Custom Car Builders

October 11, 2016

57 Chevy El Capitola




1957 Chevy El Capitola restyled by Sam Barris after he moved back to NorCal was the last Custom he created for the Barris Kustom Shop.

Don Fletcher, from Del Paso Heights, California, just North of Sacramento, took his 1957 Chevy 210 2 door Sedan to Sam Barris in 1958. Two years earlier Sam and his family had relocated back to Carmichael, California (also just north of Sacramento). Sam had left the barris Shop in Lynwood to be able to become a fire man in the town he grew up in. He would also still take on jobs for the Barris Kustom Shop, and work on those in his home garage. During this time Sam was also still active for the Barris Kustom shop at the local car shows, promoting the shop and selling some Barris Kustoms products.

CCC-sam-barris-kustom-auto-cardSam Barris’s business card after he moved back to Carmichael, close to Sacramento, California.


Don Fletcher wanted to go all the way on his ’57 Sedan, create an trend setting custom with the latest styling elements and techniques. Sam took on the job and together with George they came up with an stunning design, with some incredible detailed worked into it. It would become the last collaboration on a Custom Car project between Sam and George for the Barris Kustom Shop. We are not sure if this car started out as this final collaboration, the last full Custom Car that Sam would create, but the amount of body work detailed Sam incorporated into this car sure suggest it is. It looks like Sam really wanted to make a final statement with the body work.

ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-driveinDon Fletcher with his freshly finished 1957 Chevy El Capitola at the Compton Drive in, a popular photo location for many George Barris photo-shoots.


Sam started the project with adjusting the suspension so that the car would sit right. Next up was a chopped top and at the same time the top was converted from pillar sedan to hard-top body style.The B-pillar was removed completely and the belt line and lower roof line was modified to look like a hard-top. The front of the roof was chopped around 3 inches in the front and 5 inches in the rear for a nice flow. The top of the rear fenders was cut off and the 96-inch-long fin’s of an 1957 Lincoln rear fender were added. The front scoop of this fin was reshaped with round rod to fit the theme of the car. On top of the rear fin Sam added a T-shaped section of oval (aircraft) tubing for a wonderful jet age look. Scoops were formed on the leading edge of this, and at the back some hand shaped clear plastic taillight sections would be used.

Sam used four ’53 Studebaker grille pans to shape the front and similar styled rear grill openings on the car. Molded into the body, and reshaped to accept a set of split 1957 De Soto bumpers. Behind the bumpers, inside the opening the Barris Shop in Lynwood would later add some chrome plated extruded metal. Sam reshaped the front fenders and made a large oval shaped opening with a peaked top section. The peak would also be repeated on the scoops on the rear quarters. Inside the oval shape a set of aftermarket Lucas lights was installed surrounded by hand shaped white plexiglass backing plates.

ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-bm-02When Sam Barris was finished with the body work up North in Carmichael, and after the boys at the Barris shop in Lynwood had completed the car, it could hardely be recognized as a ’57 Chevy two door sedan.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-jenkins-01The late Dave Jenkins took this great color slide of the “El Capitola” at an 1960 indoor show. It shows how brilliant the pearl white and candy burgundy applied by Junior Conway was. 


The Studebaker pans at the rear were also modes to the body and the extra width from the Lincoln rear fenders was filled in with a nice molded panels from under the trunk to the grille pans. In the center, between the DeSoto front bumper halts Sam created a set in license plate frame. Below the frame he made a cut out section where later four ribbed and chrome plated exhaust tubes would fit the gap. Sam hand shaped a long set of fender skirts with scoops on the leading edge. The skirts were shaped to flow with the reshaped ’57 Lincoln fenders fins. The front of the hood was welded to the front fenders, and a new smaller opening for the hood was cut. A technique called “pancaking”.  Over the period of two years George Barris would drive up from Lynwood several times to visit Sam and his family, and to check up on the progress of the Chevy’s major undertaking.

With the majority of the body work out of the way, Sam went on to take the body work on the car to the next level. He decided to create 3D effects on the body, countered effects on the outlines of the body character lines. What Larry Watson did with paint, Sam Barris did with metal on this car. The center of the roof (which was painted pearl white later) was recessed around half an inch. A lot of hammering went into this idea and the fine tuning was done in lead. Once the top was done Sam repeated the styling idea on the rest of the body, a peak was added to the center of the hood, the trunk, around the head lights, grille surround, and on top of the rear fender fins. The whole side of the body, which would be surrounded by side trim after paint, was raised to create a similar effect.

ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-rh-05The car was built over a period of nearly two years at Sam’s home workshop. The overall designs Sam came up with and incorporated were trend setting in the late 1950’s when the car car finished. This photo shows the car with the subtle pin-striping that was added later.


After Sam had finished the body work and added several coats of primer the car was shipped to the Barris Shop in Lynwood to be finished. It was said that the amount of body work done on Don’s Chevy really burnt out Sam, and he just dido not want to do the finishing work on the car anymore. Back at the Barris shop all the details were created. The glass had to be cut to fir the chopped opening and the side glass needed to be modified to fit with the new Hard-top style. The rear glass now slides in and out of a channel. It is actually extending forward from the door jamb, so that it can be fit close with the glass on the door.

The team at Barris created all the mesh and extruded metal inserts for the scoops and grille openings. The side trim was created using parts taken from ’54 Pontiac, ’53 Oldsmobile and ’54 Lincoln trim. The section on the rear fender fin was filled in with ribbed aluminum panel which was a very popular material to use at the time. (similar to what was used on the ’55 Chevy Aztec, as well as on the Ala Kart). When the car was finished Junior Conway painted it with 25 coats of super brilliant diamond pearl and Candy burgundy over the pearl. It was listed that Junior used a total of ten gallons of paint on the car.

ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-rh-01Faded snapshot of the Sam Barris built El Capitola parked in front of Don Fletcher’s home in Del Paso Heights, California.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-rh-02It muts have been quite a sight to see such an amazing show winning custom parked in the street.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-rh-03The early version of the El Capitola did not have pin-striping, and the interior was a bit less space age without the center console and stick steering and steering wheel was still the stock ’57 Chevy steering wheel. The stock dash was upholstered on the top and the gauge cluster was chrome plated.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-rh-04Don showed the car at several of the major California car shows in 1960 and 61 and took many of the top awards home with him.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-bm-01In this great color photo from the Barry Mazza Collection we can see that a subtle pin-striping was added around the candy burgundy panels. It is mentioned that the pin-striping was added by Ed Roth.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-cardsGeorge Barris also picked the El Capitola to be part of the Custom Car collectors cards he produced.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-covers-2Around 1960 and 1961 when the car spend a lot of time on the show circuit it was also photographed a lot for several publication. It appeared on a good number of covers, as well as fully featured on the inside. George Barris used several unique features of the El Capitola for his How-To articles.


Next step was a full Custom jet age interior according all the latest styling trends. The man to go to at the time was Eddie Martinez in Long Beach. From the original interior only the Chevy Dash remained, and even that was upholstered and customized. All the rest was completely created by Eddie. He used four bucket seats on swivel bases secured to the floor. In the center he installed a pole mounted TV. The upholstery was done in Eddie’s trademark one inch rounded pleats in pearl white Naugahyde with wonderful piping and inserts created from luxurious French imported gold colored frieze material.

The finished car debuted at the Sacramento Autorama in 1960, where it won the top award, just one of the many award Don would win with Sam Barris latest masterpiece. Because most of the car was constructed at Sam’s home shop in Northern California, George Barris never took any progress photos of the built.

A New Owner & Color

There is one photo dated September 1961 that shows the El Capitola at an indoor car show with a smashed drivers rear fender/quarter panel. Most likely at this time Don Fletsher had sold the car, or this was the reason he sold the car. The spotlight book “20 Top Customs” from 1962 lists the Taggart Brothers from Ohio as the owner(s) of the car. The photos shown in this booklet still show the car back in California how it looked prior to the 1961 accident. When the body work was reappeared the car was repainted in pearl white and and the sections that used to be candy burgundy, were now repainted in gold. We do not know if this was a color that Sam Barris preferred over the candy burgundy, or that it was just something the new owner liked.

At this time the interior was also updated with a new center console staring under the dash towards the front swivel seats. The console was updated in similar material and style as the rest of the Eddie Martinez interior, but we are not sure if Eddie actually did the update or if perhaps somebody in Ohio did this. The center console hold several controls and also the stick steering. Most likely inspired by the Jim Street’s Golden Sahara II (who was also from Ohio). The stock steering wheel was removed and replaced with an cut down, aircraft styled 1960 Dodge Polara steering wheel.

Barris KustomsSeptember 1961, something bad happened to the cars, driver side rear quarter panel and fin. The photo shows that the rear wheel had a more generic hubcap, instead of the more expensive aluminum hubcap used on the front. Only a small portion would normally show under the fender skirt. Most likely when the damage was repaired the car was repainted in pearl white and gold.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-lewe-02We only have been able to find two photos of the car from the early to mid 1960’s that show the car with the new gold paint and updated interior. Tom Lewe shared these on his facebook. The new gold paint made the car looks a bit more subtle.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-lewe-01This rear angle shows the new 1960 Dodge cut down steering wheel and this is also the first time we see the plastic “El Capitola” plaque on the rear license plate holder. So perhaps this was also a later added item created in Ohio?



In the early 1980’s Lana Haynes wrote in an article about the El Capitola in  Classic & Customs Magazine that Eula Gollahon, of Brookville, Ohio, purchased the El Capitola years ago for her grandson Chuck Gollahon 16’s birthday. We do not know when Eula bought the car, but as far as we have been able to find out it was bought from the Taggart Brothers. When the C&C article was written Chuck was just 12 years old, and the car had been already garaged for several years. It was mentioned that Chuck was looking forward to get started on the car in four more years. But I do not think Chuck ever started with the car.

In the mid 1990’s Gary Birns was able to visit the garage the car was stored in. After he had removed some boxes and other stuff in and around the car he could take a good look at it. The car was in very good condition and as far as he could see very complete. Gary remembered the car from the white and burgundy colors on the magazine covers, so the brown-gold color came a bit as a shock to him. The car was for sale at the time, but the asking price was just too much for him, and many others who tried to buy the car back then. The El Capitola had just been shown in George Barris then new book Barris Kustoms of the 1950’s, and the owner thought he could make a fortune on the car. Gary was able to take some great snapshots showing all the details of the car.

ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-birns-gold-07In the mid 1990’s Gary Birns tried to buy the El Capitola. He visited the garage were the car was stored in. And found it was remarkable complete and in very good condition.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-birns-gold-02This detail shot shows the perfect fit of the cut down windshield as well as the recessed panel in the roof. The gold color painted sections are at original body height, while the pearl white section is recessed. Can you imagine how much work this must have been. 


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-birns-gold-03Close up look at the 1957 Lincoln rear fender scoops, custom made openings using round rod, and inserted with chrome plated mesh inserts. The photo on the right shows the raised gold section on the rear fin.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-birns-gold-04The Eddie Martinez interior in pearl white naugahyde and gold colored frieze material which was button tufted looked still absolutely amazing for something that had been upholstered back in 1960. 


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-birns-gold-05The interior was updated with a new center console staring under the dash towards the front swivel seats. The console was updated in similar material an style as the rest of the Eddie Martinez interior, but we are not sure if Eddie actually did the update or if perhaps somebody in Ohio did this. The center console hold several controls and also the stick steering. The stock steering wheel was removed and replaced with an cut down, aircraft styled 1960 Dodge Polara steering wheel.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-birns-gold-06The original interior made place for an trendy pace age interior with four swivel bucket seats and a center staged TV. The beautiful round one inch pleats were an Eddie Martinez trademark. They never looked better than in the El Capitola.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-birns-gold-08The Aluminum disk hubcaps were an aftermarket product sold by Barris Kustoms. Even though they look good on this car, as well on the Modern Grecian, they only produced and sold very few of these hubcaps, making them ultra rare today. Both photo’s also show the raised gold section on the body very well.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-birns-gold-12Eddie Martinez also upholstered the trunk with the same materials as were used inside the car.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-birns-gold-09The Taggart brothers added a lot of Electronic stuff when they redid the car in gold. Many high tech, for the time, gadgets were included in the car at that time, and everything was still in the car when Guy bought it. A remarkable time machine.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-birns-gold-11A closer look at the rear shows the added peak on the trunk and raised section around the rear window.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-birns-gold-13New taillights to fit inside the ’57 Lincoln rear fenders were created from clear red plastic detailed with ribs of white hand shaped plexiglass.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-birns-gold-01Detail shot shows the hand made plexiglass El Capitola show plaque and the four ribbed exhaust tubed hanging below the molded in license plate frame.


El Capitola Restoration

In the late 1990’s Guy Boucher of Lewiston, Maine heard about the car while he was buying a 1932 Ford Roadster body in Ohio. He made an appointment to see the car and fell in love. A deal was made and Guy took the car home to Maine. Guy Boucher is in fact friends with Don Fletcher, the original owner of the car so imagine the smile on both guys faces when the car was dropped of at Guy’s home garage. Guy went over the car and collected all the printed material on the car he could find. And came to the conclusion that everything was left untouched from the Taggart Brothers version. The perfect condition of the whole car was truly remarkable.

ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-bare-metalA few small snapshots show the El Capitola in bare metal during the restoration. These photos also give an better look at the raised body panel on the side of the car. Once the car is painted and the raised panels are surrounded by side trim the effect is still there, but far less obvious. 


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-barris-primerWith the body in primer the stunning effect of the raised and lowered body sections on the car are even more obvious.


Over the next 5 years Guy Boucher and his son John completely restored the car and brought it back to the original paint version in candy burgundy with pearl white. But for the interior they decided to keep all the later additions. The whole interior was just in such a great condition that it would have been a shame to back date it. During the restoration the car was taken completely apart, all the paint was removed and the body was brought back to bare metal with all the body work and lead done by Sam Barris left in place. It was an amazing feeling and sight to see the huge amount of body work done on this car in bare metal. The Eddie Martinez interior was so good that it only needed a good cleaning and a few small repairs.

During the restoration the team found samples of the original pearl white and candy burgundy paint which was used to match the new paint from. Most of the restoration work was done by the father and son team, but for paint they took the car to Norm Long of paint by Norm Long in Lewiston to paint the car as how it first looked in 1960. The 265 engine and transmission were rebuilt by Guy and the engine is fully detailed with finned valve covers, Edelbrock three deuce intake with Rochester carburetors and many chrome plated details.

ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-restored-06Restoration completed and the car now looks on the outside just as how it did when it was introduced in 1960. The pearl white and candy burgundy/purple were matched from color fragments found during the restoration.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-restored-05Close up look at the rear of the car created from the 1953 Studebaker pans, the ’57 Lincoln rear fender fins, the ’57 Dodge split front bumpers, and the raised body sections were all the accent color is.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-restored-01After the B-pillar was removed and the roof made hard-top style the side glass also had to be modified. The rear glass slides in place and sticks out a bit ahead of the door jamb to meet the door glass. The interior is all original Eddie Martinez, just cleaned up and repaired where needed.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-restored-02Cut down 1960 Dodge Polara steering wheel, chrome plated gauge cluster and upholstered top section of the dash.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-restored-03The 265 engine was also completely rebuilt and restored by Guy. As this photo shows the engine an bay were fully detailed with many chrome plated details. The front of the hood was welded to the fenders, and a new smaller opening was cut. A so called pancaked hood.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-restored-07This high point of view rear 3/4 look gives the car a wonderful Jet-Age feel.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-restored-04Another close up shows the hand shaped clear red shaped fins on the top section of the rear fender. This photo also shows the raised color sections on the body really well.


ccc-el-capitola-57-chevy-restored-08Overall stunning restyling shows how good a designer Sam Barris was, and how he was able to restyle every body panel on this Chevy and still make everything flow together within the, trendy at the time, Jet-Age style. 


The El Capitola has been restored for several years already and there was a beautiful full feature of the restored car in Kustoms Illutrated issue #12. But sadly the car is not seen a lot. We tried to get the restored El Capitola for the Customs Then & Now exhibit at the 2011 GNRS, where it would have looked amazing sitting next to Barry Mazza’s restored ’55 Chevy the Aztec. But sadly it did not work out. Hopefully the owners will share the car with the public a bit more in the future so that everybody can enjoy this Sam Barris latest Custom Car masterpiece up close.

Magazine Features and more info

  • Custom Rodder October 1960
  • Custom Handbook No. 2 (Custom Rodder 1961)
  • Customs Illustrated May 1961
  • Trend Book 197 Custom Cars 1961 Annual
  • Car Craft April 1961
  • Spotlite Book Twenty Top Customs (1962)
  • Spotlight book Fins and Taillights  (1962)
  • Barris Kustom Technique book Vol 2
  • Kustoms Illustrated #12 2007


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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. Great article Rik.
    When I first saw pictures of this car(Many years ago) I really didn’t like it and certainly didn’t appreciate the amount of work that had been put into it.
    But as the years have past I have grown to really love it. I remember seeing the article that showed the car stashed away awaiting the day that it would be returned to it’s former glory.
    Glad to see that it as happened and it would be nice to see this car shown more but i take solace in the fact that it still survives.

  2. The skills of Sam Barris and some of the Barris Kustoms staff cannot denied .I have always thought the skirts should have been the Kandy burgundy / purple instead of pearl white. Great article and great car.

  3. neat story rik this car was a big hit back then seen it a few times back then so much kustom work on it every thing done to it was awesome,thanks for going back in time,

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