A DAY AT THE BARRIS SHOP
The August 1953 issue of Rod and Custom magazine had a beautiful feature on a day at the Barris Kustom Shop. Lets take a closer look at this and see some never before published photos.
I was born in 1967, in the Netherlands, far away from where most of the Custom Car History originated. I’m way to young to have been able to walk around in the famous Custom shops from the 1940’s and 1950’s, my favorite Custom Restyling period. When I came across some old R&C magazines at an Dutch Classic Car show decades ago I was in 7th heaven. Many years later I came across some of the early Hop Up and R&C magazines, one being the 4th issue of R&C, August 1953, one of my all time favorite R&C magazines. This issue had an whopping 6 page article on an Saturday at the Barris Shop as part of the new Barris Korner series.
It was for me the first time I was able to get a better view of how the Barris Shop looked like, and worked, and how it must have been for the guys back then to work at this shop, or hang out there on a Saturday afternoon. The lead-photo of the article, taken across the street from the Barris shop is one of my all time favorite photos taken at the Barris Atlantic Blvd shop. To me it is pure magic, and I have always hoped that one day some more, or at least better photos would surface of this photo, or photos taken the same day.
The openings photo from the August 1953 R&C article. What a sight! This photo alone must have had an impact on a lot of people back in 1953, and really ever since. The Barris Kustom Shop, where all the Custom Car magic took place.
In December 2017 my good friend and CCC contributor Tom Nielsen, mentioned he had a few more photos taken at the Barris Shop, and was wondering if I could tell him a bit more about these photos. It turned out that Tom had several photos from this same Saturday photo shoot with George Barris as that was used in the August 1953 issue of R&C. But Tom’s photos had never before been published. They must have been outtakes. The photos Tom has in his collection are copies from copies from the original photos, and at this point it is impossible to find out where they originally came from. But we know that they were all taken with George Barris his camera, most by George himself, and others, where we can see George in, were taken by somebody at the shop.
Close up of the photo shows: from left to right Mystery parked in-progress Ford, Dick Meyer 1953 Ford, Snooky Janich 1941 Ford, Jerry Reichman 1950 Mercury 4-door, Dale Marchall 1950 Mercury, Jim Collins / Don Vaughn 1947 Buick, Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy.
Sam Barris showing how an Barris Accessory Hot Rod fender would be mounted on his Model A roadster. The majority of cars done at the Barris Shop were Customs, but they were also very capable to do Hot Rods, as this and several other photos taken this day show.
I really love this photo as well, not only because it shows three fantastic Barris cars, but also since it shows the corner across the street from the Barris shop, where an other iconic photo was taken which we have used for another CCC-Article. Dale Marchall is mounting his Kustoms Los Angeles brass tag to his in progress mild 1950 Mercury Custom. Behind it is Jim Collins 1947 Buick (formerly owned by Don Vaughn), and next to that is the Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy.
In the R&C article we can read that Sam Barris (left) and George (right) are discussing plans for the Chet Herbert Bonneville Streamliner with Harry Lewis. Harry was hired by Barris to design and help create race cars at the Barris shop. This never before published photo was taken from a slightly different angle than the photo that ended up in the R&C article.
Dicky Meyers is prepping this Model A on ’32 Ford rails Hot Rod for paint in a corner of the original building. Very interesting how they use news paper to tape off the engine bay preventing over-spray. The wheels and tires were covered by old rags. Notice the meters on the wall behind the car.
The R&C article describes a bit how a typical Saturday at the Barris shop looks like, at least part of it. We have heard stories from some people that the info in this article(s) is mostly correct, but very often they leave out the part that later at night they all went out to some of the famous places to hang out, go to dances, trying to hook up with the girls. have the most fun possible. According to some chasing the girls and trying to get them impressed with their automobile was one very important reasons for having a Custom Car.
The article is done really nice and literary walks us true the shop as if the reader was to visit the shop himself. Starting outside the shop then going on to the drive way, or parking area, and then into the shop, the office first, then the work places int he original building and then on to the former Filbar Furniture building Barris had added to the shop not long before these photos were taken. The only thing that could have made this already perfect article would have been with a floor plan drawing…. I have thought about creating one, but at this moment I have not enough information to actually do one that I know is accurate enough.
The 6 page article in the August 1953 issue of Rod & Custom magazine. One of the very best Barris Kustom Korner articles, and this article alone must have boost sales on the magazine enormous.
More stories on Saturdays at the Barris Shop
Jack Stewart was good friends with George Barris and spend a lot of time at the Barris Kustom Shop at Atlantic Blvd. George Barris finished his mostly Ayala restyled 1941 Ford in 1951. Jack mentioned that George loved to paint cars, and very often used the more quite weekends to stay at the shop mixing paint and spraying the many coats of lacquer to get the deep lustrous paint jobs the Barris Shop was so well known for. George painted Jack’s ’41 Ford during the weekend as well. Jack brought his car over on Friday, and when he showed up at the shop on Monday it was all done and looking amazing. Which, according to Jack was somewhat amazing, since the paint booth at this Atlantic Blvd shop was far from ideal with a dirty dusty floor. Jack always mentioned to George he might as well paint the cars outside. But George was still able to turn out amazing paint jobs at this shop.
In the early days of the Barris Shop, George was single (just as jack) and he would be at the shop most of the time 7 days a week. But especially the Saturdays were very busy at the shop. The Saturday all the car owners were off from their regular job, and would go over to the Barris shop to help out with their cars at the shop. The more work the owner could do on their own cars, the lower the bills would be.
Tommy Thornburg polishing the Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy. Parked next to is is the old Don Vaughn 1947 Buick, and peaking out over the rear of the top is an Henry J Custom. If we only could see this picture in color…
Jim Collins from Gardena, California had recently bought the beautiful Barris restyled 1947 Buick convertible with Gaylord padded top from original owner Don Vaughn.In this photo Jim is cleaning the car, and we can see the back of Dale Marchall’s 1950 Mercury with custom taillight pods and primer painted sitting next to it.
Frank Sonzogni working on Bob Lund’s 1950 Mercury. In the background we can see the model A roadster getting ready for paint, and outside we can see a small portion of Jerry Reichman’s in progress 1950 Mercury 4-door.
Jack also remembers many Saturdays he spend at the Barris shop with a lot of the guys from the original Kustoms Los Angeles club. The shop was a hangout place for the club, and everybody got together there, hang out for some time and then would go out together that Saturday night. Jack had good memories hanging out at the Barris shop with his good friend Doug Anderson (aka dog face) who owned a Custom 1939 Ford convertible with chopped padded top. And Jack Cordkill who owned a 1938 Ford Chopped Coupe, Dick Fowler was also a guy that Jack hung out with when he turned up at the Barris shop. Dick also owned a chopped 1938 Ford coupe, the one with the Packard grille, that Kurt McCormick now owns. Jack was also good with Bill Ortega who worked at the Barris shop part time and as well as at the parts department at an Lincoln Mercury dealer.
The Saturdays were always a lot of fun, where everybody helped on the projects, getting cars ready to hit the road on Saturday night, or prep them for a show the next day. Jack had very good memories about him and George driving George his cars to the parties, Jack never drunk much, so he usually ended up driving George his cars back home early in the mornings on Sunday. But this was perhaps a year or two before these photos were taken. During that time Jack also hung out with Marcia Campbell who hung out at the Barris Shop on Saturdays during the 1950-51 period. Jack remembered that Marcia was very well accepted at the shop by everybody. It was still very unusual for a girl to hang out at a Custom shop, but she fitted right in with the rest of the clan. Marcia always had here camera on hand, and shot a lot of photos at the shop and took the guys to nice locations to take photos, which she would develop and print, and then brought them over as a gift for the owner (and a copy for George Barris) the next Saturday.
Jack mentioned that the guys hanging out at the shop on Saturday were mostly the same guys each week, mostly pretty much the local guys, but when there was going to be a special event, or a special show, then Kustoms of Los Angeles club members from all around would gather at the Barris shop to drive to the event together. Jack proudly mentioned that very often he was leading the parade, just because his windshield had been cut into the roof a few inches, allowing him to see the stop lights. The rest would then just follow along.
Tommy Thornburg who owned a Barris restyled 1947 Studebaker Custom Convertible can be seen here cleaning the Larry Ernst 1951 Chevy. Perhaps Tommy’s Studebaker had not been finished at this point, or perhaps he agreed to take the Ernst Chevy to the show for Barris. Larry Ernst was from Ohio, and was most likely not in California when this picture was taken.
A low angle view of Dale Marchall mounting the Kustoms Los Angles tag to his 1950 Mercury, getting the car ready for the Pasadena show the next day. The old Don Vaughn Buick is sitting behind it.
George Barris often used 1/25 scale plastic promo-model cars to give a quick impression of how a car could look. This helped him as well as the client in making decisions on the modifications, as well as on the colors. In this photo George shows some new paint on an Oldsmobile model for Jack Nethercutt’s 1952 Oldsmobile that looks to be almost ready for paint.
Different angle of Nick Matranga talking to Snooky Janich (named “Little” in the R&C article) to see how they can fix the dent in the trunk that happened the day before. Notice that the Snooky Ford had already been outfitted with the ’39 Chevy taillights by then. The R&C article stated that the Barris Shop always kept the paint formula of all the cars they painted. But as far as I know, in case of damage, they usually decided it was time for a complete new paint job.
Lloyd Jensen working on a sectioned and turned convertible Henry J, seen here figuring out how to make the Kaiser taillights to work with the Henry J rear fenders. This car came from Iowa to have the Barris shop perform their magic. Not sure if I have ever seen the finished car. The Henry J was sitting just outside of the furniture building entrance.
Ralph Manok working on a scoop set into the Cadillac front fender that was added to this 1941 Buick that came all the way from Ohio. We are still trying to find out who was the owner of this car, and what ever happened to it.
Frank Sonzogni is a full time motorcycle officer during the day, and is working part time at night and in the weekends at the Barris Shop. In his spare time Frank is working on his personal car, a 1950 Mercury which he can be seen working on in this photo. Sanding away on the freshly leaded chopped top.
Dating the photos
So far we have not been able to confirm the date of the Saturday these photos have been taken. None of the photos have a date on it as far as we know. The Barris Korner article featuring these Spend a Saturday at the Kustom Shop photos was published in August 1953, which means the photos and text must have been submitted at least two month prior to this, and more likely even longer. Most likely the photos were taken in the first couple of month of 1953. There is one more hint about a possible date given in the R&C article, which mentioned that the next day, Sunday, there was going to be a car show held in nearby Pasadena. All the cars were cleaned and detailed for this show. So far I have not been able to find out what this show was for sure, but a good chance is that this was the Pasadena Auto Show and Reliability Run held on Sunday April 19, 1953. The 1952 Pasadena Auto Show (the first annual the previous year) had some high end Customs and Rods attending, plus it had a two page article in Hot Rod Magazine. So this could very well be the show the guys were preparing for on Saturday. (More info and photos on the ’52 show can be found in the CCC-Nick Matranga article.) If it was indeed this show, then the Saturday these pictures were taken was April 18, 1953. But I’m not 100% sure.
Special thanks to Tom Nielsen.
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