Custom 1933-34 Fords

FORDS MODEL-40 CUSTOMIZED

Today almost all of the modified ’33 and ’34 Fords are done up as street rods or traditional hot rods. In the 1940’s and up until the very early 50’s these cars were routinely built as customs.

Between these two years of Henry Ford’s popular art deco influenced cars, the 1934 was the hands down favorite as custom material. Many ’33 models got a ’34 grille and the two handled ’34 hood as standard operating procedure. It was later when the hot rods got popular that car guys liked the curved bars and thinner grille shell surround of the ’33. Today both years are equally popular and as we know there is a high demand for these good looking and desirable Fords.

When they were built as customs, back in the day, the popular body styles were the roadsters, cabriolets, three window coupes and five window coupes. Although not customized as often as the other styles, the sedans, both two and four door, also made very nice customs.
CCC-34-Ford-Wes-Collins-01-WWes Collin’s 1934 Ford Roadster is possibly the best sample of how good the 1933-34 Fords can look customized. The DuVall windshield, padded top, fender skirts, long GM headlights and Lincoln bumpers add an almost movie star elegance to this type of car.

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Pat Ganahl did an excellent article on Wes Collins 1934 Ford in the Rodder’s Journal issue 51. This photo shows Wes’ roadster with a light color, the padded top in place and this photo also shows the George DuVall “swirl” hubcaps.

 

The first order of change in the forties was to get rid of the stock 17” wheels in favor of 15” or 16” solid wheels with flipper hubcaps or other full wheel hubcaps mounted with wide white wall tires, or black walls in the early ’40’s. Headlights, bumpers, and taillights were also routinely changed.
Lowering with a slight “speedboat effect” gave the desired look for an early custom. Fender skirts were popular in the forties and aftermarket skirts were available for these cars.

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This 1934 Ford coupe was chopped, had solid hood sides, Appleton Spotlights, 1941 Ford bumpers and white trim rings to simulate white wall tires. The stance and overall look and feel is all custom. The photo was taken in 1947.

 

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Here is the same coupe as above, but now wearing a set of white wall tires and single bar flipper hubcaps. The rest stayed the same, but what a difference in appearance.

 

 

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A chopped 5-window coupe with 1936 Ford rear fenders. The taller rear fenders made sure the rear could be lowered a bit more than the stock rear fenders allowed.

 

Appleton spotlights look good on the closed cars of this vintage. In the forties one spotlight on the driver’s side pointed to the rear was common. Later the trend was for dual spotlights turned down in a traditional manner.

Body modifications often included filling the deck lid and door handles. Smooth or louvered hood sides gave a cleaner look to the front-end. These cars really lend themselves to a chopped top and many closed car ’33-4 Fords were chopped. The roadsters would sometimes get a DuVall windshield and the cabriolets a chopped windshield with a Padded Top.

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All three photos above show that even 1933-34 four door sedan’s were customized back in the day. This sample is perfectly chopped and restyled by John Dennis.

Some of the more radical examples of these customized cars might have been channeled and the running boards were removed when raising the fenders on the body. Sometimes a different grille such as a Brewster was added, but most customizers preferred the ’34 grille.

These two years of Fords gave the custom fans lots of options and the results were “easy on the eyes”. Rick Dore reminded us how good they look as customs when he unveiled his mint green ’33-4 roadster a few years ago. Although filled with modern billet parts, Rick Dore’s Ford sure had a full custom feel. He used a set of 1935-36 Ford rear fenders to get the car really low in the rear. The car was obviously inspired by the Wes Collin’s 1934 Ford Roadster.

 

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Rick Dore debuted his 1934 Ford Custom Roadster in 2005. Although much more modern in appearance, it still is evident that the Wes Collins roadster built in the early 1940’s was the inspiration for Rick Dore’s version. (photos by Dave Lindsay)

Hot Rod, Custom or a little of both the ’33 and ’34 Fords definitely have “the look!
We hope that more of these cars will be built as customs in the future and hopefully this article and images will help some to get motivated building a customized 1933-34 Ford in the near future.

 

 

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Gerald Fassett Photo Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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Gerald Fassett 1934 Ford

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

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

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

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

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Gerald Fassett 1947 Chevy Convertible

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

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1948 magazine ad for the Jimmy Summers Fender Extension.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 1941 Chevy Gerald traded engines with.

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The back side of the photo of the 1940 Chevy.

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Harold Ohanesian 1940 Mercury

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

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

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

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

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

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Zoomed in to see all the details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bud Welch 1938 Chevy Convertible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Leroy Semas 1938 Chevy

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

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

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

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Larry Watson 57 Chevies

LARRY WATSON 57 CHEVIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Japan – How to build a Custom

 

HOW TO BUILD A CUSTOM The Japan

 

The Barris built 1952 Mercury hardtop known as The JAPAN was featured in a series of step-by-step stories on building a custom. The three and a half month restyling project resulted in a beautiful TOP TEN mild custom.


By Tom Nielsen



By 1955 the custom car craze had spread across the nation. Many “would be” customizers had been reading magazines like Rod and Custom , Car Craft, Hot Rod and others where they were getting ideas for building their own customs. However, many of these young customizers lacked the opportunity or resources to take their cars to a well-known custom shop like Barris Kustoms in California.


1952 Mercury from the original sales brochure.
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George Barris took the Mercury to his favorite location, the house on Abbott road, not too far from the Barris Kustom Shop for a photo-shoot.
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The 1955 “How to Build a Custom” series in Car Craft magazine by George Barris provided photos and instructions on performing some of the “basics” of building a very desirable mild custom. Granted there had been lots of “how to articles” in the magazines before on various and assorted modifications. What was special about “How to Build a Custom” was that it took the reader through the process of restyling from beginning to the finished car in an eight-part monthly series.

The ’52 Mercury hardtop was owned by Tom Jeffries and he brought it to the Barris brothers for the customizing in 1954. Car Craft magazine first shows the car in a story titled “Installing Side Trim” in the August 1954 issue. The story mentions that Tom Jeffries Mercury will be featured in a complete step-by-step form from the time it rolled into the shop until it is driven out in all its glory. The pictures in the story show an almost completed car with the Barris emblem on the front fender.



Car Craft had been planning to do a “how to do it” custom series and probably reached out to George Barris. The ’52 to ’54 Fords were becoming popular for customizers at the time of the articles. George Barris in Volume 1 Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50’s said, “The ’52-’54 Fords and Mercurys quickly became popular cars to customize and we chopped a number of them.” This one would be a mild custom but represented a model of a car that was currently popular in 1954-5 when the articles were published. It was interesting to note that the first magazine article in the series mentioned that this body style was similar to Mercury’s ’52 to ’54 and ’52 to ’54 Fords as well. It was important to show that these modifications were applicable to a wide range of cars. The series of articles featured many modifications such as shaving the door handles, removing trim, frenching the head and taillights, smoothing bumpers, etc. that could be done on any make of car.

In writing the “step-by-step” articles for Car Craft George Barris stresses how much money the reader could save by doing the work themselves. In the final story he mentions that the custom work took 3 ½ months at a cost of $1300. He goes on to say that $800 of that total was in labor which you could save if you did the work yourself.




I had to laugh when he mentions that frenching the headlights at a shop would be a $20 to $25 job, but you could save that if you did it on your own. However, in 1955 twenty-five dollars was a chunk of money for some young guys!

Style wise the modifications to Tom Jeffries’ Mercury were tasteful, fresh, and unique for that era. The taillights from a ’51 Fraser seem to fit the top of the rear fenders perfectly, while the ’54 Olds side trim turns down and mimics the dividers in the 1952 only, three-piece rear window. The air scoops added to the hood and rear quarter panels were a nice touch. The smoothed rear bumper with exhaust tips complements the pleasing ¾ rear view. I always liked the photo used at the beginning of part 4 with that same view.

I also think the’54 Chrysler hubcaps, which hadn’t been used a lot on customs in this era, were a good choice. The grille bar restyling along with the molded opening and painted lower bumper make an understated, very clean look. Along with the modified scoop and frenched headlights the front end restyling shows very well on the May 1955 Car Craft cover and in the April 1955 feature, “The Japan”.

One of the most dramatic changes to the car were the addition of the ’52-53 Lincoln grille teeth (These teeth are sort of “hidden” below the bumper on the stock Lincoln) in the smoothed grille opening. This created a much more aggressive front end on the car.
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Stock 1952 Mercury front 3/4 view from the original Sales Brochure.
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The color pictures of the eighteen coat lacquer job look outstanding. Copper rust metallic and gold bronze metallic were the colors selected by Barris and the owner. Although, it wasn’t until part three of the series before the readers finally got to see it in color on the cover. That picture doesn’t really show how outstanding the two tone paint job really was.
Sometime later the Mercury was selected as “Ten of the Best” by Car Craft magazine. The owner was listed as Tom Jeffries and his $1500 custom. However, when the feature on “The Japan” was printed the owner was listed as Nobby Miyakawa. Maybe he purchased the car shortly after it was finished from Tom Jeffries?

The crew at the Barris Shop painted the Mercury in what George Barris described as Copper-Rust Metallic and Golden-Bronze Metallic. This is one of the two color photos I have ever seen on this car.
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The ’52 Mercury “the JAPAN” was also part of the Barris Display at the 1954 Petersen Motor Revue & Motorama at the Pan Pacific Auditorium.
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There is no way of knowing how many cars were restyled using the information and techniques shared by the Barris Kustom shop in these articles. My guess is that the series was very informative to both other shops and to the “do it yourself” customizers working at home. I tend to think that a number of cars were modified using some of the techniques shown in the Car Craft step-by-step customizing series.

I don’t have any information on Nobby Miyakawa and how long he owned the car. As I mentioned earlier the owner was listed as Tom Jeffries when the series began, so at some point Nobby became the owner and must have been the inspiration for the Mercury’s name, “The Japan”.

The April 1955 issue of Car Craft Magazine had a full four page feature on the Mercury. And on the following spread the first installment on the Her’s How: Building a Custom article was started with another 4 pages.
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The second spread of the feature article, and the two spreads introducing the How To article starting with frenched headlights.
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August 1954 Car Craft issue showed how the side trim was created.
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A few of the covers of Car Craft magazines that had parts of the How To features of the Mercury.
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The May 1955 issue of Car Craft showed the front section of the Mercury in color on the cover.
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The biggest question though is perhaps what happened to the beautiful ’52 Merc known as “The Japan”? It wasn’t seen in the magazines much after 1956, it just disappeared? Maybe one of the readers knows more about where “The Japan” Mercury ended up?

Epilogue: I have long been a fan of this particular ’52 Mercury custom and the series on it in Car Craft about its construction. I want to thank Rik Hoving for preparing a file of information and pictures on the Jeffries/ Miyakawa custom car which I used to write this story.









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Antennas on Customs – Beam Me Up Scotty!

 

ANTENNAS on CUSTOMS

 

When building a custom car the radio antenna is a feature that sometimes received “special treatment”. Many times it was left in the stock position or just recessed in a round enclosure. Often times the aerial was hidden or moved to a new location like the rear fender.


By Tom Nielsen

When car radios first came out in the thirties, jalopy owners proudly showed off the antenna on their cars because it meant you had a radio. The aerials were sometimes leaned back to represent speed. When radios became more commonplace, car companies became creative in the placement and use of multiple antennas.

Back in the day there was always the attempt to simply hide the antenna or make it disappear. Cadillac’s in the thirties hid them under the running boards. 1932-6 Fords used the chicken wire in fabric tops for radio reception. Other companies had their own way of building in the antenna.

Cowl mounted antenna’s. A popular aftermarket product in the 1940s. The sample below shows the popular version with the clear colored plastic ball at the end.
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Adding a “Fox-Tail” at the tip of the antenna was a very popular trend, even among custom car owners, for some time during the 1940’s.
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Cowl mounted antenna bent to follow the door line and windshield frame for a more streamlined look.
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It was also very popular to add antenna’s to the front fenders. This allowed the antenna to be detracted all the way. The way this sample was mounted, on an angle, added some extra speed to the car as well.
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In the 1950’s it was common to have your antenna mounted on the cowl from the dealer, but Customizers did not like it there too much, so they searched for alternatives. Jerry Quesnel mounted the antenna of his Barris/Quesnel Restyled ’49 Mercury at the top of the rear bumper, next to the bumper guard.
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Antenna/Aerial listing in the Barris Hollywood Custom Accessory Catalog from the mid 1950’s.
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Tom Hocker’s 1940 Ford (By Barris) had the antenna mounted on the rear splash pan, like many others did. This photo was taken around 1957.
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Around 1953 several aftermarket companies produced wild out of this world space age antenna’s. Even the Bob Hirohata Barris Custom used a double set of these for a short moment. More on these antennas in the story on the Hirohata Mercury Antenna’s.
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My own 1941 Mercury convertible from the early custom era had the antenna mounted the stock location which was in the center of the windshield header. It could be turned upward or down depending on your preference. This type of aerial was used on Ford and Mercury convertibles from the late thirties through 1948. It always reminded me of resembling a boat antenna. When I first bought the Mercury I asked my body man friend about filling in the hole and using a Cadillac under running board antenna. He was reluctant to get a torch that close to the windshield, so the stock aerial remained in place. In time it kind of grew on me until I liked having it upright. For the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair car show I had it proudly turned upward.

Tom Nielsen’s 1941 Mercury at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair showing the Antenna in its factory stock location, and proudly in the upright position, indicating the car had a full working radio.
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The revolutionary design of the 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser is a good example of the multiple antennas and futuristic look which had a space age feel. The Turnpike Cruiser had two forward roof scoops with antennas poking out, plus a fender mounted antenna.

The customizers followed suit and took creativity of antenna placement to a new level during the ’58 to ’64 rocket ship era.

1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser roof top corners antenna’s were an inspiration for many custom builders.
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A great sample of how much creativity went into some of the space age antenna designs.
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Hot rod/custom 1932 Ford with a unique custom antenna enclosure. (internet photo)
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The era in the late 50’s and the “rocket ship” trend saw the antennas on custom cars become an item to make your car more futuristic. The use of multiple antennas on customs and show cars became popular. The location of these antennas ran the gamut from poking out of scoops in various places on the body to having their own dedicated custom mounting place.


The famous 1957 Ford “Trendero” had wild space age restyled front fenders with cut of sections, scoops, floating headlights bucket’s and horizontal mounted recessed antennas.
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Madame Fi Fi, a custom ’56 Chev built in that ’58 to ’62 era has multiple antennas which accentuate its “rocket ship” theme. Tim Norman has been careful to replicate the authentic placement in his recreation of the well known Seattle show car.

The antennas on Madam Fi Fi (Recreation) in the two forward top scoops actuate the door solenoids.
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The two angled rear aerials set in a custom base give it the “beam me up Scotty” look!
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Roth used lots of antennas in various ways on his custom creations for that “futuristic theme” he was seeking. He had the antennas poking out of scoops in various locations.
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New cars like the 1961 Chevrolet used twin, slanted, rear antennas for a little extra bling in the late fifties to early sixties.

Custom Studebaker with twin aftermarket antennas mounted on double added fins in the late 1950’s.
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As car designs went back to the cleaner, understated look, the antenna was again mounted in a more conventional location.

This era was followed by recessing or frenching the antenna base. Sometimes the customizer used two antennas for a custom effect. Often times the opening for the antennas will be sculpted for an artistic effect

The famous Alexander Brothers created some very well designed Customs in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Always filled with small details, like this recessed and peaked antenna opening shows. They created it for the 1955 Chevy the “Astrian”.
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Perhaps the most popular Custom antenna treatment, flush mounted tunnel, with recessed mounted antenna. As this photo shows the style is even popular on Hot Rods. (internet photo)
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When I built my ’49 Merc in the 90’s I used an electric antenna and filed the head down to match the curve of the fender. Then I painted the top to match the car so it was almost invisible when down.

Currently, when people create traditional customs you will find a variety of these custom antenna techniques. Of course, nowadays no one refers to them as “radio” antennas or aerials. If you look at the satellite antennas on new cars they have no resemblance to the old style.

The digital revolution has changed everything in car sound systems. The old AM radio is indeed a relic from the past, but the traditional custom builder likes the vintage look of them in the dashboard. Although, they may have a digital stereo hidden somewhere in the car.

(Special thanks to Tim Norman for the idea behind this article and for the photos that he shared in the article.)




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Jim Street Golden Sahara I

 

JIM STREET GOLDEN SAHARA I

 

The Amazing Golden Sahara I. The Futuristic Car designed by Jim Street that was the perfect combination between Custom and Show Car.


Special thanks to Jim Street for his stories on the car and how it was created.


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(Special note; Jim Skonzakes and Jim Street are the same person. In the early 1960’s Jim Skonzakes officially changed his name from Skonzakes to Street hoping his new last name would be easier to spell for others)
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In the late 1940’s early 1950’s there is a young guy from Dayton, Ohio, Jim Skonzakes, who dreams about living in warm, sunny and dry Los Angeles, California. He sees himself driving there in the most fantastic Custom Cars. But being needed in his parents successful Dry Cleaning business prevents him from actually making the move to the West-Coast. Instead he started building his own Custom Cars and Custom Bikes in Dayton, and when time allowed it he jumped in his Custom Car and drove the 2200 miles to California. There he spend some good quality time looking for Custom Cars, visiting the shops he has heard about, going to shows, and making new car friends.

Jim Skonzakes (Street) always said he had Customizing in his blood, he just could not help it. Everything he had needed to be Customized. So the industrial dry cleaning machines in his parents business were not save for Jim’s urge to customize either. All the machines were detail painted and parts send out to be chrome plated, for that extra special Skonzakes look and touch.
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One of his California trips in the late 1940’s, perhaps early 1950, Jim meets George Barris and starts to hang out at the Barris Kustom Shop. At one of Jim’s longer stays Jim even rented a part of the Barris shop where he could built his own custom, a 1949 Buick, with the help of some Barris employees. In the meantime Jim drives from LA to Dayton several times a year, mostly in the Custom Cars he owned at the time. On one of his LA visits he buys the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford, and a few years later when he is back in LA again he heard about George having had an accident in his personal mildly customized 1952 Lincoln. The wrecked car was in bad shape, however the cars engine and drive train appeared to be intact and was low mileage since George had not used it a lot. This would be the ideal base for a project Jim had on his mind for some time and started to discuss it with George Barris.

George Barris took this photo shortly after having the accident with his 1952 Lincoln. George was towing the Dan Landon 1949 Chevy behind the Lincoln when out of nowhere a hay truck appeared on a very foggy day. George his Lincoln was totaled, and Dan’s Chevy had some damage as well, but not too bad. Fortunately nobody was really hurt in the accident, and the totaled Lincoln would later become the base for the Golden Sahara.
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Some sketches of a very futuristic car where made and further plans discussed and Jim’s Dream Custom plans slowly took shape. In the end it was decided that the car would be built at the Barris Shop as a Barris Custom, and that Jim would be the owner and financier of this futuristic project. A project both people involved already assumed would have a big impact on the scene even before the project was started. But they never realized how popular the Golden Sahara would become, and how much impact the car would have in the history of the Custom Car. Jim also could not have assumed at that time, that the Golden Sahara would set the path for the rest of his career…. But more on that in Part II.

Plans called for a heavily restyled body with a very futuristic bubble top design, some characteristic parts from other cars, and a lot of scratch built details. Something never before seen done on a Custom Car back then. The whole idea had more the vibes of a factory design study, which was exactly what Jim loved to see in a Custom Car.

Due to the busy work schedule at his parents Dry Cleaning business Jim could only visit LA a few times during the built, and was not able to see if the work done on the project would meet his standards. Several people worked on the car during the time it was build. But Bill DeCarr (Ortega) was the one who did most of the work, and could be considered the head of project. Jim always liked Bill very much, and thinks he is a really great craftsman. But due to different aspects the work done on the Golden Sahara was nerve really up to Jim’s Standards.

Under construction photos from the work done at the Barris Shop. The project was a major undertaking, first deciding what should go, replaced with new body panel, reshaped panels and all new body work. Bill DeCarr is credited for doing most of the work on the original version of the Golden Sahara.
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Bill DeCarr lifting the top of the firewall/cowl after cutting it apart for the body sectioning.
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Customizing the 1952 Lincoln

The top of the car, the top of the rear fenders and the trunk were removed completely. When the project started there were no wrap around windshields available from production cars. But Bill DeCarr, who worked a day job at the Lincoln Mercury dealer parts department, had seen samples of these wrap around windshield and knew they would become available in the very near future. So the cowl on the Lincoln was sectioned, and would later be reshaped to accept a pre-production test windshield for a 1955 Lincoln. The Lincoln doors where sectioned and the door tops were reshaped to flow down toward the back of the car, where they curved into a custom made scoop that would later be filled with gold colored mesh. The door opening she was reshaped with more grace. Most upper parts of the body were completely rebuilt out of sheet metal, shaped over a handmade wire frame, and welded to the body to create the desired body shape.

The completely reshaped rear fenders used 1954 Kaiser Manhattan taillights. Jim had bought a lot of parts from the Kaiser-Frazier dealers that were closing down in Dayton. He always loved those parts, and figured sooner or later he would be able to use those parts on his projects. The Bumperettes at the back – which also act as exhaust outlets – were created from leftover Kaiser bumper ends. The section below the gold colored side trim on the rear fender was made as a removable section, a huge fender skirt. The panel itself was gold anodized and clear coated strips of semi gloss were added – which gave it a beautiful effect with vertical gloss and semi gloss stripes. The fender skirt panel was surrounded by hand made trim which was later gold coated. A steel spare tire cover from an unknown 1930’s car was welded to the new trunk at a near-horizontal angle, but would never actually hold a spare tire. It was added for good looks and created some extra trunk space, which was very welcome in later years when the car was further modified for the Golden Sahara II, but more on that in the next issue.

Freshly finished Golden Sahara photo taken at the Ford plant in Pico Rivera, CA where Bill DeCarr worked a day-job at the time. Jim Skonzakes can be seen behind the steering wheel, George Barris standing next to the car, with Bill DeCarr to the right of George.
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The Golden Sahara looked stunning in color with its refrigerator white painted body and gold coated parts. Not only the design of the GS must have looked totally out of this world, even the gold colored parts in an era where Chrome plating was hot must have turned heads everywhere. The “Targa Top” and rear window could be removed to create a full convertible.
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Wonderful color print of the Golden Sahara shows how the top panels could open up.
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Nice bird eye view of the Golden Sahara I. This is also one of the few rare photos I have seen so far that shows the GS with a license plate mounted at the back. This high angle give a good look at the huge plexiglass rear window that had to be created for the car.
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The front-end had been completely cut off and a new handmade nose was made with an oval shaped grille opening. This grille opening would later be fitted with a with gold plated extruded metal. The fenders were extended at the top and completely reshaped, the wheel openings were reduced downwards, compared to stock. The front of the new front fender has a large opening from top to bottom, which holds a vertically mounted gold pcolored metal mesh panel which serves as the base for the bullet-shaped bumperettes, created from part-box 1930’s headlights buckets the headlights and parking lights. The inside of the front fender top section was covered with the same gold plated metal mesh.

“The Golden Sahara was one of the most complex customs the Barris shop had produced at that point in time.”

With most of the car now roughly shaped it was time to create the top. When Jim had the car designed he wanted to have a car that could have the top on, but he also wanted to convert it easily to a full convertible.  The wrap around windshield had been arrived and installed and Bill DeCarr shaped a new panel that would be fitted as a large and wide B-pillar just behind the doors from side to side. Bill also made a thin roof panel that would fit between this B-pillar and the windshield header. On either side of this, Plexiglas was shaped to form the “Targa Style” T-top. At the rear, a local Los Angeles company, create a huge rear window from plexiglass to match the wrap around windshield. All these panels were incorporated in such a way that they could be removed to create a full convertible.



The styling on the Golden Sahara I was so far ahead of its time, and as these color photos show every body line worked together to enhance the overall look.
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While the Barris Shop had performed most of the work on the Golden Sahara, Jim Skonzakes hired John Getz to do some final detail work and get the car up to the Factory Design Car Standards he was looking for. The work done at the Barris shop was really fine, but done in the typical Custom fashion, looking good from a few feet (which was sort of the standard back then). The Car lacked a bit in details Jim thought where very important to the car. When all the body work was finished and in primer. The parts to be plated were sent out for gold color plating, which would set the car even more apart from the rest, where chrome plating was the standard. For paint Jim chose a solid refrigerator white to be the perfect color for this amazing Custom Car, the white would create a good contrast with the gold colored metal. It was George Barris who came up with the name for the car. “The Golden Sahara“. Exotic and mysterious… just as the car.

One of the very few photos that show the Ohio 1954 License plate mounted on the Golden Sahara. This photo was used in the May 1955 issue of Motor Trend magazine.
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A good look at the beautiful lines of the Golden Share with this rear 3/4 photo. The ’54 Kaiser Manhattan taillights look right at place on the car. The rear bumperettes/exhaust tips were created using Kaiser bumper ends. This low angle photo also shows that the T-Roof panel is relatively this. It had to be lightweight so it could be removed with ease.
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Photo showing the beautiful lines of the Golden Sahara. Notice how the angle of the front of the front fenders is identical to the scoop/leading edge of the rear fenders.
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A wonderful experimental interior was created by Glen Hauser of the Carson Top Shop. Glen used gold brocade cloth and white leatherette to stitch up the unique interior. The dashboard was hand built, completely upholstered, and held a TV in the center and a tape recorder in the console. There was also a telephone, radio, and a loudspeaker system installed. In the back of the car, a full bar, with mini-fridge was installed in the center and a comfortable half round bench wraps around it. The floor was covered in plush white and beige mink carpeting. All the electronic equipment was the installed and incorporated by Jim Skonzakes himself.

The Golden Sahara was a unique custom in its first form, and it won the Sweepstakes at the 1954 Motor Revue, held in the Los Angeles Pan Pacific Auditorium. And would later win many more trophies. The total cost for building the Golden Sahara I was estimated to be $25,000. – a substantial amount of money in 1954. Jim really enjoyed his new Custom Car and all the attention it got at the shows, but Jim was never completely happy with it. Jim mentioned the car was very nice from a distance, its design overwhelmed you, but when you got up close, he saw all kinds of flaws which he loved to fix at one point. When he drove the car for the first time he discovered that the frame of the car was never fixed properly after it was (slightly) bent in the George Barris accident. This made the car rather hard to drive. But since Jim had spend a small fortune on the car he decided to make it all work and showed the car all around the U.S.

Close up look of the plexiglass semi gull-wing roof panels.
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The interior of the Golden Sahara I was state of the art in 1954, this photo nicely shows the huge tape recorder in the center console. Notice that this photo shows white rubber mats on the floor, to protect the white and beige carpeting.
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1954 Motorama Debut

The big debut for the Golden Sahara was at the 1954 Petersen Motorama / Motor Revue. The Golden Sahara was a unique custom in its first form, drawing a huge crowd where ever it went. In the previous year Barris always had a huge wall side display at the Petersen Show at the Pan Pacificc Auditorium. But with the Golden Sahara they realized this car could have a huge impact on the  Barris Shop. So they went all out and The Barris crew and Jim Street created a large display with the Golden Sahara on a turntable. The car won the Sweepstakes at the show an was enjoyed by a huge crowd, of which many were especially drawn to the show to see the well announced Golden Sahara. The show was held November 5-14, 1954, more info and photos of the show can be found in this CCC-Article.


Color slide taken by Walter Wyss shows the amazing display they had created for the Golden Sahara. Both George Barris and Jim Skonzakes knew how much impact this car would have on the audience, and they also knew how to get the best publicity out of this all.
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The Golden Sahara I was a huge hit at the Motorama Show, and soon Jim received phone calls and letters from other show promoters in other States asking for the Golden Sahara to be present at their shows. During the 1954 to 1956 Car show season, Jim Street took the GS-I touring around the US to all the big and not so big shows enjoying the crowd that was always gathered around the car.

This wonderful color slide was made by Ina-Mae Overman and gives us a good look at the wonderful interior created by the Carson Top Shop. At most indoor shows the complete top was removed to show of the incredible interior.
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The Golden Sahara I was displayed at the ’54 show without the top. This way the beautiful futuristic Carson Top Shop created interior could be shown better. downside was that the audience could not be in awe over the huge bubble top rear window. Which must have been spectacular in 1954.
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The 1954 Motorama Sign

Jim and Barris had a beautifully hand lettered sign made for the debut of the Golden Sahara. Ina Mae Overman had most of the sign in one of her color photos of the car. With some sharpening and adding contrast I was able to read most of it.

Golden Sahara Designed and build by
Barris Custom Autos
For Mr Jim Skonzakes Dayton Ohio

This body was formed on 1954 Lincoln
Chassis from power hammered panels
taken from design sketches and patterns

• Upholstery by Carson Tops
• Bar By G & C Bar Specialist
• Solid 24 K Gold by Artistic Platers
• 300 HP Super Charged Engine
• Elec. Push Button Controlled
• Refrigerator Ice Cube Unit
• Front & Rear air conditioning
• 2-way wire recorder
• 3 mile Telephone system
• Loud Speaker Dash Unit
• Selector push type Radio

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During most of the show the passenger door was left open so that the audience was able to take a better look inside the Dream Custom. The Drivers door remained shut so the overall profile could be enjoyed as well.
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The Interior was filled with the latest gadget’s as a TV, telephone, fancy radio, speaker etc. The back had a beautiful wrap around cocktail bar seating arrangement with full bar.
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Walter Wyss captured Jim Skonzakes talking to George Barris at the ’54 Motorama Show. We have no idea who the other people are in the photo, but since they are inside the display, they must know either George or Jim.
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George and Sam Barris proudly showed Aunt Edith around at the Barris Display during the 1954 Peters Motorama Show. And the highlight was the recently finished trend setting Golden Sahara.
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The February 1955 issue of Rod & Custom magazine announced the Golden Sahara. It was all part of a marketing plan to promote the car as good as the Barris shop and Jim Skonzakes could do.
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On the cover of the 1955 Sacramento Autorama Show Program, and the May 1955 issue of Motor Trend Magazine where Jim’s Golden Sahara I was named “The $25,000 Custom Car”.
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Announcement newspaper ad for the Saramento Autorama with the Golden Sahara I as the main attraction.
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Displayed at Car Dealers

When Jim and George Barris developed the Golden Sahara it became clear that it was going to be an unique automobile. And that with the proper marketing the money invested in the project could be made back, and the Barris shop name could receive a huge boost. Show promoters saw the potential of this crowd pleasing custom and started to offer money for its display at their shows around the US. And soon Jim came up with a plan to rent out the Golden Sahara to car dealers for promotional of the dealers products. Jim provided the car, photo material and text which could be used in advertising the dealer events in local news papers and flyers to be spread around town.

The Golden Sahara-I being displayed at one of the numerous Car dealers around the US.
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The Golden Sahara I proved to be the excellent tool for drawing a huge crowd, and dealers who had rented the Golden Sahara for a weekend or week soon were flooded with extra orders. The news spread quickly and soon it became a full time job to drive the Golden Sahara to dealer locations all over the US. Jim had to hire people to make it all happen. In the end everybody was happy Barris, with getting all the exposure of the Golden Sahara being build at their shop, which has undoubtedly led to new clients, Jim Skonzakes for all the exposure of his dream Custom, and the money made by renting out the GS-I to earn back the $25,000 bill for creating it, and saving up for the next phase. And all the dealers who rented the car who all had multiple new cars sales because of it.

Jim had special note-books printed to make renting out the Golden Sahara as easy as possible.
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Car Dealers, but also other business could rent the Golden Sahara for a certain amount of time to help promote their business. The Golden Sahara was extremely successful in drawing a crowd, especially if the dealer had made flyer, or local newspaper announcements. On the left is just one of the many flyers that Jim saved, and two of the many Thank You notes from very happy car dealers, who had the Golden Sahara on display.
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Another sample of a very happy car dealer from Atlanta, Georgia, who had the Golden Sahara on display in their showroom. News like this spread around quick, and the was a huge demand to have the Golden Sahara on display to attract new customers.
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The face of a tire company
Another way of promoting the Golden Sahara was making a deal with Seiberling Tire Company. The Golden Sahara would be used in a special series of magazine ads promoting the Seiberling Sealed-Air The Tire of Tomorrow Here Today campaign. Photo shoots with the Golden Sahara were organized, even a shoot at Daytona Beach in Florida where the Golden Sahara can be seen racing at the beach with the new Seiberling tires was done. In 1956 when the car had paid for itself and more Jim decided it was time for the next phase. With all he had learned and all he had experienced with the Golden Sahara I he was confident that the plans he had in mind for the Golden Sahara II would make it en even bigger success.







One of several ads that were created for the Seiberling Tire company. For this ad the Golden Sahara was photographed racing the Daytona Beach. On the right a snapshot of the Golden Sahara at the Dayton Beach set for the Seiberling ad campaign
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The Golden Sahara I on display to promote the tire of tomorrow today for the Seiberling tire company.
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Many people absolutely adored the Golden Sahara I, and many tried to buy it from Jim, including Liberace, who according to Jim, desperately wanted to have the car in hi garage. However the GS was not for sale. This photo of Liberace in the Golden Sahara was develop in December 14, 1956. Can you imagine what the impact of the GS I was, if you compare it with the cars in the street in the background.
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Jim showing some of the details of the Golden Sahara to Liberace.
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As wild as this first version of the Golden Sahara was, it was still relatively mild, compared with the plans Jim Street had in mind for the Golden Sahara II, which he began building in 1956, and which will be in PART TWO of this article.










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Jim Street Golden Sahara II

 

JIM STREET GOLDEN SAHARA II

 

Around 1956 Jim Street sets out to improve on the first version of his Iconic Golden Sahara dream Custom. Jim and his team created the legendary Laboratory on Wheels, the Golden Sahara II.


Special thanks to Jim Street for his stories on the car and how it was created.


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(Special note; Jim Skonzakes and Jim Street are the same person. In the early 1960’s Jim Skonzakes officially changed his name from Skonzakes to Street hoping his new last name would be easier to spell for others)
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In Part One on Jim Street’s Golden Sahara we shared the story on how the accident that George Barris had with his personal 1953 Lincoln, eventually led to the creation of one of the best known Custom Cars in the world, the Golden Sahara. We also mentioned that the owner of the car, Jim Skonzakes (aka Jim Street) was not overall happy with the quality of the car. After showing the car around for some time Jim decided in 1956 that it was time to redo the things he did not care for, and add all the other features he had been dreaming about, but never had been able to incorporate into the first version of the Golden Sahara.

Jim also had not enjoyed that the first version of the Golden Sahara was created on the other side of the country from where he lived, which prevented him from having full control over the project. So this time around, the car would be build closer to his home in Dayton Ohio. Jim had planned the new version with his good friend Henry Meyer. Jim was a visionary guy with a photographic eye, and saw all things in his head before they were created. Henry was the engineer who could realize all of Jim’s wild ideas in three dimensions. Together they formed the perfect team for the job. Henry Meyer worked at a shop called Delphos Machine & Tool Co. in Dayton, Ohio.

In 1956 Jim saw the double fins Bob Metz had created on a 1955 Buick, and decided that he wanted to have that feature on his Golden Sahara II as well. Jim had worked with Bob Metz before, and knew Bob would be the perfect guy to handle most of the body changed he had in mind. The rest of the job on the GS-II would be handled at the Delphos Machine & Tool shop in Dayton, Ohio.
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Delphos Machine and Tool Co. frontman Ray Teague liked the idea to work on “things that can’t be done”. Delphos Machine engineer Henry Meyer had been accomplishing the “impossible” with race cars and other vehicles for many years. Similarly, Joe Rote electronic specialists, refuses to take “No” for an answer on any project and Bud West, an automobile painter of high repute on the local scene, turned his perfectionist eye on the problem when told: “You’ll NEVER make these pulverized Oriental fish scales into paint that will adhere to metal.” This team under guidance of Jim Street did wonders on the new version of the Golden Sahara. Ray’s younger brother Kenny Teague also assisted in a lot of the work on the Golden Sahara.

Jim Skonzakes’s plan for the new Golden Sahara was to create a functional car which combined show quality with all kind of state of the art electronic gadgets. This would created as Jim called it a “laboratory on wheels”. The end result would be something the car show audience would have never before seen in their live.




This is how the Delphos Machine & Tool shop looks like in 2018. It is the shop where a lot of work on the Golden Sahara II was done around 1957-58.
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Building the Golden Sahara II

To make sure the Golden Sahara II would become Jim’s dream car he realized he had to deal with the project in a different way that how he did it with the first version of the car. Jim needed to be in control at all time. And the best way to do it was to start creating many design sketches of the ideas he had in his mind for so many years. The old Lincoln frame, which was still bend from the accident, was removed and replace by a stretched FoMoCo frame found at a local junkyard.

Many Changes needed to be made to the chassis and suspension to allow for all the state of the art electronic features Jim had planned. Jim wanted to hide as many of the electronic components as possible and to be able to do this a double floor was constructed. When it was time for the body modifications, Jim took the car to Bob Metz‘s Custom Shop in Shelbyville, Indiana. Jim had known Bob for many years and had relied on his handy work on several older project. Bob created new body panels for about half of the car, and modified most of the rest.

An rare early image of the Golden Sahara, before the rear portion of the top was added.
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The original rear fender scoop design from the GS-I would remain on the second version, but the rest of the rear fenders was reshaped with a double fin by Bob Metz, Henry Meyer created a set of hand-made taillights (formed in the kitchen oven) to be fitted to them. The front fenders were reshaped with a new added panel that would create a functional scoop on top of the headlights and that would flow into the front fender character line. At the doors, this character line was also reshaped and now curved down to the bottom of the body, creating a cove. This cove would later be filled with a shaped steel insert fitted with many gold plated 1957 Chrysler radio push button ornaments. One of these “ornaments” was used as a push button to open the car’s doors.

New quad headlight where created. A set of frosted Plexiglass sheets with gold plated “G” and “S” monograms added to them, were used as covers. Below the headlights, bullet-shaped housings cover the electronic eyes that would automatically brake the car when needed. This was all set on gold plated mesh and set in a reshaped and extended headlight opening. The grille shape design remained very similar to the GSI version. The hood on the original version was rather poorly done and rather thin making it to flex when opened. So this time the shape was modified and round bar stock was added to make the new hood much stiffer, and a new smaller than before scoop was added to the front. At this time the body was put in primer and the team started to concentrate on the details. Jim considered the 1955 FoMoCo wrap around windshield too old for the updated car, and nothing from a production car would fit his ideas. Jim designed a new windshield as well as a much larger bubble rear window … next problem… how to create it for the car.


Miss Arizona (in the late 1950’s) Joanne Adams posing with the Golden Sahara II at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
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During one trip to California in 1959 Jim took his Golden Cobra with him as well. He took it to Eddie Martinez for an alligator type black vinyl upholstery job. On the way back they stopped at Lake mead for some time off and met there with George Barris for a Photo shoot. George wanted to shoot the GS with the boat behind it, so it was set up like that. This photo shows that there was never a hitch on the GS, it was just faked for the photo shoot. The Cobra Boat and trailer were still part of Jim’s Collection and will auctioned at the Jim Street Estate Collection Mecum Auction.
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The shape for the windows was created by building a metal frame to fit the cars interior. This was covered with chicken wire, this wire mesh was covered with plaster and sanded till the perfect shape was created. This mold was carefully removed from the car and used to create new Plexiglass windows. The very expensive plexiglass sheets were heated in a huge oven and shaped over the plaster dies. Not an easy thing to do, and it took them several tries to make it work. All this was something nobody had done before at the time. The shaped plexiglass pieces were place on the new Golden Sahara body and marked where the overlap material needed to be cut, and then this was very carefully removed and the glass shaped to fit the body perfectly, and the needed channels and rubber molding where created as well.

Close up of the Bob Metz created double finned rear fenders. Henry Meyer hand made the taillights and the ornaments on the rear fender skirt are 1957 Chrysler radio push buttons.
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Jim designed a new V-shaped “roll-bar” that Henry created with a solid piece of shaped metal as base. The bar itself was cut, shaped and welded by Henry, while Jim assisted with cold wet rags to prevent the metal from warping, later this was metal finished till it was perfect for the gold plating. Jim also made a Plexiglass top section to be fitted in between the windshield and the roll bar, but once finished he barely used it. “The car just looked so much better without it”.

A rare photo of the Golden Sahara II with the Plexiglass top section in place. (photo courtesy of Jim Street Collection/Mecum/Rodder’s Journal)
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During the process on the car Jim often wondered about the color and paint type he would use for the car. It needed to be something special. Jim had found a fake pearl necklace in a dollar store and he really like the pearl finish on them. After a lot of experimenting Jim was able to create his own unique pearl paint, and Bud West was responsible for painting the pearl mixture over refrigerator white and created the amazing finish. People who saw this car in the 1950’s and 60’s mentioned the paint was “out of this world”, Something they had never sen before. I have been told that these old pearl paints, as used on the GS-II had a completely different look and feel than the modern pearl paints. More on the Pearl Paint on the Golden Sahara II can be read in this CCC-Article


Jim wanted to have single stick drive in the GS-II and asked if Henry Meyer could create it. Henry came up with two ways to do it and they picked what they thought was the best way, and it came out working perfectly. Then the electronics guy Joe Rote said that he could do a voice control system for the car, (remember this is in 1958) which even impressed Henry Meyer.
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Jim demonstrating how the lever could be used to steer the car, but also as accelerator and brake. Notice the steering wheel had been removed to make this demonstration even more dramatic.
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Jim also had many new plans for the interior of the Golden Sahara II. The dash was heavily modified to fit the new style of the car, and to house all the controls needed for the new electronic features. At the top center of the new dash, Jim installed a 1958 Ford hood scoop ornament to house some of the controls. The steering wheel was created from a cut down 1957 Chrysler Imperial. This steering wheel was just one of the multiple ways to steer (five!). There was also a center control joystick, made from gold plated rod with a brass base and topped with a laminated shaped plastic knob. This rod could steer the car, but also acted as the accelerator and brake. Then there was a push button steering on either side of the dash, and also a voice control unit to steer the car. And yet another method was a complete remote control unit that you could use to steer as well as control everything else in the car. One of the features of the car was that it would automatically stop if an object came to close to the front of the car.

A good look at the bubble top that was created for the Golden Sahara II. Bob Settles Melrose fabrications in Dayton Ohio was hired to made the plexiglass windows over the chicken wire and plaster molds Jim had created. The company could not get it right, so in the end Jim and Henry had to create the bubbles them selves.
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The interior also had a TV, a telephone, 8-track recorder, and special massage units inside the seats. The trunk of the car was loaded with electronic control systems and batteries needed for all the electronic features as we can see in one of the photos. You have to remember that this car was built in the later part of the 1950’s, before anyone had ever heard of transistors or printed circuits, let alone Silicon or microchips. It was all done with hand soldered chassis and vacuum tubes – bulky and heavy. The interior for the car was done by a guy in Indianapolis. Sadly Jim forgot the name of the guy. Henry Meyer knew his work, since this guy also did a lot of work on the interiors of the Indy cars. Jim had found the upholstery material that had gold colored wire woven into it. The material was fantastic back then, and even today, it is amazing. To protect the interior Jim had special plastic covers custom made, those covers are still on the car today in 2018. The total cost for this version of the Golden Sahara was estimated to be over $75,000. A substantial amount of money now, but an incredible amount in 1959, when the car was finished.

From the day the Golden Sahara debuted back in 1954 up until today, the car has amazed and inspired many people all around the globe. The cars design and technical features have been incorporated into many cars created since. And several Custom builders have created vehicles that were inspired by the looks of the Golden Sahara. More on that in a later article on the Custom Car Chronicle.

The later version of the Golden Sahara had transparent Good-Year tires and illuminating custom hubs on handmade, by Bob Metz, hubcaps that weighted 20 pounds each.
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A good look at all the electronics that were needed to control the car. No place for groceries here.
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Close up for a better look.
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Dealer Displays

When show promoters heard about the GS-II and how many people it attracted Jim was invited to many shows and even offered money to bring his car to the shows. Besides doing the shows Jim promoted the car any way he could, including magazine ads, and which turned out to be very lucrative displaying it at new car dealers. The car always drew a crowd, and because the car was so far ahead of its time it would remain “new” year after year.The dealer owners knew how to draw a crowd with the car. They advertised the display of the car at the local papers, and then placed the car in the showroom for everybody to see. The car sales during these displays went up a lot. People were very inspired to buy the latest car after seeing the Golden Sahara II.

Some of the special flyers created to promote the Golden Sahara at car dealers.
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Jim saved as many news paper ads and articles as he could find. This is just one of the promotional ads from a car dealer who was going to have the Golden Sahara II and the Kookie T on display.
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On the GS the front fenders where so low that the overhang almost acted like fender skirts. To be able to turn the front wheels the wheels had to be offset to the inside. The wheel centers where cut out and placed further out wards, this way the tires would fit closer to the center of the car, all that was needed to be able to steer the car.
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Just a few of the many newspaper articles devoted to the Golden Sahara II from all around the US. At nearly every town that had the Golden Sahara on display the local newspaper would write a story on the car.
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The dealers used the Golden Sahara to promote their business, but also as backdrop for other promotional photos.
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One of the dealer employees demonstrating the remote control unit Jim had later developed for the last version of the Golden Sahara. If you look careful you can see the Kookie-T on the far right of the photo, and its seat on the window reflection on the left.
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The Golden Sahara at yet another car dealer showroom.
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One of the things Jim often did when demonstrating the Golden Sahara II was let some people of the audience work the many features including the voice operated door openers. Notice the stainless steel band in the center of the tires tread.
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Jim demonstrating the GS II at a San Antonio dealer. When and where ever Jim was doing these demonstrations there was always a crowd. The beautiful painting on the wall was done by a very talented Mexican guy Jim knew.
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Traveling across the US

After having showed the Golden Sahara I at many shows Jim realized there was some good money in touring his cars. He decided to take it all very serious, the only way for him. So he decided to create a customized hauler for the Golden Sahara that matched the car, and had a cargo bay that would be custom suited to fit the Golden Sahara and carry all the needed tools equipment etc that they would ever need while on the road. The cargo bay was designed in a way that once the GS-II was inside, Extensions of the truck frame would be raised and meet with the frame of the GS-II and would be raised further so that the wheels of the GS-II would be in the air. This made sure that whatever happened to the truck the GS would not hit the walls front, rear or sides. The Custom restyling on the cab was done by Bill DeCarr in California, but the cargo area was done close to Dayton Ohio.

The first version of the Golden Sahara Hauler was restyled by Bill DeCarr and painted pearl white with gold ad candy red by Larry Watson. The GS Hauler can be seen here leaving the Larry Watson Bill DeCarr Artesia Blvd shop in Bellflower Ca.
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Later the car was further restyled and repainted metalflake gold and silver. The black and white photo shows the hauler with the special Kookie-T trailer, this is how the Golden Sahara and Kookie-T toured the US for many years. (Inset color photo from the Denny/Trent Knight Collection)
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The Kookie T getting unloaded from the special trailer created by Don Mann at Creative Metals in New Carlisle, Ohio.
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The Golden Sahara getting unloaded from the truck. The inset photo shows the car getting unloaded at Lake Mead.
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Becoming World Famous

The Golden Sahara II made it into the Cinderfella movie because the movie prop manager of Paramount had seen the car in a Good Year magazine ad and liked the looks of it. He contacted Good-Year and they contacted Jim about it. When Jim called the movie prop manager, who was a super nice guy, he and the GS were at a car show in Denver Colorado. The movie prop manager asked if they could see the car in person. Sure no problem. After the show is over I will drive to the Paramount studio’s to show the car.

The prop manager explained that they needed the car for a movie kind of like the well known Cinderrella story, but then based around a guy. The car they had in mind  would change into a bike and a chauffeur driving the car would be changed into a gold fish. And that for the car they needed a sort of magical futuristic car and they though the Golden Sahara might be the perfect car for them. When Jim arrived at the gates of the studio he got escorted to the office where the prop manager was having a meeting. Jim was introduced and asked to show the car. Jim asked if he could use the parking lot next to the building to unload the GS from the truck. Sure those are all our cars parked there and we can move them.

Jim Street, on the right showing Jerry Lewis all the high tech features of the Golden Sahara II.
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The parking lot was in between two studio’s and in one the Bonanza series was being filmed at the that moment. Tony Curtis was there as well. Jim opened the truck and was taking the ramps out. Ones he got into the car and started to back up a crowd of people started to gather around the Golden Sahara.

And soon after that the whole cast of Bonanza got out of the studio to look at the car. Jim had the car out of the truck but still on the ramp and figured he leave it there since there were to many people around it and he was afraid to damage it. It seemed like everybody at Paramount had stopped doing what they were doing to look at this amazing car. The movie Prop manager said that Jim could put the car back in the truck again and if he wanted to get inside with him. Inside he was asked to sign the contract. The GS-II was EXACTLY what they had in mind and needed for the movie. So Jim signed the contract. The shooting on the movie would start soon after that so the car had to stay at Paramount. Which would fit perfect with Jim’s other plans for the car.

Jerry Lewis and a lucky kid in the GS-II at the Paramount Studios. Wherever Jim took the Golden Sahara, there was always a crowd.
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Goofing around at the movie set
During the move shooting of Cinderfella Jim was pleasantly surprised  that everybody, and especially the actors were goofing around all the time, joking and trying to pull pranks on everybody. So one time, when they were shooting close ups of Jerry Lewis in the Golden Sahara while on a big screen behind the car some moving images made it appear Jerry was driving the car, Jim came up with a great idea. The seats in the Golden Sahara had heavy duty massage units build into them. And they could, just as every other electronic feature, be remote controlled. So when the camera’s were running and Jerry doing his lines Jim, out of sight, starts the massage unit. Jerry stops acting, puts his head in the cushion, moans and completely relaxes… “I want this car” he yells. Guys at the set had warned Jim not to do it since he was not supposed to interfere with the actors, but Jim, stubborn as he was did it anyway, and Jerry loved it.
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Jerry Lewis was very impressed with the Golden Sahara and used every opportunity to get in, and even drive it around at the movie studio.
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Accident at the Movie Shoot
To be able to shoot the driving scenes of the Golden Sahara for the Cinderfella movie Hollywood Boulevard had been closed down partly for the public. The shooting took place at 2 o clock in the morning. After the shots were taken, the movie people told Jim to wait for his police escort to take the car back to where the Golden Sahara truck was parked. The escort bike was there, but nobody to drive it. While Jim was waiting for his police escort, the police at the road block on Hollywood Boulevard thought they could open the road to the public again. By then Jim’s motor-cycle cop escort had arrived but could not get his bike to start. Then all of the sudden Jim was hit in the drivers side by 1955 T-Bird. Jim heard the gold plated ornaments drop all over the street.

Jim jumped out of the Golden Sahara, and forgot he had just gotten back from the hospital and had metal clamps in his leg from surgery. The metal clamps ripped off, lots of pain, but Jim was just to upset to think about that right now. He could see the front hubcaps being damaged, some of the pearl paint was badly chipped and many of the buttons on the cove front panel were torn off. Since the motor-cycle cop could not get his bike to start Jim jumped into the GSII and chased the guy in the ’55 T-bird. When the guy had to stop for a red light Jim jumped out stumbled to the car, pulls the door open and punched the guy in the face, preventing him from getting away. Later the polices arrested the guy and Jim pressed charges against him at the police station. The Golden Sahara was needed for promotions while in California, so he asked if he could use the facilities from the Paramount studio’s. Jim’s GS hauler truck had every tool and supplies in it he needed, but he needed some space to get the damage fixed and the pearl white sprayed. The truck had a compressor, and Jim had brought paint guns, extra pearl paint, white base, and spare gold plated ornaments.

Movie stills from the 1960 Paramount Pictures movie Cinderfella in which the Golden Sahara II stars next to Jerry Lewis. Gold painted actor Norman Leavit is the chauffeur in the close ups, but it was Jim Street who did the driving scenes in the movie.
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Once the movie shooting for Cinderfella was done with and the contract ended Jim was asked to keep the car for another month at Paramout studios. The car had left such an impact there that people from all over asked to see the car. The studio happily paid Jim an substantial amount of money for another month. “Not a problem,” Jim said.

After that month Jim drove the truck with the GSII inside back home to Dayton while on the road for quite some time, he was pulled over by a cop. “What did I do officer” Jim said knowing he did not do anything wrong. “are you mr Jim Street sir” the officer asked. “Yes I’m” Well here is a number you need to call! Paramout studio’s had another movie roll for the Golden Sahara and wanted Jim to come back. Remember, this was the time way before there were any cell phone’s but the connections Paramout had made the police cooperate in this. The new movie planned for the Golden Sahara to be in was going to be with Elvis Presley as lead actor. Although the movie never happened. Jim did drove back to the Movie Studio, and was introduced to Elvis Presley, who totally loved the Golden Sahara, and even tried to buy it from Jim.

The Cinderfella movie was shown world wide, and made the Golden Sahara II World Wide popular. Car enthusiasts outside of the US, who might have heard, or had read about the Golden Sahara, were now able to see it in color, and moving in the film footage.


The Golden Sahara II was also used for several TV commercials, both local as well as national. Walter Cronkite shot the Golden Sahara at Miami beach, and it was used in several local Ohio commercials. In 1962 Jim appeared with the car on the very popular TV show I’ve Got a Secret, which made a huge impact on a very wide audience. A YouTube clip of the I’ve Got a Secret can be viewed HERE. Another TV show appearance on YouTube can be seen HERE.

Jim demonstrating the Golden Sahara II early version at a local TV studio.
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Jim demonstrating the latest Golden Sahara features for one of the many TV shows it appeared in.
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Radio interview for Jim Street about the Golden Sahara.
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Jim Street and his Golden Sahara II as seen on a June 25, 1962 broadcast of I’ve Got a Secret.
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The Golden Sahara II appeared on magazine covers and was featured inside. It also appeared on the cover of several car show programs, helping to attract more visitors to the show.
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An illustration of a mix between the Golden Sahara I with GSII double finned rear fenders was used at several car shows and award plaques.
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The Golden Sahara II appeared on at least two trading cards in the early 1960’s.
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The Golden Sahara also made it into the Guinness World Records Book as the most expensive non-production car.
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Henry Meyer

Henry Meyer worked at the Delphos Machine Shop, but he also had his own shop. Jim and Henry became very close friends and their friendship lasted until Henry passed away in 1994. They worked on the Golden Sahara very closely and together came up with a huge amount of inventions they used on the car. Together with Henry Meyer Jim spend countless hours at the junkyard finding the right parts to create the Golden Sahara. Jim is a visionary and sees things with his on-board camera, as he says it. With Henry he had this special relation that he was able to tell him what he wanted, and Henry came up with the ideas how to create it. This was how they created the items on the Golden Sahara as the stick steering, the push button steering and many other special features. Jim met Henry for the first time in 1947, and have always remained friends.

Henry J. Meyer, good friends with Jim Street from back in 1947, was the engineer behind many of the special features on the Golden Sahara. Henry was the guy that made sure it all worked.
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Radar Security and Retiring the Golden Sahara

When Jim Street showed the Golden Sahara around the country during the 1960’s he had plenty of time to think about possible future updates, a Golden Sahara III. While he was making plans for the GSIII he also thought about ways to use the technology Henry Meyer and him had developed. One of the interesting techniques they used to have the car stop automatically when it was approaching objects was especially interesting. The system they used would detect any motions of living creatures even thru walls, and Jim figured that would be ideal for a burglar alarm. Jim went ahead and explored the possibilities to use the technique for security, a burgular security system. It turned out to be the perfect start for a state-of-the art movement security system.

In fact it was so good that Jim decided to start producing the security system, and build a complete business around the system. RADAR Security was born, and became a very successful security business in and around Dayton Ohio. The business grew fast, and would stay in business for the next 30 plus years with Jim leading it. Even though the business part of it was very nice, it did prevent Jim from creating the Golden Sahara III.

In 1966, the Radar Security. Business took up most of Jim’s time. The Golden Sahara II had been traveling the US for almost ten years and was in need of freshening up at the least. The car was not up to the ever evolving standards Jim had, and especially the wear on the car from all the traveling had become hard for Jim to look at. Since Jim spend most of his time at the Radar company he decided to retire it and store it at his climate controlled garage ,all wrapped up. Jim was asked multiple times to take out the GS and enter it at special event, but Jim knew the ones brilliant pearl white paint had turned golden brown, and the plating on many of the exterior parts needed to be redone.


Jim Street behind his office in the Radar Security office building in the 1970’s. Notice the GSII, Kookie-T and GS Hauler photos on the wall behind him.
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So there was no way Jim would show the GS if it was not up to his high standards. In the last 10 years when I talked to Jim about the GS we often talked about restoration of the GS which Jim seriously considered from time to time, but always realized he just did not have the time which was occupied mostly with his passion for vintage wooden boats etc, and other car projects. The Golden Sahara Would remain in storage as how it was stored back in 1966 until Jim passed away on November 29th 2017 and was not uncovered until March, 2018, when it was photographed for the May, 2018 Jim Street Estate Auction at Mecum Indianapolis Auctions. Read more about the uncovering of the Golden Sahara and the Kookie-T in the CCC-Article.



Golden Sahara III
Jim had plans for a GSIII based on the current car. But this time it would become an amphibious vehicle. Boat and car in one, based on the same car… perhaps, or perhaps all new. Jim often mentioned that especially the interior would be something really special, he has some great plans for that in his head. Many of those plans were discussed with Henry Meyer and both were looking forward to start on the project which was about 30 years ago from now. But since Jim was in the 24-7 business of his Radar Security he never found the time to start the project. Henry always regretted that since he really looked forward to start working on the car that could be used both on land and in the water. And knowing what both people could create this would have been one spectacular vehicle.

The Golden Sahara in March 2018 after the covers had been removed for the first time in decades.
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Larry Watson T-Bird Vino Paisano

 

LARRY WATSON T-BIRD

 

Larry Watson Personal car based on a brand new 1958 Thunderbird with only minimal amount of body work. It was the unique paint design and use of color that made it a Trend Setter.



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This article shows a selection of photos of Larry Watson’s 1958 T-Bird. Most of these photos come from the Larry Watson Personal Photo Collection. More on Larry’s personal collection can be found in the Larry Watson section on the CCC-Site. Or on the Custom Car Photo Archive. Special thanks to Roger O’Dell for scanning this amazing material and sharing them with us on the Custom Car Chronicle.
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In the summer of 1958, shortly after Larry Watson had sold his 1950 Chevy “Grapevine” Larry went shopping for a new car. In the past years he had come up with some new paint ideas, and he wanted to try them out on a new car. The original plan was to find a slightly used ’57 Cadillac, but when he arrived at the Cadillac dealer his eyes were drawn to a one year older Cadillac Eldorado brougham, it was love at first sight. But Larry did not have the $11,000.- the limited production Brougham cost. After the initial disappointment, he later decided he wanted to have an ’58 Ford Hard-top and try out his paint ideas. When he arrived at the Ford dealer he spotted a brand new 1958 Ford T-Bird, and ones again he fell in love with a new car. He had to loan some money to make the deal happen, and told the dealer he would get the first one they would get in with an black and white factory tuck & roll interior.

A few weeks later the a black and white interior T-Bird had arrived at the dealer, and Larry was called to come and pick it up. The car turned out to be factory pink… but Larry did not mind that at all, since that color would not stay visible for very long. Soon after all arrangements had been made and Larry drove it off the dealer’s lot he drove it to have the suspension lowered at Lindy’s Muffler Shop. They also added dual pipes with mufflers and stock chrome tailpipes. But with the car now so low, the tailpipes scraped the road so much that soon the bottom half of them was pushed in and something needed to be done. They then added new tailpipes from chrome plated ’36 Ford drive shafts, mounted as high as they could and extra skid plates were welded to the bottom of the pipes.

The pink factory paint is covered in platinum silver by Larry Watson at the Barris Shop.
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Next Larry took the car to the Barris Shop where he rented shop space, and had Bill Hines and his good friend Bill DeCarr shave the handles and the trim on the bulge on the doors shave the emblems and ad push buttons to open the door. They then finished the body work with some primer. The de-chromed body looked already really amazing with all the emblems and handles removed, but Larry had something in mind that would make it look even better, and make the car look longer and lower. Larry added a set of Appleton Spotlights, 1957 Dodge Lancer four bar hubcaps which he bought brand new from the Dodge dealer, and lake pipes with unique Dave’s Home of Chrome finned end caps.

Then it was time for Larry to do his magic, all this was done at the Barris Atlantic Ave shop in Lynwood, where Larry rented a booth from Barris. Larry wanted to try out an idea he had to create an ultra fine platinum pearl. He ordered 2 gallons of pre-mixed, according his own specifications, platinum pearl nitrocellulose lacquer. Larry first covered the car in a few coats of fine metallic silver and followed that with a few coats of the translucent platinum pearl. After the car had dried overnight he took it out of the shop, and parked it across the street, where he could view it good from the shop. The already huge ’58 T-Bird looked enormous with the new light bright paint. It was just too loud, and too bright. People were actually honking their horn letting them know the reflecting sun in the bright paint, acting like a mirror, was hurting their eyes. So Larry decided to get the Bird back in the shop and do another, his second, panel paint job.


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The First Larry Watson panel Paint-job

Larry’s very first panel paint job he developed was after he was asked by Renegades member Zeno Stephen’s, who owned a mildly customized pure white 1956 Mercury. To paint his car with something different than flames or scallops. Zeno’s Mercury looked so great already, and Larry really loved the lines on the car, so he came up with the idea to highlight these body lines. He masked off all the body lines, side trim, belt line, door handles, basically all the main body lines that your eyes capture first when you look at a car. He used 1 1/2 inch masking tape to make sure the outlining was even all around. He then pained the the inside panels in GM Tahitian Red. When he had removed the masking tape it looks totally amazing. Larry striped the panels in gold, and Zeno took off, cruising to the Bellflower Clock where everybody was staring at his brand new Larry Watson outline paint job. A new trend was born.

Zeno’s Stephen’s 1955 Mercury with Larry’s first ever panel / outline paint job in GM Tahitian Red over factory white.
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Polaroid Insta-Matic photos of Larry’s Vino Paisano in front of the Barris shop at Atlantic Blvd. The photos were taken shortly after the car was finished by by Bob Seiger, and given to Larry. In the background on the first photo we can see Lyle Lake’s 1952 Buick “Blue Danube” sitting in the shop window. This part of the Barris shop was rented by Larry as his shop space for some time. The T-Bird was painted at this shop.
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James Potter had urged  Larry to hurry up with the T-Bird, since he wanted to use it on the cover of the 1959 Custom Cars Annual he was putting together. Larry just made the deadline for the photo-shoot at a new bank building on Willshire Blvd. The color photo above was used on the cover of the book, and so was an color photo of Larry’s ’50 Chevy. Two Watson Customs on the cover, that made Larry very happy.
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From the James Potter 1959 Custom Cars Annual photo-shoot.
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Larry figured that the bright platinum paint could do fine as outlines, as long as the majority of the body would be covered in a darker color. Larry carefully laid out his masking tape (1 3/4 inch wide), following all the major body lines on the T-Bird. Even thought Larry had paneled Zeno Stephen’s ’55 mercury before, on his T-Bird he wanted to do things a little different. The ’58 T-Bird had very distinct body lines, and he wanted to highlight those, and wanted to see how much effect on the overall looks his new design/technique would have. Making sure the platinum pearl outlines would later highlight the beautiful body contours and enhance the low look of the car. Ones Larry was happy with the tape lay-out he show the panels in a beautiful deep candy burgundy wine, mixed by Joe Sheline, straight over the fine platinum pearl. Which created the most amazing sparkle for the Candy paint when the sunlight hit it.

The Vino Paisano parked on the curb at the Barris Shop. This photo shows how the paneling Larry designed enhances the shapes of the Thunderbird body lines. This photo also shows how much difference the car is compared to anything else on the road. Imagine how much impact this had on people who saw it on the road.
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Notice that the Spotlights do not have the scallops added at this point.
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When the tape and paper were removed the result looks spectacular. After the paint had been rubbed by Dayton “Darkie Bob” Randolph and his crew in Huntington Park, Larry added some bold striping in imitation gold. But he did not like the effect and redid it the same day in a lavender with had the just perfect result, slightly softening the edge from burgundy to silver. The Watson paint design made the T-Bird look longer and lower, it really was customizing by nothing but paint.

Larry also painted the grille mesh and the mesh around the taillights in the Candy burgundy. All four taillight lenses were detailed with chrome plated bullets. And on the front Larry removed the stock bumper/grille guards and modified a set of chrome bullets and mounted those over the holes left from the bumper guards. The bullets were bought at Dave’s Home of Chrome.

As soon as Larry was finished with the car James Potter shot it for the cover of the 1959 Custom Cars Annual. And soon s that book hit the book stores everybody in the US was going wild over the incredible new style paint job Larry had done on his T-Bird. Larry used the car on the road, cruising down to all his favorite places, and in the weekends entered it in many Car Shows, where it won many Best Paint Awards. Since the car was so extremely low the cops really loved Larry’s T-Bird as well, and they awarded Larry with many tickets as well. Later Larry would add a license plate to the front, and remove the lakes pipes in the hope the cops would pull him over less than before.

Shortly after finishing the -T-Bird Larry Watson showed the car on a aluminum foil covered turn table at the Renegades Car Club Rod and Custom Motorama at the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium in 1958. The car had been named “The Burgundy Bird”. The Renegades club had honored Larry with a large top location at the entrance of the building.
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The Candy burgundy and platinum silver on Larry’s T-Bird looked amazing on the rock salt round display at the Renegades show. The car was a huge success with the crowd, and another Watson trend had been born. Notice that prior to the show Larry had added scallops and pin striping to the Spotlights.
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George Barris photo of Larry’s T-Bird at the Renegades Show in 1958. According the signs at the bottom the turntable was created by Gary McNaught.
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Larry painted the inside of the engine bay white and added chrome valve covers and air-cleaner. Notice the scalloped and pin-striped Appleton Spotlights.
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Second version

The custom paint that was available back in the later part of the 1950’s and early 1960’s was very bright, colorful, and the hues very brilliant, but most of these products were experimental and not tested very good. In fact Larry helped develop a lot of new custom paint products, and was testing material for his suppliers. It turned out that a lot of these early custom paints started to fade or crack after just a few month in the sun. This also happened with Larry’s ’58 T-Bird, so after half a year he the candy burgundy had faded so badly that he really needed to re-paint the whole car.


Karen Beach, Larry’s girlfriend at the time is posing with the T-Bird for this night shot at the Long Beach Circle. The photo was taken by Lowell Helms and according the stories two police car were using their headlights to dd some extra light for the photo. It worked pretty good to me. Notice that Larry also added a license plate to the front of the car, being sick of getting too many tickets for not having one.
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After having studied the paint and how it had faded on his car he noticed that the panels looked still good on the outside, but the further into the panel, the worst the fading became. He decided he could fix the paint with another round of paneling. He taped of the panels with 2 inch tape, making sure the outlines would be even all around. He then sprayed the inside panel with silver, let it dry and taped off the outside of the silver panel. He then fogged in the inside of the panel in Candy grape. When he removed the tape the new panels had a nice silver outline, and the inside was candy grape fading to silver. Larry covered it all with many clear coats before having Dayton “Darkie Bob” Randolph do the complete polishing on it. Another new, trend setting Watson Paint Technique. Larry would later create many paint designs based on this T-Bird paint.

Larry drove and showed the car like this for some time and then he updated the car with a set of chrome revere wheels detailed with shallow moon hubcaps, which possible are 1950 Mercury units, detailed with another chrome bullet. And later Larry decided to remove the lakes pipes. The car was extrmely low already, and the pipes, which were mounted below the body, made it even lower, and often hard to drive. After having owned and enjoyed the car for about a year Larry decided to sell his T-Bird to a young Bob Finley of Long Beach, who absolutely loved the car. Bob needed his father to finance the car. Larry moved on and bought an 1959 Cadillac which he customized again right after he got it to his shop. Bob owned and really enjoyed the car until late 1961, when he sold it to a principal of Long Beach Poly High School.

The T-Bird at the Compton Drive in photographed most likely by George Barris.
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Closer look at the panel, outline and fogged in paint on Larry’s T-Bird in front of the famous Watson’s shop wall.
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Every time I see one of the photos taken in front of the Larry Watson Rosecrans Blvd shop wall I wonder if Larry had this in mind when he designed the wall.  Posing his creations in front of the wall was a genius promotional action.
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Low angle photo shows the white painted under carriage, and it also shows how extremely low the car really was. No wonder Larry later removed the lakes pipes making driving the car a bit easier.
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Larry mounted chrome plated bullets on the stock T-Bird taillights. The exhaust tops are ’36 Ford drive shafts cut to size and chrome plated, they created a very nice mellow sound. The gas tank was painted white.
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This photo from the Larry Watson Personal Collection has seen better days, but I wanted to include here anyway since is has a nice birds eye view showing the panel work on the top and hood so nice.
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Great black and white photo taken late in the day creating long shadows.
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We could not find a clear photo  of the interior in Larry’s T-Bird, so here are two cropped images that show a little bit of the factory stock black and white tuck & roll interior.
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Larry proudly posing with his T-Bird in front of his Rosecrans Blvd shop in Artesia. The photo shows that not to long after Larry had done his personal T-Bird many customers had requested similar panel and outline paint jobs.
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James Potter made a few close ups of Larry posting with his T-Bird.
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Another George Barris photo-shoot at an unknown location that George used several times. By now Larry had removed the lakes pipes, which make the car look a little less lowered.
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Larry pointing out where the push buttons for the door solenoids was hidden.
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Two close ups photos showing the different wheel/hubcap set up used on Larry’s T-Bird. 1957 Dodge Lancer four bar hubcaps detailed with burgundy paint on burgundy painted steel wheels on the early version. And later after the car had received the paint update, Larry mounted chrome reverse wheels with shallow moon hubcaps (possible 1950 Mercury units?) with Bullet centers. The wheel wells were painted flat white, a big trend back then. As these photos show the white did not stay clean very long. Note the missing lakes pipes on the right photo.
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Larry’s T-Bird made it onto the cover and inside the magazines many times back then, and it is still used a lot these days. Larry had a lot of frames (even more than captured in this photo by Roger O’Dell) devoted to his ’58 T-Bird on his Museum wall.
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Survived

The story of the T-Bird after that is very vague (so far) we know that it has changed hands some more before ending in the hands of Mark Mohoney from Hollywood. In the early 1980’s Mark offered the car for sale in the Recycler and it was bought by Beach Collision Body Shop in Huntington Beach owner Rick Randall. Bill DeCarr had found out about the car being owned by Rick, and had mentioned it to Larry. Larry traced down Rick and looked up the car at his body shop. He sure recognized his old T-Bird which made him very happy to know the car was still around, and in good shape. Rick had started to take apart the car, have all the chrome redone and the car was in primer at the time.

I captured the restored Larry Watson 1958 T-Bird in 2011 outside of the Pomona GNRS buildings. The car was part of a huge Larry Watson display at the Customs Then & Now exhibit.
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The rear quarter view of Larry’s T-Bird is my personal favorite view. Here all the outlined panels make the car look so perfect.
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Several years later Larry’s good friend Gary Niemie asked Larry about the T-Bird, and contact was made with Rick to see if the project was for sale. Which it was, since Rick had been to busy working on the project since Larry last saw it. Larry helped out Gary restoring the car to its first version, how it was first seen by the world on the cover of the 1959 Custom Cars Annual.

Danny Hull at Corona Custom Shop in Norco, Ca was chosen to do the final paint work. Larry helped mixing the pearl silver and the candy burgundy. Danny spayed the silver, after which Larry did the panel tape work for the burgundy paint. Danny also added the Candy burgundy, but let Larry add one coat as well. Later Larry pinstriped the panels in lavender, just as he had done back in 1958.

Gary Niemie later sold the car to Ralph Whitworth who was putting together a huge Hot Rod and Custom Car museum. When the plans for the museum were canceled the T-Bird ended up at the Icons of Speed & Style Auction where the near entire collection of the museum was auctioned on September 26th, 2009. Roger and Marie O’dell, close friends of Larry Watson ended up buying the car for $55,000. After Roger had purchased Larry’s T-Bird he stored it in Larry’s personal museum, the absolute best place for the car to be displayed.

Detail showing the Thunderbird emblem on the rear of the top. The emblem can be pushed to operate the door solenoids. This photo also shows the fine pearl silver paint, candy burgundy and Larry Watson lavender pin-striping.
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Chrome bullets from Dave’s Home of Chrome covering the holes for the factory bumper guards. The grille mesh was painted candy burgundy by Larry back in 1958, the same thing was done on the restoration.
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The chrome bullets used on the taillights are restored originals Larry used back in 1958. Notice the Candy burgundy painted mesh.
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Appleton Spotlights and candy burgundy paint details.
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Watson panel – outline paint

Larry painted a large number of cars with the outline paneling technique he had developed for his personal T-Bird. In fact Larry did at least half a dozen 58 T-Birds in a similar – but slightly different in design and color – outline-panel style as his own T-Bird. The outline and paneling paint technique was a huge success for Larry from 1958 up into the early 1960’s. During this time Larry operating from his Artesia and Rosecrans shop, both in Bellflower California. Cars from totally stock, just lowered cars where he would accent all the body details, to smoothed customs where he would outline just the main body lines.

Larry was a true master when it came to this technique. He started by looking at the car for some time, and finding all the key lines that really mattered for the look of the car. Those where the lines than needed the extra color accents. Or he would choose the widest panels and found ways to make those look longer and thinner, by masking a little more, or less space around the edges. Larry’s designers eye allowed him to do custom work with nothing but paint. The result were cars that not only looked spectacular, they looked longer, lower and thinner. Something that could done only with very expensive metal body work as chopping and sectioning before. And now Larry was able to do this in a matter of hours and days, for just a fraction of the costs.

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Early Pictures Tell a Story – Curb Parked

 

CURB PARKED

 

As a young “car crazy kid” growing up in the 1950’s, I always kept an eye out for customs or hot rods parked along the road while riding in my parent’s car. When I spotted one it was pretty exciting, kind of like finding a “gem in a pile of stones”!


By Tom Nielsen



There is a kind of excitement in looking at a vintage photo and spotting an old hot rod or custom parked at the curb. These pictures may tell a story of why the custom or rod was parked at the curb while being used for transportation by the owner.

One of the things I am drawn to in this type of photo is the “randomness” of the pictures. Many of them appear as if a passerby happened upon a cool looking car and luckily had a camera available to snap a quick photo. Sometimes the pictures are entirely un-posed and show that the custom or rod in the photo was parked at the curb while the owner was out running errands in his daily driver.

Many of the “curb parked” photos tell a story by just looking at them. Using your imagination you can think of a scenario of why the car was parked in this spot. Often times there are signs of recent body work like primer and the picture represents a work in progress. An owner would be doing work in stages so that he could keep the car available to use as a driver.

I came by my fondness for this type of “curb parked photo” by reading Custom Car Chronicles and seeing some of the photos that Rik used in his articles. The surroundings of the early photos and the buildings and other cars are often quite interesting.

This photo from the Jamie Barter Collection has the “look” that inspired me to search for more photos of customs parked along the curb. The picture has that random quality and it is obvious that the full custom was used for transportation by the owner.
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My favorite group of photos came from a story that Rik wrote about a 1940 Mercury convertible parked alongside a street by “the curb” from the Jamie Barter Collection. It had that random, unknown quality to it with a few mysteries like why it had no hood on it. The car also had the look of being used for a period of several years.

As most old car pictures were posed for photographing by their owners, it is a little more difficult to find these “curb parked pictures”. However, I have a few in my collection and have found some others in various sites including the Rik Hoving Custom Car Archives.
As you look at these photos see if you can imagine why the car was parked in this spot and who may have taken the photo. You never know, maybe you will develop a fondness for “curb parked” pictures too?

Two snapshots taken at the Barris Compton Ave, Shop of Sam Barris his personal 1940 Mercury convertible. Sam used his Custom Merc as daily transportation to and from work. If you look careful you can even spot his brother George’s 1941 Buick parked in front of the Barris Shop. Also George drove his full Custom on a daily basis.
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Kurt McCormick shared these two snapshots of the Nick Matranga Mercury parked in front of a house. It shows that even award winning full customs were driven in every day situations.
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Around 1951 Jack Stewart parked his Ayala/Barris 1941 Ford business coupe in front of a friends house.
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Chopped 1936 Ford convertible with ’41 Ford bumpers and Appelton Spotlights parked on the street in the mid 1940’s.
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Most Custom Cars back in the 1940’s were mild Customs, like this unidentified 1940 Chevy. The car was lowered, had long teardrop skirts, Appleton Spotlights, set in license plate, and dark paint job. Classic restyled cars like this were most of the time the owners only way of transportation.
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1948-50 photo of a very nicely done mildly custom 1939 Ford four door sedan. ’46 Ford bumper, bubble teardrop skirts and since bar flipper hubcaps on black wall tires. Another very day cruiser most likely parked in front of the owners home.
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Dale Runyon’s 1941 Ford full custom convertible parked on an Everett street around 1948. The car has survived and today is owned by Paul Harper.
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Early 1940’s snapshot of a typical street Custom with chopped windshield, padded top, De Soto bumper and single bar flipper hubcaps, parked on the street.
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Photos like this really do it for me. An amateur photographer takes a picture of a beautiful building in Pasadena Ca. And a beautiful Custom 1940 Ford with padded top happened to be parked at the curb across the street. Over 6 decades later the ’40 Ford was identified as the Bill Halliday Ford.
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Slick looking 1940 Ford convertible with chopped dark colored padded top and removed running boards parked on the side of the side of the street. It looks to be a sports field in the east, or mid west of the US.
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Some of the customs were also used to transport surfboards to the California Coast. This chopped with padded top Mercury has the rear window flap removed so that the surf board could fit in there from the back. My guess is the beach is across the street from where the Custom is parked.
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Most likely taken at an early drag-strip, cars parked at the side of the road, including these two chopped padded topped Customs.
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Gil Ayala’s ’42 Ford Coupe with out the hood and a mildly restyled ’49 Chevy Convertible.
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Ron Sobran’s metallic maroon 1951 Mercury with angled A-pillars and sunken rear window parked at an unknown location.
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Bob Aguilera’s 1953 Mercury Monterey Restyled by the Dick Richardson Custom Shop parked on the street.
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Stan Lendzon Clarkaiser restyled 1952 Buick parked in the street.
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Unidentified chopped with padded top 1940 Ford convertible. The car looks very much like the Bill Halliday Custom in the openings photo, but it is a different car, this one, photographed in the early 1950’s still has the running boards. Another great photo showing these Customs were used as any other car.
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My friend Doug Mumaw’s custom 1951 Merc parked in Everett, Washington around 1962.
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Mild smoothed and lowered painted all black 1950 Mercury parked at the curb on the corner in Los Angeles.
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Buick Sedanette parked on the curb has radiused rear wheel openings and lake pipes popular in the late fifties or early sixties. The taillights appear to be from a Corvette.
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Jim Roten captured his friends 1950 Ford and 1958 Chevy mild customs parked in front of the lawn.
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Unidentified 1949 Chevy fleetline mild Custom in the mid 1950’s.
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Golden Sahara Hubcaps

 

GOLDEN SAHARA HUBCAPS

 

Jim Street’s Golden Sahara had several sets of unequally styled hubcaps. From stylish on the first version, to space age filled with electronics on the final version.


Golden Sahara I

In our series of articles on Jim Street‘s (Skonzakes) Golden Sahara I and II we want to highlight the Custom Hubcaps created for the Golden Sahara over the years. When Jim, his friend who made the actually sketch for it and George Barris designed the Golden Sahara around 1954 they knew they were doing something special. The car was a wonderful combination between traditional Custom Car and a Factory Futuristic design study. Every aspect on the original version of the Golden Sahara was well thought out, clever use of exciting car part use, in a traditional Customizing way, and creation of many hand made off of sections. The Hubcaps, which are often a focus point on a Custom, had to be something special as well.

Golden Sahara I hubcaps

On the original version of the Golden Sahara Jim picked a then brand new design Aftermarket hubcap that was sold by the Chicago based Lyon Inc. The hubcap was beautiful cone shaped, wit small fins all around the protruding cone shape, very much like a fine pressed lady dress. The top of the cone was flattened and decorated with a crest, several different crest options were available. But Jim was not interested in the crest, since he had plans to ad a large bullet to the center, to match the bullets used on the front of the car. The whole hubcaps was rather simple, but had the just right feeling for the car, the combination of the small fins and the large bullet made it look very futuristic, matching the rest of the car perfectly. The whole unit was cold color plated.

Shortly after the Golden Sahara was finished with Jim Skonzakes behind the steering wheel, George Barris standing next to the car, with Bill DeCarr to the right of George. Bill DeCarr was responsible some of the work on the Golden Sahara. The picture was taken at the Ford plant in Pico Rivera, CA where Bill worked a day-job at the time.
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Gold color plated details made the Golden Sahara a truly unique Custom Car, especially for the time it was created. The large bullets used on the Lyon hubcaps stick outside the body creating a unique, never before sight.
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Ina Mae Overman took some beautiful color slides during the mid 1950’s. She took two nice slides of the Golden Sahara at the 1954 Petersen Motorrama Show held in the Pan Pacific Auditorium in November 1954. Thanks to her photos we can see that the gold colored hubcaps were mounted on Firestone brand white wall tires on the first version of the Golden Sahara.
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In several of the promotional photos, created around 1960, that was made to show of the glowing Good-Year Tires one of the tires was shown with the same hubcap Jim had used on the Golden Sahara back in 1954.
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The Lyon hubcap similar to the one Jim Skonzakes and the Barris team started with for the early version Golden Sahara Hubcaps.
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This photo shows that several center crest options were available, but were of no use for Jim, since he would cover them with a large bullet.
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The Lyon hubcap with an added Bullet very similar to what Jim and the Barris Team created in 1954.
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Golden Sahara II

In 1957 Jim decided to do a complete makeover on the Golden Sahara and create the Golden Sahara II. Major body reconstruction, new hand made windows, new double fins on the rear, and scooped completely restyled front fenders and many other refinements on the design. And the most important part the addition of many state of the art, specially developed for the Golden Sahara, electronic gadgets. Totally unique in the world new features that would shock the car loving enthusiast for many years to come. The work on the Golden Sahara II was done at the Delphos Machine & Tool Ahop in Dayton, Ohio with a team put together by Jim of special craftsman including Joe Rote, responsible for the electronics, Bud West for the paint and Henry Meyer, the engineer behind many of the new developed techniques. Some of the body work, including the double finned rear fenders was done by metal master Bob Metz in Indiana.


Golden Sahara II First version hubcaps

When the Golden Sahara II was first finished the car had the original hubcaps that were created back in 1954. Based on the Lyon hubcap with the large diameter bullet added. But some changed were made to the hubcaps to fit with the theme of the car. The end of the bullets have been removed and nicely finished. Inside the bullets special sonic units had been installed with small antennas sticking out. These sonic units send out a signal when the car came to close to the curb. And electronic curb feeler. The early version of the Golden Sahara II rode on regular white wall tires.

The early version of the Golden Sahara II used the same Lyon based hubcaps with the addition of the sonic curb feelers in the bullet ends.
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Close up of the early version hubcaps on the Golden Sahara II photographed around 1960s at the Larry Watson Artesia Blvd. shop showing the antenna for the electronic curb feelers.
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Sometimes later Jim created some unique new white wall tires with chrome plated pins and a stainless steel center on the thread of the tire. The hubcaps stayed the same.
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Close up shows the pins and the stainless band a little better. We will get back to this in an later article.
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Golden Sahara II Second version hubcaps

For the last and ultimate version of the Golden Sahara Jim added some very special “glass” Good-Year tires to the Golden Sahara II and created some very intricate finned hubcaps with translucent hubs. The unique thing about the tires which were made from translucent synthetic rubber that was toned using special dies allowed light to pass through. Jim and Henry Meyer developed a unique wheel with small light bulbs that would make the tires look like they were glowing. You can read more on the Glowing tires on the Golden Sahara in this CCC-Article.


Illuminated gold colored “glass” Good-Year tires and the illuminated turn signals in the hub.
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The hubcaps on this last version of the Golden Sahara II were totally unique and beautifully hand made by Bob Metz at his El Rancho body shop in Shelbyville, Indiana and Henry Meyer at the Delphos Machine & Tool Shop. Each fin blade was hand cut and assembled on a special machined hub. The total width of the finned section was wider than the actual wheel, covering part of the tire, making it look like the Golden Sahara used a much larger wheel size. As mentioned the wheels were modified with light bulp’s that illuminated the translucent tires. The center of the hubcap was machined from Lucite and frost finished. At the end a new sonic curb feeler was added and inside the translucent center hub another  light bulb was added, this could be used as turn signal. With the gold illuminated tires and white turn signals in the hub the look must have been totally out of space at the time… well actually it still is.

The special Good-Year “glass” tires looked very special when they were lite at night, but during the day they looked a little odd, like somebody had painted regular tired with gold pearl. Still the whole combination worked, and no mater where Jim showed the Golden Sahara II, the unique tires and hubcaps were a huge success.
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Close up of the lite Good-Year tires, the finned hubcaps and the frosted Lucite center hub acting as turn-signal.
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More closer to have a good look at the hand made fins on the hubcap, and the sonic curb feelers. Jim told me that with the hand made blades and everything needed to make it all work these hubcaps were very heavy. The hubcaps were made by Bob Metz and Henry Meyer.
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Illuminated at night, with long shutter time moving tires.
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Close up during the day showing the turbine like look of the special designed and hand made hubcaps and machined Lucite center hub. The photo also shows that the “glass” tires have a much different look than any other tire.
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Turn signals inside the hub.
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Illustration done for a sign to promote the special illuminating Good-Year Tires. The illustration was obviously based on one of the color photos shown above.
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When the Golden Sahara II was uncovered on March 13th, 2018 the finned center section of the hubcaps had been taken off before the photos were taken. The “glass” tired had disintegrate and some new tires had to been put on the car, before it could be moved. And since the fins on the hubcap were larger than the wheel and to prevent damage, they were carefully removed.

Because the finned center section had been removed we can now have an unique look at what is under the finned section. Everything all hand made and machined by Delphos Machine & Tool Shop employees instructed by Jim Skonzakes and Henry Meyer.
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When the Golden Sahara was revealed to the public on May 14, 2018 at the Mecum Auction in Indianapolis the Bob Metz created finned hubcaps were mounted on the car again.
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