Custom Car Chronicle
Barris Kustom ShopCustom HistoryThe Personal Stories

Jesse Lopez – Lo! & Behold

© by Michelle M. Yiatras Timechanic ™
(Jesse Lopez – Lo! & Behold – original written in august, 2011)

“And shall bring forth a rod from the stem of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”


Due to the length of this article from Michelle, 5 chapters, we have split it up in two parts. Be sure to click “part two” at the end of this article to see the full article.

Chapter 1

Born August 3, 1929, in Monrovia, CA, to Henry and Frances Lopez, the third oldest child, first born boy of eight siblings. Sisters Mary, Angie, Rose, Margaret, Cecilia. Brothers Memo & Henry. Daughters Debi and Juliette. Sons Jesse Jr & Jeffrey. Longevity with several family members 100+ yrs old, the Lopez’ are movie star handsome and university smart. As a child Jesse spoke Spanish at home, one of only four Mexican families in Bell.

CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-09Jesse at age 11 with his first pony.

We talked several occasions at his rooster ranch in Riverside County, CA sitting on stacks of fifty pound chicken feed bags with hundreds of roosters crowing in the ambient background. This farm is virtually pristine and ordinate due to Jesse’s lifelong conscientious and rigorous work schedule. He’s built many cars, homes, businesses, and farms.

“When I was eleven years old I was already into cars. I’d pump my bike and hang out at Bell Auto Parts. You can imagine the sensation when here comes Pop Evans, Connie Weidell, Phil Cook, Phil Weiand, Vic Edelbrock, Clay Smith, Jack Kukura, all these guys pulling in, and they’d be in A V-8’s and T V-8’s and I’d be on my bike. Right where I grew up in Bell. That’s how I got started. ‘Richard’ is the guy that taught me how to drive after I bought my first ’29 roadster pickup without the bed, so it’s my son’s middle name.” 


Johnny Zaro, Dick Carter, and Jesse all went to Bell High School those days. Nick Matranga and Marcia Campbell went to John C. Fremont. “Huntington Park used to be the cleanest safest town, now it’s bad. We were the tough guys then and we were the champs on our high school sports companies. Back then people were honest, you didn’t worry about locking your car or your house.” In high school he was steadily in gymnastics, football, and track. He weighed 141 lbs at 6’, the slimmest in the varsity line of 200 lb+.

CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-10Jesse was very active in High School Gymnastics.

CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-11Jesse with his High School Football tam. Jesse is on the far left with number 59.

CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-12Jesse in action during High School Football team practice.

CCC-JL-High-School-Graduation-1947Jesse’s 1947 High-School Graduation photo.

“Us guys got together three, four times a week with our cars at the Lynwood Clock drive-in at Atlantic and Imperial. George liked to ride shotgun with Buzzy, a street racer, in his ’29 with a Cad engine, a hell of a runner. Sam was the craftsman and painter. George mostly handled the business administrations, and kept everyone straight. I wish I had the lead paddle today. Everyone’s car was worked with that.”

He met George Barris at the first ever SCTA Hot Rod Exposition show at the Los Angeles Armory in January 1948, featuring George’s ’41 Buick. The hood on the Buick was opened and he had the door open on the left side revealing the interior, all roped off. In line straight eight with chromed valve cover and dual carbs hanging on to it. He says, testing young George, “How much to paint a ’32 roadster? It’s pretty cherry.” “Well, it’s probably pretty cherry in your eyes, but I have to see it.” “OK…Maybe one of these days I’ll come down to see you…” “You do that…” So Jesse turns away with his high lakes speed embroidered on the back of his jacket. Then he feels someone poke him, “Say, are you a racer? You into speed?” “Yeah.” “You do mechanical work?” “Yeah.” “You see that Buick? It’s not running now. We had to push it in. We can exchange work, whatever. Be sure to come down and see me.”


A case of the contractor’s house doesn’t get done, because everyone else demands first. So he did. He drove the ’41 Ford over to Compton for George and Sam to customize how he wanted it. “George was always respectful with me, not so to Nick or Zaro. And nobody better mouth off with him. We hung out at the Barris shop every day after work when I was doing a car, after work for hours working on the car, Sam would help. And at the drive-ins. The Wich Stand west side LA, the original Bob’s Big Boy Pasadena, so many in those days. I crashed with Sam a lot at his place a couple blocks from the shop. None of us ever drank beer nor booze. Most of us didn’t even smoke cigarettes. No pot. We were all pretty clean cut. We were dedicated to cars. And pretty ladies. We competed for both.”

CCC-jesse-lopez-barris-shop-earlyJesse’s Ford at the Back of the Barris Compton Avenue shop. Parked in front of Sam’s 1940 Mercury. Johnny Zaro’s ’41 Ford is in the background. This is an early photo when Jesse ran a set of single bar flipper hubcaps.

CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-02Russell Lenarz took this picture of Jesse and the Ford in front of Hollywood Track Turf Club in black and white, Rik Hoving later added the colors digitally.

He started his ’41 Ford himself in 1947 when he got out of high school, stock original and cherry as could be, and it was finished at the Compton and 77th shop in 1948. Jesse decided on a club coupe over the short door, business coupe. He knew he was going to chop it before he bought it. He spent a few hours determining that the business coupe had two fold down opera seats, and the club coupe had a regular seat in back, and even though he preferred the business coupe he couldn’t make the top chop contour look right. That’s why Snooky’s and the others look different from his, because they have the business coupe. Fritz Voigt, AHRF Pioneer, built the motor in his ’41 Ford.

“I actually added the McCullough blower after the car was chopped and I decided to start drag racing with it. The car was too heavy and low to race, but I wanted to race it so I put the charger on it. I always had a large engine in it. I pulled out the stock ’41 Ford engine and put a 59AB block 3/8” x 3/8” stroker, Edelbrock manifold, Edelbrock heads. I raced in the street with this. I put the blower on for the drag strip, and ran it without the hood. Lincoln Zephyr gears in the transmission with the blower, we all used Lincoln gear boxes. I had to have a special made big radiator because it ran so hot, 4” core and 4” tank. One carb off a Buick Roadmaster with a large venturi to let more air in, Fritz figured that out. He built the motors for most of us back then. He did most of my engine work. He built engines for me well into the 50’s when I got away from flatheads into bigger engines, a Chrysler that was identical to one he put in his world record gas dragster. A ’56 Chrysler 354 cid hemi, I put it in a brand new ’56 Ford pickup, I was street racing it. Everybody went to Fritz, he was the big man for speed. Then we all quit because we didn’t want to go into the hi-tech fuel racing, not like our daily driver street racers.”

CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-08This photo was taken just before one of the repaints. The rear of the car and the running board covers are in primer, possibly due to some repair work. If you look carefully you can see the McCullough blower on the engine.

His car was painted ’47 Chrysler adante green Rinshed-Mason with fine metallic gold highlights, M & H in LA mixed it. At Barris’ they test shot a motorcycle tank for the curvature. “Sam sprayed it. Sam, George, and I developed the color together. I picked the chip and the guy at R-M mixed it.” Jesse stripped it and kept it in primer all the time he was at basic training because he was driving it back and forth routinely from LA to Fort Roberts.

“The lacquer paint back then didn’t hold up like today’s. The streets were really bad back then and we’d get chips in the paint and running boards. I was a painter so instead of spotting it I went ahead and repainted it and refined the color in nicer shades of green/metallic. I gave it the final paint job, a nicer lighter shade of the dark green with more gold flakes, I actually liked that paint color the best. Everything was experimental then, nothing was concrete, always wanting to improve, and they were constantly making things better.” 


CCC-jesse-lopez-michelle-05Jesse and a pal at Basic Training in Camp Roberts in 1951.

Yes, he was the first to build the taillights into the bumper guards, “I was good at doing plastic work and I got the bright idea to set them in the indentation of the bumper guard, about 1 3/4” x 3 3/4”, a small light fit into the back of the guard. I made the plastic formed and recessed to the shape with 1/8” grooves cut inside with a triangle file to reflect. It’s easier working with plastic than metal. I was the first one with that car with a lot of things, the chopping of a big coupe, the rolled running boards, the ’48 Cad grill had a custom curve to it since I took the bottom row out and dropped it down lower and smaller and made it a little smaller than the stock.” He was friends with the son of the Cadillac dealership owner, and they special ordered at cost a brand new ’48 Caddy grill. Again his idea to customize with this grill type.

CCC-jesse-lopez-front-close-upClose up of the front end gives us a good look at the front edge of the fender line, and the cut down 1948 Cadillac grille.

He designed the front fenders by removing the chrome strips from the creases and filled them in with lead and made the fenders loop around at the end kind of ’46 style. “Sam helped me with the grill and taillights. I was a speed guy, Sam was the metal guy, so I got to be a pretty good metal man with what he taught me, it was my ideas but Sam did most of the work.” The Appleton 112’s were wired and worked, the spot handles were green Lucite to match the Lucite on the dash. The doors kicked open by buttons hidden under the rocker. He had a shut off switch to turn the juice off by putting his hand through the grill on the left, he always hid a little key there so the juice could be shut down. A stock latch unlatched the hood. He didn’t run casters, he just hit the driveway sideways.

“My dual exhaust stock mufflers got me pulled over by a motorbike cop. Dual exhaust was illegal even though I had stock mufflers. When he found out I had a custom car the judge gave me four days in jail. My dad said ‘No’ and bailed me out.”


He put the Cad sombreros on later in 1949. Founding members of the 1948 KoLA club; George coined the phrase “Kustoms”, Kustoms stood by itself; Sam, Nick, Bill Ortega, Oren and Loren Breeland, Oren’s mom took care of the boys, Gordo, Fuzzy, Don Nassar, Carl Abajian, Richard Carter, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Buzzy. Jack “Fat Boy” Stewart, Paul “Snooky” Janich, Dick “Peep” Jackson, Hershel “Junior” Conway, Bill Taylor were a few years younger and came later, a different era. “Bob Hirohata’s nickname was “Walrus”. He came later, but I was pretty tight with him, he sort of idolized me, very proper Japanese, polite and smart. The guys would all greet me ‘Esele!’” It was the history making of hot rods and customs. In 1948-51 the whole gang, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Bill DeCarr, Dick Carter, Carl Abajian, George and Sam Barris, Nick Matranga, and Jesse would getaway in their customs on the holidays to Crestline and Lake Arrowhead by Big Bear Mountain. “Hundreds would watch us drive up in the ’40 Mercs, ’41 Fords, ’41 Merc, ’41 Buick, ’42 Ford coupe, and ’42 Cad. They’d be waiting for us. It was a spectacle!” They would also caravan to the legendary Balboa Beach Rendezvous Ballroom.

CCC-jesse-lopez-rendezvous-ballroomDifferent views of the legendary Balboa Beach Rendezvous Ballroom.

“I wouldn’t dance, I watched my car. George would dance the jitterbug though. He could really slap leather. We’d get there late, like ten p.m. We were busy working on our cars all day, and Balboa was an hour out to get there. Looking sharp in our aviator jackets, Kirk Douglas spotted us one night. He was just getting started and he looked so familiar. He was friendly. He wore elevator shoes. If I could get someone to watch the car I’d go into the big ballroom. George always went in.”

The Trade Winds in Inglewood also had jitterbug contests on Tuesday nights. All the guys would go to see Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Louis Prima, the same crowd as the Balboa. “My friend Pete Werrlein shined Mickey Cohen’s shoes. Later Pete got the rights to Mickey’s story.” Pegged pants rolled twice and thick crepe wedged shoes were the So Cal style. Sacramento boys wore their pants pegged and straight down, so the So Cal boys did that too. All the fads; flat top and peroxide hair, t-shirts (undergarments weren’t acceptable in public), pegged Levi’s, tiny waistlines, started as So Cal beach style.


“A lot of winning NASCAR Southern hotdogs had their cars built by the Drake Bros in Haywood. They got their speed parts from Bell Auto Parts.” “Me and Nick and all of us, we didn’t know, we didn’t take pictures. The only ones really taking pictures was Marcia and Russell Lenarz. His brother Dick worked at Bell Auto Parts for a long time. George got into it especially after he saw our cars on the cover of Motor Trend. Then he realized them pictures were worth something. Russell took the pictures of mine and all the cars in front of Hollywood Track Turf Club background. He’s the one that wrecked George’s ’41 Buick. That’s the guy that ran into the railroad ties.

Lenarz pulled the Buick out of the driveway and George got out. These envious guys kicked the side of the car in. That’s what started it. At the Lynwood Clock drive-in. (There was also one at Huntington Park, and the Bell Clock, my hangout, where everyone came to race. The last one built was at Lynwood. It was pretty big.) So anyways, George pulled in and these guys from Fox Florence kicked the side in. So George got out and tussled with the guys. I came over from the Bell Clock. Russell got inside the Buick to pull it out and drive around the back street across Imperial and turn left. He wanted to come back and didn’t know it was a dead end, and he plowed into it. He just wanted to get back in the drive-in loop. So they got me and my group to come over from the Bell Clock to get in a fight with those guys. But by that time the cops were there. Russ hit a telephone pole and stack of railroad ties laid long ways so they didn’t move when he hit them. George’s Buick was wasted. I’d say 1948.”

CCC-barris-buick-wreck-01George Barris 1941 Buick after the accident. George did however rebuild it, and updated the front at while at it.

The Buick was George’s first notoriety car. The Cad was a ’42 Cad with a Carson top and had a ’47 grill. That Cad was a 1940’s GM Buick royal maroon color. This was George’s car after the Buick. He didn’t have the Cad long. After that he got the ’53 Lincoln Capri. Russell Lenarz’ widow Jacqueline informed me that before Russell & his brother Richard both passed in 2003, in a fit of Alzheimer’s Russell trashed every scrapping photograph of the cars, the kids, family holidays, vacations, & the house docs. He thought he was helping her clean up. “Russell worked for the company that made DMV cameras, & he worked at a photo lab. He was a professional camera technician.”

The Lenarz brothers attended John C. Fremont High School, same as Nick & Marcia. Russell & Marica, as well as accredited Hot Rod July 1950 Russetta dry lakes photog, Joe Lingrey, matriculated from the Smith-Hughes Vocational Technical Act photojournalism school at John C. Fremont, that resulted in many world class photographers (Life, UP, NBC, military, Hollywood). Joe reveals, “Taking pictures afforded me the cars I was into. I was using a Speed Graphic 4 x 5 format, that’s what I shot all the 1948-50 El Mirage posters with while still in high school. When I was sixteen my first deal was a ’36 Fordor humpback, then a ’34 three-window coupe, and then a ’48 Cadillac belden blue ’32 Ford roadster similar to Nitti’s that all the girls loved. I also drag raced my roadsters at the dry lakes and Saugus airstrip. Later at twenty-two in 1953 I shipped off to Pusan, Korea as a U.S. Army 507th Signal Corp photographer for sixteen months.”

Chapter 2

Jesse’s girlfriend from 1949-51, Florence, who was so beautiful that Lana and Janet had nothing on her, drove Jesse’s coupe around town. He wrote her a dear mary when he was drafted. She ran around with his sister Rose and waited for him. Alas, it was the late 1950’s before he settled down with Wanda and then again married Marlene. After Jesse’s car got sold he wasn’t into the shows. The only show that Jesse took his car to was the first Oakland show in 1950. Nick and Jesse missed the Oakland show in 1951 while in Korea, but George chaperoned their cars on the date, Nick’s in the official line up.

“Nick got drafted a few months after I did, I was finished with basic training and shipped overseas before he got in. I did infantry at rattlesnake infested Camp Roberts, CA. They sent us in to clean it up, sixteen weeks basic training. During training I drove my ’41 Ford coupe back and forth on furlough passes. I lost contact with all the rest of the guys when I got drafted. I was in the army and they were out having a good time. If I got to come home at all it was to visit my family or girlfriend. Us guys never wrote when we were separated. Nick’s mother was the only one who kept in touch and she’d send me letters, goodies, long johns, a very gracious lady Josephine.”

CCC-jesse-lopez-motor-trend-sept-49The September 1949 issue of Motor Trend magazine has a full page feature on Jesse’s Ford. Comparing it with a stock long door coupe showed the reader how much was done, and how incredibly nice the car had become compared to the stock Ford.

“I was in Korea from December 1950 – February 1952, for a whole year. I made all my points (4 points a month) on the front line. So I got rotated in nine months and then stationed in Japan for a few months at Camp Youngans near Sendai our main headquarters. We were occupation forces. I started as first sergeant and finished master sergeant. Nick was wounded in 1952. I left Camp Y to go to Yokohama. Nick was already there a sergeant.”


CCC-jesse-lopez-1950-oakland-showJesse at the 1950 Oakland (National) Roadster Show.

I was in the first Oakland Roadster Show in 1950. I’m standing with Miss CA and the trophy. So later I’m in Korea. The big So Cal DJ Peter Potter was a cocky young blood there, and it was his girlfriend after all. He was jealous of that picture. He’d ask me if I put the make on her. I’d say, ‘Aw man, she wasn’t very good looking.’ Small world. She had even sent me a letter saying, ‘Hello handsome guy!’ I showed it to him. Also the full bird colonel was a car freak and recognized my car from the Motor Trend article. I got pretty good privileges especially when I got to Japan. He’d call me up and says, ‘Sergeant Lopez, I want you to be here at 0600 with a jeep. We’re going into Sendai,’ all business like. I’d pick him up and off we went, hey hey. That’s also why I made so much rank, too.”

Nick Matranga’s 1940 Mercury and Jesse’s 1941 Ford side by side. We can see the Road Kings plaque on the front, so we know Danny Lares was the new owner at the time this photo was taken. The side trim on the hood is still the short version, the way Jesse created it, later Danny added a longer trim piece on the hood. This must have been 1951, possibly not to long before Nick’s Mercury was totaled.

CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-01Danny Lares in his Road Kings car club jacket standing against the cherished ’41 Ford was forensically circa 1952.

Jesse left the ’41 Ford to Memo when he went to Korea with instructions to sell it. George sold it in summer 1951 for $2300 to Danny Lares who later ran the Lions drag strip track. Dannny Lares worked at LADS (Lions Associated Drag Strip) timing association from 1955-65 as tech timer and official starter flagman, and was a founding member of Road Kings Car Club Long Beach. He went to post-Korea as an air support flier. He also passed away in 2003. A time capsule of relics belonging to Danny Lares has surfaced via his nephew George Lares into the dependable custody of Trace Edwards to be unveiled at his Long Beach Motorama Car Show this September 30, 2011, among other surprises Trace is diligently preparing. Danny’s not the one who wrecked it. He adored the car and chivalrously squired it at car shows and races, seen in his personal photographs in the good company of Matranga’s Merc. He sold the car for $500 to another guy named Stan Crabtree in the San Pedro area and Stan less than two months after wrecked the car into a tree totaling it.

CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-03Danny Lares (with cap on) showed the 1941 Ford at many car shows in the early 1950’s. By now Danny had added the longer side trim on the hood sides, but the Barris crest had not been added yet.

CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-04Danny Lares winning another trophy, still no Barris crests.

CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-trophiesDanny won quite a few trophies with the 1941 Ford. No wonder, it was as stunning car.

“Isn’t that funny though that Nick’s car and my car, among the best, and they both got totaled?” Both sold while their creators were sergeants in the Army and stationed in Japan after braving the Korean front lines. Although Jesse had other concerns when he returned from Korea and Japan, he is adamant that his car was totally wrecked soon after he got home. Jesse never met nor knew the guys Lares nor Crabtree. Lares probably avoided Jesse in case he would want his prize car back. “I would have heard about it if it was still around much after I got back fall 1952, so not too long past the mid 50’s. You’d think I would have known about it if it lasted into the later 50’s. We would have heard about it if it was fixed up. George would have known before me. He was into that car. It helped Kustoms get noticed. Many of us would have heard about it, nobody could have hid the fact that it was rebuilt, there were too many people involved.”

CCC-danny-lares-41-ford-1953This photo (scanned by Paul Kelly) has a 1956 development date stamped on it. But more than likely the photo was taken before 1955. The Barris crest was added on the cowl, by the time this photo was taken.

The photograph of Danny Lares in his Road Kings car club jacket standing against the cherished ’41 Ford was forensically circa 1952, right with the three other photos from Danny’s scrapbook that show it flanked by the Matranga Merc and others. Perhaps the ’53 Ford pickup truck that is seen in the background of another outdoor show photograph was purchased in late ’52 or into ’53, and the date stamp was a tardy developing date, and the ’54 Olds seen in the upper right corner of the Thrifty drug store photograph had an introduction date Oct ’53 in CA? One can surmise that this last photographic evidence of the car would be late ’53 or early ’54, or in other words wintertime during the transition of those two years. The Thrifty car show was clearly in the wintertime as the folks are dressed for cold weather CA style. In any case I don’t think there is substantial evidence of Jesse’s car being around in So California much past the mid 50’s. Any allusions to it beyond that is a Jim Morrison sighting or Elvis buying Sno Balls in 7-11, or at least suspicious.

CCC-danny-lares-1941-ford-02From the Danny Lares collection comes this photo showing the Ford with the Road Kings plaque hanging from the rear bumper.

Those cars had soul, and not just anyone can own one properly. It seems as if these cars, like certain cowboys’ horses, didn’t want to be owned by anyone else. Both Nick and Jesse had moments thinking they might not be coming back, and gave it all. “I did 75% of the work on my car, and I did a lot of work on Nick’s car too, I showed him a lot about engines and customizing. I helped his interest in racing and mechanical work. Who knew that cars were going to be what they are?! If I’d a known, Corvettes and ’Birds…” George Barris gets a lot of heat for taking credit where credit is not due, and some of that heat is justified. However, I can tell you that he was a skilled craftsman in numerous ways with myriad great ideas. Just one example would be his work on Nick’s car in addition to Sam’s, and his idea for the “pillarless” hardtop side window treatment on Nick’s Mercury. There are other examples we won’t go into here. George Barris was the maestro.

CCC-jesse-lopez-girl-friend-acapulco-02Jesse and his girlfriend Joyce in Acapulco 1954.



After Korea, Jesse could be found lying on the beach in Acapulco 1954-55, “Like King Farouk, with Don Rackemann and Hershey (Hershel Conway). We made a trip like you wouldn’t believe. I ran with Joyce for on and off seventeen years, she was a good lady and I should have married her. In the beach pictures I was twenty-five and Joyce was twenty.”

Jesse and his brother, Memo, owned a Mobile gas station in the mid-50’s in Vernon outlier LA, “Lo’s”, they used to call him Lo. “George called me “Chili” or “Beaner”, I called him “Beaky Buzzard”. Jack Stewart said to me last week, ‘Remember old Beaky Buzzard, tee hee?’ I learned to rebuild racing engines and deliver parts after high school, and I memorized Ford parts numbers like a computer.” “Carl, X, and me were inseparable. We went to Mexico together, we went to Catalina, Crestline, and everything. But Carl and X got into a deal. X married Carl’s cousin, and X was mayor of Bell. So he got the license to build the first casino in Gardena and Bell. He got the Y involved and I told X, ‘Don’t get them Y into your love life, man, hey you got a problem.’ So he did. His cousin-in-law, Z, rolled over on X and X done two years for fraud. He had the casino 51%, he had it in his lawyer’s name. Z got tapes and turned it over to the feds. That’s how I got involved in X’s casino deal. He wasn’t supposed to go near the place.

CCC-los-gas-station-bell-ca-mid-50sLo’s Gas Station in Bell, CA in the mid 1950’s. The Gas Station Jesse and his brother Memo ran for some time. 

CCC-jesse-lopez-wife-mid-1950s2A well dressed Jesse with his wife in the mid 1950’s.

My name got involved so the feds come to me, they thought I was on the Y side. I was out in the chicken yard feeding and these two FBI’s come up in suits. But one guy was wearing cowboy boots, ‘Hey man, you got some beautiful roosters!’ They were coming up and I sez, ‘Whoo…I got problems.’ They hung the badge on me and said they wanted to talk. Real calm. Real nice. ‘Hey, you know what, I grew up with the Y. Carl and I went to grade school and high school and ran around. I don’t like what they done to X and I want nothing to do with it. You do what you have to. But you’re in my house.’ And I had this big house, a mansion that I built in Azuza. And I had my dinner/night club in Azuza by Hwy 39 with live music, the Canyon Inn. They made some movies on location there. This was from 1980-early 90’s. A natural rock foundation and fireplace. I had the rooster ranch on a couple acres there. I sold it to Buddhists who made a monastery of it. They put a retreat in the chicken yard, right against the mountain with deer. The guy with the boots was sympathetic and they went away and left me be. But they had me on tape with that Y…”

CCC-jesse-lopez-56-ford-pickup-hemiJesse’s 1956 Ford pickup with Hemi engine. This 1957 dated photo shows the car how it was painted with the Candy Lacquer finish he had developed himself. Sadly this photo has faded and does not show the color to well.

Carl Abajian died in 1986. He had the ’42 Ford coupe that Marcia Campbell traded her powder blue ’49 Chevrolet convertible for. Gaylord ruined the first interior on Jesse’s maroon ’51 Cad, Carson redid it. “Everyone said it was the most beautiful upholstery ever done. Imported German mohair, maroon and crème. I changed it with dual exhaust fishmouth bumpers and put a ’52 grill on it. The guy at Rinshed-Mason doctored it up with gold metallic. So many did our plush cars in that popular color. We didn’t have a lot of colors to go by then, and that showed up nice in the light.” The 1956 Ford pickup truck was first painted “Sam’s Maroon”, the 1940 GM ruby and Buick royal maroons dazzled with gold dust, the same color tricked for Nick’s and Johnny’s Mercs, George’s Buick, Richard Carter’s ’41 Ford convertible, Oren Breeland’s ’34 Ford chopped three-window coupe, and several others.

While Jesse worked at the Huntington Park Chanslor & Lyon auto parts and paint store, and built engines for his friends in the machine shop in back, in 1955-56 he developed a stabilized formula, involving DuPont toner red and viscous amber clear (measuring one small Minute Maid lemonade can of red to one gallon clear, the paint codes differ today), of candy lacquer to spray his 1958 T-Bird, and actually advanced the science of automotive paint. He gave the formula to George Barris who named it “Kandy Lak” in his line.


“The first perfect candy went on my ’58 Bird. It was a perfect beauty. Simply customized, not like a too made-up woman. That car color drew more attention because the car style was brand new and the paint style was brand new. Nobody ever saw that before. A lot of others came after with that patent paint. I sold the Bird in late 1958 to Don Rackemann for his wife.”

What a doll. Content and forever young on his ranch home by a streaming lake, “I also built this house in Riverside County from the ground up. No contractors. I had to relocate because of the zoning on the chickens. I’d love to be at the ocean. We were body surfers. I don’t enjoy fishing, though, because after Korea I never liked to shoot or hunt. It did something to me. My car, Snooky’s car, Hirohata’s car had a lot done to them, so much more complicated work customizing and chopping than even Nick’s superb custom chop. Metal work, hard top chops, channeling, different grills and bumpers, fade away fenders, finessed chrome, stylish pleats and paints, a lot of work defines a custom. Engines define the speed.”

There is more…. much more, so…

Continue reading in PART TWO of the
Jesse Lopez Lo! & Behold story.



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Continue reading on PART TWO of the
Jesse Lopez Lo! & Behold story.




David E. Zivot as a young lad was encouraged by his father to pursue and work on “old cars”. Thought it would keep him out of trouble. Has been in trouble ever since. Interest was always the early roadsters and customs from the era 1929-1958. Michelley, without whom the boys wouldn’t keep their stories straight, documents the history, wisdom, and enjoyment, portrayed in the cars.

4 thoughts on “Jesse Lopez – Lo! & Behold

  • thank you rik an michelle for the wonderfull story on jesse lopez an his car,, his car and gills were too of my favored cars in the 50.s, long live those memories,

  • Excellent job, Michelle. And Rik, working his magic to capture that metallic green! This, and the Marcia article go right into the history books with Rik’s interview with Dick Bertolucci. Priceless! I’m so glad that special history of very special craftsmanship and innovation is being documented. And thanks to Jesse for sharing!
    Larry Pointer

  • Rik ! where do you get this stuff from ? truly amazing stories & pics of the 50’s i kind of wish i had a time capsule & go back in time!

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