1950 Sacramento Autorama

1950 SACRAMENTO AUTORAMA

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The Capitol City Auto Club, better known as the Thunderbolts organized a two day Auto Show in 1950. Held at a Sacramento Chevy dealer the show hosted 23 top class Customs and Hot Rods.

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Special thanks to Lawrence Fears.

The title of this article is 1950 Sacramento Autorama, which is not precisely accurate. But, many people refer to this small 1950 Auto show organized by the Capitol City Auto Club “Thunderbolts” as the first Sacramento Autorama. Hence the name of this article.

In 1950 Car Shows was still brand new. The first of these shows were held just two years earlier. The Sacramento Custom Car and Hot Rod scene was very active, a lot was going on, rod runs, street drag racing, and some of the countries leading Customizers had their shop in or around Sacramento. The Capitol City Auto Club better known as the “Thunderbolts” had a great number of high quality cars in their club. Harold “Baggy” Bagdasarian was one of the club members and president of the club. He was one of the leading forces in organizing this first Sacramento Auto Show.

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The club members just wanted to know who had the nicest car among them. What better way to find out during a Car Show. Plus they really wanted to show off their cars, and not just at the local hang out places, but at a nice indoor event. The Capitol Chevrolet Company dealership at 13th and K Streets in downtown Sacramento had the perfect space for the show the members had in mind. In total the club brought together 23 cars this first show. And among these 23 cars there were some top Customs and Rods. The cars displayed at the show represented the high quality, and creative minds of the Nor Cal car builders. Custom builders Harry Westergard, and Dick Bertolucci were well represented at the show. Of all the Customs, many had been based on convertibles and all had Hall of Oakland Padded Tops. According different sources the two day show drew between 500 and 1000 visitors.

The show was held on November 4th and 5th, 1950. Saturday from 3:00 P.M. until 10:00 PM and Sunday from 10:00 A.M. until 10:00 P.M. The admission was 60 cent. The story goes that the entrance had to be kept below a certain amount, because otherwise everything had to be done official and Federal Amusement Tax would have to be paid. This first show was not about making money, it was about having a good time for the attendees as well as the visitors.

There were two trophies awarded.  One for Best Custom Car and Leroy Semas won the Custom Class with his 1937 Chevy. Burton Davis won the Best Rod with his 1931 Ford Roadster.

Rod Dust newsletter dated November 1, 1950. This was the issue that mentions the first Sacramento Auto Show in 1950.

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Local newspaper from Friday November 3rd, 1950 announcing the Sacramento Auto Show.

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On the top right we can see Al Garcia Westergard restyled 1939 Ford,  #5 Lawrence Brocchini ’31 A-V8 roadster on Deuce rails V-Windshield, Vern Haversack 1927 Model T with track nose with #11,  #1 Burton E. Davis 1931 Ford Roadster, and on the left is #19 Harold Casarang’s ‘25 Model T. bottom right shows the #14 of Jack Odbert’s 36 Ford, behind it the engine and front of #15 Ronnie Brown’s ’32 Ford 5-window.

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Show overview

The nice thing about the Capitol Chevrolet dealer ship location is that there was a second floor, from where some nice overview photos could be taken. These overview photos show that this small show was jam-packed with the best of the best. Amazing padded topped Customs created by the countries leading Customizers. Harry Westergard and Dick Bertolucci. The photos taken at the two day show also show that the cars were actually moved around a bit during the weekend. Some cars were added, like the two ’32 Ford 5-window Hot Rod’s in the photo below. In some photos those two cars are missing.

The cars at the show were mostly local cars, but some came as far as Oakland. Hot Rod magazine devoted some space to the Sacramento Auto Show in the Januari 1951 issue. The feature included the beautiful overview photo (below) which showed the nation that Sacramento was packed with beautiful Custom Cars… just as well as Los Angeles, which was always much more represented in the early magazines.
I have been collecting photos and info on this show for many years, and all I have is included in this article. I know there is more out there, and hopefully we will be able to share more in the near future.

Overview of part of the Chevrolet Dealer Show illustrates the great number of Custom Cars invited to this show. A perfect balance.

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Same photo as above, now with numbers, perhaps somebody will be able to identify some more. We still need to know # A on the far left, # B on the top right center, and from car # C we know that that is Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury, but we do not have a show number. (The number – car – identification list is shown further down in the article)

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This overview photo was taken either earlier or late as the one above. The two ’32 Ford 5-windows are missing sitting behind the #14 Jack Odbert’s ’36 Ford.

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Custom Cars at the Show

The Custom Cars shows we have been able to identify were all top of the line, and are now mostly considered historical Customs. Created by Harry Westergard, Les Crane, and Dick Bertolucci. The Barris Brothers had already been moved south for a few years, so their work was not represented at this show. It is really remarkable that a great number of the Custom Car show entries are Convertibles with chopped padded tops, which were all created by C.A. Hall Auto Tops in Oakland, Ca.

Unknown number for Butler Rugard’s 1940 Mercury restyled by Harry Westergard and Les Crane. More on Butler’s ’40 Mercury can be seen in this CCC-Article.
#2 Custom 1946 Chevy Convertible Butler Rugard restyled by Harry Westergard. (Listed in the program as Bob Ghilotti)
A little more clear photo of Butler Rugard’s ’46 Chevy Convertible restyled by Harry Westergard. Harry used a set of the Jimmy Summers fade away fenders on this Custom.
#4 1948 Johnny Lehman Mercury Convertible with padded top restyled by Dick Bertolucci. Most likely the Hall padded top of Al Garcia Westergard restyled 1939 Ford is showing on the left of the photo.
Johnny Lehman’s Mercury seen from the back shows the ’49 Mercury bumpers and taillights. The top was done by Hall of Oakland. On the right we can see the ’37 Chevy Coupe from Leroy Semas. More on Johnny Lehman’s ’48 Mercury in this CCC-Article.
#4 Enlarged section of another photo shows another peak at the Johnny Lehman Mercury and behind that on the right showing a small portions of Mel Falconer’s 41 Lincoln.
#14 Jack Odbert 1936 Ford Convertible restyled by Harry Westergard with Hall Padded top. More on Jack’s Beautiful ’36 Ford in this CCC-Article.
#18 Mel Falconer /Bruce Glenn 1939 Ford Convertible restyled by Harry Westergard with a then new metal top replacing the Hall padded top that was on the car originally.
#21 Mel Falconer 1941 Lincoln with 1948 Cadillac rear fenders, 1949 Mercury bumpers. Restyled by Harry Westergard, and the car is supposed to be still around, anybody knows more about this?
#23 Leroy Semas 1937 Chevy restyled by Harry Westergard. Leroy was the winner of the big Custom Car trophy at the show. One of the two trophies awarded at the show. More on Leroy’s Harry Westergard Restyled Custom can be seen in this CCC-Article.
Interior of Leroy Semas his ’37 Chevy Coupe.

Cars in the show
According the the information we have been able to find 23 car were entered. 14 of them we have been able to identify, hopefully some of our readers can help name the others that were at this 1950 Sacramento Auto Show. From the 23 cars entered at least 8 were Customs, high end Customs. Below is a list of the cars and numbers we have been able to identify.

1 Burton E. Davis 1931 Ford Roadster
2 Butler Rugard / Bob Ghilotti 1946 Chevy Convertible
3 Dick King 1929 Roadster with tracknose
4 ?
5 Lawrence Brocchini 1931 A-V8 roadster on Deuce rails V-Windshield
6 ?
7 Herk Vigienzone 1924 Model T Roadster
8 Rico Squalia 1924 T Roadster.
9 – 13 ?
14 Jack Odbert 1936 Ford Convertible
15 Ronnie Brown 1932 Ford 5-window
16 – 17 ?
18 Mel Falconer / Bruce Glenn 1939 Ford Convertible
19 Harold Casarang 1925 Model T
20 ?
21 Mel Falconer 1941 Lincoln
22 ?
23 Leroy Semas 1937 Chevy Coupe

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The Program
The 8 page, text only First annual Auto Show program generously donated by David E/ Zivot shown below, has a list of all the people and cars that planned to be at the show. Most of the numbers in the program correspond with the numbers we have seen in the show pictures, but apparently more cars were added to the show after the Program had been printed. The Program only lists 20 cars.

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In early 2020 David Zivot donated a 1950 Thunderbolts First Annual Auto Show Program. The 8 page program has a list of the cars and people that planned to have their car displayed at the event.

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The Hot Rods at the show

The Thunderbolts Auto Club had both Custom Car as well as Hot Rod oriented members. The Sacramento erea has been big on Custom Cars from the early beginnings, but Hot Rodding was very popular as well, and the Hot Rod and Race scene grew bigger every year. The show displayed some of the best Hot Rods and Race Cars in the wide area.

#1 Burton E. Davis 1931 Ford Roadster, the winner of the big Hot Rod award at the show.

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#3 Dick King 1929 Roadster with tracknose.

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A better look at the Dick King 1929 Roadster with tracknose.

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#5 Lawrence Brocchini ’31 A-V8 roadster on Deuce rails V-Windshield.

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The actual number 5 sign from the 1950 Sacramento Thunderbolts Auto Show, used on Lawrence Brocchini’s Hot Rod.

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#5 Lawrence Brocchini’s ’31 Ford.

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#15 Ronnie Brown’s ’32 Ford channeled 5-window coupe showing off its kilmont brakes. On the left is Johnny Lehman #4 ’48 Mercury and on the right we see the Buick trim on the skirts of Jack Odbert’s  #14 1936 Ford Convertible

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#15 Ronnie Brown posing with his channeled ’32 Ford 5-window Coupe.

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#19 Harold Casarang Oakland Roadster club member took his ‘25 Model T to the Sacramento Auto Show.
January 1951 Hot Rod Magazine article on the show.

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Sources and more information

  • Garage Magazine
  • Classic & Custom Magazine
  • Don Montgomery books

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The Willis Horn Coupe

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The Willis Horn Coupe

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In 1941 Willis Horn from Marysville California purchased a Custom 1936 Ford Chopped Coupe from a Hot Rod Shop. Since 1973 it is owned by grandson Jeff Boone who is now looking to find out more on the cars history for a full restoration.

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Jeff Boone from Live Oak, California, was given this early Custom Restyled 1936 Ford 5-window coupe as a gift from his grandfather back in 1973. Jeff was just 11 years old when his grandfather gave him the car. Information his grandfather might have told him about the cars history back then has been forgotten over the years. “Just a boy with hotrod dreams…”. At 11-12 years old the fact of owning your own Hot Rod, and getting it ready to drive overshadowed the historical facts. During 1973 and 1974 Jeff and his grandfather worked on the car for a coupe of month before putting it away in a barn. In 2017 Jeff is ready to bring out the car and start putting it back together how it used to look. With the restoration work now started he is looking into the history of the car, finding old family photos and asking family members what they remember about the car. Not much is known about it, so Jeff is hoping that sharing the car here on the Custom Car Chronicle might shed some light on the history of this early Custom Car. We will be adding more material and info to this article when we find it. Including some photos of how the car looks now and it being pulled from the bar is has been stored in since 1974.

Jeff’s grandfather, Willis Horn from Marysville, California (close to Sacramento) purchased the ’36 Ford back in 1941. Jeff was told the car was bought from a Hot Rod Shop, but nobody seems to remember which one, or even where, if it was local, or from further away. (Edit: we now know that the car was bought in Los Angeles in 1941, close to a place called Los Angeles Auto Auction, more about that further on in this article) At the time Willis bought the car it was completely finished as a Custom Car, with a unique chopped top with the rear quarter windows filled it, the b-pillars slanted forward, and the top door corners rounded. The car was painted green, and by the looks of the one black and white photo Jeff has found of this version of the car it was a dark shade of green. Jeff also recalls his grandfather saying he changed the hood sides and put the original louvered hood sides on the car cause the engine would put off too much heat inside the coupe… He never knew what type of sides were on the car when he first bought it?

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When Willis bought the car back in 1941 the car was finished in green. He left it that color and added some advertising for his used car lot on the door.

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Cropped image shows some more details. Appleton Spotlight point pointed forwards position, a typical early 1940’s feature. Flipped door handles, rear quarter windows filled in after the chop and rounded door top corner with angled forward B-Pillars. I think that this is the earliest sample of a round door corner on a Custom Car I have seen so far.

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Stock ’36 Ford 5-window Coupe the Willis Horn coupe started out as.

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Other restyling features on the car are a new grille shell with a 1939 Nash grille installed, double Appleton spotlight facing backwards in the photos we have of the car, a typical 40’s feature. turned around door handles, also a typical 40’s trick to make the door handle look more streamlined. Something discussed in many of the early restyling manuals from Dan Post and others. ’39 Ford tear drop taillights and teardrop bubble skirts, and a chrome plated dash inside. The chop obviously being the most distinctive feature on this car. Very unique, especially for the time it was built, when 3-window coupes much have been relatively easy to find. It was still decided to turn the 5-window coupe into a short door 3-window coupe. Unique about the chop is that the b-pillars are angled forward, and that the top door corners are rounded. Rounded Door Corners on a ’36 Ford are rare, and having them done back in 1941 even rarer. Perhaps the earliest sample of rounded door corners I have come across so far. The belt line fabrication and filled top look to have been done very well, indicating the work was done by a good craftsman.

Willis owned a Used Car lot in Marysville, California, since the 1930’s. He used the ’36 Ford, which always attracted peoples attention because of its unique and good looks, as rolling advertising for his lot. Somewhere in the 1940’s Willis repainted the car in maroon with cream on the main body below the beltline. The car was also used as the lead vehicle in the annual the Bok Kai parade in Marysville.

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“This is my grandmother, Lola Horn standing next to the car after the sign was painted on the door…car was green when grandpa brought it home…”

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The 36 pulling Willis Horn’s race car… This must be around 1949, shortly before the car was repainted.
Close up on the car from the previous photo.

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In the late 1940’s, the car was repainted in maroon with cream on the lower main body.
Willis Horn(right) standing next to the car with one of his salesmen on the left.

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According to Jeff his grandfather Willis Horn alway led the Bok Kai parade in Marysville, California. And ideal opportunity to promote his used Car lot. So far this has been the best photo Jeff has been able to locate of the car. It shows the Nash grille, the single bar hubcaps, and teardrop skirts. Notice the loud speaker on top of the car. Judged on the license plate and tag in the photo this one must have been made between 1948 and 1950.

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Willis posing with one of the three race cars he had.

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Willis (with hat) and a couple of his drivers.

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Willis Horn, ready to race…

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Herman Jenkins remembers

Jeff recently spoke with a good friend of his late grandfathers, Herman Jenkins about the ’36 Ford to see if more info could be found about the cars history. Herman remembered that his grandfather, Willis Horn, used to buy his used cars at the Los Angeles Auction Yard. he could not remember where that place was located in Los Angeles, but he did remember that the Hot Rod Shop where Willis bought the ’36 Ford was very close to this L.A. Auto Auction. So, now we need to find somebody who might remember where this Auto Auction yard was in Los Angeles, perhaps that will help find the Hot Rod Shop who built this ’36 Ford. If any of our readers knows more about this Los Angeles Auction Yard, where it was located, please email Rik Hoving.

Herman was in the US Navy stationed at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack and remained till 1947. When he was honorably discharged, he came home to Marysville and remembered that he and my Grandpa drove down to Los Angles and picked up the 1936 ford where my grandfather had a shop put a hotrod flathead motor and Three speed transmission which shifted on the column.
(Herman didn’t recall who or where my Grandfather purchased the car)

He said my Grandfather told him the car was originally black, then green, then blue and lastly, it was maroon.  He recalled the 36 had flat hood sides, but at some point, my Grandpa said it was too hot inside the car. He changed the sides to the original 36 ford hood sides so the engine heat could escape.

He also recalled going with my grandfather, on occasion, to North Beale Road, Marysville California   
(The road to Beale Air Force Base) Apparently it was the choice “drag strip” for my Grandfather!

Herman remembered one story vividly… a guy who drove up from Los Angeles in his ’49 Ford 2-door, just to race my Grandfather!  Herman said the LA guy says… I hear you have the fastest car in California!  My Grandfather, a bit modest, said my car’s pretty fast and pointed at the 36 custom. The guy looked, started laughing,(customs aren’t supposed to be fast) and said he had $50 to race that car!  Herman said your Grandpa says give me a minute, I’ll take that bet…  Herman says “your Grandpa blew his doors off” (laughingly)!!!

The guy was so upset he wanted a second chance, double or nothing. My grandfather told the Los Angeles guy he would even give him a head start…”when you leave, I’ll start”!  

Herman said…”I waved at the guy when we drove by”!  Your grandfathers car was fast!  When they pulled over, the LA guy handed my grandfather $100… Herman said they had a great laugh!  Herman had shared so many great memories with my Grandfather, that I couldn’t remember them all!  Unfortunately, On August 7, 2018 Herman Jenkins of Yuba City passed.
Not only was Herman my Grandfathers good friend, but I would like to think he was my good friend as well.
Truly yours
Jeff Boone

Herman also remembered that Willis bought new cars from a good friend in Los Angeles, Les Kelley. Les ran the famous Kelley Kar Company and Les Kelly Ford where Willis bought the cars wholesale and brought them to Marysville to resale at his own lot. Les Kelly Ford later moved to the corner of Figueroa and Pico in Los Angeles and becomes the largest used car dealership in the world.

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Les Kelley Ford where Willis bought new cars at wholesale for his Marysville lot. (Photos from www.kbb.com/company/history)

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In 1975 Jeff’s uncle, Willis Horn JR, helped  put a 327 Chev, a t350 trans and a 10 bolt rear end in the ’36. They did some body repairs with bondo in 1975 and the plan was to have the whole car painted 1936 Ford Maroon, but they got it in red oxide primer. At one point Jeff needed a new engine for his race car, so out when the 327. The the car with the fresh red oxide primer, went back to the barn till 5/25/2017.

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This is how the car has been sitting for many years.

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Clearing the rubble around it.

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All cleaned up.

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Jeff Boone on the left and his uncle, Willis Horn JR. on the right with the disassembled ’36 Ford.

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A good look at the main body with the unique chopped top turned from 5-window to 3-window back around 1940 in Los Angeles, California. The treatment of the belt-line behind the doors and the angled forward B-pillar and rounded door top is really unique.

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The bare frame of the ’36 Ford at the Standley Brothers Hotrod Shop.

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Soda blasting at Standley Brothers Hotrod Shop in Yuba City, California.

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The soda blasting revealed the body Jeff and his uncle added to the car back in 1975.

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You can see the lead at the chop and rear quarters in some of the other photos as well. Back in 1973, when Jeff was 11, he used a rosebud tip on a torch to heat the lead and he removed a good portion of it. You can see where his uncle and Jeff tried doing some body work after the majority of lead was removed. “We know better today than we did in 1974!”

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Over the last couple of years Jeff has been working on and off on the restoration to how it used to look, and hopefully he will come across more photos from the 1940’s how the car looked. Hopefully with the help of the Custom Car Chronicle readers he will be able to find out more on the cars original history from before his grandfather bought the car in 1941. If you know anything more about this ’36 Ford Custom ex-5-window Coupe, from pre 1973, then please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle. We would love to add any new historic info to the article and help Jeff with the history of his car.

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The car in bare metal ready for the Sacramento Autorama 2019.

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Jeff Boone with the Ford at the 2019 Sacramento Autorama.

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The Willis Horn Coupe will debut completely finished at the 2020 Sacramento Autorama.

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(This article is made possible by)






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1955 Thrifty Parking Lot Show

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55 THRIFTY PARKING LOT

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1955 Hot Rod and Custom Car show held at the new Thrifty Drug Store on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles.

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Original article from August 09, 2018, updated August 26, 2019.

In the 1950’s it was very common to organize Hot Rod and Custom Car shows at the local parking lots large public facilities as drug stores, stadiums etc. The parking lots were huge easily accessible and it was easy to rope off a section for the show. One of the most famous of these parking lot Shows was a show with high end custom cars held at an Los Angeles Thrifty Drug store in May 1954 which we covered in this CCC-Article.

Since we did that article I have been collecting photos of outdoor parking lot car shows I came across to add to this what I hope to become a series on parking lot car show articles. Several early and mid 1950’s magazines had a few photos taken at these parking lot shows which I had not been able to identify until I came across an article on the Hot Rod Magazine Article featuring some really great photos taken by Rick Rickman.

One photo in particular stood out to me. A picture taken at a Thrifty Drug store in May 1955 showing the Hirohata Mercury, in it later lime gold paint, Dave Bugarin’s 1951 Mercury and Bob Dofflow’s ’49 Ford. And while drooling over that photo I realized I had seen a few more photos taken at the same location, and now I was able to place them all at one May 5th, 1955 event held at the Thrifty Drug Store at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles. And, perhaps just as important. The photo caption from the Hot Rod magazine article explained why these car shows were held at the Thrifty Drug Show… and how it was possible that all these high end Custom Cars were at this and the 1954 show.

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This was taken at a show at a Thrifty drug store on May 5, 1955, at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Hollywood Blvd. From right to left we can see, Bob Hirohata’s 1951 Mercury with the new (after the Running Wild movie shoot) lime gold paint job, and door mounted mirror, Dave Bugarin’s 1951 Mercury (both by Barris), next to Dave’s Merc is Bob Dofflow’s ’49 Ford restyled by Bear Customs, and next to that we can see the top and a few other small details of what most likely is the 1948 Mercury of Cliff Rackohn (thanks Anthony White for identifying that one) Behind Bob’s Ford we can see a ’46 Chevy panel truck with roof rack, which was most likely used by Rick Rickman to make the overhead photos.

From the Hot Rod magazine article

Three rolls that Rickman logged into Petersen’s in-house lab on May 9, 1955, as “Thrifty Drug NHRA Show” mystified archive divers for decades. In our July 2010 issue, founding HRD editor David Freiburger published six pages of parking-lot pictures, including one showing NHRA’s third employee and Drag Safari organizer, Chic Cannon, with an L.A. sheriff’s deputy. Left unexplained were who organized the event, and why, and how a gathering of so many famous hot rods, race cars, sport specials, and especially customs apparently never made HRM or its sister magazines.

In 2013, Cannon’s autobiography answered the first two questions: “Since I had some experience organizing car clubs, Wally gave me the position of [NHRA] National Club Advisor. My cousin, Art Crawford, was in marketing … and had Thrifty Drug Stores as a client of his. They were developing new shopping centers all over Southern California, and Art asked me to help promote the grand openings…. So in 1954 and ’55, I organized about a dozen car shows.” As for why at least two were thoroughly photographed on Petersen film but never made print, Chic’s insight leads us to suspect that Rick’s assignment came from NHRA president Wally Parks—not his HRM boss and editor, also named Wally Parks.

Possibly the photo lab supplied sets of prints, only, to NHRA and/or Chic’s cousin for promotional purposes, while the negatives were filed, as usual, with the publishing company.

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Close up of the Hirohata Mercury which was at the 1955 show with the new lime gold and organic green below the Buick spear paint. The color was changed, because it needed to be updated after having been on the road for a few years, but also because a darker hue would show better on camera for the Running Wild movie. Most likely the Mercury was still owned by Bob Hirohata, but he did sell it in 1955. Notice both the hood and trunk are open, and the public can come very close to the cars, even touch it.

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The Dave Bugarin ’51 Mercury and Bob Dofflow’s ’49 Ford a bit more close up. It must have been an amazing sight to see these high quality, magazine featured and show award winning Customs lined up in the parking lot.

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Here’s a shot of the other side of the parking lot. Possibly taken from the roof of the Hovey 1946 Chevy panel truck we can see in the top photo. In the foreground are Dave Bugarin’s ’51 Merc, next to the Hirohata Merc, and unidentified chopped padded top early 40’s Chevy and two more light colored customs I have not been able to identify. On the other sied are three drag cars including the Sparks & Bonny Willys and on the far right we can see the front of the pale yellow Chuck Porter truck. It is amazing to see that people could walk up to the car and even touch them.

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Close up of the Hirohata Mercury and Dave Bugarin Mercury, both Barris Kustom Shop creations.

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Taken from the same high location as the previous photo, but taken at a different angle shows Bob Dofflow’s ’49 Ford the best of all the known photos shared from this event.

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Show officials checking out the Hirohata Merc.

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The Ayala/Barris Bettancourt Mercury also made an appearance.

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Also taken from the roof rack, but now facing the opposite direction from the photos shown earlier. This side of the parking lot had more of the Hot Rod entries. The only car I recognize is the ’34 Ford with the padded top which was owned by Earl Schieb or possibly his son, Al at the time.

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Slightly different perspective.

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Mild custom line up on the road side.

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Mild Mercury Hard-Top with ’53 Pontiac Wagon taillights.

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Subtle touches on this early 50’s Chevy convertible.

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Love the super smooth rear end of the 1952 Chevy fastback, especially interesting are the taillights in the Kaiser over-rider. ’51 Ford Sedan looks good with the Pontiac grille bar and smoothed hood. Simple, but very effective.

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Many thanks to the Petersen Archive for sharing these amazing photos on the Hot Rod Magazine website. And hopefully many more from those 3 rolls of film that Rick Rickman took in 1955 of this event will be shared. And hopefully more of the 1954 and perhaps any of the other events held at the Thrifty parking lot will be shared. With such top cars in attendance at these outdoor events it would make sense if many more photos were taken. By professional photographers, as well as by car owners and those who came to look at the cars at these free Custom Car Shows. If any of our readers know about more photos from these events, or know more about the events themselves, please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle.

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There were quite a few photos of this customized Muntz with Hemi engine. I guess Rick Rickman realy liked it, or perhaps planned to do a feature on it?

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Awards

David Zivot send us two photo of a Trophy from his Personal Collection.
“This trophy from my personal collection
was awarded to the 2nd Place winner at a Thrifty Drugs grand opening less than a week earlier than the show from this article. It appears that the Thrifty and Alexander’s Market sponsored show (in cooperation with the NHRA) was held one street over on Sunset & Vermont, at the Barnsdall Shopping Center.
It would be very interesting to discover which customs were in attendance at this show, and who won this 2nd Place award.”

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These photos, the awards and the notes from the Hot Rod Magazine article that there were a series of Car Show held at the Thrifty Drug Store parking lots across LA makes me really wonder how many of these shows were held in 1954-55. And how they were advertised. So far I have still not been able to find any announcement for these shows. Possibly announcements were made in the local news-paper, or perhaps posters were made that were distributed at the local hang-outs? Who knows more?

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1954 aerial view showing the parking lot where the ’55 Car Show was held.

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(this article is sponsored by)

ccc-sponsor-ad-customs-by-flash-w

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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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Ron Sobran 1951 Mercury

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Ron Sobran created an unequally restyled 1951 Mercury with laid back windshield around 1952 in the Detroit Michigan area. A closer look at this early Full Custom 1951 Mercury.

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The first time I came across a picture of Ron Sobran’s 1951 Mercury was around 2005. I had found an old, already ended photo auction on eBay of an bit oddly chopped 1951 Mercury parked on a street. The old photo really intrigued me for several reason. One because it was of a full Custom Car parked on the street in an unknown town in the early 1950’s, Two because the car had a very uniquely chopped top.

The first photo I ever saw of Ron Sobran’s 1951 Mercury. The Custom looked very interesting with its strangely shaped chopped top, door handles and parked on the street of an unknown town. Possibly the hubcaps on this version were stock ’51 Mercury units?

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I shared the photo with some of my Custom Car friends from the US, asking if anybody recognized the car, sadly nobody did.
It took a few more years before I came across a few more photos of the same Mercury. Photos that were taken at the first Annual Detroit, Michigan Autorama in Jan-Feb 1953. These new photos gave me a bit more info on the Mercury, not about the owner or who built it, but more about how it was restyled.

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The photos showed that the stock Mercury windshield had been laid back, and was not actually cut like we are all known from the more “regular” chopped tops. The new Autorama photos showed that the grille was very nicely created from a narrowed stock ’51 Mercury unit with the wrap around sections removed and replaced with just the end pieces of the wrap around’s. Creating a very nice floating grille bar.

And what also was very important was that the photos were taken in late January, or early February 1953, which means that this car had to be created no later than late 1952, and that made it an very early chopped 1951 Mercury. Especially on this side of the US.

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Overview of the 1953 Detroit Autorama show. Several Alexander Brothers cars were on display at the show as well.

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Zoomed in we can see how the angled back windshield and lowered top made the car look to have a very long hood.

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This picture was really great since it showed the beautifully done grille. Sadly the show sign info cannot be read.

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Overview photo from the other side shows Ron’s Mercury on the top right.

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Zoomed in on Ron’s Mercury. Sadly a bit blurry

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Version 2

A few more years later I came across an online photo collection of the Ford Motor Company. Photos taken at the 1955 Ford Rotunda Ford Motor Company organized Custom Car and Hot Rod Show. And for the first time I had a name of the owner, Ron Sobran. And by 1955 the car had been updated a bit from the 1953 photos. The most obvious update was a new much darker paint job (now listed as Metallic Maroon), extended rear fenders housing ’54 Mercury taillights, the stock rear bumper was replaced by an 1951 Lincoln unit and stock door handles were replaced by push-buttons, most likely Lincoln units.

These 3 new 1955 photos were really fantastic, since they showed a lot more detail than the old ones I had. I now was able to tell that in the chop process the drip rails had been shaved, and the rear of the top/rearwindow had been sunken down. What made the rear of the top really unique was how they had removed the stock bottom stainless trim fro the rear window, and replaced it with an unit that wraps around from the beltline on the sides of the body.

I cannot say this is the most attractive way to chop a Mercury, but I like how creative they were with the angled back stock height windshield and rear window solution. Very creative, and especially the continues belt-line chrome trim is very interesting.

These new photos also showed the hand made bubble skirts, which look really well with the car, the heavier than stock side trim and the Calnevar wire wheel hubcaps. The last are not rally attractive in my eyes, but they were very popular in the early 1950’s giving your car a more sporty, perhaps even European look.

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The rear quarter view taken at the audition day shows the skirts really well. It also shows the sunken or reshaped rear window, the extended rear fender using 1954 mercury rear fenders and taillights, and the addition of an 1951 Lincoln rear bumper.

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Ron’s Mercury had frenched headlights,most likely stock ’51 Mercury units, the hood was smoothed and the grille opening replaced with a 49-51 unit. The hood corners were not rounded. For the updated version Ron had removed the bumper guards from the Mercury front fenders.

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Ron Sobran posing with his Mercury inside the Ford Rotunda Builing Custom Car & Hot Rod show in 1955. This photo shows how much the windshield had to be angled back to get the low side window profile.

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After I had found out the name of the owner I started asking people about the car and the owner some more. But so far nobody I have asked knew anything about the car, nor the owner. I have not been able to find out who actually build the car, or what happened to it after the 1955 Rotunda Show. These images in this article is all I was aver able to find out. If any of our readers know anything more about Ron Sobran, or his ’51 Mercury, please send us an Email.

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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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Road Trip Custom Sightings

 

ROAD TRIP CUSTOM SIGHTINGS

 

David Conrad shared some neat pictures he took in the 60s and 70s. Interesting and sometimes abandoned Custom Cars he came across while on the road.



In July 2018 I shared a photo of an early 1940’s restyled 1940 Mercury ones owned by the mr. Williams and later owned by Marsh Baldwin. I was wondering what had happened to the restoration on the care when David Conrad shared a few photos of some old 60’s and 70’s road trips with including one of an Mercury that looked a bit similar. The picture David shared, of a greene padded topped Mercury at a car lot in San Diego in 1963, had a very similar very heavy chop, but it looked to be a ’39 and not the ’40 I was looking for. But the photo was very interesting, and the ’39 Mercury looked vaguely familiar, reminding me a bit at the James Etter ’39 Mercury restored in the late  1970’s, early 1980’s by Karl Jonasson. But I did not pay much attention to that at the time.

When David shared the photos he mentioned that he took some photos back in 1963 when he and a friend towed David’s 31 Model A pickup to San Diego to the Model A Restorers Club national meet. On the way they stopped at several locations and David took some photos of interesting cars he saw on their way.

David saw this 1940 Mercury with some Ayala Inspiration at the Easy Jack’s junk yard in Kansas in 1963. He always wondered what happened to it. Anybody knows?
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The rear shows an interesting Panoramic rear window treatment on the chopped canvas covered top, as well as ’48-49 Cadillac rear fenders molded into the body. I wonder if the car was ever finished and on the road, or if it was an abandoned project?
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David took this ’40 Ford convertible in the early 70s in a friends back yard. He has no idea what ever happened to it. This is in St Louis, mo.
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It appears to be an channeled ’40 Ford convertible with a much molded body that was done in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s. Perhaps it evolved over the years.
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In November 2018, the photo David had shared of the 1963 San Diego was shared again on Facebook. Anthony White made a comment on it. “Tried to make a case for it being the James Etter car but that’s a long stretch”. Anthony’s comment brought me back to the original thought I had when looking at that picture, and I started to look into it a bit more. I had recently discussed the Etter Mercury with Henrik Forss, and things look like they are falling into place, and the car in the picture David took might be the Jim Etter Mercury. David mentioned this about the Green Mercury photo. “I saw this Merc. on a used car lot in 1963 in San Diego. It had real heavy green metalflake paint on it. Paint was very thick.”

David took this very neat picture of a green metalflake ’39 Mercury at an unknown used car lot in San Diego in 1963.
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In an old Swedish Wheels Magazine article on the ’39 Mercury that Karl restored it was mentioned that the car had a green metalflake paint job under the primer. It also showed that the rear had a ’41 Ford bumper mounted. When David took the photo in 1963, it looks like the Mercury had ’41 Ford bumpers and it also looks like the running boards were shortened, just as the Jim Etter Mercury has. We are now trying to see if we can get a better scan, or info from David if he can see on the original slide if the hood has the characteristic scoop on the side, and the louver’s cut in the hood. All other details on the San Diego Mercury seem to match with the Jim Etter Mercury…

The original scan from the color slide David shared is not very big, therefor the details are rather blurry. This is the best I could do blowing up the image to have a better look at the car. It does appear to have the hood side scoop… but because the scan is so blurry, that could be just shadow and an optical illusion.
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This is how the car looked that Karl got to restore in the late 1970’s. Notice all the similarities with the Green one David photographed.
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Part if the Wheels Magazine article showing some more details, including the ’41 Ford rear bumper.
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This is how most people will recognize the James Etter 1939 Mercury from the 1980’s. The heavy chop, the shortened running boards, and molded in headlights. Karl added the exhausts behind the running boards and the ’49 Plymouth bumper. The Barris Crest on the front fender is an replica added after Karl restored the car.
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To be continued…..










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1945 San Francisco Customs

 

1945 SAN FRANCISCO CUSTOMS

 

Northern California had a very active Custom Car Scene back in the 1940s. Bruce Heather shared some photos of unequally Restyled Nor-Cal Customs from 1945 with us.



Bruce Heather shared some really interesting pictures of Early Customs from his Collection with us. The photos was all taken around 1945 in San Francisco, and where given to Bruce by Harry Costa. Harry Coast is the owner of a channeled, chopped and padded topped 1941 Ford with raised fenders that has been a show winner in the California Bay era since the mid 1950’s. Harry still owns the car in 2018.

The Custom Car in Nor California, and around the Sacramento and San Francisco, Bay area has been together with So-Cal a very important place in the history of the Custom Car. Southern California, and especially Los Angeles was perhaps the best known area for Custom Restyling. The better weather had a lot to do with this, plus the fact that the early car magazines were mostly published from Los Angeles, therefor it made perfect sense to feature mostly local cars. These So-Cal Customs were perhaps of that better documented, more photographed than in other places.

Nothern California did house some of the very best Custom Builders. Harry Westergard, Les Crane, Dick Bertolucci, Hall Auto Tops, and George and Sam Barris came from there before they moved to Los Angeles during WWII. All these fine creative builders in Northern California had a huge impact on the scene, and in the last couple of years more and more pictures from this Nor-Cal Scene have surfaced.

The first photo shows a very interesting ’36 Ford Cabriolet. Interesting restyling includes, narrowed running boards, reshaped fenders, ’38 La Salle grille mounted low on the filled in front section. The lower half of the grille was split in half and placed along side the main grille. Chopped windshield with an non Ford windshield added. Lowe angled b-pillar padded top, single bar flipper hubcaps and custom script on smooth hood sides.
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1938-39 Ford Coupe milder custom uses smoothed and filled in hood sides, aftermarket sealed beam headlights, ’37 DeSoto bumpers, single bar flipper hubcaps, Appleton Spotlights and fender skirts with Buick skirt trim added. Anybody recognizes the building in the background?
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Mild Street Custom 1936 Ford Coupe with a bit lowered suspension, teardrop fender skirts and single spotlight.


[divider]Last photo is another very mild street Custom. This time based on a ’39 Ford Sedan with what look like ’41 Buick skirts, pointed forward Spotlights and single bar flipper hubcaps.
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1939 Ford Convertible

There were four photos of the same 1939 Ford Convertible in the collection Bruce received from Harry. A very interesting Custom, with a lot of Custom Restyling and and a lot of body work. Most of the Customs created in the early to mid 1940’s were rather mild, with minimal amount of body work to get the right result. But there were a few exceptions that might have set the bar for the future generation of Custom Cars. We know that Harry Westergard created some heavy body worked customs in the early-mid 1940’s. George Barris was very much influenced by what Westergard did, so he took the heavy restyling style to Los Angeles. This ’39 Ford however is restyled by an unknown body shop or Customizer, in a way that shows whoever created it sure had some sense of styling, and creativity.


Front 3/4 view shows the removal of the running boards and special below the body panel to hide the frame rails.
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The whole body is smoothed in a very unique way. The complete belt line has been filled in from the hood all the way to the back of the car. The fenders have been molded to the body, the running boards have been removed and the fenders extended down to fill the section where the running board used to be. A filler panel was created to fit under the body to hide the frame rails. The stock grille was removed and a filler piece created that would allow a bottom section of a 1940 Dodge grille to be installed. he headlights were replaced by body color painted 1940 Ford units.

The windshield frame was chopped a few inches, and a medium colored padded top with very nice flowing lines added.  The flowing lines of the padded top make me feel that the tom might have been done by Hall of Oakland. The two part stock hood was welded solid and completely smoothed. At the rear a lot of effort was done to create an ultimate smooth body. The molded in fenders have a very smooth transition due to the molded in belt-line.

The grille looks to be the lower section of an 1940 Dodge grille set into custom reshaped front sheet metal. The Bumper looks to be a 1942 Packard unit with 1942 Studebaker bumper guards added.
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Rear 3/4 view shows the beautiful lines of the ’39 Ford with its smooth rear end, flowing lines of the medium tint padded top and chopped windshield frame.
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The trunk or rumble seat was welded shut and smoothed creating one large body panel for the complete back of the car. The only details are the set in license plate and the stock teardrop taillights. The stock bumpers front and rear were replaced with what looks like 1942 Packard bumpers mounted a bit closer to the body than stock. At the front 1942 Studebaker bumper guards were modified to fit the Packard bumpers. The rear one was left smooth.

The photo from the rear shows that the fenders were molded to the body, and the complete trunk, or rumble seat cover was welded and smoothed to make it completely smooth.  square hole with very small radius corners was cut into the rear for a behind glass set in license plate. The rear bumper also looks to be 1942 Packard, but no bumper guards were used.
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Typical for the era the door handles remained on the car, also typical are the single bar flipper hubcaps and black wall tires due to the rubber shortage during WWII. The car was painted in a dark color, and most likely turned heads were ever it went. Most likely daily transportation for its owner. These are the only photos I have ever seen of this car, I have checked all my early publications, but there is no photos of it anywhere as far as I can tell. Any of our readers knows more about it?




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Marvin Lee 42 Chevy

 

MARVIN LEE 42 CHEVY

 

Marvin Lee of Pasadena California Restyled his 1942 Chevy Fleetline AeroSedan when the car was brand new in 1942.



1942, the last year the major US Car Companies brought out a new car model. Production stopped around February that year, and it would not be until after WWII, in 1946 before they would start production again, and introduce new cars. Everything a Hot rod and Custom Car guy would need to turn their every day driver into a hopped up or Restyled driver was rationed, all tools, supplies and most man (and woman) were needed for war production.  This however did not stop Marvin Lee, from Pasadena to restyle his brand new 1942 Chevy Fleetline AeroSedan. The 1942 model was most likely produced in late 1941.

1942 Chevy Fleetline AeroSedan from the factory brochure.
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The car is relatively mildly restyled, with its most obvious modification the filled in rear quarter windows, and the removal of most of the car’s chrome. The end result of the car is one of the best know “ration customs” and despite the early year, we can be very fortunate that several photos of the car have survived. Many thanks to Dean Batchelor and Spencer Murray for taking those photos and hanging on to those all these years.

The side profile of Marvin’s Chevy shows the nice lines of the top after filling in the rear quarter windows. And to make it work as good as it does, the drip rails were removed, and the rear top door corner was rounded to follow the shape of the door side window.
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Marvin Lee’s 1942 Chevy was a typical Custom for the WWII period. Created with the limitations of the time. There was rubber shortage, so there were no white wall tires available, chrome plating parts was not an option either.
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The real unique details about the Marvin Lee Chevy is that the car was nearly completely de-chromed. With that it was way ahead of its time. Most Customs from the early 1940’s still had most of their chrome, with perhaps some hood and trunk pieces removed, but on Marvin’s Chevy all the side trim was removed, and even though the door handles remained on the car, they were painted body color to make them less obvious. It does look like the stance of the car was not changed much, perhaps it was lowered a little, but not much. Due to the restrictions the car had black wall tires, possibly the stock units from the factory. And it looks like it was dressed up with some early single bar flipper hubcaps.

We do not know if Marvin did all the body work on the car himself, or if a local Pasadena body shop might have done the work. David Giller mentioned Marvin had worked at Coachbuilding shops in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s as mechanic and painter. Filling in the rear quarter windows, removing the drip rails and rounding the door top corners are not easy tasks. Especially if there where no tools, or supplies available as they used to be. We have heard stories that body shops collected and melted down fishing sinkers to use for body work. Perhaps that was what was used on Marvin’s Chevy as well.

From this rear 3/4  photo we can see how smooth the body was done. The shaved trunk, removal of most of the chrome and flush factory accessory skirts make it look ultra slippery. The car ran on black wall tires, since there were no white wall tires available, or perhaps it was by choice to make the whole effect even more dramatic.
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Dean Batchelor wrote a 3 page article in the May 1953 issue of Rod & Custom magazine about Pre-War Customs, and included 2 pictures of Lee Marvin’s Chevy.
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The only photos we have been able to locate of the car are from around 1942, nobody seems to know what happened to the car after that. Due to the time the car was created, it was never featured in any of the magazine, but the images taken in 1942 were used multiple times in different publications as a sample to show how Custom Cars during WWII looked like.

If any of our readers knows anything more about Marvin Lee’s Chevy, has more photos off it, or knows what happened to it after 1942, please send us an email so that we can add it to this article.



About Marvin Lee

by David Giller

Marvin Lee was a longtime Hot Rodder and had a background in Customs too. I did some research and found he worked at the famous Bohman & Schwartz Coachbuilders (Pasadena) in 1938 as an Auto Painter, and in 1940 at D’Arcy Coachworks in nearby Alhambra as an auto mechanic. I suspect he could have done the custom work on his Chevy himself. He later also ran fast cars at the Dry Lakes and Bonneville Salt Flats. In 1949 at El Mirage dry lake he had the streamliner entry with a Class record at 153.545 mph. Marvin Lee went to Bonneville in 1950 with a new enclosed body streamliner using a Horning GMC six. One of the first full body enclosed cars at Bonneville. Also called The City of Pasadena. That car spun and flipped at 230 mph. Only minor injuries to the driver “Puffy” Puffer because the car was so well constructed. Story is that Lee gave up on streamlined cars after that. I didn’t know until recently that Marvin Lee was one of the founders of The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) along with Wally Parks.

Marvin Lee was later involved with new car dealerships in the Pasadena area. Died in Newport Beach in 1994 at 80 years of age.

Marvin Lee’s 29 Model A, which burnt complete and a color photo of the City of Pasadena in 1950. Marvin Lee is bending over the car with his red and white sweater.
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Left to right are: Bill Spalding, Wayne Horning, Marvin Lee and Tom Spalding. (from Tex Smith’s Hot Rod History Book One by Tom Medley)
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My college roommate, Dave Graham, was from the Pasadena area and in 1956 or 1957 we were over at the Pasadena City College campus on Colorado Boulevard. Adjacent was a Bob’s Big Boy Hamburger restaurant. Dave noted the used car lot next to Bob’s and said it was Marvin Lee’s lot. Lee sold customized cars, all stick shift and well known by the local young car guys. Dave said he was sometimes known by the local car guys as “Starvin Marvin”. This specialty sale lot much the same as the famous Andrews and Evans dealership in Burbank which, oddly enough, was also next door to a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on San Fernando road. Marvin Lee’s lot was at 1650 E. Colorado, the main street through Pasadena. I have been by there many times over the years.

By my experience, these two specialty dealerships usually had a good inventory of clean later model cars, mostly Ford or Chevy, with various levels of customizing – from just a nice set of Glasspak duals, lowering and chrome Moon wheel covers (no flippers) to some cars with additional quality repaint, pin striping, custom tuck and roll interiors, often other special body work and more. Then there were the occasional full customs by Barris and other shops, maybe earlier show or magazine feature cars plus a couple of finished Hot Rods – Roadsters and Coupes. A real candy store to young guys with some saved first job money to spend. Or just a cool free car show.

Dave Graham had a custom 1950 Mercury while we were roommates and he later decided to live at home in San Marino and drive over to school. He then had a very nice slightly custom 1957 Chevy two door coupe.
I should ask him if he bought it from Marvin Lee or if Marvin ended up with the Custom Mercury.

There were several ads like the one shown in this article in the Pasadena Star News paper from 1956 though 1960. Some advertising about the lot and customizing of the cars for sale and others listing some stick shift cars for sale.
My guess is he established the “Custom Car Lot” about 1954 or so. In 1951 he was a salesman at a Pontiac dealer in Pasadena and also in 1949. By 1963 appears he was at other Pasadena new car dealerships like Cadillac, possibly as the owner or a partner. Have not found any car business information for him after about 1966 but he still lived in Pasadena.

This is an ad ran by Marvin Lee in the Pasadena Star-News Oct 25 -26 1957. Sorry it is hard to read.
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The Phantom Corsair

After doing the research on the Marvin Lee ’42 Chevy and Marvin’s personal History David Giller could not help think about the 1937-38 created Phantom Corsair for the Heinz family. And how, in a way, similar this car looked like Marvin’s Chevy. Here are some thoughts about this from David.

History of the Early Custom Car

An extraordinary special, one off, custom car of the prewar period was the “Phantom Corsair” designed by owner Rust Heinz of the Heinz Foods family. This on a Cord front drive chassis. I saw this car at Harrah’s museum many years ago and I think also on special display at the Pebble Beach Concours about 1990 or so. Spectacular car and design and unlike anything else up to that time. Lots of photos on this car on the internet or perhaps you have some file photos or even an earlier article on it. When I compare the Marvin Lee Chevy custom details to the Phantom Corsair I see real similarities, especially the closed top line and angle, the fitted skirts, lack of body chrome and impact of the black color.

Maybe just wishful coincidence. Except….

The Phantom Corsair was built by Bohman and Schwartz Coachworks in Pasadena in 1937-1938. Marvin Lee was employed at Bohman and Schwartz in 1938, listed as an “Auto Painter”  there in the Pasadena City Directory. So very possibly, or likely, he was the original painter and did metal work on the Phantom Corsair. Did it influence his 1942 Chevy Custom?

Best Regards,

David Giller




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