Westergard classic 36 Ford

CLASSIC WESTERGARD FORD

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One of the finest Harry Westergard build early style custom cars is Jack Odbert’s 1936 Ford convertible.

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Original article from 2013, updated with Color Photo in July, 2020.

When I was about 20 years, I first saw a photo of Jack Odbert 1936 Ford convertible in the Best Hot Rods booklet (published by Facett Books in 1952). I totally fell in love with this one photo, that was shown in the chapter: “Album of Best Hot Rods”. The car reminded me of the bright yellow and white 1936 Ford, that Possies Hot Rod shop had built in the early 1980’s. The Best Hot Rods booklet listed Jack Odbert from Sacramento, California as the owner. But the name of the builder was not mentioned.

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1952 photo of Jack’s 1936, shows the wonderful speedboat stance of the car. It also shows how all the custom elements on the front of the car work together to create an unique classic look.

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Many years later I found a copy of the 1957 Trend Books Custom Cars annual, and in this there was a small article called: “Remember when”. In this article, two more photos of this stunning 1936 Ford convertible were shown. The car had been build by the Granddaddy of Early Customizing: Harry Westergard. Something I had already assumed, but now it was confirmed. This 1957 Annual showed a dead on front and rear photo. Both new photos showed this was a very well designed, and grafted 1936 Ford Custom Car.

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The 1941 Oldsmobile bumpers have a lot more body than the original Ford bumpers. These new bumpers fit close to the body, and the stock cut out at the center fits the LaSalle grille perfectly. The long over-riders give the front extra height.

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The Oldsmobile rear bumpers are perfect for the back as well where the heavy end sections flow well with the Fords fenders. The chrome surround on the set in license plate help with the classic feel of the car.

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Recently, perhaps a year or so ago, I came across a copy of the July 1984 issue of Classic & Custom magazine. This magazine has a two page article on Harry Westergard, and shows a few photos of the custom cars he created. And two of the photos show Jack’s 1936 Ford indoors. One nice front 3/4 view, and one partly shot from high up, inside a car dealer showroom in Sacramento, where a small Hot Rod and Custom Car show was held.

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Overview photo of the Sacramento Chevrolet dealer showroom. In 1950 there was a small Custom car and Hot Rod show, and in this photo we can already see 4 or 5 padded topped customs. At least three of them can be identified as Westergard Customs.

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As far as we have found out, there has never been a real proper feature done on Jack Odbert’s ’36 Ford, not back in the day, and not recently. In fact I have never even seen any other photos of the car, other than the ones shown here in this article. We have not been able to get in contact with anybody who knows what ever happened with the car, or knew Jack Odbert or his car. To me Jack’s Ford is one of the best ever Harry Westergard customs. The classic thin, high nose, padded topped convertible, looks so much more classic, and expensive than the original Ford it was based on, ever looked.

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Bryan Rusk shared this snapshot of the ’36 Ford Cabriolet from the Donovan Welch Collection. 

We also do not know exactly when the car was built. Some of the looks indicate the car might have been just after WWII. The earliest photo we have seen of it is however from 1950, when it was photographed at a local Chevrolet dealer showroom car show in Sacramento. The newest parts we can find on the car, are from 1947.

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This photo was also taken at the Sacramento Chevrolet dealer. It shows the car with 1950 black letters on yellow plates. It also appears that the skirts have been decorated with 1941 Buick trim pieces. Note that the small diameter spotlights are pointing forward.

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Garry Odbert shared this wonderful color slide of the Jack Odbert 1936 Ford. The photo was taken at the Sacramento Autorama. Possibly in the 1954, or 1955. Look at the color!

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Lets take a closer look at the customizing Harry Westergard performed on this car.
Larry chopped the windshield frame, and had a padded top made for it. Most likely done by the Hall Top Shop. Harry removed the stock grille, reshaped the opening to accept a 1937 LaSalle grille. The grille looks like it was made for the car. Even the bull nose, and chrome trim on top of the hood looks so perfect with the grille. Harry added some unidentified – longer than stock – headlights, and modeled them half way into the front fenders. This in combination with the tall, and narrow LaSalle rille, gave the illusion that the hood is now much higher than it originally was.

New smooth hood sides replace the original louvered units. The former small grilles on the horn openings in the front fender were reshaped to accept 1947 Ford parking lights. The stock bumpers were replaced by 1941 Oldsmobile units. These bumpers have a wonderful Art Deco look, and the thick end sections fit the Ford fenders perfectly. Harry kept the tall bumper guards which fit perfectly with the LaSalle grille up front.

At the back, the stock taillights were removed, and replaced with what appear to be low mounted 1946-48 Ford units, or perhaps 1940 Chevy units. The rear panels below the trunk were modified to accept a set in license plate, which was detailed with a chrome plated surround. This surround echoes the shape of the mail slot window in the padded top. The suspension was lowered bit for the perfect ride height, and set of black wall tires were detailed with Sombrero look alike, after market hubcaps.
Harry added spotlights, but smaller than the regular Appleton S-122 or S-522’s. He also shaved all the handles from the body, and most likely installed electric door openings.

We now know that the color of the car was an ultra brilliant gold metallic. Hopefully this article will generate some more talks about this car, and hopefully some of the older enthusiasts know more about it. If we do find out more, we will add it to this article.

Resources and more info
Best Hot Rods, Facett Books 1952
Custom Cars annual 1957, Trend Books
Classic & Custom magazine, July 1984

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Bob Lund 50 Mercury

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BOB LUND 50 MERCURY

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The Bob Lund 1950 Mercury convertible easily fits on the list of some of the best restyled Barris Customs ever created. It sadly never received this recognition in the magazines back in the day.

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Original article from September 10, 2016, updates October 17, 2019

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Bob Lund took his 1950 Mercury convertible to the Barris Kustoms Shop in Lynwood, California. This was in early 1953, at the time when the Barris Kustom Shop was perhaps the most prolific. The team at Barris created a stunning, very elegant and well balanced Custom for Bob. A car very typical for the time it was created, with a lot of never before used parts mixed with some elements that had proven to work well on previous restyled cars. Bob Lund’s Mercury never received much magazine publicity, until George Barris used several in progress and finished photos of the car in his Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50’s book number 3. These photos showed that the Barris restyled Mercury was one the same level with some of the best known Barris Customs, that did make it in the magazines back then. For unknown reasons Bob Lund’s Mercury was never featured, even though the Custom Car magazines were really blooming around the time the car was finished.

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Factory stock 1950 Mercury convertible, similar to what Bob Lund took to the Barris Kustoms Shop in early 1953.

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Judging the early stage photos were Frank Sonzogni is working on the grille, it looks like Bob’s Mercury might have been done as a milder version first, or perhaps it was just a primer stage. I have not been able to find a photo or info to shed more light on this. The stock headlights were replaced with 1952 Ford/Mercury units that were fenched into the smoothed front fenders.

The windshield of Bob’s Mercury was chopped, but only mildly, 2, perhaps 3 inches. All emblems were shaved of the car, and the door handles were removed and electrical solenoids with door poppers installed. The hood had its front corners rounded, and the top grille bar was welded to the fenders. At a later stage a second top grille surround was cut down, and installed on the splash-pan flipped upside down, to create a nice oval shaped grille opening. A new custom grille was created from 1951 Frazer horizontal bars with integrated parking lights, and three 1951 DeSoto grille teeth were installed behind the new lower grille surround. The bottom section of the DeSoto teeth was hidden from sight by the lower grille surround. The grille created for the Mercury was nearly identical to the one the Barris shop created earlier for Dan Landon’s 1949 Chevy Coupe. Barris also rounded the bottom corner of the back side of the hood, a very subtle touch hat helped with the flow of the car.

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Barris Shop employee Frank Sonzogni is mocking up one of the 1951 Frazer grille bars for the grille on Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury. This early stage photo shows that the headlights have been frenched, the hood shaved and corners rounded and the splash pan molded to the fenders. The stock side trim was removed. Its unsure of the windshield already has been chopped in this photo.

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At the back of the car the stock round rear fenders of the 1950 Mercury were removed and replaced with 1951 Mercury units. The 1951 Mercury fenders added a few more inches to the rear of the car, which helped create a nice long low profile for the car. Sam Barris worked on the rear fenders and he installed a pair of 1953 Pontiac wagon taillights. The top corners of the trunk were rounded to match the rounded hood corners. With all the body work done a set The Barris crew decided to install a set of 1951 Lincoln bumpers, front and rear. Those Lincoln bumpers were heavier and more exclusive than the Mercury units. They really add class to the car. At the back two exhaust ports were installed in the lower bumper ends. The combination of the 1951 Mercury rear fenders and the use of 1951 Lincoln bumpers gave the car the impression it was an 1951 Mercury model.

A 1953 Pontiac side trim was modified, flipped upside down and fitted to the Mercury side so that the trim matches the dip in the doors. A set of 1949-50 Mercury fender skirts was modified, extended down to sit level with the rocker panels. These fender skirts apparently were used only very shortly on the car, only one photo has been found that shows them. The vent windows and side glass trim were all cut to fit the new windshield height. With all the work done on the car Barris painted the car. I have heard somewhere that the car was painted a dark gold color, but so far I have not been able to get this color confirmed. As most of the Barris restyled cars had in those days, Bob’s mercury was also dressed up with a set of Appleton Spotlight.

The car was taken to the Carson Top Shop who create a very nicely shaped padded top for the car. Possibly they also did the interior for Bob’s Mercury, but for that we have no photo or other proof.

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Sam Barris working on the taillights for Bob’s Mercury. The 1950 short rear fenders have been replaced by the longer 1951 Mercury rear fenders. Sam can be seen here trying to see how how he can make a set of 1953 Pontiac Wagon taillights fit to the Mercury fenders.

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Sam having marked the fender, were the extra material needs to be removed to make the Pontiac taillights fit and cutting away the not needed metal. Sam shaping a half inch metal rod to fit perfectly around the Pontiac taillight. 

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The shaped rod surround is positioned into the new opening in the rear fender and welded in place. Some small sheet metal filler pieces are added to make the new opening fit perfectly with the rear fender shape.

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On the inside of the new opening Sam welds some bolds so that the taillights can be mounted from behind. The outside is leaded and filed and sanded smooth.

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The finished Mercury

The Barris Kustoms Shop was a master in creating stunning Custom Cars in the later parts of the 1940’s and early 1950’s. When Bob’s mercury was created in 1953 the Custom Car scene was at its top of the Golden Years. The indoor and outdoor Custom Car shows were still growing, and huge crowds started to show up at these events. But the good thing was that the cars created were still restyled to make the car look better, not restyled to score more points at the shows for bigger and more trophies. Bob’s Mercury is a perfect showcase of the less is more restyling philosophy that the Barris brothers believed in at the time. Restyling to make each car unique, and most of all better looking that it ever did before.

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When Bob Lund’s Mercury was created the Barris Lynwood shop was producing a huge amount of classic top quality Custom Cars. This photo taken on an Saturday morning in early 1953 shows how the shop looked in those days. It must have been very inspiring and helped create high quality cars like Bob Lund’s Mercury.

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This is the only photo I have been able to find showing the finished Bob Lund 1950 Mercury using fender skirts. My guess is that this is how the car was originally finished. It appears that a set of 1949-50 Mercury skirts were extended down to fill the whole rear fenders. Also notice the conservative chopped windshield and padded top with beautifully finished side window trim. This photo could perhaps be taken at an outdoor car show, judging the mid-late 40’s chopped car parked next to it.

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Beautiful low angle rear view taken at the Barris Lynwood shop, shows the 1951 Lincoln rear bumper with custom exhaust openings on the corners. The beautifully frenshed 1953 Pontiac wagon taillights in the 1951 Mercury rear fenders and the 1953 license plate tag.

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The only photo of Bob’s Mercury confirmed to be at a car show.Bob’s Mercury with the drivers door open can be seen here in good company with several other Barris Kustom restyled high end Customs. From left to right. Dale Marshal’s unchopped 1950 Mercury, Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury convertible, Jack Nethercutt’s 1952 Oldsmobile, Bob Hirohata 1951 mercury, Chuck DeWitt 1950 Ford convertible and Tommy Thornburgh’s 1947 Studebaker convertible. According the Barris book this show was held at Lynwood park organized by the South East Car Club Association. And the show even had a Barris class, and Bob’s Mercury was among the winners.

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Close up of Bob’s Mercury at the Lynwood Park show shows that there are no skirts on the car anymore, and that George added one of his cardboard Kustoms of Los Angeles cards on the front bumper.

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Beautiful photo of Bob’s Mercury taken by Loomis Dean, Life magazine photographer at the Barris Lynwood shop. Bob is just exciting the Barris shop driveway, onto Atlantic avenue.

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This photo from the Life magazine collection (a bit more close up than the previous photo) gives us a great look at the perfectly shaped Carson padded top, and details as the rounded trunk  and rear lower hood corners. The lack of skirts, and the usage of 1950 Mercury hubcaps give the car a sportive look, but the stance is all custom. 

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Frenched 1952 Ford/mercury headlights, rounded hood corners, molded in top grille bar, molded in bottom grille bar created from a flipped upside down top bar, custom grille and a great looking 1951 Lincoln front bumper. Bob was a member of the George Barris’s Kustoms Los Angles car club, hence the brass plaque on the bumper. Notice that the Appleton Spotlights are move up, apparently some work was done under the hood around the time Loomis Dean took this photo.

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A closer look the grille and beautifully created grille opening on Bob Lund’s mercury. Hard to see, but the Custom in the background is Jack Nethercutt’s just finished Oldsmobile Custom.

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Published

Bob Lund’s beautiful 1950 Mercury convertible custom was never featured in any of the car magazines in the early – mid 1950’s. There is a series of black and white photos taken by Loomis Dean for Life magazine, but so far I have been unable to find out if these photos have ever actually been used inside Life magazine from around 1953 when the photo were taken.  Rod & Custom published a few photos of Bob’s Mercury, one, showing Frank Sonzogni working on the grille in the cars early stage in a Barris Corner Article about spending a Saturday at the shop in the August 1953 issue. And in the December 1953 issue George Barris used a photo of the finished car in his Barris Korner article about the use of side trim. It is really sad that the car was never featured.

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Rod & Custom August 1953 issue shows Frank Sonzogni working on the custom grille. It shows that the car still has the stock Mercury bumper, but the headlights have been frenched, and the hood corners rounded.

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In the Barris Korner about custom side trim published in the December, 1953 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine George Barris used a photo of Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury (without fender skirts).

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Our friend Ross Ruiz found this neat photo of Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury in the Wilmington Daily Press, March 1954. In this news clipping Bob’s Merc was advertising the LA Harbor Hoods custom car show. Thanks for sharing Ross.

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1953 Pontiac side trim.

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Unusual things about the Lund Mercury

There a re a few a bit strange things about Bob Lund’s Mercury. The first one is the grille. Barris always loved to create very unique custom grilles for their restyled cars, but in the case of Bob’s Mercury they recreated a similar grille that they also created for Dan Landon’s 1949 Chevy. We are not sure if this was because Bob requested this specifically, or if the Barris team thought it was just the perfect look for the Mercury.

The second thing is the use of stock 1950 Mercury hubcaps. Another thing that was rarely done by the Barrises. The only few exceptions to that where a few Cadillac they did, they also kept the stock – custom straight from the factory – Cadillac hubcaps. The smooth 1950 Mercury hubcap would later become a very popular Hot Rod part.

And then there is also the fender skirts on the car. The one photo that we have found with the fender skirts mounted clearly show that the side trim was created in such a way that it would not interfere with the skirts. The dip in the Pontiac trim did not allow for the lower rear section of the trim to go all the way to the rear. But with out the skirts, it would have been possible for the trim to go all the way to the rear. Still the side trim was not modified, extended to the rear, after the skirts were removed.

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Bob Lund 50 Mercury
The grille on the Bob Lunds Mercury used the DeSoto grille teeth set back, and the lower section covered behind and below the lower grille opening.

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The Grille in Dan Landon’s Chevy was created a little earlier than Bob’s Mercury. The only difference in the two grilles is that the DeSoto teeth are showing more of the lower section and sticking out further on the Landon Chevy. Other than that they are near identical.

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Unusual usage of the stock 1950 Mercury hubcap on Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury. They do look good though, especially with the version without the skirts. It gives the car a nice, bit sporty feel.

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Sadly only very few photos have been found from Bob’s Mercury. We also have not been able to find out anything about Bob Lund, who he was, or is, and what ever happened to his 1950 Mercury. One, perhaps two of the known photos of Bob’s mercury show the car at an (outdoor) car show. So far I have not been able to find any records that show that the car was entered in any of the famous Hot Rod & Custom Car shows in the 53-55 area. Perhaps Bob was not into showing his car at the shows all that much.

UPDATE
In October 2019, Gregg Bodiford sends us an email that in his searched on the Petersen Archives he came across a few photos taken by Eric Rickman in 1958 at Lee’s Speed Shop The photos were taken of an engine that was being build at the shop, but Gregg noticed that it was the Bob Lund 1950 Mercury that was sitting in the background on a few of the photos. Sadly not shown completely in any of the photos, but all the details are there to positively identify it at the Lund Mercury. The hood is removed from the car indicating the shop might be doing some engine work on the car.

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The Bob Lund 1950 Mercury photographed at Lee’s Speed Shop in 1958.

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This is really great news, showing that the car was still around, and most likely still being used in 1958. Now lets hope somebody knows more about Lee’s Speed Shop, and what the Mercury did at the shop. Thanks for sharing Gregg!

If anybody out there has any information about Bob Lund, what happened to his 1950 Mercury, or anything else about this car. Please email Rik here at the Custom Car chronicle. We would like to find out more, and add the information to this article.  Thank you.

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(this article is sponsored by)

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Gerald Fassett Photo Collection

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Special Thanks to Gerald Fassett, David E. Zivot and Michelle M. Yiatras

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Gerald Fassett, an avid Custom Car enthusiast from Sacramento, California was very active in the local car scene from 1942 til the mid 1950’s. He owned two custom cars, of which one was restyled by Harry Westergard and Dick Bertolucci, both local Sacramento Custom Car builders. During this time Gerald took and collected photos of the Sacramento Custom Cars. The sad part is that Gerald mentioned the fact that a good many of the photos that he personally took, as well as some others that he had gathered during that period were lost or misplaced during a move he made many years ago.

But those photos that have survived from this collection are of extreme importance for the Custom Car History. Color photos and early versions of well known Custom Cars give us a look back in time we might have heard and read about. But because of this collection we can now also see.

The Gerald Fassett photo collection is now part of the David E. Zivot Collection and is shared together with stories told by Mr. Fassett to David E. Zivot with the Custom Car Chronicle.

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Part of the Gerald Fassett Collection. Such an historic document.

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Gerald Fassett 1934 Ford

Gerald’s first Custom Car was a 1934 Ford 5-window coupe. The car had the running boards removed, which was the big trend in the early to mid 1940’s. The fenders front and rear were modified where the running boards used to be mounted for a nice finished look. The frame was hidden with a special made cover. Modified tear drop skirts were added to the rear fenders and the suspension dropped a little. The hood sides were replaced with smooth units and the car was painted light green. Not visible in the photo shown below are an inset license plate in the trunk, filled cowl, and the dressed up flathead engine. This is the car Gerald drove when George Barris visited Sacramento in his 1941 Buick inlate 1947.

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What a great picture of Gerald’s 1934 Ford 5-window Coupe parked in the drive way of his home on Marysville Blvd, in Sacramento around 1947.

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Zoomed in on the car to be able to see some more details on the car.

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Don Clifford’s 1936 Ford 5-W Coupe mild Custom photographed in the early/mid 1940’s.

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Gerald Fassett 1947 Chevy Convertible

Gerald’s second Custom Car was a 1947 Chevy Convertible which was restyled by Harry Westergard. Gerald had seen an ad for the Jimmy Summers “Fender Extensions” kit in the 1948 Hot Rod magazine, and really liked the look on those. That along with a chopped padded top would create his dream custom. Harry Westergard mail-ordered a set of the Jimmy Summers fade away fenders. The fade away fenders were fine tuned by Harry and bolted to the doors and rear quarters. and aftermarket stainless steel rock shield was cut down so they would fit the rear fender and clear the fade away sections.

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1948 magazine ad for the Jimmy Summers Fender Extension.

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Westergard chopped the windshield frame, nosed and decked the car and added primer to all the fresh body work. Then Gerald drove it to have the padded topped made by Chavez interior and Top shop. The interior was done by a fellow named Marion Cottle right there in Sacramento. Marion Cottle did a lot of the restyled cars in the local Sacramento area.

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Beautiful higher point of view shows the Summers fade away fenders in primer. The photo was taken at Harry Westergard’s property. At the back of this photo Gerald write the padded top was done by Chavez.

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Gerald’s Chevy in front of Westergard’s shop on Watt Avenue. Notice the rather high stance, the single bar flipper hubcaps and the door handles still in place.

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In 1949 Gerald takes his Chevy to Dick Bertolucci who shaved the door handles, molded in the headlights, and did a final clean up of the whole body, before painting the car with a brilliant maroon lacquer paint job. Dick also removed the fog lights from the earlier version, and added brand new ’49 Chevy license plate frames to the ’47 bumpers. The Chevy was equipped with dual carbs, split exhaust manifold and custom mufflers, which he swapped with the owner of an green mild customized 1941 Chevy. Gerald also added a white Ford Crestline steering wheel to make the interior look absolutely perfect.

The color photo of Gerald’s Chevy, taken in 1949, was taken at 5671 Stockton Blvd. in Sacramento. The Mid-Century style building was created for a home improvement/lumber company. The classy style reminded Gerald of some of the buildings George Barris used as backdrop for the photos he had seen taken by George. He really liked how the buildings complemented the cars, and wanted to try the same thing. Mission succeed!

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Mid 1950’s color photo of Gerald Fassett’s 1947 Chevy beautifully painted by Dick Bertolucci. The car now has been lowered, the headlights frenched, the door handles removed, spotlight added and new ’55 Buick hubcaps added. What a beautiful Custom.

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The 1941 Chevy Gerald traded engines with.

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The back side of the photo of the 1940 Chevy.

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Harold Ohanesian 1940 Mercury

Harold “Buddy” Ohanesian was from Sacramento and had his 1940 Mercury Convertible 4-door Sedan restyled around 1946-47 by Harry Westergard and Les Crane. The windshield on the Merc was chopped, rear fenders molded to the body, the hood smoothed and reshaped together with the grille opening and front fenders to make place for the 1946 Chevy grille.

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Photo taken around 1947 shows the car all complete, but still in primer. Notice that the 1940 Mercury taillights were mounted horizontal, and how the rear of the car had been reshaped with rounded corners on the shortened trunk.

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At the front a splash pan was added for the Chevy grille to sit on. The door handles and side trim were removed and body smoothed. At the back of the car some work had to be done to get the right look Harold was after. On the stock ’40 Mercury sedan convertibles the trunk area is rather tall and upright, sticking out over the top of the door line on the sides. To make that work with the padded top that was planned for the car the trunk was sectioned, and the top of the body line “flattened” out at the back creating a much nicer body shape. The trunk was also shaved and a set in license plate behind glass created.

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Photographed at the same locations around 1948 the car was now painted and already looked stunning.

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The stock bumpers were replaced with ’37 DeSoto units, teardrop skirts were added, the suspension was lowered, Appleton Spotlights were mounted and single bar flipper hubcaps added. We do not know which of the two builders did what on the car. The long padded top was created by the C.A. Hall Top Shop in Oakland, an 80+ mile drive from Sacramento. Harold drove the car around with all the body work done in primer before the car in this version was painted. At this moment we are not sure who painted the car in this early padded topped version. As far as we know the color was also maroon on this version.

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Zoomed in to see all the details.

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Later, around 1949 Harold wanted a new more updated look for his Mercury and took it to a young Dick Bertolucci who had just opened his body shop. Together they came up with several updating ideas including creating a lift off metal top for the car. They set out to a local junk yard to look for suitable tops to use. Since none of the tops they were able to find had the right shape they were looking for they took home the top of an 1946 Chrysler, which was a good start, but the back section did not work, so they found an 1941 Buick Fastback which gave up the back portion of the top. They also found an 1946 Oldsmobile rear window that would be a perfect fit for the new top.

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Wonderful rear quarter view color photo shows how tight the fit of metal lift off top is with an even gap all around. The early Bertolucci version of the car has small motor cycle taillights added to the ’46 Chevy bumpers.

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A lot of work went into combining all parts to work together. The windshield posts had to be adapted to make the metal top curve around the corners and have the right feel and dimensions on the sides. The rear of the top needed to flow perfect with the trunk section. All the work was done with nearly no lead, only in sections around the back of the top and towards the side window profile some lead was used, simply because the reinforcement metal did not allow for hammer welding. (The fact that the metal top fits as perfect today as it did back in 1949, shows the great craftsmanship of the young Dick Bertolucci back in 1949.)

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Ultra rare Color photo from around 1950-51 shows the stock chrome plated headlights on the car. It is truly amazing to see the original color on this car for the first time.

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Dick also added a molded in splash pan to the rear to fit the new ’46 Chevy bumpers, and the pan at the front was reshaped and fine tuned. The Mercury taillights were removed from the rear fenders, and small motor cycle taillights mounted on the bumper. Dick Bertolucci painted the car in wonderful maroon mixed from a Chevy color toned darker and gold powder (Venus Martin No. 9) added to it. The early version which can be seen in the two color photos from the Gerald Fassett Collection shows that the car still had the original chrome headlights. Later Dick would first paint those headlights body color, and then some time later mold them to the fenders. At that time he also changed the taillights with 1948 Ford taillights on custom made pods molded into the rear fenders. One of the most fantastic Custom Cars ever created and thanks to Gerald Fassett and David E. Zivot we can now see the car in its original 1951 color as well as pre metal top version. Such an amazing asset for the Custom Car History.

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Close up of the Mercury shows this stunning custom in all its glory.

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Bud Welch 1938 Chevy Convertible

Gerald has two photos of Bud Welch’s 1938 Chevy convertible in his collection. The car was one of the few known Customs that was restyled by Sacramento customizer Les Crane. Les Crane’s name has appeared many times in association with cars restyled by Harry Westergard. Like the Ohanesian Merc and the Budler Rugard 1940 Mercury, where Les Crane performed some of the work. But not too many cars are credited to just Les Crane.

Bud Welch’s 1938 Chevy was done completely at Les’ shop (as far as we have been able to find out) with the exception of the padded top which had been done by the Hall Top Shop in Oakland. Les chopped the windshield, filled the stock grille opening, and created a custom oval grille opening which was filled with what looks like a custom tubular horizontal bar grille. The headlights were sunk halfway into the molded in front fenders.

Bud Welch’s 1938 Chevy Convertible restyled by Les Crane on the Sacramento streets around 1948.

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The hood sides were filled in, or perhaps replaced with aftermarket smooth units. The body was cleaned up and with smoothed hood and deck lid and a set in license plate in the trunk. The rear fenders were smoothed, and a gas filler door added to the passenger rear fender, and 1940 Chevy taillights mounted low on the fenders, just above the ’37 DeSoto bumpers. The car had wide white walls and ripple disk hubcaps. Les Crane painted the car metallic green.

Gerald also had a photo of the car from a little later, possibly late 40’s, perhaps the early 1950’s. By then the car had changed a little. The ripple disk hubcaps were replaced by Sombrero hubcaps. The fender skirts were removed and a set of Spotlights had been added. (Although the photo Gerald took shows the car with the spotlights removed, but the holes still in the A-pillar)

Bud’s ’38 Chevy seen here with a big dent in the passenger side front fender, with the hood sides and the skirts removed and with Sombrero hubcaps. Perhaps the photo was taken at a local drag race, hence the removal of the extra parts.

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Leroy Semas 1938 Chevy

Gerald had one very nice clear picture of another Harry Westergard Masterpiece. The Leroy Semas 1938 Chevy Coupe. The photo Gerald took is very interesting because the stance of the car is a lot higher than any other photo I have seen on the car. Perhaps the suspension was altered for the race event, it does give the car a completely different look.

Leroy Semas’ 1938 Chevy restyled by Harry Westergard photographed at a local drag strip the CHP set up for them near Woodland. Check out the CCC article on Leroy’s Chevy for a full write up on this stunning Westergard Custom. (Also notice the cars in the background.)

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Do you have any historic Custom Car related photos you would like to share with the world. Photo’s that shed more light on the history of a certain Custom Car, or Custom Builder. Or just photos that have a special place in your heart, that come with a story, and you like to share that story. Then contact us here at the Custom Car Chronicle. We would love to share the historic photos for you, and make an impact on the history of the Custom Car as we know it. Email Rik at the Custom Car Chronicle.

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George Barris First Photo Location

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George Barris was known for taking photos of Custom Cars in beautiful special locations. Hollywood Park was his first special location back in 1947.

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Special thanks to David E. Zivot, Jesse Lopez and Gerald Fassett.

After seeing the color photo of George Barris’s 1941 Buick for the first time I was not only intrigued by the gorgeous Custom, but also with the Streamline Moderne building in the background. I had seen the building before in one other photo of the Buick and in a few other photos with other customs as well, but had never been able to find out what building or which location it was.

The new color photo showed a much larger portion of the building than any of the other photos I had seen so far. The search was on, the large round section and very horizontal shape of the windows did remind me about the horse track grand stand buildings as the one at Hollywood Park, but all the photos I was able to find at first showed the building after 1950, and it had a similar Basic shape but all the details were quite different. So I searched further, in the beginning I was not even sure the building was in the Los Angeles area, George had made the trip to Sacramento already, could perhaps these photos had been taken on that trip?

Two aerial photos showing the original building with the more horizontal feel on the top, and the after the 1949 fire rebuild version which had the same overall shapes, but less Art-Deco in design and taller overall.

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The 1947 color photo of George Barris’s 1941 Buick photographed in front of the original Hollywood Park Turf Club building. The photo that started the quest for the identification of the location.

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While searching for something else I came across an website with dome old photo’s taken at some 40’s horse track races. And one of them showed a building that looked very much like the one in the George Barris Buick photo, it was listed at 1940 Hollywood Park track in Lynwood California. I thought this must be a mistake, since the building did not even look close to how the Hollywood Park building looked in the photos I had of it. But when I find a more in depth search I found out that the Hollywood Park Horse track, run by the Turf Club, was originally built in 1938, and destroyed in a fire in 1949. Then rebuilt into the building I had seen in many 1950 and newer photos.

George Barris had his ‘41 Buick photographed in front of the original Hollywood Park Turf Club building in 1947. Not sure if George took these photos, or if he had “hired” a photographer to do it for him. With that knowledge I was able to find a few more photos of the original building which had an absolutely stunning Streamline Moderne feel, very similar in style to the famous Pan Pacific Auditorium. And I can totally see why George Barris wanted to use the building and the garden as background for his Buick. It was only around 16 miles from the Barris Compton Ave shop, a very convenient distance, plus the whole complex was very easily accessible for the cars.

When I thought a bit more about this all, I realized the original Hollywood Park Turf Club building, pre 1949, is actually the very first George Barris Photo Location. A good backdrop George used more often to photograph, or have photograph cars the Barris Shop created. We are all familiar with the House, Lynwood Drive In, Lynwood city hall, mausoleum, the Edison Power plant, and now we can add one more location to this list. The very first one Hollywood Park Turf Club building. George used this location for his own Buick, John Vera (Johnny Zaro) 1941 Ford, and Jesse Lopez’s 1941 Ford… and perhaps we do not know about.

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George Barris 1941 Buick

George Barris took his just finished 1941 Buick padded topped convertible Custom to the Hollywood Park Turf Club complex somewhere in 1947 and either had photos taken of his car, or took them himself. One of the photos, a black and white one was used in the May 1948 issue of Road & Track and would instantly change everything for George and the Barris Shop.

Did the glamorous setting of the Hollywood park complex have anything to do with this… Hard to say, but I like to believe it did. George idea of setting his stunning car in this beautiful surrounding of the well designed garden, and beautiful Streamline Moderne building in the back helped with the complete glamour picture of it all. For more info on the George Barris 1941 Buick, check out the Article here on the CCC.

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The 1947 color photo from the Gerald Fassett Collection was the first photo we found showing a big enough portion of the building in the background to identify it as the Hollywood Park Turf Club building.

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The first time I noticed the building in the background was in the photo used in the May 1948 issue of Road and Track Magazine. The photo that really changed the career of the Young George Barris.

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The same photo of the Buick was also used in the Custom Cars 101 Trend book from 1951, but here the building in the background was cut off.

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Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford

Jesse Lopez confirmed that his ’41 Ford was photographed, just as George’s persona 1941 Buick at the Hollywood Park Turf Club complex. For many years I have been trying to find out more about the famous photo of Jesse standing in front of his Ford at the Turf Club Members Only building. I knew it had to be at some sort of race track, but non of the photos I was able to find matched the photos of Jesse and his Ford. Only recently I found out the original building, that was used as the backdrop for the Lopez photos, around 1948, is gone now, and most photos found are of the rebuild, and remodeled 1950 version of the Hollywood Park building. For a closer look at Jesse’s 1941 Ford, check out the Article here on the CCC.

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Several photos of the Jerry Lopez 1941 Ford that were taken at the Hollywood Park location were used in publications over the years. This one, published in a Petersen Publication from 1987 shows the most of the Turf Club in the back. The Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford photos were taken around 1948. This is location (B) as shown in the aerial photo below

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This is the best known photo of Jesse Lopez’s Ford at the Hollywood Park Turf Club photo location. I have searched for other photos with this background for years, but never was able to find it. Which makes sense because these Turf Club letters were all replaced with new ones in 1950.

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This photo of Jesse’s Ford was taken direct in front of the main entrance (A in de aerial photo below) which is not far from where George Barris’s Buick was photographed.

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John Vara / Johnny Zaro 1941 Ford

George Barris was responsible for most of the work on this radical 1941 Ford Convertible Custom. It was originally created for John Vara, but was sold to Johnny Zaro in the later part of the 1940’s. The car was brought to the Hollywood Park location for a photo shoot around 1948. I have found three published photos of the car at this locations so far. hopefully more will surface one day. For a closer look at the Vara/Zarro Ford, check out the Article here on the CCC.

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Johnny Zaro’s 1941 Ford, most likely still owned by the original owner John Vara, was also photographed in front of the Hollywood Park building around 1948.

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The car was parked at about the same location as the George Barris Buick, only the photographer was located at a bit different point of view.

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Location A, where George Barris’s Buick and John Vara’s Customs were photographed, and Location B is in front of the Turf Club sign we can see in the Jesse Lopez 1941 Ford photos. This aerial photo was taken in the late 30’s when all the trees and shrubberies in front of the complex were still rather small.

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The Hollywood Park complex was designed by Arthur Froehlich (May 17, 1909 – October 3, 1985), of the firm Arthur Froehlich & Associates. He was an architect from Beverly Hills, California, known for his mid-century supermarkets and racetracks. Froehlich was born in Los Angeles to a cattle and dairy farmer. He attended Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles and studied at UCLA. One of his first jobs was drafting plans for Santa Anita racetrack, which opened in 1934. He began his own firm in 1938, and became well known for his design of Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood, CA. (wikipedia)

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Announcing magazine/news paper ad from 1938

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Color photo from an 1941 program cover.

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The main entrance had a really beautifully Streamline Moderne design which reminds me a lot about the Pan Pacific Auditorium building.

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Mid 1940’s postcard. This image shows why George Barris liked this location so much. there was plenty of space to park the cars, the back round building had a nice natural base color and was beautifully shaped enhancing the cars. Plus the trees etc looked really good as well.

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Photo taken not too long after the building had been finished around 1938

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Los Angeles Public Library photos

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Los Angeles Public Library photos

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A selection of early Hollywood Park program covers all had nice illustrations or photos of the beautiful building.

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Disaster truck in 1949 when most of the grand stand building went up in flames.

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In 1950 the new building was finished, and not long after that George Barris used it as backdrop for several photos shoots again. Later in the mid 1950’s the huge parking lot was also used for several outdoor car shows, and many photos taken there also show the main building as backdrop.

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The Hollywood Park Building around 2000. In 2015 the complex was sadly demolished.

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The route from the Barris Compton Ave shop to the Hollywood Park Turf Club for the 1947 photo shoot with George’s Buick. Around a 16 mile trip.
(A) Hollywood Park Turf Club 3883 W Century Blvd, Inglewood

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The other famous Barris Photo shoot Locations

George Barris knew that building fantastic Custom Cars was the main business of the shop. Nut what made him and the Barris Shop really unique was that he understood there was more than just building the cars. He created the Kustoms Los Angeles club to keep his clients connected and have them come back to the shop with a next custom project. He also realized that the Shops specialties needed to be promoted. And one way to promote them is to create stunning photos of the shops creations.

He knew that the Barris Shop created Customs were standing out for the crowd already with the super smooth, organic shaped look and feel. But inspired by the magazine ads, and magazine features he realized he could enhance the looks of the Barris Custom by photographing them in an equally stunning setting. He found several locations, most of them close by the Barris Shops that could serve as backdrops, to make the cars look even more attractive and glamorous than they already were. The Hollywood Park Turf Club was the first glamour location he found around 1947 when the Barris Shop was starting to bloom. And several more special “Barris” locations would follow in the years after that. Below are the most popular of these Barris Photo Shoot Locations.

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(B) Edison plant 3395 W Manchester Blvd, Inglewood, California

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(C) Angeles Abby 1515 E Compton Blvd, Compton, California

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(D) Barris The House 5199-5141 Abbott Rd South Gate, CA, California

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(E) Pan Pacific Auditorium 7600 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, California

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(F) Compton Drive-In 2111 E. Rosecrans Avenue, Compton, California

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(G) Lynwood City Hall 11330 Bullis Rd, Lynwood, California

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(A) Hollywood Park Turf Club 3883 W Century Blvd, Inglewood
(B) Edison plant 3395 W Manchester Blvd, Inglewood
(C) Angeles Abby 1515 E Compton Blvd, Compton
(D) Barris The House 5199-5141 Abbott Rd South Gate, CA
(E) Pan Pacific Auditorium 7600 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles
(F) Compton Drive-In 2111 E. Rosecrans Avenue, Compton
(G) Lynwood City Hall 11330 Bullis Rd, Lynwood

(1) Barris Compton Ave Shop
(2) Barris Atlantic Blvd Shop

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George Barris Buick Sacramento Trip

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At the end of 1947 George Barris makes a trip from Los Angeles to Sacramento in his freshly finished 1941 Buick Kustom.

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George Barris grew up with his older brother Sam at their aunt and uncle Edith and John Barakaris in Roseville, the largest city in Placer County, in the metropolitan area of Sacramento. As a kid George and Sam started to work on car and it soon became a life long lasting, love affair with customizing cars. When George and Sam grew older they started looking for small jobs and a way to learn how to work on car. The found Harry Westergard and at least George started to spend a lot of his spare time helping out, and working for Harry Westergard.

George wanted to learn everything he could about customizing, and Harry was willing to show him the things he knew. George built his first Custom, a 1936 Ford Cabriolet mostly while working part time at Harry Westargard’s. Working with Harry Westergard meant also that he got to meet a lot of local guys into customizing, Custom Car owners and clients of Harry Westergard. He started to make a lot of car friends in Sacramento during this time. Sam Barris had enlisted in the Navy and had left to Los Angeles to sail out. Not long after that George took his Custom ’36 Ford and left for Los Angeles around 1943-44. George was never drafted, and started to work at several LA body shops, and soon started his own shop.

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George’s ’36 Ford Cabriolet photographed in 1943 in Sacramento. George built it while working part time with Harry Westergard, who created the car parked behind George’s Ford for Gene Garrett. Not long after this photo was taken George moved to Los Angeles.

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After the war had ended Sam returned to Roseville, but started to miss his little brother, so he went to LA to visit George. Not long after that George talked Sam into joining him to create his dream Custom Shop. Sam agreed and in 1946 Sam and George would open Barris’s Custom Shop on Compton Ave. In the meantime George drove his ’36 Ford Cabriolet, and later a ’36 Coupe all around Los Angeles. Around late 1946 George finds an used ’41 Buick Roadmaster Convertible with some body damage.

Over the next few months/year George turns this Buick into a Custom creation that would become the turning point of his career. In late 1947 the Buick is all finished. It came out absolutely gorgeous with its full fade-away fenders, 1942 Cadillac grille, super low and long padded top, and glowing, dark golden maroon paint. George is extremely proud of the Custom Buick, and wants to show it to his old buddies in Sacramento… showing what he has up to the last few years.

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George’s Buick almost finished. The car is completely painted but still had the original ’41 Buick front bumper which he soon would replace with a 1946 Oldsmobile bumper.

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In late 1947, November, or perhaps early December, George drives his Custom Buick from Los Angeles to Sacramento nearly 400 miles up north. A pretty iconic trip, perhaps not so much at the time, since all these Custom Cars back then were built as drivers. While in Sacramento George visits an old friend, Gerald Fassett, to show him his Buick. The most significant thing about this visit is that George personally gave Gerald a color photo of his recently completed masterpiece 1941 Buick.

Gerald held on to this color photo for almost seventy-two years, and in 2019 Sondre and Olav Kvipt visit Mr. Fassett and share this unique color photo from 1947. The Gerald Fassett photo collection is now part of the David E. Zivot Collection and is shared together with stories told by Mr. Fassett to David E. Zivot with the Custom Car Chronicle.

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After George had finished his new Custom he wanted to show it to his old Sacramento friends. Left to right Willis Schraeder, Jack Odberg, George Barris, Buddy Ohanesian, Bruce Glenn, Norm Milne and Mel Falconer. The friends were pretty impressed with George’s new Custom ride. The photo was taken in late 1947, but we do not have an exact date.

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Another photo, a bit closer with the same guys, but without Willis Schraeder

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George Barris, just 22 years old leaning on his ’41 Buick.

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Over the years several photos have surfaced of this 1947 trip from Los Angeles to Sacramento. The one thing a bit odd about these photos is that some of them show the car with black wall tires, while others show them with white wall tires. We know that when George visited Gerald Fassett – it was in November or December 1947 – the car had white wall tires. The color photo George gave Mr. Fassett also shows the car with white wall tires. This color photo was taken at the Hollywood Park Horse Race Track, right in front of the Turf Club. Jesse Lopez confirmed the location, his own ’41 Ford was also photographed at this location. The beautiful Art-Deco building in the background was destroyed in a fire in 1949, and rebuild that same year with a different design.

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George’s Buick parked in front of Elmer Howard’s Body – Fender & Top Shop in Roseville, close to Sacramento.

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Possibly George went to Sacramento on another trip, earlier than November, December 1947 as well. When the car had the new Olds bumper, but still the early black wall tires. None of the photos showing the car with black wall tires have any indication of when these photos were taken, as far we know. This is a bit of a mystery so far. Hopefully one day we might find out more about this.

Some of these Sacramento trip photos showing George’s ’41 Buick parked in front of Elmer Howard’s Body – Fender & Top Shop in Roseville where George and Sam grew up. We have not been able to find out what George’s relation to this body shop was. If he worked there, knew the owner – Elmer Howard – or perhaps one of his friends worked there, so they meet at that shop with the other friends.

Another interesting question is if George visited his old master Harry Westergard on these trips. Did he show Harry his 1941 Buick, and if he did what was Harry’s response to the car? Harry Westergard passed away in the mid 1950’s, and George Barris a few years ago, so I doubt if we ever will find out. But who knows, perhaps somebody will read this article an remember anything more about George’s trip to Sacramento in 1947.

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Gerald Fassett

Gerald Fassett, a car guy that had Harry Westergard and Dick Bertolucci restyle his 1947 Chevy Convertible. Westergard chopped the windshield and mail-ordered a set of Jimmy Summers fade-away fenders. later Dick Bertolucci would paint it deep maroon lacquer paint job. At the time George Barris had visited the guys in Sacramento Geralds Chevy had the windshield chopped, the Jimmy Summers fade-away fenders installed, but it was far from done. Before having the Chevy Gerald owned ’34 Ford 5/W coupe, removed running boards, with an inset license plate, filled cowl, and solid hood sides, powered by a hot flathead. We will get back to Gerald’s Chevy in another article.

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Scan of the original color photo that George Barris gave to Gerald Fassett in late 1947. The original photo has lost a bit of its color, and faded a little over the years, but is in remarkable condition for an 72 year old color photo. What an amazing find.

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The color photograph of George’s Buick was given to him personally by George when they all met up at a local Stan’s drive-in, when George visited the Sacramento area. During this visit Gerald took several photos of George’s Buick, which he fortunately for us also kept. Stan’s Drive-In Restaurant was located on the corner of 16th & K street. It was the most popular local hang out and the place to be seen if you had a hot car in the late 1940’s, early 1950’s. (Its all gone now)

George Barris sitting in his Buick at Stan’s Drive In Restaurant on 16th and K Street in Sacramento in late November, early December 1947. (The heavily scratched scanned original photo has been digitally restored)

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David asked Gerald about some of the fellows in the photograph of George’s Buick in front of Elmer Howard’s body shop in Roseville. Gerald answered “I don’t recall that body shop… I knew most of those guys… Odberg, Ohanesian, Norm Milne, Mel Falconer…, but I don’t remember Bruce Glenn… and I also don’t know why the tires on George’s Buick are blackwalls there… and whitewalls at Stan’s and in the color photo.

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Fantastic photo showing the super smooth rear of George’s Buick. On the far left we can see the ’37 Ford that was in the works by Harry Westergard at the time. (The heavily scratched scanned original photo has been digitally restored)

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Gerald, being an ex school teacher has always been very interested in history and that is one of the reasons he still has all the photos from back when he was very active in the Sacramento Custom Car Scene. When David Zivot asked Gerald what sort of reaction do you remember from people on the street around Stan’s…and some of the other motorist’s when George’s big Buick was on display and driving around the area: Gerald Fassett responded. “Well I can tell you (Laughs as he remembers) It really made an impression on me… I can tell you that for sure… The other custom guys were just knocked out by the car.” (People would stop and look…Some gathered around… There were approving “honks” from cars passing by…”

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The long shadows in the photo indicate these were taken late in the afternoon. The ’37 Harry Westergard Ford in the background.(The heavily scratched scanned original photo has been digitally restored)

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Zoomed in we can see the reflections on George’s Buick a little better. Overall extremely nice, but they also confirm the stories we have heard about some of the fade- away panels from these early Customs looked fantastic but were perhaps not completely straight.

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Zoomed in on the Harry Westergard 1937 Ford. Gerald could not remember the guys name, but we are working on it, hopefully we can add it to the article at a later time. This photo especially shows how thin the top is over the windshield header, and makes me wonder if perhaps the top was a metal lift of top instead of a Padded top?

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Gerald could not remember much about the ’37 Ford convertible in the background of two of the photos taken at Stan’s. “I can’t remember the owner’s name… Westergard did the work. Harry Westergard worked on that car at his little shop at his home on Watt Ave. The car was in a local Sacramento car show sponsored by the club I was in (Capitol City Thunderbolts) held at Capitol Chevrolet dealer… It was called “Autorama”.

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Collage of the original photos from the original Gerald Fassett Collection, the color photo is 5 x 7 inches and the three black and white photos measure 3.5 x 5 inches. Now part of the David E. Zivot Collection.

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Stan’s around 1953.

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Barris Maroon

The slightly faded color photo of George Barris’s 1941 Buick from 1947 is an amazing find. We have seen very few color photos showing the famous George Barris mixed colors. In the past we have done an article about these early color photos, and always hoped more will show up. Well this one is the absolute top of the bill. This George Barris Custom mixed maroon painted ’41 Buick is the car that really started the career of the Barris Shop. George has always mentioned how he mixed Venus Martin gold and bronze powders into his paint on his early paint jobs, and now we can get an actual look at how that looked on one of the first cars he used it on.

David E. Zivot has always been fascinated by the George Barris Maroon paint, and was ecstatic when he got in contact with Gerald Fassett and learned more about this unique color photo of the Barris Buick. David had heard a lot about this color talking to people such as Nick Matranga, Jack Stewart, Jesse Lopez and others who where all there to see these colors being done by George Barris in the later part of the 1940’s.

David asked me to see if the original photo could be digitally cleaned up and restored so that the real colors could be seen. With that result he had some prints made and sent those over to Jesse Lopez for him to take a look and see what he thought of the color, and how close it came to the original George Barris Maroon. The printed photos are one thing, creating those same digital photos for this article is another thing. Different profiles in different browsers, different computer and smartphone screens will all generate slightly different shades. But with the printed version and the info from Jesse Lopez, David will be able to match the original George Barris golden maroon as close as possible.

Jesse Lopez verified in detail that the maroon, as it appears in the adjusted Fassett color photo David sent him, is exactly how he remembers it, in every nuance

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Trying to capture the original colors as best as possible I enhanced the photo in Photoshop. I also added a small section of background to the right side of the photo and restored the cut off rear bumper.

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The Hollywood Park main stand building and Turf Club as it looked around 1947, before the whole structure burned down in 1949.
(Postcard image)

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The Hollywood Park building in the late 1930’s, very early 1940’s.

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David has been on the phone with Jesse about the Buick Color photo and this is what Jesse shared with him.

David. “Got a hold of Jesse Lopez…Had a very nice conversation about various custom/restyling subjects…I asked him to look at the color photo of George’s Buick from late ’47-early ’48 and to give me his recollections. We talked about George’s and Sam’s “maroons” and what was the general approach concerning the base colors, toners, metallic powders, etc. I made a comment that George probably did not pay to much attention to formulas or measurements, and really just mixed it how they wanted for that particular project, and that the color and hue, as well as the amount and exact color of gold could vary. Staying within certain parameters of course.

Jesse said that’s exactly right… They would “throw in” an amount of powder, spray it out on a test piece (usually something with nice curves like an old motorcycle fuel tank), see what it looked like on a sunny day, and sometimes making the maroon lighter or darker, depending on what the mood was.

Jesse verified that most all the paint jobs coming out of the Barris shop at that time were not formulaic, and not much importance was put to writing anything down or keeping track of how the last one was done. This conforms to what I had always assumed.

Jesse also mentioned that the paint was purchased and mixed at the R&M paint dealer located at Florence and Huntington Park. This paint store was pretty much the only one used by the Barris shop in the beginning.

Jesse mentioned that he went with George, Sam, and others, on a few trips up to Sacramento and Roseville… He rode with Sam in his ’40. He did not attend the trip that Gerald Fassett took photos of at Stan’s and can’t remember anything about it.”

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The Details

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(Specified by DEZ)
The color photo also gives a really great look at some of the details on the Buick. The beauty rings on George’s Buick appear to be those manufactured by Controla, they were called “Cromdisc“. Controla was known for the high quality of their accessories during the period. Their beauty rings for GM automobiles were first class, well-made with excellent chrome finish. Available in both 15″ and 16″ Buick rims. George’s Buick appears to have the 16” wheel

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Zoomed in on the front end of George’s Buick.

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Cromdisc’s from Controla is what George used on his 1941 Buick. David E. Zivot has been able to find an NOS set of these unique smooth beauty rings.

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Another very nice detail we can see in this photo is the grille. George Barris made clever use of two 1942 Cadillac grilles on his Buick. Sourced from Los Angeles area wrecking yards, or a local Cadillac dealer’s parts dept, or a combination of both. The grille in the early white primer version of George’s still unfinished Buick clearly shows unfilled ends, and a not so nice fit to the surrounding sheet metal.

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The white primer version shows the unfinished ends of the grille bars.

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The modifications consisted of taking two full length horizontal bars (first and second from bottom), adding them, as well as four full-length vertical bars (third and fourth from each end), and then trimming off the vertical bars where they protruded from the top and bottom horizontal bars. He left all vertical bars in matte argent silver. All horizontal bar ends appear to be filled nicely in the final version. All in all a gorgeous grille. For a complete story on George Barris’s 1941 Buick, check out our feature article on the Custom Car Chronicle.

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Close up of the finished grille shows that all 5 horizontal bars on the flat side pieces are even, and have nice slight rounded ends. Compare that with the photo of the stock 1942 Cadillac grille below. It shows how much work George Barris had to do to create the grille on his Buick.

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Stock 1942 Cadillac grille. Only 3 of the horizontal bars could be used for what George had in mind for his Buick.

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On the stock ’42 Cadillac grille only the second from the top horizontal bar has its ends rounded and nicely finished.

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Special Thanks to Gerald Fassett, David E. Zivot and Michelle M. Yiatras

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Jim Skonzakes 1949 Buick

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Most people know Jim Skonzakes aka Jim Street from his Golden Sahara. But before that he owned several very nice Customs, including this 1949 Buick Roadmaster.

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Jim Skonzakes grew up in Dayton Ohio, far away from sunny California where the Custom Car style was born. This did not prevent a young Jim Skonzakes to fall in love with Custom Cars, and spend every spare moment he had on creating his dream Custom Cars. In 1954 that lead to the creation of the world famous Golden Sahara.

Jim’s parents owned a chain of launders shops in and around Dayton Ohio, which ensured a steady flow of money in the family. This allowed Jim to make road trips out to California to experience the fantastic Custom Car Scene, of which he had heard about from friend who had visit CA., in person. He absorbed all he could on the many trips he made to Los Angeles and other places. He quickly made friends there and found out about the Barris brothers, and the magical Custom Car Shops they had in the later part of the 1940’s and early 1950’s.

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One of Jim’s everyday drivers in the later part of the 1940’s was this nicely restyled 1941 Ford. He used this car to drive back and forth to California several times.

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In the later part of the 1940’s Jim owned an chopped and restyled 1941 Ford convertible, restyled in the typical California style. A style which he had studied on his trips to SoCal. Jim had been doing most the work on his own cars himself, including paint. At this time he also had a chopped ’39 Lincoln Zephyr, painted super glossy black (Sadly Jim was not able to locate any photos of this Custom, hopefully one day they will surface). Both of his Customs were drivers and he used them to make the trips to sunny California. The ’41 convertible in the summers and when it was a bit colder in Ohio he took the chopped ’39 Lincoln for another trip from Dayton, Ohio, to Los Angeles California.

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Earliest photo of the Jim Skonzakes ’49 Buick, still in progress. Photo was taken in 1950, possibly at the Santa Ana Drag Strip. The car’s top had already been created at this time, but was not installed. The hood still needed work at the bottom. When the photo was taken the car was painted with white primer, just as the Jack Stewart Ford behind it. Interestingly Jim would buy the Jack Stewart Ford a year or so after this photo was taken.

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During the many hours in his car on the around 2300 Miles trip, he started planning his next Custom, based on a 1949 Buick Roadmaster Convertible. In Los Angeles he discussed his plans with George Barris at the Barris Shop, and they made an agreement that Jim would rent some space at the Barris Shop so that he could work on the car himself, and at the same time have the option of having one or more of the Barris employees to help him out.

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Close up of the Buick. This white primer version shows off the beautiful fender skirt that Sam Barris crafted for the car. The guy with the hat all the way on the right is possible Jim.

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For Jim is was crucial that the Buick would be a very stylish Custom, not over the top, or with a load of extras add-ons he saw back home on Ohio’s Custom Cars. It needed to be something the GM designers could have dreamed up when first designing the car. With that in mind he asked Sam Barris if he could be hired to do the main metal work. Jim liked Sam very much, and loved his sense of style and had witnessed his amazing skills for metal work. Jim also hired Stan Getz who also worked for the Barris shop and together with Sam he would do most of the work on the car.

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Jim’s Buick at the first Petersen Motorama Show held in 1950 at the Shrine Convention Hall in Los Angeles, California. Jim was not present when this photo was taken, but George Barris was, and so was Jack Stewart, and other unknown guy with a Barris tag on his jacket, and two lovely girls. Notice how at these very early car shows, the trophies as well as other publicity material was displayed on the cars.

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Color photo taken by Jim on one of his trips from California to Dayton Ohio an around 2300 Mile (± 3700 KM) trip. Jim had protected the paint on the rear fenders with 1951 Oakland Roadster Posters. (Color photo was developed on April 17, 1951)

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They started with the suspension, ensuring a proper stance, before they could lay out the rest of the custom restyling. At the rear, the frame was C’d, so the rear axle would clear the frame. With the suspension work out of the way, Sam started the body work with the windshield frame, which he chopped 3 inches. The idea was to create a removable hard top for the car that made the car look just as good with or without the top. Not a padded top, that most convertibles had in those days, Jim liked those as well, but wanted something more exclusive for this Buick.

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1950 Indianapolis Auto Show. Jim Showed his just completely finished Buick, leaving a big impression with the east coast crowd.

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This photo gives a good look at how nice the rear window glass flowed with the chopped Cadillac top.

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Beautiful restyling, everything was done to make the car look better, not just different.

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In 1951 Jim took his Buick to the Indianapolis show again, the car had no changes since last year, except for many more miles being driven. Jim taped a Barris Business card to the vent window, a common thing to do back then, to advertise the body shop who had created the cars.

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Detail of the door showing the push button door opener that was installed on the rocker panel on both sides of the car, as well as the Barris Business card on the vent window.

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A similar Barris Kustom Automobiles business card as Jim used on his Buick. (from the Tom Hocker Collection)

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Chopping these GM convertible windshields is not as easy as many other cars from this age. The whole A-pillar is covered with stainless steel, which needs to be cut, reshaped and refitted. But Sam was an excellent metal man and after doing the inner structure of the A-pillar, he worked his magic on the stainless steel bright-work, as well as the vent windows.

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A friend of Jim took this photo of Jim with his just finished Buick in Dayton Ohio at the Carillon Park, a popular hang out place for car guys, back in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.

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With the windshield chopped to the right height Jim found a 1950 Cadillac fast back that would be used to create the custom removable hard-top top for the Buick. Jim never cared for the very heavy C-pillars on the stock ’49 Buick HT’s so together with Sam he designed the new c-pillar and rear window that would work with the new lower top, and looked nice, light and elegant.

When I asked Jim about the rear glass used in the car, and if it was perhaps made of plexiglass like so many rear windows on customs in those years, he mentioned that there was NO plexiglass on the Buick. They used real glass for it. But Jim could not remember from which car they had pirated the rear glass they used, but glass it was for sure. With the metal top all shaped they needed to add all the side window channels, which were created from reshaped units Jim had found and cut off junked cars at the nearby junk yard.

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The rear fenders of the Buick were removed and replaced with 1949 Cadillac units that Jim found at the Junk yard on a wrecked car with frontal damage. They needed a bit of reshaping to fit the Buick body which Sam Barris did, and he also molded them into the body, for the desired smoothed look. Also the rear bumper from the Cadillac was used, making the Buick appear much like a more exclusive Cadillac, and many people later would actually think Jim’s Custom was based on a Cadillac.

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Photo taken at the Dayton Ohio Carillon Park shows Jim’s Buick without the top during a summer cruise. The low stance, Custom Toothed grille, Cadillac rear fenders and chopped windshield all make this one outstanding Custom that made a huge impact on the Ohio Car enthusiasts. (Color photo developed Oct. 5, 1951)

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Sam modified some fender skirts to fit the Cadillac rear fenders. The new skirts are level with the bottom line of the rear fenders, creating a much nicer flow of the rear of the body into the bumper. All small design elements Jim and Sam agreed on would improve the cars looks. A new grille was made using the top bar of a 1950 Oldsmobile 98, in which Jim wanted to install some “heavy teeth”, for a bit more aggressive look. He Liked the shape of the new 1950 Buick teeth, but they required to be cut down at the bottom to fit the new opening. A lot of work, but the end result was spectacular.

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Eddie Martinez did the beautiful interior in Jim’s Buick, including the home made wrap around rear bench. The upholstery was done in black and beige, with white piping.

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Jim kept the Buick front bumper, as well as the stock bumper guards, they were very nice in shape and complemented all the rest of the customizing very well, so those were left in place. The headlight rings were welded to the fenders, and the headlights slightly frenched into them. The side trim of the Buick was replaced with the 1949 Cadillac unit. Sam installed a set of Appleton S-552 spotlights, and wide whitewall tires and Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps complete the finishing touches on Jim’s Buick.

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The dash board and garnish molding was painted black, just as the top, and the main gauge cluster and the glove box were chrome plated

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A better look at the home made wrap around rear bench. and the very wide, white piping that Eddie Martinez used.

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Shortly after the car was painted Jim drove it back to Los Angeles to have Eddie Martinez do a complete Custom interior with special hand made wrap around rear bench. Eddie upholstered the car in black with beige off set with shite piping. With the interior finished Jim entered the Buick in the 1950 Motorama show held in November 1950, and later several other shows on the east coast. Jim really enjoyed the Buick, it not only looked fantastic, but also drove like a dream. He drove it like this until around 1952, when Jim decided it was time for an update on the Buick using a few new parts to keep the car up to date.

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Jack Stewart ’41 Ford shortly after Jim bought, and drove to Dayton Ohio, parked next to his ’49 Buick at a local park in 1951.

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The car was primered in white and Jim would drive around for some time. This version shows in one photo taken at the Santa Ana drags. Soon after that photo was taken Jim drove the car back to Dayton, where he finished the work on the Buick. He extending the lower edge of the Buick hood, where it was indented to follow the original Buick grille. In the process Jim modified the stock molding on the Buick hood (which followed the stock Buick grille surround) and did not fit with the Olds grille bar at all. Jim decided to reshape the hood molding and let it flow to a center-point just above the new grille surround. The rest of the hood’s nose was completely smoothed. Now with all the body work finished Jim picked a Tokay Beige color for the main body and black for the top, and painted the car himself.

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The Buick at an 1951 East Coast Car Show, parked next to it is the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford Jim had just bought from Jack Stewart and driven from Los Angeles to Dayton Ohio. Two amazing Customs parked side by side.

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Jim’s daily drivers were always Custom Cars, so his ’49 Buick was no exception to that. Jim took this photo in February 1951, and this photo gives us a really great look at the flow of the rear window from the trunk to the top.
(Color photo was developed on Feb 1, 1951)

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Version Two

Jim made a few changes, including the addition of 1952 Cadillac taillights, which added even more style to the already classic lines of the car. Jim also adapted the same year Cadillac rear bumper that came with bumper tip exhaust holes, Perfect for his Buick. Jim repainting the body in his own mix of very deep purple, with a metallic lavender top, mixed in his favorite RM lacquer. He took the car on many road trips in this version and later when Jim’s other Barris project car, the Golden Sahara was finished, he sold the Buick. Sadly Jim has no idea what happened to the car, he has been on many hunts for it, when somebody mentioned he might have seen the car. But so far no luck. Hard to believe that such a wonderful trend setting Custom just disappeared.

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The 1952 make over of the Buick included new ’52 Cadillac taillights, rear bumper and a new deep-dark purple paint job with metallic lavender top. Jim mixed his own colors and painted the Buick himself.

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The front of the Buick remained the same in the make over. The new dark paint shows off the custom made peek on the front of the hood really well.

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The new taller ’52 Cadillac taillights and more stylish bumpers really fitted the rear of the car very well. Jim always loved how the Cadillac bumper tip exhaust holes looked on his car.

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The Second version of Jim’s Buick at an unidentified , most likely Ohio Car show around 1952.

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Jim’s Custom Buick has been very important in the history of the Custom Car. The 1949 Buick was finished in late 1950, very early for such a new car done as a full Custom. The Buick had an very unusual light color in an era that most Custom Cars were painted deep, dark organic colors. The light color was even more special because the Buick was already a very big car, and the light color made it stand out and looking even taller.

The main thing way this Buick Custom had such an impact was that Jim showed it both on the West as well as on the East Coast. Advertising the original Custom Look from California on the East Coast and with doing that must have inspired many young guys to create new Custom Cars. Jim had always been fascinated by California, and everything that came from there. But due to his family business he was “stuck” to Ohio. So he tried to create his own little California in Dayton, using his all California Styled Custom Cars. And hoped his friends would start building cars inspired by his California Styled Customs.

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3+

Palle Johansen 47 Caddy Introduction

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PALLE JOHANSEN 47 CADDY

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After many years in the works, Palle Johansens 1947 Cadillac Padded Topped Convertible Kustom is finally ready – enough – for its debut.

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For the last few years Palle has been working on and off on his 1947 Cadillac Kustom. Adding all the details he has had in his mind for a long time. From the extended front fenders with home made brass side trim, the smoothed rear fenders, set in license plate, had made taillights set into 1949 Cadillac guards, to the beautiful styled dashboard with center mounted modified 1948 Cadillac Gauge panel. And not to forget the deep-dark-gold paint with added bronze powder, just as the masters in the 1940’s and 50’s used.

Palle’s goal with this Cadillac was to build the perfect 40’s Kustom, that could have been created in the late 1940’s. His main inspiration were the Custom Cars created by the Ayala’s, Barris and other So Cal builders from the late 1940’s. And especially the 1942 Cadillac Convertible Custom George Barris created for himself as personal driver. George used an older/cheaper ’42 model and updated it with ’47 fenders and bumpers. Barris had Bill Gaylord create the super long and perfectly shaped padded top. David Martinez recreated the top for Palle’s Cadillac in 2013.

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Inspiration for the Palle Johansen Cadillac is one that George Barris created for himself as personal driver in the late 1940’s. This Cadillac was updated from a 1942 model with new fenders, grille an bumpers.

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In 2014 Palle’s Cadillac was roughly finished, more like a driving project. Here seen on the road to the Old Style Weekend in Sweden.

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INTRUDUCING
The Palle Johansen Cadillac

This is an introduction article celebrating that Palle’s Cadillac has been finished enough for its debut at the Flatlands Motorama in Rosmalen, the Netherlands on April 6-7, 2019. Special thanks to the team of friends who have helped Palle to get the car finished in time for the show. We will go much more in depth on the car, all the details and how it was created at a later date. For now, lets enjoy some of the photos Palle took last weekend.

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For the first time out with the padded top back on the car on Saturday March 30, 2019. Kustom Car Perfection.

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The Dark Gold color was custom mixed with bronze powder added in the final coats. It looks really dark in the shadows, but ones the sun hits it it starts to glow and sparkle, and changes hues depending on the time of day.

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The extended and molded in front fenders flow harmoniously with the molded in rear fenders.

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The hood ornament end center trim was removed and the center peaked.

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Perfect side profile thanks to the extended cat-walk, heavily forward raked “B”-Pillar and flowing padded top.

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The Caddy…. and Palle are ready to Kustom Cruise this summer.

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The smaller size Danish license plates allowed the set in to be done below the truck.

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The taillights were home made to fit perfectly in the 1949 Cadillac bumper guards. The ’49 guards are larger in size than the ’47 model, making them a better option for the taillights.

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The front fender section on the doors were extended to make the car appear longer, the side trim was hand made from brass. The vent windows were also completely made from brass after to many hours were spend trying to make the units to work with the lowered top. This photo shows a little bit of the center mounted ’48 Cadillac Gauge pod.

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Teardrop shapes…

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The setting sun made the dark gold paint glow with a more red hue.

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A bit closer look at the custom mixed dark gold color with added bronze powder mixed in with the clear. Appleton Spotlights are mandatory on this style of Custom.

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High front view shows a little bit of the two tone leather interior created by Continental Custom Seats. (we will get back to that in a follow up article)

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Beautiful Birds view…

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The goal was to create a period Custom Car that could have been built around 1949. This Digital Restyled image shows Palle’s Cadillac parked next to George Barris his 1941 Buick photographed around 1948… Mission accomplished.

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Stay tuned for articles on the Palle Johansen 1947 Kustom Padded Topped Cadillac in the near future. When we will share some more of the details, interior, dash, how it was created etc. But for now we hope you have enjoyed these debut photos.

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6+

Larry Watson 57 Chevies

LARRY WATSON 57 CHEVIES

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Larry Watson Painted a great number of 1957 Chevies in his career, some mild with only added scallops, and some very wild with full pearl and Candy paint jobs.

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The 1957 Chevy is the one of the always popular Tri-Five Chevies 1955-1956 and 1957 that gets the least customized, at least in the past few decades. The car has always been very popular among restoration people, as well as with the street machine crowd. But for some reason it was never used a lot as Custom Car. That said… I was quite surprised to find sucha great number of Larry Watson paineted ’57 Chevies in the Larry Watson Personal Photo Archive.

I have to say that most of the Larry Watson painted ’57 Chevies are only mildly restyled, most only with suspension and tire-hubcaps dress up customizing. But it does show that the ’57 Chevies were used as base. The first samples of Larry adding scallops to stock bodied ’57 Chevies come from Larry’s very first shop at 1016 E Artesia in North Long Beach. Larry had this shop from 1957 to 1958. Making the ’57 Chevies at this shop brand new, or nearly new cars.

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Completely stock bodies Hard-Top with lowered suspension, lakes pipes, Four bar hubcaps, ’54 Chevy grille and a set of Larry Watson scallops. Notice the real Appleton Spotlights. Photo taken in front of Larry’s1016 E Artesia in North Long Beach Shop.

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Another earl black and white photo shows a hard top with scallops with bold white outlines. The body and even the suspension seam to remain mostly stock. Except for the aftermarket bumper over-riders.

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Another scallop paint job by Larry Watson on a stock bodies Hard-Top. The scallops are fading front to rear and have a white pinstriped outline. The interesting part about these scallops is that they are a mix of flames and scallops. A further development from those above. Only real modification seams to be the addition 1957 Plymouth hubcaps, and a slight stance adjustment.

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Rear view of the same ’57 Chevy Hard-Top as above.

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This ’57 Chevy 2-door sedan is interesting since Larry had a few different photos of the car in his collection. These black and white photos show the car painted all black in front of Larry’s 1016 E Artesia in North Long Beach Shop. Beautiful mild custom with the right stance, white wall tires, three bar hubcaps and lakes pipes.

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Larry also had a few photos of the same car, but now with nice pale yellow to red scallops in his Collection. The unidentified member had a Renegades Long Beach club plaque in the rear window.

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Another black ’57 Hard top that Larry did shows early style scallops in gold with fading red details, outlined in white on this mildly restyled, nosed and emblems removed ’57 Chevy. The photo was taken at Larry’s 1016 E Artesia, North Long Beach shop. 

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One of my personal favorite scallops paint job by Larry Watson is done on this unidentified pale yellow ’57 Chevy hard-top. The scallop Larry added to the side of the car looks so perfect on the car and enhances the shaped of the body and trim. The 4-bar lancers and perfect size white wall tires sure help as well.

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Larry adding the silver for the scallops on the unidentified Chevy. Masking tape and partly masked with newspapers painting outside in the driveway of his first shop.

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Same car as the photo above shows that it was updated a little later. First version had the single scallop on the sides, which was later duplicated with a second one above it, and a second scallop hides the body work needed for the emblem removal of the nose.

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This is one of the very few ’57 Chevies done by Larry Watson that made it into the magazines 1959 Custom Car Annual, and a few others. But sadly no owners name was ever mentioned. (James Potter photo.)

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Candy blue scallops, most likely over a silver base on this stock bodies, lowered Hard-Top. This photo was taken in front of Larry’s9012 Rosecrans blvd. Bellflower Shop.

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Interesting photo of an in progress ’57 Chevy at Larry’s Rosecrans Shop shows that at this time Larry did not even remove most of the trim, just taped off. Larry had upgraded to using actual masking paper by now.

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Larry adding some red accents to silver scallops on an unidentified ’57 Chevy.

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Late afternoon photo of this unidentified 1957 Chevy at the Larry Watson Rosecrans Blvd shop in 1959. Larry painted this mildly customized 1957 Chevy Sedan in pearl white and added panels to outline the character lines of the Chevy. He painted the panels in pearl light blue and fogged them in with candy blue. One of Larry’s wildest paint jobs on a ’57 Chevy. The car had wide white walls with Custom three bar spinners and full lakes pipes, dummy spotlights and lowered stance.

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Dallas Eichstadt’s 1957 Chevy 2 door sedan has not been modified much. Just some suspension mods to give it that Californian stance, combined with the right size white walls and Dodge Lancer four bar hubcaps. Both a perfect choice for this type of mild custom. Then Larry added his magic with a pearl white paint-job, followed by some carefully taping of the subtle outlines of the top, and teardrop/scallop elements around the wheel openings. Then he painted several coats of candy yellow creating a super bright yellow. The last step for Larry was outline the white with a very thin black pin stripe.

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Two invoices that Larry kept shows us that Dallas Eichstadt had to pay $210 1960 USD for the Candy Yellow and white pearl as can be seen in the photo above. Sadly we do not have a picture of the Pearl Blue Chevy from the invoice on the right.

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Another nice two door sedan was left mostly stock and all the customizing was done with the stance/wheels/tires and the paint job. Some of the body badges where removed and then Larry added a wonderful combination of pearl ice green on the main body and candy dark green on the top. The car was set on a forward rake with small size white wall tires on chrome reserve wheels.

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Another 2-door sedan with beautiful Candy green body with silver flake roof and rear panel photographed in front of Larry’s Lakewood Blvd., Paramount shop. Amazingly the photo was taken at the moment the Chrisman Mercury Comet was passing by in the background.

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Candy blue and pearl light blue on the top in the mid 1960’s.

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Typical mid 1960’s paint job from Larry Watson. Simple two tone on this mostly stock 1957 Chevy. Larry painted the car in a brilliant candy orange with a metallic warm gold on the top. By this time Larry had found out he could make much more money when he did more simple paint jobs, instead of the wild panel, fade, flame and special effects paint jobs he did in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Even though the outside of the unidentified 1957 Chevy is stock it looks like it has a pretty wild all custom interior.

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This great looking lavender pearl and Candy grape 1957 Chevy painted by Larry is yet another proof that these cars look so good as mild Custom Car. And it makes me wonder why we don’t see them more done like this today.

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Larry even painted a ’57 Chevy four door. Purple and lavender.

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Very nicely done 1957 Chevy Nomad.
Larry painted the smoothed Nomad in a metal-flake medium blue with some veiling in silver around the B-pillar and above the doors. And blue cow-webbing on the silver panel below the side trim. And most likely hydraulics on the front.

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This close up photo gives a better look at the paint Larry used, the blue cob webbing on the lower panel and the silver veiling gun effects on the roof and B-pillar. Notice the molded in sunken antenna on the front fender and the white and yellow striped tires. Anybody knows who’s car this was?

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Bright red with silver rood inserts on this Nomad with Hydraulic suspension was photographed at Larry’s Firestone Blvd. shop in Downey. It was the last photo photo I could find in his collection showing a Watson painted ’57 Chevy. 

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3+

Chopped 1949 – 51 Mercury Convertibles

 

CHOPPED 49-51 MERCURY Convertibles

 

A trip in time back to the late 1940s and early 1950s when the first of the 1949 – 51 Mercury Convertibles were Customized with chopped padded tops.



The 1949-51 Mercury has made a huge mark on the Custom Car scene ever since the first model rolled out of the Factories in late 1948. The body style was so familiar to the Custom Car enthusiast, with just the perfect proportion of heavy body below the belt-line, and relatively small windows all around. These cars did not need much to make them look perfect in the eye of the Custom Car enthusiast. But to make them look absolutely perfect, a few inches taken out of the top height would do absolute magic to these cars.

Ever since custom builders started to chop tops to improve on the looks of the cars, the convertible models were among the first to get the lower top treatment. Especially in California, where the weather was mostly good all year round, the convertible cars were very popular. And Upholstery shops were specializing in adding padded tops to cars with chopped windshield. A trend that was started by the Carson top Shop where Glen Houser developed the first padded top “Carson Top”  in 1935.

Just like with most other brand and specific year cars before, the first “victims” of chopping the top on the ’49 Mercury, were the, much easier to chop, convertibles. Especially if the working folded top, were to be replaced by a removable padded top, the chop process could be realized in a matter of days. In this article we are going to take a look at the ’49-51 Mercury convertible customs that were chopped early on when these cars were still very new. We have already created an article around what could be the First Chopped Mercury Coupe here on the CCC, and now its time to concentrate on the convertibles. This is not (yet) a quest to find the timeline of the first chopped 49-51 Mercury convertibles, just a gathering of those we are familiar with, and hopefully more info will come from this article, to possibly create an more accurate time line.

1949 Mercury convertible from the original sales brochure.
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Bill Gaylord 1949 Mercury

Bill Gaylord was one of the very first to chop the top on a 1949 Mercury. This car was Bill’s personal driver. The story on Bill’s ’49 Mercury started in early 1949. Bill had a very nicely done ’42 Mercury convertible with front sheet metal from a ’47 Mercury. It was a really nice late 1940’s style custom with chopped windshield shaved handles, nosed, decked and one of Bill’s nicely flowing padded tops. Bill took his ’42 Mercury custom to a local Mercury dealer and traded it for a brand new ’49 Mercury convertible. The Mercury dealership put the ’42 in their best spot in front of the showroom and it sold very fast. Soon after that they asked if Bill could do another one for them and sell it the same way. He created another custom, with a George Cerny chopped windshield. It also was sold very fast.

In the meantime Bill was also planning the customizing on his new ’49 Mercury. At the same time George Barris came over to Bill’s shop, asking Bill if he could create a long low padded top for George’s personal ’42 Cadillac (with ’47 fenders and bumpers). Sure I can do that Bill mentioned. If you chop the windshield on my ’49 Merc, french the headlights and remove the emblems… deal! So Bill created the long and smooth padded top for George Barris his’42 Cadillac, while George was busy chopping the windshield of Bill’s new ’49 Mercury.


This photo showing the windshield already chopped by George Barris, and the top skeleton made by Bill. But the padding still had to be done. 1949 tags on the license plates.
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George also removed the hood emblems, peaked the hood and molded the grille surround to the front fenders. The trunk was shaved and the suspension was lowered. George extended the bottom of a set of ’49 Mercury accessory fender skirts and when all the work was done the car was painted a lime green color. All this was done in 1949, and most likely Bill Gaylord’s ’49 Mercury was he very first ’49 Mercury convertible that was ever chopped. After George was done with his part, Bill Gaylord reworked the door side windows with curved rear corners, and crafted the frame for the padded top.

Bill’s ’49 Mercury at an unidentified indoor car show in 1949, perhaps early 1950.
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Bill styled the top in a similar way as he was used to on the pre-1948 cars he had done so many times. Meaning the padded top sides would start right after the door jamb, created “filled” in quarter windows and a very long looking padded top. This style of top Bill did for his own Mercury is one of the very few like it. Later Padded tops created by Bill and other shops were created with rear quarter windows, to “lighten” up the rear of the padded top, as well as to add rear viability for the driver. What is also very unique on Bill Gaylord’s Mercury padded top is how it flows at the back. Because the rear quarter windows were filled in, the down arc could start almost at the back of the doors and gently falls back. Creating an almost fastback flow.

1950 Bell High yearbook ad for Gaylord Kustom Tops. The picture shows how extremely long and flowing the padded top is on this ’49 Merc is with the quarter windows “filled”. (Shared by Ross from 46-64 HighSchool Yearbooks. )
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Two different style Padded Tops

Besides the no quarter window padded top as first created by Bill Gaylord I have found that there are two styles of padded tops that were create for the 49-51 Mercury. Which is very similar to what was created for previous model cars. One style top had a rather upright rear of the top, where the rear of the top basically follows the same shape as the rear quarter window shape. These more traditional styled tops have a much longer look, where the top portion of the top is horizontal for a large part of the car before it falls down toward the catwalk. These tops have a a similar shape, or feel as a four door 49-51 Mercury metal roof. One characteristic element for these tops is that the “C-Pillar” of these tops have a rather uniform width from bottom to top.

The second style has the rear of the top flowing much more gently from around the back of the doors, or a little more toward the back with a very gently curve towards the catwalk. The shape of these padded tops feels much more lake the regular Mercury Coupe metal tops. The “C-Pillar” of these tops have a much wider section at the bottom than at the top which results from the more flowing top line.

At this point I’m not sure if any of these two styles were typical for a certain Top Shop. Like on the 41-48 Fords we know that the Carson Top Shop had special jigs created to produce the padded tops off the cars. These tops had a much more upright back of the top, than those created by Bill Gaylord for the same car where Bill created lower rear bows. But I’m not sure if the Carson Top Shop ever created jigs for the 49-51 Mercury. There is one photo taken inside the Carson Top Shop that shows an unidentified ’50 Mercury with the padded top frame constructed. Judging the frame work this top would be the second category, with the more flowing lines. It also looks that some of the padded tops, both styles have different length rear quarter windows. Some of the customs appear to have shortened quarter windows, creating wider “C-pillars”.

Carson Top ShopUnidentified 1950-51 Mercury at the Carson Top Shop with the padded top frame ready to be upholstered. By the looks of it, this will be the more flowing type of padded top.
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The More Upright tops

Unidentified 1949 Mercurys

We have no idea how many ’49 Mercury Convertibles were done with chopped padded tops, but there must have been several. Some made the magazines, but we know from experience that most of the Custom Cars created never made the magazines. We would love to find out more about these unidentified Mercury’s, who owned them, who created them? And what happened to them. The two Mercurys below are very mild customs, one has most of the stock emblems and trim and stock hubcaps, with the only major change the chopped windshield and matching padded top. The one below it is slightly more restyled with frenched headlights and shaved emblems, but it still e very conservative Custom.

Typical Street Customs for the very early 1950’s. Practical as every day cars with the benefits of the good looks of the chopped windshield and padded tops. Both cars had similar styled padded top with the stock rear quarter windows chopped in place, and the top reshaped to follow the side window contours. This resulted in a less streamlined/flowing top than the one Bill Gaylord had created on his personal Mercury. The shape of these type of padded tops looks a lot like the 4-door Mercury tops.

Unidentified 1949 Mercury was published in the Trend Book No. 101 Custom Cars from July 1951. It was a mostly stock 1949 Mercury convertible, with mildly chop windshield and padded top. The car had 1951 License plates.
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A very similar restyled mercury appeared in one of Don Montgomery books. The only difference between this one, and the one above it are the molded in headlights, modified side trim and ’51 Mercury fender skirts. This photo was taken in 1952-53.
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Johnny Hagen 1950 Mercury

Johnny’s 1950 Mercury was also a rather conservative Custom, with a mild 2.5 inch chopped top and matching padded top made by the American Top Shop in Lynwood California. The car was featured in the October 1951 issue of Hop Up Magazine with 1951 license plates.

Johnny Hagen’s Mercury was lowered just the right amount in balance with the mildly chopped windshield. The handles and emblems were shaved for a cleaner look. The American Top Shop also created a full cover behind the rear seat for topless driving.
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The Padded Top on Johnny’s Mercury was perfectly proportioned and shaped around the rear quarter windows.
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Sam Dibitonto 1949 Mercury

According a full feature on Sam Dibitonto’s 1949 Mercury in the R&C of December 1953, Sam bought a totaled ’49 Mercury  when the car was just a few month old. He started working on the car, and instead of actually chopping the windshield, he laid back the whole unit, making the side profile of the car lower, as if it was chopped. A matching padded top as added. The photo below shows the car in its early version with regular rear fenders, and ’48 Cadillac grille added. When the car was featured in the  R&C issue in 1953, Sam had added 1951 Cadillac rear fenders.

Early version of Sam’s Mercury shows the stock rear quarter panels still in place. The dog leg had already been removed from the doors though. The windshield on the Mercury was not actually reduced in height by removing a horizontal piece (chop) but rather by laying it back resulting in a lower side profile similar to a regular chopped top, but with the “benefits” of a more streamlined shape.
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1953 Version of Sam’s Mercury shows the addition of the ’51 Cadillac rear fenders. The padded tops flows very nice. The rear window flap has been removed in these photos.
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Bob Lund 1950 Mercury

Bob Lund took his 1950 Mercury convertible to the Barris Kustoms Shop in Lynwood, California. The team at Barris created a stunning, very elegant and well balanced Custom for Bob. The windshield of Bob’s Mercury was chopped, but only mildly, 2, perhaps 3 inches.  The car was taken to the Carson Top Shop who create a very nicely traditional shaped padded top for the car. It appears that the rear quarter window on Bob’s Mercury has been shortened a few inches, creating a slightly wider C-pillar. But since there is now profile picture this is hard to proof.

Bob Lund 50 MercuryBob Lund trying to leave the Barris Shop in his beautiful padded topped ’50 Mercury with ’51 rear quarters. This photo shows how upright the rear of the roof it, and how they are almost the same angle as the rear angle of the rear quarter windows. Giving the car a nice late 40’s looks and feel.
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Bob Lund 50 MercuryBob Lund’s Mercury with Carson Top Shop padded top with the side windows closed. A sight we do not often see.
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Fred Row 1951 Mercury

Fred Row’s Beautiful 1951 Mercury was created around 1953, and the long padded top was created at the Carson Top Shop.

Carson Top Shop Fred Rowe



The More Flowing tops

Al Glickman 1949 Mercury

Al and Gill Ayala created this 1948 Mercury Convertible for Al Glickman at Gil’s Auto Body Works in East Los Angeles. The Ayala Custom was featured in Hop Up magazine of May 1953. The really interesting thing about the padded top on Al’s Mercury is that the flow of the top is right in between what Bil Gaylord created on his personal ’49 Mercury, and the later versions with rear quarter panels. The top was created by Chavez and unlike most of the padded tops with rear quarter windows retaining, the outside shape of the top is not following the shape of the side windows, but rather flows like the top of a coupe, resulting in a wonderful flowing padded top.

Al Gickman 1949 Mercury with padded top was a very classic looking Ayala Custom with unique styling.
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This side profile of Al’s Mercury shows the nice flowing lines of the outside shape of the Chavez created padded top. It shows that towards the top of the “C-Pillar” the width is reducing due to the flowing shape of the top. The shape of the side window opening is dictated by the cut down stock Mercury rear quarter window frame.
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Carl Johnson chopped Mercurys

Body man Carl Johnson created several chopped 49-51 Mercury’s in the early 1950’s. A 1949 Mercury with an Eddie Martinez padded top as his own personal driver, and a 1950 convertible for Bill Verna. The ’49 Merc was done prior the ’50 he did for Bill, and there are photos from Bill’s mercury with 1951 California License plates.

Carl Johnson in his personal 1949 Mercury convertible with padded top. The stance on the car is rather high, typical for the every day used customs from the late 40’s early 1950’s.
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The 1950 Mercury of Bill Verna restyled by Carl Johanson with a padded top by Eddie Martinez. Notice the lipped front fender.
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Eddie Martinez did the padded top on Bill Verna’s 1950 Mercury. The windshield was chopped more than most others and it looks like the shape of the rear quarter window was made more flowing before the padded top was created.
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Ralph Testa 1950 Mercury

Barris Kustoms created the beautiful restyled 1950 Mercury for Ralph Testa in the early 1950’s. We are not sure when it was created but the car was published for the first time in the July 1952 issue of Hop Up Magazine. And the first confirmed date on the finished mercury is from the 1952 National Roadster Show which was held from Feb 19-24, 1952 in Oakland California. Most likely the car was restyled in late 1951.

The windshield on Ralph’s Mercury was chopped 3 inches and the padded top with beautiful flowing rear section was created by the Carson Top Shop.
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This wonderful rotogravure printed photo was the openings photo of the three pages feature article on the Ralph Testa Mercury in the July 1952 Hop Up magazine.
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(this article is sponsored by)

ccc-sponsor-ad-customs-by-flash-w
 
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Frank Sonzogni Mercury

 

FRANK SONZOGNI MERCURY

 

Frank Sonzogni Lynwood Police Officer worked part time at the Barris Kustom Shop. Here he created his ultimate Dream Custom 1950 Mercury.


Frank Sonzogni was an Lynwood Police officer of Italian Descent, who was very passionate about cars, and Custom Cars specifically. In general the Hot Rod and Custom Car scene was very much frowned upon – put mildly – by the SoCal police force. By the stories that have been told by the guys ho drove heir Hot Rods an Custom Cars in the 1940’s and 1950’s, how the where pulled over all the time and getting tickets for ridiculous thing, we know there was a serious issue between these two camps. But this all did not prevent Frank to really love the scene.

Frank did not care for what his colleagues thought of him and what he did with his off duty time. Frank started to take very actively part of the custom car scene and started working part time, after his regular shift at the Police Force, at the Barris Kustom Shop. Frank was a good craftsman working on a lot of the famous Barris Customs, including the famous Hirohata Mercury, where he worked on the passenger side of the car, copying everything that Sam Barris had created in the drivers side.

Early photos of Frank chopping the top on his mercury. Most likely this was in later 1952, or very early 1953. Frank measuring the amount the top needs to be dropped. Notice the paint can used as brace. And on the right Frank is showing how the angled forward B-pillars will look.
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After having done a lot of work on the Hirohata Merc, Frank got very inspired and got himself an 1950 Mercury that he turned into his dream Custom in his spare time at the Barris Shop. Frank was inspired by some if the design elements of the Hirohata Mercury, like the removed dog leg in the door and the fender line disappearing in heavily reshaped rear quarter panels, but for the rest of the car Frank added his own personal touches.

According the period magazines Frank chopped the top 3,5 inches in the front, and to get the perfect flow the rear was cut around two inches lower than the front. When chopping the top on a Mercury like this, with more taken out of the back, the profile of the door opening gets just perfect, necessary to do this is that the windshield is angled slightly in the process as well. But Frank wanted to make the top of his Mercury even sleeker than most others, so he angling the whole windshield back a few degree more.

This picture shows the car shortly after Frank had welded the top back together in the new lower position. Notice the angle on the windshield. Frank now also started to experiment with the fade away fender line, which was alter changed to a line with a scoop and dip just behind the door.
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Frank adding lead to the freshly chopped top. Notice how the factory stock sharp edge at the belt-line was now all leaded smooth.
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To continue with the smooth flowing look Frank also shaved the drip rails and the b-pillars were angled forward. The door top and rear bottom corners were rounded for a very pleasing new door opening shape, and to help make the rear quarter window flow nice from the door lines. The rear corner of the rear quarter windows was reshaped, with a more pointy towards the bottom shape. All the stock side trim and handles were removed, including the belt-line trim

Frank sanding the lead on the body worked top smooth to be able to add some primer to have a good look at his work. This photo was most likely taken on April 18, 1953.
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Frank liked the new longer 1951 Mercury fenders, so he bought a pair and molded those into place on his ’50 Mercury. The 1955 issue of R&C mentioned that the rear section of the rear fenders was hand made, but after studying all the photos I’m pretty confident the rear fenders are just 1951 Merc units molded in place. Frank had worked on the Hirohata Mercury, and really liked the side body modifications that Sam Barris had created.  Frank wanted to use a similar styling on his Merc, but with his own twist to it. The front fender line was modified on the door, and into the rear quarter, removing the “dog leg” and raising the rear a little.

Frank cut out a section of the rear quarter panel and pushed it outwards thus creating a scoop. The character line on the rear quarter panel was raised at the front to flow nice with the extended line from the front fender. Above the scoop a nice curvature was created.and the scoop was later dressed up with trim pieces from a ’53 Chevy 210, which can be found just above the stainless rock shield on a stock ’53 Chevy. Frank heavily modified the side trim and wheel opening trim of a 1953 Dodge to create the side trim on his Merc. The back portion of the new trim flows wonderfully with the scoop opening as well as with the angled forward B-Pillars. At the rear of the quarter panels the character line was extended all the way to the back were it blended into the new taillight housing.  The taillight housings were created from 1953 Chevy grille parking light bezel’s molded to the ’51 Mercury rear fenders. Frank modified a set of 1954 Oldsmobile taillight lenses and added 9 Chrome 1950 Ford Dash Board knobs around it.

A little later, still in 1953 the body work on the car is all done, and the car is sitting outside the Barris Atlantic Blvd. Shop to be completely wet sanded and smoothed for the final primer coats and then paint. That is Sam Barris at the corner of the office building waiting for the water can to be filled with fresh water.
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This picture is very interesting since it shows the stock molded grille opening really good. The lower corners of the grille opening are slightly rounded with the same radius as was used to mold the splash pan to the front fenders. The headlights are molded in 1952 Ford units.
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The fit of all the separate panels on Franks Merc, like the hood and doors looks to be exceptional well the time it was created.
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Sam Barris wet sanding the trunk of Frank’s Mercury. This photo also gives us a good look at the reshaped and molded in rear quarter panels, and how they were extended at the back to flow nicely into the molded in 1953 Chevy grille parking light bezels.
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All the ornaments an trim was removed, including the door handles. Door poppers and push buttons installed. At the Front Frank rounded the hood corners and molded in the stock Mercury grille surround. The hood was beautifully peaked, and a lot of work went into making the hood fit the fenders and cowl the best way possible. A 1955 De Soto grille was was modified, narrowed from 9 to 5 teeth to fit the new opening. The splash pan was modified to fit the new ’52 DeSoto bumpers and molded to the body with a nice radius for a smooth look. A set of 1952 Ford headlights was molded to the front fenders for the desired french look.

Frank’s Mercury was displayed at the Petersen Motorama at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in 1954. It was displayed in the Gaylord’s section where Bil Gaylord displayed several cars his shop had created, or for which he had done the interior.
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Rare color photo of the original version of Frank’s Mercury. Clean and simple, in wonderful two tone metallic dark green and lime gold green.
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The suspension was modified to get the car to the perfect ride height. Frank stepped the frame 6 inches in the back and used 4 inch lowering block to get the rear down, and still have enough axle travel. And he installed some heavy duty swivel casters just beneath the rear bumper to make sure the rear of the car would not hit the road in case of steep driveways. The front suspension was dropped by reworking the A-arms and cutting the coils. Frank added a set of wide white wall tires and dressed them up with Custom hubcaps. The interior was done with an diagonal them by Bill Gaylord. For the cars original version Frank choose to not use the almost mandatory at the time Appleton Spotlights, but chose for the smooth look, perhaps being a cop had something to do with that choice.

It took Frank around two years to create his dream Custom. Working on-and-off in his spare time after show hours and in the weekends. As we can see in the Life Magazine photos he had some help of some of the Barris crew, including Sam Barris.

The 1954 DeSoto grille was narrowed to fir the Mercury grille opening from 9 in the stock grille to 5 teeth. This photo shows how nice the front fender flow line is extended into the rear quarter panels.
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Close up of the fender skirts which were either modified stock units, cut down on the sides to fit flush in the wheel opening, or completely hand made. The bottom of the skirts was made to flow with the bottom of the rear fenders. Very nicely done.
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Bill Gaylord really outdid himself on the interior in 1954. He most likely saw it as a display project to show what his shop was capable of. Gaylord created an really unusual interior combining traditional tuck&roll with diamond shaped patterns, using dark green, chartreuse and white material.
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This is what the R&C April 1955 article mentioned about the Bill Gaylord interior.

Frank wanted the inside of his Mercury to be as unusual as the exterior, so he went to Gaylord Kustom Shop in Lynwood. Bill Gaylord responded to Frank’s pleas with a series of rolls in pleats in a combined color combination of three shades that practically defies description. As the accompanying photos illustrate, the headliner is composed of a mixture of dark green, chartreuse and white panels with a large diamond forming the center of attraction. This inner white panel of the header is pleated with the rows running fore and aft instead of from side to side as is normally the case. The remaining door and side panels and the seats complete the design. The general styling theme of the interior is a series of diamonds, large and small, with a large, padded button set squarely in the center of each. Bill Gaylord and staff of upholsterers deluxe, has been doing a little experimentation with this new diamond studded treatment with Frank’s Merc being their latest project.

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The taillights on the original version were made from 1954 Oldsmobile lenses dressed up with 1950 Ford Dash knobs. The pod at the end of the fender is most likely created around molded in 1953 Chevy grille parking light bezels, and feathered out into the reshaped and repositioning rear quarter character line.
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Police man Frank Sonzogni posing with his ’50 Mercury. The hubcaps on Frank’s Ford are are based on Ford aftermarket dummy wire wheel hubcaps. The center of the hubcaps was modified with a chrome bullet taken from a 1951 Ford grille. These modified hubcaps are identical as those used on Bob Dofflow’s 1949 Ford.
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Nice side profile photo shows the modified fender line with the removed dog leg, reshaped rear quarters with scoop added which is dressed up with 1954 Chevy 2010 trim pieces. (These small pieces fit on top of the Chevy’s stainless rock shields) Notice the beautiful flow of the chopped roof, and how the ’53 Dodge side trim matches the angled forward B-Pillar.
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The April 1955 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine had a whopping 7 page feature on Frank’s Mercury.
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Barris Custom?
The Frank Sonzogni 1950 Mercury has been listed as Barris Kustom Shop created Custom, but as far as we know it never had a Barris Crest mounted until after Frank sold the car in 1958. The car was created at the Barris Shop, similar to for instance the Jesse Lopez ’41 Ford, but both cars were created by part-time Barris employees in their spare time. Frank’s Mercury had all the styling elements so typical for the Barris Shop, yet it was displayed at the Gaylord section at the 1954 Motorama, instead of the Barris section. Personally I see the Frank Sonzogni as a Barris Custom created completely at the Barris shop and heavily influenced by all cars that had been created around the time Frank was working on his Mercury.



Version 2

Somewhere around 1956, after Frank had been showing the car for some time it was time for an update to keep up with the current trends, which was usually done at the time. The original super clean body was dressed up with bolt wide white pin-striping done by “Earl”. On Frank’s Mercury the striping was very much present, and changed the look of the car quite a bit. Personally I do not feel it as an improvement, but at the time it must have been a spectacular update. Frank also replaced the Oldsmobile taillights and modified a set of 1956 Ford Customline taillights to fit the ’53 Chevy grille parking light molded in bezel openings.

The modified second version of Frank’s Mercury was featured in a four page article in the February 1958 issue of Custom Cars.
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Frank’s Mercury at one of the many parking lot car shows he went to. Notice the bolt striping on the hood and front fenders creating different optical lines on the car.
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Frank’s Mercury together with the Johnny Zupan and Buddy Alcorn Mercury posing in front of the Lynwood City Hall. Ironically this Barris color photo shows three Mercury’s that all have been created by other shops, or people. Two Ayala merc’s on the right, and Frank doing his own Mercury.
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A different angle from Frank’s Mercury at a photo shoot at the Lynwood City Hall.
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I really love this photo of the Sam Barris 1955 Chevy in front of the Barris Shop. A mother and daughter “patiently” waiting for here husband to get back out of the Barris Shop. And in the background the Frank Sonzogni Mercury. Frank used his Merc as daily driver, and of course it was a good idea to have such a great looking custom parked in front of the shop.
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Frank demonstrating the push buttons he added to the Dodge side trim.
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George Barris photo proof of Frank’s Mercury. Although much heavier than the stock Mercury bumpers, the ’52 DeSoto units looked really well on Frank’s Mercury. Both front and rear splash pans had to be modified to make the bumpers fit.
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A closer look at the custom made scoops with ’53 Chevy trim pieces, the modified Dodge side and wheel opening trim. On the right a better look at the 1956 Ford Customline taillights that had to be modified a bit to fit the ’53 Chevy parking light openings. A section around the taillight had to be cut down. The chrome ribbed bezel also comes from the ’56 Ford.
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Frank Sonzogni sitting inside his ’50 Mercury. Frank was 6-foor tall so the seat had to be cut down 2.5 inches to give Frank enough headroom. Notice the Bob Hirohata dash, shifter and Appleton handle knobs. Frank is demonstrating the push buttons he installed on the dash to open the doors.
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1958 New Owner

Around 1958 Frank sells his Mercury to a new, unknown owner from Tucson, Arizona. We do not know anything about this new owner (so far0 All we know is that at the time he bought the Mercury is that the car had new wheel covers and that a Barris crest was added to the front quarter panel, close to the wheel opening. The new owner apparently used the car at the drag strip as well. In 1959 the car caught fire and the car was taken to the local junk yards were it sat until Larry Dames found it in 1973.  According Larry’s son there was a rumor that the only reason the car didn’t get crushed all these years is the owner of the yard was gradually taking the lead out of it. (We do not know if this was true, or that the fire had caused the lead to melt, which seams to make more sense.)

Pat Ganahl shared this neat color snapshot in his Hot Rod Gallery book. It is very interesting for several reasons. One, because by the time this photo was taken 1958-59, Frank had sold it to a new owner in Tucson, Arizona. Two, because it is the only photo I have been able to find of the car with a Barris crest added to the front quarter panel (possibly added when Frank sold it?). Three, it shows the Mercury with all new hubcaps. And Four, because this is perhaps the last photo of the Mercury, at the Tucson Drag strip (by Tom Prufer) before the car burned down in 1959.
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Larry Dames owner from 1973

In 1973 Larry Dames acquired the Merc back when he had just moved down to Tucson from St.Louis. Larry was looking for a Custom Car project car and found the burned down remains of an old Custom ’51 Mercury at the local junk yard. He found out that the car was burnt up back in 1959 and had been sitting in this junk yard ever since. Larry did not know the history of the Merc at the time, but liked its overall shape, and despite the poor burnt condition with caved in top he decided to bring it home.

The photos below show that the Mercury was in pretty poor condition, and we all can be very grateful to Larry for saving is despite all that. Larry needed a new mercury rood, hood and trunk, plus a lot of hours to get all the damage done by the fire fixed. Along the way a few changed were made, especially to the rear where the extended line from the rear quarter was brought back to stock 51 Merc rear fender specs.


This is how Larry Dames acquired the Mercury back in 1973. Larry had just moved down to Tucson from St.Louis and found the Mercury sitting in a junk yard. Most of the trim of the car looks to be still in place, but all the lead has been molten in the fire.
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This picture shows the caved in roof and missing lead work from Frank a bit better. Sad to see it like this.
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The Mercury during its restoration in the late 1970’s. Larry Dames had to use a donor roof and trunk and hood to replace the damaged in the fire original parts.
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Larry finished the restoration and painted the car all white, and installed a Hemi engine. He drove it around for quite some time in the 1980’s. Entering it in shows and swap meets. Very few people knew the real story on the Mercury. In 2009 Larry was invited to bring his Frank Sonzogni Mercury to the Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering where it would be displayed with several other historical Custom Mercury’s.


Larry finished the car in all white and had added a Hemi Engine. This is how he showed it in the early 1980’s. By now Larry had found out all about the cars history and even added a Barris Crest to the front quarter panels.
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Painted all white it links back to the early 1950’s Barris times where painting your Custom white primer was very hot.
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Larry Dames’s son wrote this about his father’s mercury.
“To those who are wondering why the cars is White instead of green and why it does not have the Desoto grill or side trim on it. This car was burnt and sitting in a junk yard for almost 15 years before he got it and allot of stuff was missing including the 54 Desoto grill, the original flat head as well as numerous other items. The car was rough and in a sense worthless back in the mid 70’s so he built it the way he wanted and could afford at the time. The car is still the way it was when he finished it 30 years ago, and still has the Chrysler Hemi he put in it back then, which is why it has a louvered hood, and he still drives it all the time.

As far as the cars future, I have been bugging him for over 15 years to restore it back to its original look but with kids, work and other cars, that has yet to happen. He has told me that if he can get his chopped 51 conv. going so he will have a Merc to drive, he will start to tear the car down and restore it back to its original look, Although the interior will more than likely be different, it was pretty hideous looking and he can’t get himself to match the interior, I can’t say I blame him for that.”

Larry Danes was invited to bring his Sonzogni ’50 Mercury to the 2009 Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering. The car made quite in impact at the event all in white with bright white and red contrasting interior. It was one of several original Barris Mercury’s on display.
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David Myers took this snapshot of Larry showing one of the burnt down original Bob Hirohata created dash knobs that were still in the car when he got it.
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With all the lead molten away in the fire the rear quarter panels looked quite different than original. Larry kept the stock rear quarter panel look and replaced the taillights with slightly different 1955 Ford units.
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Danny was extremely impressed with the reception his Mercury got at the 2009 Event, and he was very inspired with all the other classic Mercury’s at the event. He planned to get back on the Sonzogni Merc as soon as he could to get it back to the cars original version. Hopefully we will see that happening in the near future.
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