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)

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The Carson Top Shop Part 2

 

CARSON TOP SHOP part 2

 

The Carson Top Shop changed the scene in the 1940’s with their Padded Top design. Towards the 1950’s and up they excelled in state of the art full custom interiors.



In PART ONE of the Carson Top Shop story we concentrated mainly on the importance of the Carson Top Shop and their creation of the Padded top’s. How they had influenced the looks of the Custom Car scene in Southern California, and later in the rest of the US.

In part two we will concentrate on the other activity that was very important at the Carson Top Shop, creating custom made interiors. In fact creating custom interiors together with creating replacement soft tops was the main business for the shop until they developed the padded top, which became so popular in the 1940’s. After the popularity of the Carson Padded tops had slowed down a bit towards the end of the 1940’s and early 1950’s the shop started to spend some more time promoting the padded tops and other items for the very popular, at the time, Sports Cars.

The demand for the padded top slowly declined in the early 1950’s and towards the mid 1950’s fewer and fewer where done. The main focus for the shop from then on became interiors once again. Some of the top Custom Car builders, including Barris liked to send their cars to the Carson Top Shop. They did really great work, enhancing the looks of the Custom Cars, and from what we have heard they always delivered on time. Especially the last thing was often important since a lot of the Custom Cars were finished to debut at a specific car show, and the interior was usually one of the last things that needed to be done on the cars.

CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-campbell-01The Carson Top Shop did the upholstery on Marcia Campbell’s Barris Kustoms built 1942 Ford in 1950. Off white and tan were used and the carpets are a darker shade. The panels and seat centers are done in tuck&roll style and the separate feet panels have a diamond pattern, which was very popular for the lower sections and kick panels then.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-campbell-02Around 6 years later the same ’42 Ford coupe still had the same door panels, but it looks like the carpets have been replaced by some new units. This photo gives us a good look at how early 1950’s tuck&roll panels looked like, nice and round. Notice that an interior door handles has been added to the car in the meantime. Perhaps Marcia already installed those after having been trapped inside when the batteries had died, and there was no way to open the doors manually.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-larry-ernstBeautiful wide rolls in the Barris Kustoms created Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy. 
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-mg-armrest-adBesides leading the market in doing chopped padded tops for Customs and Hot Rods, Carson also did a lot of tops for Sports Cars. They offered padded tops for MG’s and Jaguars as standard items and could of course make a top for any Sports Custom at their shop. This Carson Top Shop ad also advertised the Custom Arm Rests and Custom carpets, mail order products.
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Hirohata Mercury

One of the very few original Carson Top Shop upholstered interiors that is still around and well documented is the interior the shop created for Bob Hirohata’s ’51 Mercury. When Jim McNiel bought the Hirohata Mercury in 1959-’60, the original interior was still in the car. It was worn already and after Jim had the car on the road for some time and from years of storage the interior was beyond repair when Jim started his restoration in the 1990’s. It most likely could have been restored and saved, but the white sections of the interior had yellowed so much over the years it just looked so much out of place with the new paint and fresh chrome. Instead Eddie Martinez, who was also doing this type interior in the 1950’s was asked to replicate it. But not the headliner. The original Carson Top Shop created headliner had always stayed out of direct sunlight and was still in very good shape. So that is the one original Carson piece that remains in the car after the restoration. There is also some material in the truck which is still original, but according the stories the trunk was mostly upholstered by Bill Gaylord. When the Hirohata Merc was nearly finished it was a rush to get the car ready to debut at the Petersen Motorama show in 1952. Carson would not be able to get the complete interior done, so Bill Gaylord was asked to do the trunk.


We are making upholstery and seat covers for the man who wants the best, and who wants something original.



The upholstery design of the Hirohata Mercury was rather traditional, especially compared with the wild exterior design. Three colors, dark green, a lighter grayish green and off white were the colors that were used. The one thing that really stood out, but was something that had been done before, were the length wise tuck&roll sections in the headliner. Those really made the car look big on the inside. And this is also something we have seen being used a lot after the Hirohata Merc had been published.

CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-golden-hirohata-011952 photos of the Hirohata Mercury showing the wonderful three tone Carson Top Shop interior. The kick panels under the dash were done by Bill Gaylord, since a deadline needed to be made for the cars debut at the Petersen Motorama. The length-wise running pleats on the headliner make the car look much longer inside. A very clever design element.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-golden-hirohata-02Sadly the seats and side panels were in the bad shape to be restored. Eddie Martinez redid most of the interior with the help of the original interior panelsto make sure everything is just as how it was done back in 1952.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-golden-hirohata-03The great thing about the Hirohata mercury is that the original Carson Top Shop headliner is still in the car, and still looking very good. 
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Using different materials

In the early years most of the interior work had been done with Leatherette or Naugahyde, a plastic substitute for leather, material that looked very close to real leather, but was machine produced and much cheaper. The Carson Top shop had also worked a lot with leather on original car interior redo work as well as for customs. But back in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s Plastic was the magic word. A little later in the early 1950’s we see that the Carson Shop was using some different material in their upholstery. The did a lot of custom interiors using Frieze and Velour materials which had a nice soft matt appearance and combined them with the semi glossy leatherette material. (Frieze — a pile surface of uncut loops or of patterned cut and uncut loops.) The combination had a really nice classic, upscale look. Also very popular was the woven material with gold or silver metallic thread woven into it. One of the cars they used this metallic fabric in was the Louis Bettancourt ’49 Mercury. Later they also started using Boucle material in combination with leatherette. (Boucle — a fabric of uneven yarn that has an uneven knobby effect)

CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-bettancourt-01Louis Bettancourt in his Carson Top Shop upholstered ’49 Mercury. Glen Houser used off white naugahyde and wine colored fabric with gold metallic thread woven into it for a great glistering look. The fabric panels were button tufted with white buttons and finished with white piping. Notice that the foot protection carpets are off white and with the popular diamond pattern.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-bettancourt-02The headliner in Louis car used the same material. The sides were done in the wine colored fabric with white piping and the center portion had lengthwise pleats. The whole look was very luxurious. 
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New Shop on Crenshaw

With less tops needed to be done the old shop on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles had become to big and the shop moved to 4717 South Crenshaw in 1954. The shop did continue to build the Padded Tops when they were requested, but by now the shop did not advertise the tops anymore. From the mid 1950’s they created several two part padded tops. The one they did for Bill Carr’s ’55 Chevy “the Aztec” was most likely the best known and most popular of this kind. The rear portion of the top looked very similar to an original padded top. But at the B-Pillars the top was split and usually a metal or chrome plated section was added. The front piece could very easily be removed and you could drive the car with an open top above the front eat, but still have the rear covered up.

CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-crenshaw-shopThe Carson Top Shop on 4717 South Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles around 1955.
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Liberace 1954 Cadillac

Liberace’s Cadillac had a full Custom interior designed by Bob Houser of the Carson Top Shop. Sam Barris also did some work on the car at the Barris Kustom Shop, but we cannot really call this one a Custom. The interior is also far from the full Custom interiors we are used to see from the Carson Top Shop. But the Music themed interior they created for Liberace was a big crowd pleaser, and it got the Carson shop a lot of ink. Which was well needed now the famous Padded Tops were not produced in the large numbers the shop was used.

CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-liberaces-03The Cadillac was barely customized, but the very unique interior, especially for that time made it a real crowd pleaser.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-liberaces-01The Carson Top Shop basically only created the new upholstery for the seats and some of the side panel details. But the fine tuck&roll on the door side panels is Cadillac Factory upholstery.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-liberaces-04One of the many positive write ups about the Carson Top Shop created Music them interior in Liberace’s Cadillac.
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Ed Sloan 1953 Plymouth

The Barris shop created a really unique Custom Car for Ed Sloan out of an 1953 Plymout. A very unusual car to start with, but as usual the Barris crew knew exactly what to do to make this one look very good. When the car was almost done and painted in a two tone green it was up to the Carson Top Shop to enhance the unique exterior of the car. The shop created a really wonderful interior using Green Mohair button tufted with lime colored tuck&roll Naugahyde. The green mohair was tufted with white buttons and outlines with white piping. On the headliner they also used a Brocade cloth to outline the Naugahyde tuck & roll sections.


CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-ed-sloan-02George Barris and Ed Sloan.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-02Photo taken at the Barris shop shows how the seat base was chrome plated, and how the seats and door panels were upholstered in button tufted green mohair and lime tuck&roll Naugahyde panels. 
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-01Close up of the headliner shows how the tuck&roll sections are outlined with Brocade cloth piping, which cave the headliner a really unique look.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-ed-sloan-01The photo is faded, but it still shows that this car must have been really stunning inside and out.
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Jim Skonzakes Golden Sahara

One of the most elaborate full custom interiors the Carson Top Shop ever created was for Jim Skonzakes 1953 Lincoln based Golden Sahara. The car was created by the Barris Shop and when it came to the interior they teamed up with Carson to create a totally unique never before seen interior. The two shops joined efforts to create the totally home made dash, the rear wrap around seats and the cooling unit that also severed as mini bar.The Carson Top shop choice gold colored Boucle cloth white Naugahyde and off white carpets. The colors matched the white paint and coper plated details perfectly. The completed interior also include a TV, Tape Recorder, Radio, Telephone and Loudspeaker system.

CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-golden-sahara-01Birds-eye view shows the wrap around seats in the back with the mini bar cooler unit in the center of the rer seat. The front seat backs had special racks to store the glasses.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-golden-sahara-02Close up of the special glasses Jim used to display with the Golden Sahara.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-golden-sahara-03This great color slide shows really well how elaborate the Carson Top Shop work was on the Golden Sahara interior. Gold colored Boucle cloth white white Naugahyde.
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Bill Carr 1955 Chevy the Aztec

The Carson Top shop created the full interior and the two part padded top for Bill DeCarr’ ’55 Chevy named “The Aztec”. They used a really beautiful copper colored frieze material combined with white naugahyde. The copper frieze on the seats and door panels was button tufted with white buttons and the naugahyde was added with horizontal rolls. The top portion of the dash was padded and covered with tuck&roll.

CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-aztec-01The top portion of the dash was padded and upholstered in white tuck&roll naugahyde. Even the sunvisors were fully upholstered with tuck& roll.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-aztec-02Rare photo showing the beautiful upholstery on the inside of the two part padded top.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-aztec-03Model Kipp De Mott shows that the interior is not just beautiful, but also very comfortable. The Aztec is still around today, completely restored by Barry Mazza and Bob Nitty. The interior was completely gone when they found the car, and they had a hard time to find photos showing all the details, and then finding the right material to recreate it as accurate as possible.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-rc-replace-01

CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-rc-replace-02The July ’55 issue of Rod 7 Custom Magazine had a massive  almost 7 page article on how to replace a convertible top told by Glenn Houser from the Carson Top Shop.  It showed how you could replace a soft top by yourself. But of course Carson hoped the extra attention would draw new clients for this work to his shop, and it most likely did create some new business.
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The last Carson Padded top

In 1965 the last Carson Padded top was produced. For the Ford Custom Car Caravan several Ford cars were customized by the famous Custom Builders of the time. And for one of them, the Ford Galaxy, that Bill Cushenberry created on a 1963 Ford Galaxie Convertible, the Carson shop created a two part padded top. It would be the very last real Carson Top Shop padded top they created. There was no demand for such tops anymore, and the fine-grained white canvas that the shop used for the tops was no longer produced.



CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-last-carson-topBill Cushenberry created the 1963 Ford Galaxy “Astro” which would later get the  very last Carson Padded Top. 
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CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-last-carson-top-02The last padded top the Carson Top Shop created was the two part top they created from the mid 1950’s and up. This photo shows the Ford with the front section removed.
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Around this time the shops main business was installing vinyl tops for local car dealers and individual customers. They still did some soft tops, interior work and Tonneau covers, but the hay-days were over. Glen Houser passed away in ’69 and left the business to his son Robert (Rob) Houser.

In the early 1970’s Rob Houser was asked to restore an original Carson Top Shop Padded Top. Apperentley Rob was able to find some of the old canvas material and was able to create the top. But then one thing was still missing, the tag. None of the original tags could be found, the shop had not been using them for years, and if there had any left they were gone by now. The owner of the top really wanted to have and Carson Top Shop tag on the top, so they had some new tags created.  The company who did them asked for a minimal order, which was quite a lot. After the restoration project was finished some of these extra tags where given to friends, other where sold. These ’70s tags still can be found from time to time. The recreated tags are a bit different from the original ones. small details in the size of the text. But the main difference is that the reproduction is silk screened on a metal plate, while the original was etched creating a relieved tag.

Carson Top ShopThe 1970′ reproduced Carson Top Shop tag.
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The shop is now gone for several decades, but the Carson name and its influence in the Custom Car scene are far from gone. In the last couple of years we see a blooming interest in the recreation of traditional styled padded tops. Not just tops that look a bit like the original tops, not people study the old techniques, the old photos and recreate the tops with the same style, technique and if at all possible same material as in the 1950’s and ’50’s.



The Case for Custom Upholstery. Motor Trend,April 1953

Motor Trend’s Robert L. Behme interviewed Glen Houser in early 1953 for his series of on-the-spot interviews of men in the custom car field. This story was published in the April 1953 issue of Motor Trend Magazine.


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SCENE: Carson Top Shop, Los Angeles, California. Bob Behme has just entered, and Glen leaves his workbench, wiping his hands on his coveralls, as he greets Bob.

GLEN: Hello, Bob. What brings you here today?

BOB: Glen, I’m here today, because MOTOR TREND is running a series of interviews with the men in the custom automobile field. Along with Dale Runyan, you are one of the leaders in the custom top and upholstery, field. I’d like to ask you a few questions which I hope will give some of our readers enough information to know what to expect both in price and workmanship when they order custom upholstery.

GLEN: That’s’ fine with me. Fire away.

BOB: A good beginning would probably be seat covers. The first thing I think of when upholstery is mentioned is seat covers. Are ready-made seat covers a good deal?

GLEN: That’s’ hardly the right way to ask the question, Bob. Ready-made seat covers fill a definite need, but they are like anything that is ready-made. They are made for a normal car – and no car is normal. Each seat is, different. Because of this, ready-made seat covers are bound to have a few discrepancies. Another thing – there are only a few fabrics to choose from, and there are only a few designs to buy. That is why guys like me are in business. We create something just a little more nearly perfect – something just a little different. We are not catering to the man who wants to save a few pennies. We can’t do that and stay in business. Instead, we are making upholstery and seat covers for the man who wants the best, and who wants something original.

 

CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-MT-april-53-03To illustrate the article several samples were used. This one shows the seat and kick paneld the Carson Tops Shop created for the Bob Hirohata Mercury.
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BOB: I see your point, Glen, and I stand corrected. Suppose I change my tack and ask you about fabrics best suited to custom seat covers?

GLEN: These are a good many, Bob, but to name a few – Saran, Lederan, and Firestone’s Velon are all good. Fabrics for custom seat covers come in any color, and in many plaids and designs. They’d cost about $35 or $45 installed.

CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-matranga-mercFor Nick Matranga’s Barris Kustoms built  ’40 Mercury they used maroon and off white with wonderful wide rolls and an unique pattern on the doors. The white piping around the seats and dark colored carpets make the interior really special.
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BOB: Okay. Let’s switch to a discussion of tops. Take that beat-up hard top of mine that’s lounging outside. Can that be covered with fabric?

GLEN: Yes, and as you probably know, a lot of car owners are doing that very thing. A hardtop can be covered with the same material used on convertible tops. It comes in blue, green, tan, maroon, and white. If your car is a late model, the fabric can go on right over the metal top without any holes.

BOB: How do you do this?

GLEN: The chrome moldings around the windows and doors are removed, and after the material is sewn together, it is stretched over the roof and tucked under these areas. Once it fits snugly, the molding is put back into place. This holds the top in place. On the earlier cars, the ’36, ’37, and ’38 models, there often is no such molding, and we must drill a few holes to fasten the fabric on with metal screws. On a late car, the fabric could be removed without a mark, but with the earlier cars, the screw holes must be filled with lead if the top is ever removed. The cost for a fabric top would run between $125 and $175, depending upon the car.

BOB: You just can’t talk about tops very long until the conversation naturally seems to drift to the Carson Top. They are now made for all cars, aren’t they?

GLEN: Yes, they are. Carson Tops are now available for many of the foreign cars, including the Jaguar and the MG, – as well as for our own American-made automobiles.

BOB: When you make a Carson Top you use all new parts, don’t you?

GLEN: Almost all new, Bob. Everything is new except the front bow. The top is fastened to the body by two bolts in the rear, and by the original convertible bow on the windshield. The Carson Top is formed over a framework of metal bows and the bows are welded to the convertible bow in the front. The framework is covered with several layers of jute, fabric, cotton, and stuffing. The outside material is normally of a convertible top sports material. We cover all buttons with a flap and roll.

BOB: Don’t such tops offer a choice of rear window designs?

GLEN: Yes, they do. They can be purchased with either the standard opening type of window in either plastic or glass, or in the popular Coupe de Ville in heavy or light-weight plastic..

BOB: Hey, just a minute. By Coupe de Ville, do you mean the wrap-around windows?

GLEN: That’s just the style I mean. It is known by many names -Riviera, Coupe de Ville, or wrap-around. The price of a Carson Top depends on the style of windows and the style of interior upholstery. A top with the open style windows and a plain interior starts at $200 for any car over a ’42 with the exception of the foreign cars. American autos older than ’42’s usually run about $175. ’36 and ’37 coupes are smaller and cost only $155.

BOB: I know the Carson Top is not a folding top. Is it difficult to remove?

GLEN: No. It’s almost as easy to deal with as a folding top. You can install a hoist in the garage rafters and lift the top, or two people can easily pick it off the car and store it against the garage wall.

BOB: Folding tops are still pretty popular. I presume the remarks you made about the ready-made seat covers applies to a ready-made top too.

GLEN: Yes, they do. A fellow can save money by purchasing a ready-made top for about $40, but he can never get the fit of a custom top. After a convertible has been driven for a few months, the bows begin to warp. A top has to be made for the bows to fit snugly and to look really good.

BOB: Attractiveness is not the only advantage of a custom top is it?

GLEN: No The customer is usually a craftsman. He takes pride in putting on extras which make his product last longer, as well as look better. All fasteners would be covered with a flap and the edges would be rolled. Wearing points would probably be covered with extra layers of fabric. Prices start at $65, and given proper care such a top should last a good long time.

BOB: Ah, there you’ve come up with a moot point! Just what is proper care?

GLEN: First of all, a convertible should be kept in a garage, out of the sun at all times when it is not in use. If the-top is moist it should be dried thoroughly before it is folded. When it is washed it should never be washed with anything stronger than white Ivory soap. The top should be brushed regularly, and after one year it should be coated.

BOB: What sort of coating do you recommend?

GLEN: There are many good products The one we use here is called Seal-it. We like it because it is a dye which can be used to color the top fabric any shade the owner chooses It is water repellent yet it never seems to make the fabric hard or shiny.

BOB: The folding top is not upholstered but both the hard tops and the Carson Tops have upholstered head linings don’t they?

GLEN: Yes they are usually upholstered in either a welting or a piping.

BOB: Hold on a minute Glen. Set me straight, will you? I know that welting is the small fold that goes along the creases, but tell me what is this piping?

GLEN: Pipings are large tucks on the seats and side panels and head lining which are stuffed to give a series of half-circle rolls. Most- of the time, head linings are piped in a two-tone effect – say an all-over white fabric with a few rolls of green for accent. This is really a nice effect, but it seems to look best on customs. It doesn’t come off on a stock car. A stock looks best with either a single tone piping or the more sedate welting.

BOB: Just how much work does an upholsterer get into when he installs a new head lining?

GLEN: He gets into quite a lot of work. It is a very difficult task to perform properly. The standard lining is removed and heavy 3/8-inch steel bows are installed across the inside of the roof. The upholsterer then makes a pattern of the inside of the roof and begins making the lining on his bench. Wires are put through each of the folds or pipes on the back. When the top is completed on the bench, it is taken to the car and the wires are strung through the bows. This is important because the use of the bows and wires keeps the lining tight and snug. The job should cost about $75 if welting is used and about $125 if the top is piped.

BOB: It seems as if the pipe and roll on seats and tops are becoming very popular. What is the most popular size of piping?

GLEN: At the moment – here in the West, anyway – the small two-inch pipe with a fairly large ‘horseshoe’ roll coming around the edges of the seats down to the floor is most popular. The small piping seems to look best and because it is tightly sewn, it seems to wear better than the larger piping.

BOB: When upholstering the seats, you completely rebuild them, don’t you?

GLEN: That’s right. We remove the upholstery and restyle it along the customer’s designs. The exterior is sewn on a bench, then, placed on the seat frame and padded to give roundness and softness. Prices should start about $250 if side panels and kick panels are included.

BOB: Can a fellow get this done for less if he has only the seats upholstered?

GLEN: Sure, he could have the seats upholstered for about $175, but he wouldn’t really be saving money. Sooner or later he will want the door panels and the kick panels covered, and it will be another $90 to $100. If he has this done along with the seats, the upholsterer can cut all the material from one bolt with a greater saving in fabric and labor, and he can pass this saving along to the customer.


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BOB: Is there much demand for padded dashes now?

GLEN: There is not as much demand for them as there was. It seems to be going out of style slowly, although we have recently done several ‘Kaiser’, type crash rolls. The upper half of the dash is padded with a heavy, soft ‘crash roll,’ while the lower area is chromed. This is quite striking. Some sports-type cars look good with a completely upholstered dash. A partial dash would cost about $35. Chroming shouldn’t run over $15 or $20.

BOB: Is a completely upholstered dash limited only to sports-type cars?

GLEN: No, but it’s a tricky thing to design. It should be limited to cars with a rather plain dash design. The late model Fords and Chevys take to it rather well. Most foreign cars look good. The toughest part of padding a foreign car is the work involved in removing and replacing the instruments. On either the American or foreign cars, it would run between $35 and $50.

BOB: Many fellows like the advantage of an arm rest in either the front or rear seat. Do you recommend a fixed or removable arm rest?

GLEN: I recommend the removable arm rest for two reasons, Bob. First, it is easier to construct, and thus is less expensive, and second, the removable arm rest can be upholstered without causing bulges and wrinkles. The arm rests are built of wood and upholstered in fabric. The fabric usually matches the seats—if the seats are a pipe and roll, then the arm is identical. This would cost about $25 or $30 plain.

BOB: What do you mean by ‘plain’?

GLEN: All arm rests are hollow. They can be used for storage, but many fellows are converting their arm rests into a bar. To do this, the top is hinged and inside padded. A bar arm rest costs about $50. If the arm rest extends down to the floor, as many do, it would probably cost about $75. Rear seat arm rests cost the same as those for the front.

CCC-carson-top-shop-p2-MT-april-53-02The Custom removable arm rest the Carson Top Shop produced. This was one of the products you could order by mail in the color of your choice.
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BOB: Are tire covers limited to older American cars and popular foreign makes?

GLEN: Oh, no. Many owners who have installed continental kits are changing from the metal tire cover to sports fabric because it gives a more sporty look. The cover should cost about $12.

BOB: At this point it seems natural to turn to tonneau covers. They are very adaptable, aren’t they? I wouldn’t consider them limited to smaller sports cars.

GLEN: Tonneau covers improve the looks of almost any convertible. But more than that, they offer protection against the elements when the top is down. There are many variations of the tonneau cover. First, there is the ‘full’ tonneau. This fits from the back, the rear seat, up over the windshield and down, to snap around the sides. It protects the upholstery from the sun and moisture. The second design — perhaps the most popular — starts at the back seat and ends at the windshield. With the windows rolled up, it offers good protection from the dew, and with the exception of the open windshield, it is excellent protection from the sun’s rays. The third design is a half tonneau. It merely covers’ the rear seat. The full tonneau costs about $50. The second type, ending at the windshield, costs about $37, and the half-tonneau should cost about $27.

BOB: This should sum up the upholstery interview pretty well, shouldn’t it, Glen?

GLEN: I think so. This should be enough information so that anyone can know how to get his money’s worth. One important point, however, is that custom upholstery and top work result in a handmade product. The quality and taste of that product depend upon the man who does the work. Before buying seats, tops, or any work, it is best that the prospective purchaser inspect the upholsterer’s past work. There are many top-notch men in the business, but there are also a few ‘rag pickers’ who do not care about quality. If the car owner will pick his workman with care, the upholstery or top should leave nothing to be desired in appearance, and should last a long, long time.”



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References and more info

  • Blue Book of Custom Restyling, book Dan Post
  • Speed and Power Handbook, booklet 1947-49
  • Motor Trend, magazine April, 1953
  • Rod & Custom, magazine July, 1955
  • Street Rodder, magazine, April, 1989
  • Rod & Custom, magazine August, 1991 (The Carson Top Story by Greg Sharp)
  • The American Custom Car, book Pat Ganahl 2001
  • The Big Book of Barris, book 2002
  • Barris Kustom Techniques of the 1950’s, books
  • Rodders Journal, magazine issue 12
  • Coachbuilt.com, website

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Got To PART ONE of the story on the Carson Top Shop.






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The Carson Top Shop Part 1

 

CARSON TOP SHOP part 1

 

The birth of the Traditional Custom Car in the late 1930s was influenced by one big event. The design of the Carson padded top by Glen Houser in 1935.



The traditional Custom Cars as we know then had their birth in Sunny California in the later part of the 1930’s. The looks of these custom restyled cars developed during the 1940’s and around 1946-48 the style had reached near perfection. Custom cars in those years were restyled to reach the long, low road hugging illusion. These cars were restyled to reach an graceful effect of unbroken lines. These cars were created with eye for balance, using other brand parts to make the Custom to look better, more elegant, more exclusive, but always with near perfect proportions. The early restyling on cars were mostly based on convertible and roadster bodies. The windshields were chopped and smooth perfectly flowing padded tops were created to flow with the smooth lines of the cars. The Carson Top Shop located on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles had developed this padded top in 1935, and used it on a chopped custom for the first time in 1937. The look they achieved with that changed the look and feel for the custom cars from that time on. The Carson padded top would become very popular first in Southern California, later migrating to North California, and then to all over the US.

CCC-carson-top-shop-history-shop-earlyMid 1930’s photo of the Vermont Los Angles shop where Amos Carson started to work using the front section of the Vermont Auto Works shop. The window reads that Tops (convertible) are $10.-. The French tops advertised on the left window were more, but we do not know how much more. The shop window also shows that the shop already did seat covers as well at this time.
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Lets start at the beginning. The Carson Top Shop was established in the late 1920’s at the 4910 Vermont Avenue location. At this locations the Vermont Auto Works specialized in Auto painting, general auto repair, and body and fender work. Amos Carson, born in Utah 1971 rented the front of the shop and started his A. Carson Tops shop. Amos had learned the trade from his father who was a harness and saddle maker at first. Later when they moved to Salinas Ca. during the family opened a pool hall which was ran by Amos Carson.

In 1927 Amos closed the pool hall and moved to Los Angeles where the Top Shop was opened. The first couple of years the shop worked on regular soft tops and interiors. In 1930 Glen Houser started to work for Amos Carson. Glen had a soft spot for customizing and started to add custom touches to the model T and A’s that would be at the shop. Special convertible tops and other details, Glen Houser became a very important asset to the shop. And in 1935 he unknowingly gave himself a icon status when he designed and developed the first smooth non-folding, padded top. He named it the French top, since it was styled after the looks of some of the metal padded topped cars from French created couchbuild cars. According the stories the car for which Glen designed this padded top was a 1930 Model A roadster. Sadly we have never seen a photo of this car.

CCC-carson-top-shop-history-collage-01Just some of the many early Carson Padded topped customs in Southern California in the early 1940’s. The padded tops set the style for the early custom look. Most of the Carson padded tops were for chopped cars, but there were also some done for stock height cars.
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In 1937 early Custom Car pioneer Roy Hagy was working on a clients project. A near new 1937 Chevy coupe that had been in an accident destroying the whole top when it rolled over. After removing the damaged top, and repairing the windshield frame and belt-line Roy took it over to the Carson Top Shop to see if they could create a special made top for it. Glen houser created his french top especially for this 1937 Chevy, creating hand made bows and adding all the padding. We do not know if this car had a chopped windshield or stock height, but this customized car is said to be the first custom car to ever receive a Glen Houser Carson Tops Shop padded top.


After that it all went very quick the looks of this padded top fitted the custom restyled cars perfectly. The soft rounded profile fitted the looks of these cars so much better than the hard edged retracting rag- tops. Plus it was way more easy to make a padded top fit the lowered windshield of the convertible or roadsters than a working rag-top. Glen Houser’s signature padded tops were an hot item in Southern California in the late 1930’s early 1940’s. The padded top added more comfort than the regular rag-tops, protecting the driver and passenger from heat and cold, plus the tops were relatively easily removed (with two man, or a ceiling mounted hoist) for topless cruising.

CCC-carson-top-shop-history-baldwin-40-01A dark colored padded top was created for March Baldwin’s 1940 Mercury convertible. This photo is from 1944, but the car was restyled when the car was near new. The shape of the Carson top was a bit different in these early days.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-baldwin-40-02A better view at the early Carson Padded top. The rear of the top was more upright than later, and also the roll on the flap around the bottom was smaller than it was later on.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-39-fordUnidentified early restyled 1939 Ford convertible, with the running boards removed and shaved trim and handles. The dark colored padded top shows the early style smaller diameter roll at the bottom.
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CCC-carson-top-story-dan-post-bb-1949-01From the Dan Post Blue Book of Custom Restyling 1949 edition.
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A Carson top’s framework was mostly constructed from steel stock and hand-formed conduit. The shop tried to include the cars stock front bow, and possibly the stock rear bow if they were available for the car. The frame work was bolted to the stock convertible brackets. Aviary wire (finer than chicken wire) was attached to the frame work and and stretched burlap (jute) strips were added to form the base upon which the padding and cotton batting were affixed. Before the outside was completely covered the headliner would be created. This way the headliner could be easily attached to the frame work from the outside.

After the headliner was installed the cotton padding was added to the frame and molded to shape, followed by the top fabric, generally a fine pebble-grain Haartz cloth, or Nitrite-treated fabric was draped over the structure, cut to fit using carefully labeled templates, and the seams sewn on a worktable using an industrial sewing machine. The completed top was then stretched across the framework and permanently attached to it. The bottom of the top had an extra roll added concealing the snaps and hiding them from view. The top was then securely fastened to the windshield frame using the original top header bow and attached at the rear sides using two large bolts.

CCC-carson-top-shop-storyInside the Carson Top Shop in 1941. Look at all those wonderful customs lined up to get a chopped padded top. What an amazing photo.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-sp-handbook-49Write up on the California Carson Top in the 1949 Speed and Power Handbook.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-illustration-03Illustration from around 1948 in the Speed and Power handbook shows the read how the top was created and the materials needed for it. Interesting illustration but it did not give away all the details.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-halliday-40Bill Halliday’s 1940 Ford with a beautiful low Carson Padded Top.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-illustration-01In the 1949 edition of the Dan Post Blue Book of Custom Restyling two very detailed illustrations were used to explain how the Padded tops were created. The first illustration shows very well how the bows were created and how the original wooden front bow was reused.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-illustration-02The second illustration gives all the details on how the cover the frame work. It makes me wonder how many people actually created their own padded top using these illustrations. 
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The Carson Top Shop was not the only shop to create padded tops in the 1930. We know that the George Thomas Top Shop in Hollywood created a wonderful padded top for the SoCal Plating Co. 1935 Ford “truck” in 1935-36. The shape of the top very much reassembles the shape of the Carson Tops. Later more shops would create the padded tops especially for Custom Cars and Hot Rods. Shops as the C.A. Hall Auto Tops in Oakland Ca., Runyan in Santa Monica Ca., Bill Gaylord in Lynwood, Ca., Eddie Martinez in Lynwood and several others. But it was Glen Houser at the Carson Tops Shop who made these padded tops popular. In fact so popular that the ‘Carson Top’ had become the generic name for all custom-built, removable, non-folding, padded, tops. No matter who had produced the actual top.

Glen G. Houser was born on December 7, 1907 in Nebraska, in the late 1920’s he had relocated to Los Angeles to become an auto trimmer. In 1930 he started working for Amos Carson, and in 1942 when Amos Carson passed away he took over the business. The shop would remain the same Carson Top Shop name, but the interior tag the shop added to each interior and top showed Houser’s name on it.

CCC-carson-top-shop-history-houser-tagThe Houser’s Carson Padded Tops interior tag. More about this tag can be read in the Upholstery Tags CCC-Article.
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With the padded tops become a most wanted product in the late 1930’s early 1940’s the shop had to think about simplifying the production. Glen Houser started to make patterns from everything he did. Wood patterns for the bows he had to create and cardboard templates for the fabric they used. Everything was standardized. Crawling in and out of the cars during the creation of the top was very time consuming, plus tiering. So Glen created special jigs for the most popular cars that came into the shop for the Padded Carson Tops. These jigs could be uses to create the frame work on, and to do all the upholstery work while standing up right. This saved a lot of work, and production would go up to about 15 tops per week during the peak in the 1940’s. It is estimated that the Carson Top Shop might have produced a total of 5000 tops from 1927 till the mid 1970’s. Mostly padded tops, but also custom made rag-tops in the early years. A staggering number of tops.

The “disadvantage” of all this automation was that all the tops did look alike, and there was not much room for special work. This is one of the reasons why the Barris Kustom Shop would later start work together with Bill Gaylord so that George could have him create better flowing tops, especially on the 1941-48 Fords.

CCC-carson-top-shop-glen-houser-01Glen Houser creating a padded top for a Jaguar using one of the shops special jigs.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-rob-houserRobert (Bob) Houser working on the inside of a new padded top. This photo is really great since it gives us a great look at the jigs the shop created to be able to create the padded tops off from the cars, making on them work go faster and easier.
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The Carson Top shop worked close together with the Jarrett Auto Works Shop next door. This shop would chop the convertible and roadster windshields, and if needed could perform other metal work as well. This allowed the customer to drive their stock automobile to the Carson top Shop, and pick up a complete Custom chopped padded topped automobile two or three days later. A complete chopped padded top would range between $125.- and $175.- depending on style and if the windshield had to be chopped.

Frank Caggino with his 1939 Mercury in 1948, freshly chopped by the Jarrett’s Auto Works and a new Carson Padded Top. Frank’s Mercury is still around today, and the current owner has saved the original Carson as well as the Jarrett Shop invoices.
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Carson Top Shop invoice dates January 27, 1948. The total bill for the Carson top was $169.75, and Frank added the $149.36 from the Jarrett’s Auto Work bill (below) to get a total of $318.11 for the complete restyling.
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Jarrett’s Auto Works invoice dated January, 28, 1948. Interesting is that the Jarrett’s Auto Works has the same 4910 South Vermont Avenue address as the Carson Top Shop.
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In 1949Frank had added white wall tires and drove the car with a new lowered suspension.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-jaguarThe good thing about the Carson Top Shop was that they did not concentrate to just Custom Car and Hot Rod work. They saw the potential in doing special padded top for the Sports Car market as well. That help get business going for a long time. Clark Gable ordered a Carson top for one of his Jaguar XK-120s, which of course helped the sales of this unit.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-glen-50-mercuryThe frame work is finished and tested on the car. It now is ready to go back on the jig where the layers of material will be used to form the top. The car is an unidentified 1950-51 chopped Mercury convertible.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-shop-1950This is how the Vermont Ave shop looked like in its heydays around 1951.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-business-cardsBusiness card from the Vermont Ave L.A. address on the left, and from the Grenshaw Blvd L.A. address from after 1954 on the right.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-1948-hrm-adThe Carson Top Shop used a nice ad in the very first issue of Hot Rod Magazine, January 1948.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-adsThe Carson Top Shop understand the importance of advertising and name image. They advertised from the beginning of the automotive magazines and kept doing that ever since. This image shows just a few of the ads they ran in the magazines.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-summers-merc-01Jimmy Summers had the Carson Top Shop create a padded top in light tan for his amazing 1940 Mercury in 1946.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-summers-merc-02The Carson top’s shape matched the lines of the Mercury very well.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-summers-merc-03Close up views of the top on the Jimmy Summers 1940 Mercury. 
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The shop offered several styled of tops, and there was also a choice in finishing material, at least color wise. The most popular material was the white canvas, but especially in the early years a lot of tan and black tops were produced. At first the only rear window option was a removable convertible mail-slot rear window. The rear flap around the rear window would be removed completely, or zapped to the headliner for better ventilation in the summer. Later the Carson Top Shop developed the “Coupe de Ville” style padded top. This top had a wrap around rear window done in shaped heavy or light-weight plastic.


CCC-carson-top-shop-history-coupe-deville-01The Olive Hill Garage created this channeled 1939 Ford convertible and the Carson Top Shop create de “Coupe de Ville” (wrap-around) padded top. The car was owned by Art Lellis, one of the two Olive Hill Garage shop owners. The car is still around today, but the top is long gone.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-coupe-deville-02Close up of the “Coupe de Ville” wrap around rear window which could be ordered with heavy or light-weight plastic formed rear windows. This style of top provided a much better rear view than the original mail-slot rear windows.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-ray-vega-38Most of the Carson Padded tops were created for convertible’s and roadsters, but the shop also did a good number of long four door convertible sedans and phaeton’s. This one was done for the Valley Custom Shop created 1938 Ford for Ray Vega.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-bartlett-hudsonEven though a lot of the Carson Tops were created for the FoMoCo cars, they where used on other brand cars as well. As this Bruce Bartlett photo of his Brothers Packard shows.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-blue-topThe Carson Top shop created the perfect looking padded top in dark blue for the Barris Kustoms restyled 1947 Studebaker for Tommy Thornburg.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-fred-rowe-51-mercFred Rowe’s 1951 Barris Kustoms created 1951 Mercury convertible received a beautiful styled padded top by the Carson Top Shop. The shop also did the interior for this car.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-bob-lund-51-mercThis Life magazine photo gives us a really nice look at the padded top Carson created for Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury with 1951 rear fenders. The car was another Barris Kustoms creation. This photo also shows the flap around the rear window that can be removed completely.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-collage-03A few more samples of mostly later padded tops done by the Carson Top Shop.
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In 1948 Glen Houser’s 18-year old son Robert (Bob) joined the Carson Top Shop. He started off welding the frames used to construct the superstructure of the multilayered Carson tops. Later on he did all the work needed in the shop. Glen Houser passed away in 1969, leaving the business to his son Bob. Bob would keep the business running for another 5-6 years, then he closed the shop and retired.

CCC-carson-top-shop-history-vermont-locationThe original building at Vermont Ave is still standing today (2016) Google maps image.
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CCC-carson-top-shop-history-crenshaw-locationThe original building at Grenshaw Blvd L.A. is also still standing in 2016. The inset image shows the shop around 1955. Google maps image.
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References and more info

  • Blue Book of Custom Restyling, book Dan Post
  • Speed and Power Handbook, booklet 1947-49
  • Motor Trend, magazine April, 1953
  • Street Rodder, magazine, April, 1989
  • Rod & Custom, magazine August, 1991 (The Carson Top Story by Greg Sharp)
  • The American Custom Car, book Pat Ganahl 2001
  • The Big Book of Barris, book 2002
  • Barris Kustom Techniques of the 1950’s, books
  • Rodders Journal, magazine issue 12
  • Coachbuilt.com, website

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There is a lot to tell about the Carson Top Shop, the Carson Tops, and interiors, in fact so much that we could not fit it all into one article. This first article concentrated on the shop, the padded top and its importance for the custom car scene.
In PART TWO we will focus on interior work and the latter 1950’s work the shop did.

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Custom Interior Tags

 

INTERIOR TAGS

 

In the 1940’s and 1950’s some of the better know upholstery shop used small tags with their name or logo and address information mounted in the cars they upholstered. Let s take closer look at those tags.



We know that the couchbuilders, who build complete custom made bodies on exciting chassies usually had some sort of tag, or crest on the body with the company name, or logo. As a sort of business card, making sure the people who looked at the car would see who was responsible for such beautifull work. And of course hopefully some people who see the work and the tag/crest might end up a potential client.



The Houser’s Carson Padded Tops tag

In the 1940’s some of the upholstery shops started to specialize in Custom and Hot Rod upholstery. Some of these shop also started to use small tags in the cars they had upholstered. One of the more famous shops was the the Houser’s Carson Padded Tops shop in Los Angeles. This shop created the famous Carson Padded tops, but also did full interiors and the tag they put in their cars is probably the most famous of these tags used by the custom and hot rod upholstery shops.

CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-carson-01An early Carson Top Shop magazine ad.
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CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-07Wally Welch, owner of several early Custom Cars kept his blue tinted Houser’s carson Padded Tops tag in his photo album. Nobody knew if this one was ever used in one of his cars, or if it was he got as an extra. This photo shows the slight shadow on the text and illustration that the relieve etching creates. (from the Wally Welch Collection)
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The original tag the shop had made was a very small metal tag. These original tags look to have been etched on one side leaving everything except for the letters, the cars illustration and border as a relieve section of the metal plate. This relieved section was painted either with black or a dark blue color, I have even heard somebody mention ehad seen one done in dark red. The most common place for the Carson Top Shop tag was in the middle of the top, right in the center above the rear view mirror. There it was held in place with two small nails. Sometimes the center of the header was needed for one of the hold down brackets, then the tag was positioned next to the bracket. In all my research I have never seen any other location being used. I am not even sure if cars that only had the interiors done by the shop, and not one of their padded tops, recieved a tag. So thismight have strictly been a tag used for a padded top. Perhaps any of the readers could shed a light on this.


CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-04Another original tag in a bit worse condition comes from the Valley Custom Shop built sectioned 1940 Ford for Ralph Jilek. Tom Sewell restored the car and documented everything along the way. This photo shows the tagand its original nails that were used to mount the tag to the header on the Padded top.
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CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-05These two photos show the tak on the original position. Left of the tak was the padded top mounting mechanism, so it was mounted to the right of that. Notice how the tag was bend slightly to folow the shape of the wood header. 
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In the early 1970’s the then owner of the Carson Top Shop was asked to restore an original Carson Padded Top. The work on the top was done, but then one thing was missing, the tag. None of the original tags could be found, so a new tag was created. Creating these tags asked for a minimal order of a lot. After the restoration project was finished some of these extra tags where given to friends, other where sold. These still can be found from time to time. The recreated tags are a bit different from the original once, small details in the size of the text. But the main difference is that the reproduction is silk screened on a metal plate, while the original was etched creating a relieved tag.


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CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-03The three photos above show the replica of the Houser’s Carson Padded Tops tag that was created in the early 1970’s. The center photo shows that the black was silk screened onto the metal plate, creating no relieve section as the original had. Many thanks to David E. Zivot for suplying this sample. The tags are 50 x 25 millimeters in dimention (nearly two inches wide).
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CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-carson-03Jim Thompson used another replica Houser’s Carson Padded Tops tag in his recenly finished 1936 Ford Custom Convertible.
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CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-carson-04This photo shows the replica of the original interior tag on the bottom (almost two inches wide) and one done as key-fob that is three inches wide (thanks to Tom Nielson for the Key-fob). The large one is similar to what Jim Thomson used in his ’36 Ford, and is made out of aluminum silc screened in white and black.
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The first time I saw an photo of one of these Carson Top Shop interior tags waw when upholsterer Tom Sewell shared the restoration of the valley Custom Shop built sectioned 1940 Ford Convertible wit Carson Padded top and Carson interior with us. The restored interior has the tag located at the excact same spot it was put in by the Carson Top Shop in the early 1950’s.



The Hall of Oakland tag

The C.A. Hall Auto Tops shop did a lot of Padded tops and Custom Car and Hot Rod interiors in the bay area, and for other Northern California based car owners and shops. This shop used an oval etched tag. The only known sample of the original Hall tag we know of is in Ron Brook’s 1940 Chevy Convertible. Here the tag is also mounted on the front header of the padded top.


CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-hall-07The C.A. Hall Auto Tops tag is an etched oval shaped metal tag. (thanks to Ron Brooks for the photo)
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CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-hall-08The C.A. Hall Auto Tops tag mounted in Ron Brook’s 1940 Chevy Convertible.
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CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-hall-06Hall’s Top Shop invoice form and magazine ad. Courtesy of Ron Brooks. 
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The Runyan tag

The recent restoration of the bob Pierson 1936 Ford learned us that the Runyans interior shop also had an interior tag. In this case two small tags were mounted on the seat side base covers. The South City Rod & Custom shop had these small tags recreated by Tony Parker who hand painted them. At this point we have no info on how these original Runyan Interior tags were produced.


CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-Runyan-08Tony Parker hand painted these small metal plates to recreate the original Runyan tags to go on the Bob Pierson 1936 Ford.
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CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-Runyan-09These tags were mouned in a recessed setion of the tuck & roll panel covering the sides of the beach seat in the Bob Pierson 1936 Ford Coupe.
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CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-Runyan-06 CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-Runyan-07One of the ads Runyan used showed the interior of the Bob Pierson 1936 Ford. 
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Gaylord’s Tops tag

We were unable to find a photo of an Gaylord’s interior tag. But according to Bill Gaylord the shop did use them. When Luke Karosi and Jeff Neppl interviewed Bill Gaylord for an full article on the history of the Gaylord interior for Kustoms Illustrated magazine. Bill mentioned the shop used such a tag, in fact people even came to the shop asking for the tag. even though they did not even have an Gaylord interior. The tags were given away to people like they were business cards. Sadly in non of the photos from the Bill Gaylord Collection this tag could be seen. And Bill also mentioned that non of them were left. We have no idea how these tags looked like, all we know is that the shop had them and used them on the cars they did.
If somebody out there has a photo of this tag, or perhaps even has an original one, please let us know. We would love to add a photo of one to this article.


CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-gaylord-01This was one of the Gaylord’s logos used in the magazines back in the 1950’s.
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CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-gaylord-02The Gaylord’s Top business regular card showing Bill’s personal chopped and padded topped 1949 Mercury.
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CCC-custom-upholstery-tags-gaylord-03Some Gaylord ads used this skript type logo. But at this point we have no idea how the actual Gaylord’s interior tag looked like.
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There were of course several other major interior shops in the 1940’s and 1950’s But so far we have not been able to find any other interior tags from any of these shops. If any of you readers know of any other 1940’s, or 1950’s interior shop tag that was used in the car interiors, please let us know so that we can add it to his article. Email Rik Hoving
Thank you.

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Hot Rod Show Give Away Custom

 

GIVE AWAY CADDY

 

For the 5th Hot Rod Show, held in the Los Angeles National Guard Armory April 24-27, 1952 the show organizers decided their Annual Door Price Give Away Car, would be a wonderful custom car.



In previous years the show promoters had given away a 32 Ford Roadster, and some Sports Cars. For 1952 the Give Away Door Price was going to be a classy and unique custom car. Several manufactures were contacted to be part of the construction of this Custom. The Barris Shop was chosen to conduct the project, create the overall design, do the body work, and all other custom work needed. The Carson Top Shop was asked to do the car’s interior, and a removable padded top with wrap around rear windows. Eddie Edmunds was asked to hop up the engine and find the sponsors for all the needed hop up parts.

CCC_01_GiveAwayCaddy1(Above) A rare photo of the freshly primed Cadillac was discovered in 2010 in the Barris Archives by Mad Fabricators’, Piero De Luca. The slightly worn photo shows that the car was completely assembled and driven while in primer. A common practice to find any problems before the car was going to be painted, and completely finished.
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The show promoters delivered the 1949 Cadillac (barely a few years old by then) at the Barris Shop, early 1952. George Barris designed this custom to be an elegant, classy custom Cadillac. He knew the car was going to get a lot of publicity, so he did his utmost to make sure, this car was going to stand out as much as possible. One of the reasons the shops were willing to create a Give Away car was the free publicity. And Barris knew that the higher he aimed, the more Barris Customs became THE sought after kind of car, after the show.

CCC_CaddyNewspaperArticle2This announcement for the Give Away Caddy at the Hot Rod Show was made in the newspapers in Los Angeles. The car was still in primer when the photo for the announcement was made.
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The guys at the Barris shop started the project with the windshield, which was chopped 2,5 inches. George’s design asked for a new front end. And a new grille opening was created, using a second 1949 Caddy grille surround turned upside down, and welded to the original piece. This new one piece unit was smoothed, and send out to be chrome plated. The floating grille bar had ends made of 37 Chevy headlight buckets, and three grille teeth where used from a 1951 Ford Pick Up Truck set on a home made bar. The whole assembly was chrome plated, and installed slightly recessed in the new opening. A new front roll pan was created, and molded on to the front of the body. A 1951 Cadillac front bumper was used, to create the new split bumpers with integrated dagmars. The center section of the bumper became the custom created roll pan, and painted body color. 1951 Ford grille rings, and the custom made inserts where used for the air intakes below the frenched Caddy headlights. The hood had the emblem, and stainless removed, and was peaked in the process.

The door, and trunk handles where removed, and electrical openers installed. A custom made rear fender air intake – to cool the rear brakes – was created using the rock shield of a 1949 Cadillac Fleetwood. The car was lowered, but not as much as many other Barris creations. Just enough to make the long Cadillac body look even longer. Swanson sponsored the project by supplying the needed components for the lowering job.


CCC_BarrisCaddy_Win_Ad041952

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When all the body work was done, the car was primed and assembled. Then it was time to deliver the Caddy to the Carson Top Shop, for a full custom interior in red and black leather. Carson also made a unique removable Hard Top with wrap around (Panoramic) rear window for the Cadillac. The top was not covered with white canvas, as most of the Carson tops were, but for this car they choose black leather as the cover material. When the Carson Top shop was ready with the upholstery part, the car was driven around for some time to find any flaws. Then everything was pulled apart again and Barris prepared it for a very classy pale gold paint job with extra gold powder. He named the color “Golden Fog” Unfortunately we have never been able to locate a color photo of this car, to show you how gorgeous it must have looked.

CCC_GiveAwayCaddy_Barris01Some very interesting material that was also found in 2010 are some pages of a Barris scrapbook showing this Custom Cadillac. George kept scrapbooks from all the Barris Cars that made the magazines, show programs, posters etc.
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CCC_Caddy-Life_Magazine-03This unique photo of the car at the LA Hot Rod show in 1952 was made by photographer Loomis Dean for Life Magazine. It shows the custom grille and surround. And also the smooth Cadillac bumper ends.
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CCC_Caddy-Life_Magazine-01Another Life Magazine photo shows how long this custom is. The long hood and lowered top give the car excellent proportions. The Barris team have created a very elegant timeless custom for the show. The crowd stands beside the car, dreaming how wonderful it would be to win the door price, and drive away in it.
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CCC_HotRodShowCaddyProgramCoverkopie

CCC_BarrisGiveAwayHopUpArticleThe car was featured in a three page article, in the December 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine. In this article there was no mention of of the new, lucky owner of the car. It seamed the new owner was not into showing the car at other shows, nor were he – and the car – part of any publicity after the show.
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This Give away Cadillac received quite a bit of publicity before the 1952 Show. But after the show it disappeared. What happened to this car? The only thing we where able to find out about the winner is a small article in the Motor Sports World News paper (below), when the winner Lawrence Kilty was congratulated with his price.

CCC_Caddy_Winner-Lawrence_Kilty


Is this very nice custom still around? Does it still sit in a garage somewhere? What’s the story, what happened after the show? If you know more, please let us know.



Sources and more info:

  • Hop Up magazine, December 1952
  • Life Magazine Photo Archive





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Business Cards: Carson Top Shop

THE CARSON TOP SHOP BUSINESS CARD

This is the first in a series of spotlight articles on Business Cards from well known -or not so well known- custom car builders.

These cards were printed by the business owners back in the 1950’s 50’s and 60’s with the only purpose to hand out to customers or possible customers. They never thought they would end up becoming collectors items.

CCC_Carson-BusinessCard-01

 

This first card comes from the Carson Top Shop. The shop moved to its 4717 S. Crenshaw, Los Angeles location in 1954. So this business card must be from 1954 or later. The car is printed on a pearlised card stock. This type of paper was used a lot from the 1940’s till somewhere in the mid 1950s. It was available in several different shades, but the egg-shell white paper used for the Carson Top Shop card was most widely used.
The printing on the card has a slightly textured and raised print and is standing above the paper’s surface, not absorbed into the paper like normal printing. This gives the card an almost 3D feel. The raised printing in the amber color on the egg-shell colored pearlised paper, gives the car a very classy feel.

 

The photo below shows the building the Carson Top Shop was located in, when this business card was used.

CarsonTopShop_Building

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