake would do it, you didn’t need paperwork. We didn’t sign receipts, your word was bond. People were so decent then compared to now. I gave George the formula for ‘Kandy Lak’ as a gift to his wife, Shirley. She was all for him. I gave the formula to Junior because he was doing the painting. That was for Shirley’s ’58 T-Bird, just like mine. We wouldn’t ask each other for money, as friends we didn’t owe each other anything. Sam and George didn’t make any money doing my car. I worked on everyone’s cars in exchange for the work on my car. I worked on Nick’s, Hirohata’s, Snooky’s, George’s, Sam’s, Fuzzy’s, Shorty Brown’s, Pete Morrison’s, many different cars in and out of the shop, doing dashes, engines, stretched Diego axles, metal, paint, anything that needed to be done.
 
CCC-shirley-barris-t-birdGeorge and Shirley Barris in front of Shirley’s 1958 T-Bird whcih was painted with Jesse’s “Kandy Lak” formula.
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In 1961 I gave Junior my shop. Junior is a Kentucky country boy born in a log cabin with a dirt floor. He didn’t want to go to Hollywood with George. He came to me to run my shop during the day. I was working at night in the shop. I had a day job selling for an auto parts store. I was ‘bookkeeping’ during the day and running the shop at night. The heyday of custom cars was a tight ten years. We didn’t know there could be money in it. ‘House of Color’ I named it. It was my shop originally. In ’62 I was doing so well at my day job, I said, ‘Junior, if you ever get ahead, you owe me.’ I walked out and left the business, customers, and tools what we had to him. It wasn’t a big time shop, you didn’t need much to do custom cars and even drag boats then. He laughed and said, ‘OK’. As friends we looked out for each other, just like Barris. We were different than people today.”
 

Jesse-hersey-photo-by-michelley-2011Jesse and Junior at the 2011 GNRS Customs Then & Now exhibit.
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Getting sleepy, “Right after the 1950’s it was the end of the custom car. Even we didn’t change the cars much after that. It was over. A lot of work went into those customs. Now the guys are coming back with it copying what we did. Today they put a lot of money into restoring a car to original, but generally they don’t customize them. Winfield’s chopping a few, not radical though. At the GNRS Fairplex in the winter of 2011, I really liked so many nice ones, Hirohata’s, Junior’s, a couple Birds cause I like Birds, ’34 coupes, the ’36 roadster. Wished I held on to a few of my roadsters and customs. I went to keep Junior and his wife company. The dinner was fun at the Hyatt with Greg Sharp, Blackie, Dean Jeffries, Peep. I was a bit shy and embarrassed. I left after a half hour of signing my name the next day. I left cars for roosters because they’re alive, and it’s a bigger challenge to make a strain of thoroughbred families. We all quit when the dragsters went to fuel, and when they stopped customizing. By the end of the 50’s. Then it spread from California to every State in the Union!”

 
 
 

Chapter 4

Jesse’s brother-in-law, Bill Weiser, married forever to his sister Marge, was reading the Lo! & Behold thread, and exclaimed to Jesse, “Man, you could really see the puffer on it!” Referring to the Photoshopped macro of the tiny snapshot that is the only evidence of the mythic McCulloch blower set up on the legendary ’41 Ford. Sez Bill, “Memo & I were in heaven driving that car while you were in the Army!” Marge has printed copies of the thread for the relatives. Jesse will at last get to read it live for himself when he gets over to Marge’s computer next weekend. “Marge wants to buy a ’41 Ford and wants me to rebuild it for her. Heh heh, she’s all into it. I’m very close with Marge and Bill. She’s a retired corporate accountant. She used to date Tarzan, Mike Henry, another Bell HS alumini, before she met Bill. Mike worked with John Wayne in the film, “The Green Berets”. They both played football at USC, different decades.”
 
CCC-jesse-lopez-lo-motorama-legends-handThe wall of Legends 2011 hand for Jesse Lopez “the Mix Master” at the Motorama show organized by Trace Edwards.
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“I got my hand from Trace, holding my paint mixing paddle dipped in “Kandy Lak”. We used R & M more than DuPont. “Kandy Lak” was pure DuPont though. It was so nice of him to do that for me.” Referring to Trace Edwards’ multidimensional “Wall of Legends”, he designed for his Long Beach Motorama 2011 show, which he cast the working hands of 25 first-generation car kustomizers each holding one of their actual vintage trade tools honed from their prime. Based on a concrete mold forming the envelope for the glass cast hand in repose, and mounted on a walnut shelf with an archetypal photo plus bio background, the original castings are kept in separate time capsule vaults, and then are all together stored in a master vault for future generations. Trace produced a first-class five-star act, demonstrating his brrrilliant artiste, and his reverent devotion to his elders. The artifice stirs up genuine tears. The Kreation of Kar.
 
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The Hula Hut, a restaurant drive-in located in Whittier was one of their favorite hangouts, “Across from Ak Miller’s automotive repair and speed shop, on Whittier Blvd, he had one of the first Dyno Tune’s. Where Presidents Nixon and Reagan grew up around there. The HH was a little beach hut style burger stand covered with palm leaves that we loved to go to. We drove about twenty miles from any direction driving and racing those very same cars. We didn’t have second cars until later. L.A. was central. George’s first shop on Compton and Nick were west side Fox Florence. The Ayala’s were east L.A. Carl and I were from the southeast, Maywood, Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park. So Fritz was my engine guy. I didn’t know Ak that well because he was a different area from the east side Whittier. We’d go to the drive-ins to choose each other off. Ak had a real nice shop though with nice equipment. We had a lot of respect for Ak. A lot of guys went to Edelbrock, Weiand, Cook, to build their engines. By the time I got back from the service I was building engines of my own. At that point I was in contention with Fritz. It didn’t affect our friendship. We went on to work together.”
 
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The Hula Hut matriculated Dean MOONEYE’s “Hutters Car Club”. The “Hutters” of Whittier were not known to have a club plaque, and generally painted “Hutters” in large white letters on the deck lid of their dry lakes cars, and also used this seldom seen original circa 1949-50 water slide decal (from my personal collection) on their windshield or back glass. “Fritz always liked for me to beat Ak’s boys, like the Ayala’s were in competition with the Barris’. We all competed and street raced. You have no idea how much fun we had. Turkey Flats was a turkey ranch right on the outskirts of Whittier by the avocado orchards. There was a level asphalt half mile ideal for racing. We’d meet at the HH and choose each other off and head out to TF. A well known hangout because the cops were more lenient. Cars would be lined up on the weekend trying to get in. We drove twenty miles to get there from Bell. And East L.A. drove to get there also, ten miles from Gil Ayala’s. No freeways. All surface streets with lots of stop signs. Also Fritz’ shop, “Voigt’s Place”, in Maywood on Slauson Av, it’s still there. We used to race on Slauson going out. If it got hot at HH we went to Slauson. The Russian cemetery is still there. It was a halfway point, so all the spectators would meet up at this halfway point and you could pretty well see by then who was winning.”

“It was fun when the cops was chasin’ us. We’d laugh like hell when it was over. Sometimes they’d get us though. I got turned loose ten times to the three, four times they booked me. They would chew us out because they didn’t want us to crash. We didn’t have disk brakes so the cars didn’t stop that quick. It was lucky that no one hurt themselves. They’d fine us $50-100, and hopefully the judge was lenient so they didn’t take your license away. Working for $1.50 an hour that was a lot of money. Couldn’t complain about the cops, they’d chase us, and except for one badass, they understood. All the people were a lot different then, nicer and cleaner. Everybody knew and respected each other. Not like all about the money now.”
 
CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-04Jesse with his 1941 Ford at Camp Roberts in 1951. The car in primer the whole time he stayed there, waiting for another paint job with another hue of green.
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CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-06One of Jesse’s pals in the army posing with Jesse’s coupe.
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“Bell, Maywood, and Cudahy was a hub. So many of us car guys went to school together, we grew up in the Bell area and went to Bell High School. We went to Bell Auto Parts, used to be called “Cragar”, because they licensed the parts. Guys from San Diego, San Fernando, Bakersfield, they came to Cragar-Bell. My heroes would come pulling in, so many fellows that made names for themselves. Young people today have no idea what good times we had with cars, then in 1945-47, while I was still in high school, and after in ’48-50. There was a lot of street racing. We drove our race cars on the street during those days. Full speed was 95-100 mph. At the opening of Lions Drag Strip the rails started to go over 113 mph.”

“Later in the 1950’s, in Maywood near Fritz’ shop, a guy named Wally Gerdes’ renown ’32 roadster was stolen. Forty something years later I found out who stole it. Man, oh man, it was an Italian friend of mine from the east side. The Gerdes family sold weekend newspapers on the corner of Slauson and Atlantic across from the Clock drive-in. We hung out there on that corner. Wally had a fast ’32. He never got it back. The guy who stole it was joking with me about cars and he bragged about it. I shocked him when I told him Wally and his brother Joe were my good friends. I loved that ’32 and it influenced me because I was still a kid before I drove. Wally was a few years older. Joe was in my grade. It broke Wally’s heart. After Wally Gerdes’ car was stole, he quit. They stole a hell of a car; clean, factory black, fenderless, ’32 grill and hood intact, with a 59AB block that Fritz built. Never heard from Wally again, that was it for him. A guy had to work his ass off for a car. Wally’d usually win if he got chose off. The guy that stole it was a good guy, just a stupid kid, and didn’t realize the harm he done. If you had a fast car you had to watch it, because you couldn’t lock it and if you left it unattended it could get hot wired.”
 
CCC-jesse-lopez-popular-science-01The October 1951 issue of Popular Science magazine did an article on some Barris Custom Cars. One of the cars used for the feature was Jesse’s 1941 Ford.
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“Our cars were our whole life, and if it was a special car, you were really something. Times were hard back then and going to the drive-in was a big deal. I went to work just so I could afford a car. Now look at all the entertainment they got. Back then everyone was poor. It was simpler then. People don’t realize that we didn’t have TV’s, let alone computers. Me, Zaro, Matranga, Ortega, we all regretted that we didn’t take pictures. We didn’t even own a camera, except for George. I wish I had pictures of Nick and me, or Johnny and me, or Sam and me, or George and me, or Carl and me. Imagine that. All those pictures we could have taken of all we would do, Balboa, the Hula Hut and the Clock, Big Bear, with our cars. An era gone by…drive-ins, cruises, races. No TV. Now everyone has a camera on their phone.”

A friend of mine who is a grade/high school photographer told me that when the kids sit for their yearbook photos they are clinging to their cell phones and can hardly get them to look away from the gadget for the shutter release. Media is hypnotizing our youth and adults. Opposable thumbs were designed for wielding instruments besides texting. Parts were designed for finished assembly besides collecting rust in hog troughs. Spend time with your sons or fathers or grandfathers in the garage, and drive the frontiers for a panoramic view of the terra firma. Living imparts its meaning and purpose.
 

CCC-jesse-relaxing-photo-by-michelleyJesse relaxing for a moment at his rooster farm.
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CCC-tippi-photo-by-michelleyBest pal Tippy in and around the rooster farm.
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Chapter 5

Chatting with Jesse after all the record hot and rainy summer, “How’s tricks?” He explained that he’s been relaxing with Margie in Downey. Sold off most of his thousand birds. Packing and shipping them in 14” x 14” customized wood veneer and metal screen crates, one chicken per crate. Too much to do and don’t like others doing for him. Also perfectionism is hard when you get older and don’t want to rely on others. “Crooked Face (pet fightin’ rooster) passed away a couple years ago from 15 years old age. He dropped all his feathers and they didn’t come back. He ain’t the only one going through a hard molt.” He’s selling the four acres farm and moving to Downey with sisters, Margie and Rose. “Still have friends around there, Al Andril. Still get together with Johnny Zaro, Oren Breeland, Richard Carter. George (Barris) don’t drive no more, has a live-in housekeeper. But he sounds good. Still cognizant, yet feeble, memory fading. He’s been talking to Margie about it. They want to operate (his brain tumor), it’s optional, his decision. He don’t want to get operated on. Every year we meet in Hemet. Losing memory of the shop on Compton and 77th, the start of Barris Shop. He couldn’t remember, and this was a few years ago. Oren and I had to straighten him out.
 

CCC-jesse-roosters-photo-by-michelleyJesse on his rooster farm holding “Crooked Face” his pet fightin’ rooster in his hans.
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‘Remember Oren and his brother (Loren)?’ George lived with them at Oren’s place and Oren’s mom took care of them all like brothers. Had chemo and radiation on his left side behind his ear. He recognizes my voice –“Chili!” But he doesn’t remember the stories of the past, so I talk to him about the present, how he’s feeling and who’s running the business. George and I had a good run together. He didn’t yell at me the way he yelled at the other guys. George said, ‘I always respected you, you weren’t like the other guys. You’re the main one that did the mechanical work on the cars. Everyone always said I treated you different, it was because you were more real. You were into it all before we were.’”
 
CCC-jesse-lopez-55-t-birdJesse with his mildly updated T-Bird from a few years ago. Jesse once told me he really wanted to paint his 1941 Ford in the color he now has on his T-Bird, but dark colors were big back then, so he never got the nerves to paint his 1941 Ford his favorite light yellow.
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“I was always strung out on fast cars and speed. The others wanted pretty cars. I was putting in Dago axles on ‘em. Bill Ortega did his own work too. I was a combat soldier in the Korean War, the Forgotten War. Fifty-five thousand soldiers killed in two years, 8000 MIA still over there. I go to the shrink at the Vet’s Hospital because I’ve got War Trauma. The age is catching up with me, and I got freaked out with anxiety and depression. Eighty-four years old, and I’m deficient in B12. No other problems. Little eleven-year-old girls know more about facts-of-life than we did at twenty-one. The youngsters don’t want to work like we did. They move too fast with their computers and cell phones, and don’t know the real world.” Or they think they’re in a reality show, with microprocessors faster than S.Co.T. blowers. “Jerry (Daman) calls and checks in with Margie and Bill when he can’t get me on the phone. They got to be friends. He’s come a long way and is doing pretty good. I encouraged him that even though he’s doing a car like mine, to do it how he likes. But he wants it exact. Even Junior (Conway) told him the metal work that went into my car was so much more than what went into Junior’s mostly stock car. People didn’t get it when he did recreate Junior’s car, I hope he gets more attention and appreciation for my car. Getting the color right then, I shot a curved motorcycle tank so the highlights would bend. ’46-47 Dodge Chrysler color, and I messed around with gold and silver metallic…”
 
CCC-jerry-daman-lopez-recreation-may-2015In early May 2015 Jerry Daman was almost finished with his recreation of Jesse’s 1941 Ford. Appletons are missing and so are a few other details.
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Oh, Tavo, by 1953 Jesse was long home from Korea/Japan since September ’52, working at the parts store (Huntington Park Chanslor & Lyon auto parts and paint store). And then he got his “Lo’s” Mobile gas station (in Vernon) later in ’53. He didn’t look back at Camp Roberts since that first sixteen weeks of training. “Camp Roberts was literally a rattlesnake and cow shit junction. Until they reopened it and drafted us early to clean it up. It was closed since WW2. The first few weeks we had to do clean up detail and then 16 weeks of basic training.” So when they busted loose they didn’t look back. He didn’t get a chance to meet your Pa.
 

CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-07Two of Jesse’s pals while staying at Camp Roberts.
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The H.A.M.B.’s Bad Bob PM’ed me: “I really liked Dick a lot. We talked all the time about when he was a teenager, cruising Lynwood, Tweedy Blvd in Southgate, Harvey’s in Downey, etc. He was such a cool cat. We would hand out Cragar (Wheels) pamphlets at OCIR (Orange County International Raceway), Irwindale (Speedway), Riverside (International Raceway), Ontario (Motor Speedway), when we were kids, for him. He also worked at Centerline [Wheels] for years. Everybody knew him.” Thanks, Bob!
 

CCC-beradini-bros-and-richBerardini Bros and Dick with the Berardini Bros ’29 Model A Roadster.
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I believe that is about the only photo left of Dick Lenarz, with the Berardini Bros, and their ’29 Ford Model A roadster (#7) with their signature seaweed flames. Do you know what year (1950?) or place (Santa Ana Drags?) this was taken? Even though his brother Russell was a professional scenester photographer. (Richard “Dick” & his brother Russell Lenarz both passed in 2003). Dick and Russ were part of the Berardini Bros pit crew. I appreciate you posting it on the thread for historical purposes. Did you get it from his son, Mike? He told me he had one. Jesse sighs, “Junior’s shop is within walking distance of Margie and Bill. You gotta do what you gotta do. The time has come.”
 
 
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ALL of the photographs included in this article are © COPYRIGHTED EXCLUSIVELY
by the respective property owners,
 NO PERMISSION is given for anyone to reproduce
or utilize these photographic images for ANY PURPOSE.

ALL of the words of this article are ™ TRADEMARKED & © COPYRIGHTED
EXCLUSIVELY by Michelle M. Yiatras.

NO PERMISSION is given for anyone to reproduce or utilize this article for ANY PURPOSE.

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