DICK FOWLER 1938 COUPE
It is miraculous that this very early Barris Custom survived and it in relatively good condition. And the best news is it has been acquired by early Custom Car Collector Kurt McCormick who has the car completely restored at this moment.
Special thanks to Kurt McCormick for the help with this article.
The 1937-38 Ford’s are rarely seen as full customs. Some blame this on the fact that during the tis time America was in a recession, and car sales was way down compared to before and after. Making the ’37-38 Ford much rarer than other year Fords. Others feel that these model Fords are considered “ugly” by many, thus not a good candidate for a Custom. I personally feel that this 1938 Ford Standard, the Dick Fowler Barris Kustoms built Custom proofs how beautiful these cars are, and how perfectly suited they are to be restyled. Especially done as this sample in the typical 1940’s style. The tear drop shape of the main body, the window openings and the fenders lend themselves exceptionally well for a speed boat stance cruiser.
Dick Fowler’s 1938 Ford coupe was restyled in 1946 – 47. The exact dates are unknown, but the Dan Post California Custom Car Photo Album published in 1947 shows one photo of the car, finished in a medium to dark glossy color. Because this was such an early Custom there are very few original photos of the car left, or at least known to us. One other photo of the car, the most popular and possibly the best looking as photo, as well as how the car looks in the photo, is the one used in the Barris Kustom “Techniques of the 50’s” volume 1 book published in 1995. This photo shows the car in white primer sitting on the street in front of the Barris’s customs shop on Compton Ave.
This is the only real clear photo we know of Dick’s Ford. It is parked in front of the Compton Ave, Barris shop, with the Rex Liquor store in the background. The overall look of the car is stunning, even in white primer.
Dick’s Coupe appeared in a dark most likely gloss color in the Dan Post California Custom Car Photo Album small book which was published in 1947.
Lets take a closer look at the car and the story as we know it now.
Dick Fowler took his 1938 Ford Standard Coupe to the Barris Brothers. Most likely the project was started in 1946, while the two Barris brothers had started their first shop together on Imperial Avenue in Los Angeles. And was later finished when the shop had moved to a larger location at 7674 Compton Ave. Florence, California ( Los Angeles ). Dick lived in the city of Southgate, California.
Early Barris’s Customs Shop business card from the Compton Ave. shop.
Dick’s coupe parked in front of the Barris’s Custom Shop o Compton Ave. The car looks to be gloss painted in this photo, but it is hard to tell.
The Barris shop was named Barris’s Custom Shop at this time, no “K” for Customs yet. At the Barris shop it was most likely Sam who performed most of the work. The car was lowered with a slight more drop in the back. 1940 Ford brakes were installed for safety reasons. Sam Chopped the top with a beautiful transition from the top towards the cat-walk. The roof line on this coupe flows really well. During the chop the drip rails were removed for a smoother look, but also because it was much easier to do than to recreate the drip rail and make it look very good. Besides, this was SoCal, so who needs drip rails. Sam rounded the top rear corner of the door with a large radius, which really helped the top flow nice into the rear quarter windows.
At the front an 1942 Packard Clipper grille was installed, an the hood was modified to fit. 1939 Ford standard hood sides had the grille louvers on the front section and the louvers at the sides filled for an new smooth yet sculptured hood side. The early photos do not show the hood louvers. So those were added later to cool the engine with a now much smaller grille and no hood side louvers four rows of louvers were punched in. The hood trim piece was removed. All handles and trim were shaved and at the rear the license plate was recessed in a wonderful shaped cut out in the lower section of the trunk. The taillights are the stock teardrop shaped 1938 Ford units. The stock bumpers were removed and replaced with two 1937 DeSoto front bumpers, a typical period custom touch. A set of aftermarket seal beam headlights were added. And a set of amber colored fog-lights were mounted on the front bumper. Another accessory item early Custom Cars used to have.
To finish the looks a set of aftermarket tear drop skirts was added. Probably since the car was built shortly after WWII a set of black wall tires was used. During this time white wall tires were sometimes hard to find. Single bar flipper hubcaps and beauty rings mounted on 1940 Ford wheels finish the look. The car was then primered in white. We have heard this from several sources that Custom cars were usually finished this way and driven for a while to find out any bugs before the car would get painted.
The styling of the car is in a style we also see from early Customs created by Harry Westergard. We know from George Barris his personal 1936 Ford convertible that the Barris brothers worked with Harry and learned a lot from him when they still lived in Sacramento in the early 1940’s. Most likely this influence might have “dictated” the final shape of the Dick Fowler coupe in 1947.
In the early 1950’s Dick Fowler became a Crane Operator and slowly started a family… and “moved on” in live. Most likely Dick sold the car, but at this point we do not have any details from this period. The next “sighting” of the car appeared in 1979. We know all this because Alex Idardi has researched the car when his family owned the car from the late 1990’s till 2013.
Discovered in 1979
In 1979 a gentleman by the name of Robert Lomax found the car in a small Los Angeles newspaper ad (the Sunland, CA Recycler). The ad read something like “Old custom Rod 1938 Ford coupe for sale”. Mr. Lomax drove out to Sunland California – (near the L.A. Valley). He saw the car, looked it over real good, figured it was some old Custom from “the old days” but back in the late 1970’s not too many people really cared. Mr Lomax appreciated that the car was something old and nifty, bought it, brought it home, and carefully tore it apart. He cleaned up the chassis, added a very healthy High Performance 350 Chevy engine & turbo transmission, had certain parts rechromed, then, for no apparent reason stopped the project and let the car sit until 1997. The car was then found by Marky Idzardi at an Riverside garage, for sale. Marky informed his brother Alex, to come and take a look at this typical 1940’s Custom. They had no idea what it was, but they liked the looks of it. Fellow Shifters member Kevan Sledge was called in to see if he knew any history on it. All three tried to find the money to buy it, but in the end they could not raise enough for the asking price.
The Idzardi years
Several years later Marky and Alex’s parents came across the car again, now for sale at a yard sale at Mr Lomax his home. This time the Idzardi’s bought the car, and took it home. With the Ford safe in the family garage Alex called Kevan Sledge to come over and take a look at this car his parents had just bought. “You will really enjoy this”. The Ford had been on the guys mind ever since they saw it a couple of years ago, and it came up in several conversations after that, so Alex knew Kevan would really love this. Kevan was very thrilled to find out which car Alex had talked about. And after staring at it for some time Kevan mumbled, “Man, I swear I’ve seen this car in a book or magazine at some point in time. It has history.” It was actually Rob Radcliffe who found the pictures of the car on the Custom Car Photo Archive site. Especially the one from Barris Technique book made it clear that this must be the the Dick Fowler 1938 Ford. The guys, and especially the Idzardi family was very happy. They asked George Barris to come over and look at the car, to see if this was indeed the Dick Fowler Ford. George confirmed that this was indeed the Dick Fowler car. George Barris later handed over a pair of gold crests along with a certificate of authenticity.
Knowing this was an very early Barris Custom, Axle continued researching into the history of the Ford and its original owner. Alex got in contact with some of the guys he knew that were at the scene at Barris back in the 1940’s. Guys like Johnny Zero, Jesse Lopez, Jack Stewart, Bill Ortega, Nick Matranga and others. All knew Dick an were able to tell a few things about Dick and the car. Dick attended Fremont High School in South Gate – a suburb of LA. Dick dated, and later married, the most beautiful gal at Southgate High School. He and his friends were known as the “Fox Florence Guys” because they all hung around the new Fox Theater on Florence Avenue.
Fox Theater was a new theater built in the 1930’s with art deco flare. It was surrounded by communities deeply immersed into the young hot rod and custom scene of the 1940’s and 50’s. (images from: cinematreasures.org)
When I talked to Jack Stewart in 2010, he mentioned that he remembered Dick car in white primer, but he added that the photo in the Barris book of the car in white primer might have something to do with this… “fading memory”. However when Alex Idzari carefully sanded layer for layer on the car in 2010 he came to the conclusion that Dick’s Ford was painted black from the factory. After it was first customized in 1946-47 it was in white primer white primer. After that the car was painted a dark navy blue, and the last finished paint job was in Jade green.
Restored for the Customs Then & Now Exhibit.
The car sat in the Idzardi’s family garage for years. It was for sale, but not to many people knew about it. Kevan Sledge was one of the people who really would like to buy it and bring it back to its former glory. But the asking price was just to high. It wasn’t until Alex was asked to assist in the Grand National Roadster Shows “History of the Custom” gathering that the family got inspired to fix the car up in time for the event. For this event 80 of the most historic customs for all era’s would be gathered, and the Dick Fowler coupe would fit the event perfectly.
A few more photos of the car how it sat in the Idzardi garage. Notice the molded in rear fender. George Barris explained they called it “sealed in” back in the 1940’s. (photos by Rob Radcliffe)
When the car was found by the Idzardi’s the rear fenders had been molded to the body with a larger flair, this was not evident in the early photos, so it was removed, however the fender is still welded to the body, and most likely this was how it was done by Barris. When the family restored the car they found tar and burlap on the inside of the top. We have seen this before on several old customs, including the Jack Stewart Ford and the Snooky Janich Ford. Most likely this material was added as heat insulation or used for sound deadening. The car was put back together and once again painted with white primer to “debut” at the 2011 GNRS Customs Then & Now exhibit. At the show the car was a big hit, especially amongst early Custom Car enthusiasts.
This photo shows the wonderful chop Sam Barris performed on Dick’s coupe. It also shows the really pleasant overall teardrop shape of the 1938 Ford body, and how well it lends itself for a period custom.
Notice how the rounded door corner helps with the flow of the chopped top.
The Dick Fowler Ford at the 2011 GNRS Customs Then & Now exhibit. The photos above were taken at set-up day, before the other cars had arrived.
Not to long after the show the Ford was up for sale again, not widely advertised, but some insiders knew the car was available. In January, 2013 the Idzardi’s decided to put the car for sale on eBay. Before the auction was ended the listing was ended by the Idzardi’s, because a deal was made with Kurt McCormick. Kurt had seen the car at the Customs Then & Now event and had fallen in love with it.
The set in license plate in the lower part of the trunk, the stock 1938 Ford teardrop shape taillights fit the theme perfectly. A 1937 DeSoto front bumper is mounted on the rear.
The 1942 Packard Clipper grille makes the hood look tall and gives the car a powerful appearance. The smooth modified 1939 Ford Standard hood sides help with this effect. Aftermarket sealed beam headlights and amber fog lights and the DeSoto bumpers are all period custom car details.
The new caretaker, Kurt McCormick
Kurt Mc Cormick’s friend John Beste of Denver, picked up the Ford from California in March of 2013. The car as hauled on an open trailer, that must have been quite a sight. Kurt arranged a friend and local car builder Gary Finney to do a body-off rebuild on the Coupe. The main body work and paint will be done by another friend and restorer, John Meyer, owner of Clean Cut Creations of Webster Groves, MO.
The grew relaxes after the body was taken of the frame in Kurt’s garage.
Pushing the frame on the trailer to take it to Gary’s shop.
The finished frame waiting for the engine to be re-intalled.
The body is back on the chassis for now to finalize floor mods and do body reinforcement. Once that is all done the work will concentrate on the body. Kurt is still unsure what color he will choose for it. Black or jade green, depending on what they will find when the body gets stripped. Kurt recently talked to Jesse Lopez about the car and he remembered the car as being black. Time will tell…
The Dick Fowler Coupe has been published in:
Dan Post’s California Custom Car Photo Album (1947)
Motor Trend November 1949
Custom Cars Trend Book No. 101 (1951)
Barris Kustom “Techniques of the 50’s” volume 1 (1995)
Rodder’s Journal #60
About Robert “Bob” Lomax
Bob Lomax is not a stranger to Custom Cars, so it did make sense he bought the Coupe back in 1979. In the mid 1950’s Bob had the Ayala’s build him a very nice 1953 Chevy Convertible with padded top. The car was featured in the Mary 1960 issue of Rod & Custom magazine and later in 1961 it was on the cover ofSpeed and Custom magazine (inset). Want to see more on Bob’s ’53 Chevy, then check out the full CCC-Article on this Ayala built Custom.
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