Custom Car Builders

April 10, 2015

Wally Welch 1941 Ford




Wally Welch loved everything automotive, he loved his bikes, Hot Rods and his Custom Cars. One of the Custom Cars that meant a lot to him was this 1941 Ford Convertible restyled by the Ayala Custom Shop.

I’m not quite sure when I read the name Wally Welch for the first time. Perhaps it was in one of the Barris Technique Books, or an earlier magazine article about the Mercury Customs from the early 1950’s. I do know that it was connected with Wally’s 1950 Mercury. And to be precise the Barris version of the Mercury. Only later I found out the Ayala origins of the Wally Welch Mercury, and even later I found out that Wally had owned several other Custom Cars prior his 1950 Mercury, and one of them being an 1941 Ford restyled by the Ayala’s.


The first time I saw a photo of the Wally Welch 1941 Ford was in the Trend Book No. 101 Custom Cars from 1951. I had heard many good things about this small booklet and how it was filled with late 1940’s and early 1950’s Custom Cars, so when I found a reasonable priced one on eBay, I ordered it and waited a week or so before it arrived in my mailbox. I remember opening up the envelope and browsing true the booklet for the very first time… a huge smile appeared on my face, and it would last for quite a while. I’m a huge fan of early Custom Cars, those cars that shaped the style and paved the path for the golden age of Customizing in the early 1950’s. And this booklet was just filled with these cars. I studied every page, every photo and every word.

You can imagine how happy I was when I got to page 80 of the Custom Cars No 101 book and found no less that a full page with three photos of a 1941 Ford convertible beautifully restyled by the Ayala’s for Wally Welch. I finally knew how the car looked.

Many years later I got in contact with the daughter of Wally Welch, Terri. She mentioned to me that her father had past away a couple of year earlier, but that she still had a photo album full of photo’s from Wally’s Custom Cars and Hot Rods. In 2010 I was asked to be part of the organization for the Customs Then & Now exhibit that would be held at the 2011 GNRS in Pomona, California. For this event we would gather 80 historical Customs from all over the US. One of the cars invited for the show was the Wally Welch 1950 Mercury. Now owned by Justin Mozart and the restoration was nearly completed. Wally’s daughter had been in contact with Justin and they had made arrangements to meet at the show so she could look at the restored Mercury for the first time. I happened to be at the right place in the right time when I bumped into Justin, while he was showing Terri around the Mercury. It was a really great moment, we had emailed before, but never met in real life. We talked about the Mercury, and about her father, and what a great guy he was and how he had always loved his cars and bikes and even planes. Then she asked if I wanted to see the photo album she had mentioned before. Of course I said, and then she pulled this amazing photo album out of her bag.

CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-31A section of one of the many pages in the Wally Welch photo album.


The photo album was mostly filled with photos from the late 1940’s and very early 1950’s. A few photos of the 1950 Mercury, but mostly of the different stages of Wally’s 1941 Ford. When I met Terri she was there at the show with a friend and they had only very little time before they had to leave for an appointment. So all I could do right there was to copy the photos in the album with my digital camera. I concentrated on the Custom Car photos in the album, and managed to copy them all before we had to say good-bye. I was smiling from ear to ear the rest of the day… well I guess for the whole weekend.

The Wally Welch 1941 Ford Convertible was only featured in the Trend Books Custom Car’s No 101 with only a minimal amount of words written about the car. So other than the basic stuff as that the car was built at the Ayala’s with a chopped windshield, Louis Chavez, padded top with a 1942 Ford front end grafted on, a chromed engine and molded fenders with ’48 Ford gravel shield and Devil-Red Metallic paint, there was not really known much about this Custom. With the help of the Wally Welch photo album we now know that this 1941 Ford has been build over a period of time, and knows roughly three versions before Wally sold it.

Version One

As far as we know Wally took his stock 1941 Ford convertible to his friend Gil Ayala to have his shop restyle the car for Wally. The first version was done around 1947. Overall the modifications where rather conservative, but the end result is a very stylish- late 40’s styled custom. The windshield was chopped but only a few inches, hard to tell for sure, but we guess two, max three inches. Louis Chavez American Auto Tops did the removable padded top for the car. The Ayala’s installed an aftermarket center grille filler piece, shortened the side trim on the hood, shave the hood and trunk, added 1941 long fender skirts and painted the car in a dark red color. To get the perfect stance for the Ford the frame was kicked up at the rear, lowering blocks were installed to get the rear as low as they could get it and the front was lowered with a dropped axle.

CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-16Wally Welch stands proud with his 1941 Ford in 1947. The first version of the car used black wall tires and an aftermarket License plate bracket with chromed protection bar below it.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-291949 Catalog ad for the bumper license bracket Wally used on the first version of his car.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-13The 1941 Ford had a great speed boat stance as this photo taken in front of the Welch home shows.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-15Several photos in the album show Wally’s 1941 Ford parked next to a friends 1941 Ford convertible. Both cars are restyled in a similar way, but have some different details. Sadly we do not know the friends name, nor anything else about the car, other than what we can see in the photos. 


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-17The friends Ford, on the right has a 1948 tag over the plate. He used a small grille opening in the smooth grille replacement panel. He also removed the fender trim and added a set of spotlights. 


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-28From the rear we can see that Wally used the stock side trim on both the body and the fenders, but his friend opted to remove all trim. Both trunks were shaved, but the door handles on both cars remained on the car.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-12There was one very much faded color photo of this version of Wally’s 1941 Ford in the photo album. That is most likely Jeanie Christman, Wally’s girl friend at the time posing with the car. 


The first update

In 1948-49 Wally made a few smaller updates on his Ford. White wall tires had become available again after being very hard to get due to WWII. So Wally installed a set on his Ford which changed the look a lot. The stock bumpers were replaced with a set of 1946 Ford units, the front license plate bracket was removed and a set of Appleton Spotlights was installed.

CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-11Jeannie Chrisman inside the second version of the Ford. The new white wall tires make the wonderful speed boat stance look even better.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-19Wally’s 1941 Ford parked in fron of the Welch family Drugstore in Burbank, California.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-18A great lower angle shot makes the car look at its very best. lower in the back for the instant speed look. The hills in the back make this photo really fantastic.


The second update

It is now 1949 and Wally thought it was time to take his 1941 Ford to the next and as far as we know final level. He took the car again to his friend Gil Ayala’s Auto Body Works shop on East Olimpic Blvd. in  East Los Angeles. The times had changed and the Custom Car from the era were becoming wilder and wilder with more and more fantastic body work. Wally’s Ford would still remain relatively mild, but now with a lot more fine tuning body work. First things on the list were molded front and rear fenders for a smooth overall look. The fenders were molded in with small pieces of sheet metal bend to shape once everything was roughly shaped a liberal amount of lead was used to smooth it all out. At the rear a 1948 Ford splash pan was molded in, and the shop hand made a pod to house a 1948 Ford taillight. The pod was molded to the rear fenders with the top portion level with the fender crease. The running boards were removed and a filler pan below the main body was created and molded to the fenders. At the front the headlights were frenched.

CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-26The front fenders were welded to the body and filler pieces welded in. This photo was taken after the work had been leaded and smoothed before primer. 


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-01Wally took several in progress photo of the work done at the Ayala shop for this phase of the car. Here we can see the pre-shaped filler panels that were created to make the welded on fenders flow nicely into the main body. In the photo on the right the metal was cleaned before the lead could be added. Also note the new panel replacing the running board.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-25Same stage as above but now viewed from the back. The gas filler cap has been removed and will be welded shut soon after this photo was taken. Note the 1950 tag on the license plate.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-02Now with the gas filler filled in and the new taillight pods molded into the rear fenders. Notice how nicely they flow from the fender crease. It looks like this photo was taken with the fresh lead work still waiting for its final sanding.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-04At the front the fenders were reshaped to be able to french the headlights. Notice how the stainless trim was only partly removed to make place to be able to do the body work. A 1939-40 Mercury convertible with chopped padded top and molded in fenders is parked against the wall at the Ayala shop parking.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-03We have no idea who this is posing with Wally’s now in primer 1941 Ford. Most likely the guy is one of the Ayala shop part-time employees. It looks like it is the same guy who is cleaning the fresh body work in a few photos above. At this point the stick 1941 Ford grille remains in place.


The in-progress photos taken by Wally at the Ayala shop show all the new work done except for the final update on the car, the installment of the 1942 Ford grille. Perhaps Wally drove the car with all the new body work except for the 42 grille for some time, before he had the Ayala’s install the new grille. In any event he did not take any photos of the process, nor are there any photos of the car with molded in fenders with the stock grille sides and a full paint job.

A stock 1942 Ford grille with the center bar removed was installed in a custom made grille surround. The surround was molded into the front of the car, and at the same time a molded in splash pan was added shaped in a similar way as the one on the rear. The fender trim was shortened at the front. This new grille was the final work done to the car, it was now time for Gil to paint the car in a wonderful deep Devil Red Metallic Finish as the 1951 Custom Cars Trend Book describes the color. Most likely the color was custom mixed by Gil, since that was one of the things he liked to do best.

CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-10The Ford now has a completely new look. The smoothly molded in fenders and new wide grille changed the looks completely. Some elements, like the padded top, remained unaltered thru out the different versions of the custom.



In the meantime Gil Ayala formed the Auto Butchers of East Los Angeles, or just simple Butchers car club. Wally became a member and hung his cleaver club plaque from the rear bumpers, just below the license plate.

CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-22The molded in fenders, new taillights and molded in splash pan changed the rear of the car completely as well. Note the 1950 license plate tags.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-23Original designed with the padded top up, the open version of the car looks equally as impressive as the closed version.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-24Faded color photo gives us a glimpse at the original Devil Red color. 


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-30The full page with three photos in the 1951 Trend Books Custom Cars No. 101 booklet.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-05This photo comes from a photo-shoot by Felix Zelenka for the cover of the October 1951 issue of Motor Trend magazine. The photo gives us a really great look at the color Gil Ayala painted the car with. That is Wally on the left and his girlfriend Jeanie Christman on the right.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-08Original photos that were used in the Custom Cars full page article show that the license plates are now 1951 units.



At the Races

Just like Gil Ayala and many, many other custom car enthusiasts back in the early 1950’s Wally Welch also liked to drag race his 1941 Ford. Despite being a full custom with a ton of expensive body work and expensive and wonderful paint, Wally still raced his car in several races. Most likely all Santa Ana drag strip which has just opened around the time.

CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-21Wally’s number 58 Ford is ready for his race. on the right we can see the 1940 Ford that was also built at the Ayala shop for John Geraghty.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-20The “pit crew” is hard at work getting the car ready for the competition. Judging the large amount of spectators something really special is going on there….


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-27Wally used an fully dressed flathead engine in his 1941 Ford. The engine was not only fast, it also looked very good with the two carb intake, and a load of chromed goodies.


CCC-ayala-wally-welch-41-ford-06Wally on the Santa Ana drag-strip with his Ayala 1941 Ford. For this race he has removed the heavy padded top to gain some speed. We don’t know if Wally’s competitor is already out of this shot, or not yet in it. I love the spectators parked at the side of the track.




Where is the Wally Welch 1941 Ford now?

Well that is a question we really would like to give an answer to, but sadly we have no idea where the car is, and even if the car is still around today. We know that Wally sold the car not long after he bought his next custom project, the 1950 Mercury, which he took to the Ayala’s for a full restyling as soon as he could. Possibly the ended up on the Customs & Hot rods For Sale lot at Andrews & Evans, where Wally worked. But we do not know for sure. In our research we have not been able to find anybody who knew what happened to the car after Wally sold it. Who knows, perhaps it is still out there, disguised as a Street Rod or something like that, but we also realize that it might be long gone. Hopefully one day we will be able to shed some more light on what happened to this great looking Custom convertible after 1951. If any of the CCC-Readers knows anything more, please let us know.


Want to see more interesting articles based on material from the Wally Welch Album. Check them out HERE.


(this article is sponsored by)





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About the Author

Rik Hoving
Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)


  1. awesome story rik, true blue kustoms from the ayala brothers,wallys cars kicked,


  2. As Memo said, really great article, thanks.


  3. Great photos and story…thanks Rik.


  4. Love to see the refinements over time. It just kept getting better!
    Larry Pointer


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