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Custom Car Builders

April 27, 2019

Jim Skonzakes 1949 Buick

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Most people know Jim Skonzakes aka Jim Street from his Golden Sahara. But before that he owned several very nice Customs, including this 1949 Buick Roadmaster.

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Jim Skonzakes grew up in Dayton Ohio, far away from sunny California where the Custom Car style was born. This did not prevent a young Jim Skonzakes to fall in love with Custom Cars, and spend every spare moment he had on creating his dream Custom Cars. In 1954 that lead to the creation of the world famous Golden Sahara.

Jim’s parents owned a chain of launders shops in and around Dayton Ohio, which ensured a steady flow of money in the family. This allowed Jim to make road trips out to California to experience the fantastic Custom Car Scene, of which he had heard about from friend who had visit CA., in person. He absorbed all he could on the many trips he made to Los Angeles and other places. He quickly made friends there and found out about the Barris brothers, and the magical Custom Car Shops they had in the later part of the 1940’s and early 1950’s.

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One of Jim’s everyday drivers in the later part of the 1940’s was this nicely restyled 1941 Ford. He used this car to drive back and forth to California several times.

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In the later part of the 1940’s Jim owned an chopped and restyled 1941 Ford convertible, restyled in the typical California style. A style which he had studied on his trips to SoCal. Jim had been doing most the work on his own cars himself, including paint. At this time he also had a chopped ’39 Lincoln Zephyr, painted super glossy black (Sadly Jim was not able to locate any photos of this Custom, hopefully one day they will surface). Both of his Customs were drivers and he used them to make the trips to sunny California. The ’41 convertible in the summers and when it was a bit colder in Ohio he took the chopped ’39 Lincoln for another trip from Dayton, Ohio, to Los Angeles California.

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Earliest photo of the Jim Skonzakes ’49 Buick, still in progress. Photo was taken in 1950, possibly at the Santa Ana Drag Strip. The car’s top had already been created at this time, but was not installed. The hood still needed work at the bottom. When the photo was taken the car was painted with white primer, just as the Jack Stewart Ford behind it. Interestingly Jim would buy the Jack Stewart Ford a year or so after this photo was taken.

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During the many hours in his car on the around 2300 Miles trip, he started planning his next Custom, based on a 1949 Buick Roadmaster Convertible. In Los Angeles he discussed his plans with George Barris at the Barris Shop, and they made an agreement that Jim would rent some space at the Barris Shop so that he could work on the car himself, and at the same time have the option of having one or more of the Barris employees to help him out.

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Close up of the Buick. This white primer version shows off the beautiful fender skirt that Sam Barris crafted for the car. The guy with the hat all the way on the right is possible Jim.

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For Jim is was crucial that the Buick would be a very stylish Custom, not over the top, or with a load of extras add-ons he saw back home on Ohio’s Custom Cars. It needed to be something the GM designers could have dreamed up when first designing the car. With that in mind he asked Sam Barris if he could be hired to do the main metal work. Jim liked Sam very much, and loved his sense of style and had witnessed his amazing skills for metal work. Jim also hired Stan Getz who also worked for the Barris shop and together with Sam he would do most of the work on the car.

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Jim’s Buick at the first Petersen Motorama Show held in 1950 at the Shrine Convention Hall in Los Angeles, California. Jim was not present when this photo was taken, but George Barris was, and so was Jack Stewart, and other unknown guy with a Barris tag on his jacket, and two lovely girls. Notice how at these very early car shows, the trophies as well as other publicity material was displayed on the cars.

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Color photo taken by Jim on one of his trips from California to Dayton Ohio an around 2300 Mile (± 3700 KM) trip. Jim had protected the paint on the rear fenders with 1951 Oakland Roadster Posters. (Color photo was developed on April 17, 1951)

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They started with the suspension, ensuring a proper stance, before they could lay out the rest of the custom restyling. At the rear, the frame was C’d, so the rear axle would clear the frame. With the suspension work out of the way, Sam started the body work with the windshield frame, which he chopped 3 inches. The idea was to create a removable hard top for the car that made the car look just as good with or without the top. Not a padded top, that most convertibles had in those days, Jim liked those as well, but wanted something more exclusive for this Buick.

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1950 Indianapolis Auto Show. Jim Showed his just completely finished Buick, leaving a big impression with the east coast crowd.

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This photo gives a good look at how nice the rear window glass flowed with the chopped Cadillac top.

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Beautiful restyling, everything was done to make the car look better, not just different.

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In 1951 Jim took his Buick to the Indianapolis show again, the car had no changes since last year, except for many more miles being driven. Jim taped a Barris Business card to the vent window, a common thing to do back then, to advertise the body shop who had created the cars.

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Detail of the door showing the push button door opener that was installed on the rocker panel on both sides of the car, as well as the Barris Business card on the vent window.

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A similar Barris Kustom Automobiles business card as Jim used on his Buick. (from the Tom Hocker Collection)

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Chopping these GM convertible windshields is not as easy as many other cars from this age. The whole A-pillar is covered with stainless steel, which needs to be cut, reshaped and refitted. But Sam was an excellent metal man and after doing the inner structure of the A-pillar, he worked his magic on the stainless steel bright-work, as well as the vent windows.

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A friend of Jim took this photo of Jim with his just finished Buick in Dayton Ohio at the Carillon Park, a popular hang out place for car guys, back in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.

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With the windshield chopped to the right height Jim found a 1950 Cadillac fast back that would be used to create the custom removable hard-top top for the Buick. Jim never cared for the very heavy C-pillars on the stock ’49 Buick HT’s so together with Sam he designed the new c-pillar and rear window that would work with the new lower top, and looked nice, light and elegant.

When I asked Jim about the rear glass used in the car, and if it was perhaps made of plexiglass like so many rear windows on customs in those years, he mentioned that there was NO plexiglass on the Buick. They used real glass for it. But Jim could not remember from which car they had pirated the rear glass they used, but glass it was for sure. With the metal top all shaped they needed to add all the side window channels, which were created from reshaped units Jim had found and cut off junked cars at the nearby junk yard.

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The rear fenders of the Buick were removed and replaced with 1949 Cadillac units that Jim found at the Junk yard on a wrecked car with frontal damage. They needed a bit of reshaping to fit the Buick body which Sam Barris did, and he also molded them into the body, for the desired smoothed look. Also the rear bumper from the Cadillac was used, making the Buick appear much like a more exclusive Cadillac, and many people later would actually think Jim’s Custom was based on a Cadillac.

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Photo taken at the Dayton Ohio Carillon Park shows Jim’s Buick without the top during a summer cruise. The low stance, Custom Toothed grille, Cadillac rear fenders and chopped windshield all make this one outstanding Custom that made a huge impact on the Ohio Car enthusiasts. (Color photo developed Oct. 5, 1951)

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Sam modified some fender skirts to fit the Cadillac rear fenders. The new skirts are level with the bottom line of the rear fenders, creating a much nicer flow of the rear of the body into the bumper. All small design elements Jim and Sam agreed on would improve the cars looks. A new grille was made using the top bar of a 1950 Oldsmobile 98, in which Jim wanted to install some “heavy teeth”, for a bit more aggressive look. He Liked the shape of the new 1950 Buick teeth, but they required to be cut down at the bottom to fit the new opening. A lot of work, but the end result was spectacular.

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Eddie Martinez did the beautiful interior in Jim’s Buick, including the home made wrap around rear bench. The upholstery was done in black and beige, with white piping.

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Jim kept the Buick front bumper, as well as the stock bumper guards, they were very nice in shape and complemented all the rest of the customizing very well, so those were left in place. The headlight rings were welded to the fenders, and the headlights slightly frenched into them. The side trim of the Buick was replaced with the 1949 Cadillac unit. Sam installed a set of Appleton S-552 spotlights, and wide whitewall tires and Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps complete the finishing touches on Jim’s Buick.

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The dash board and garnish molding was painted black, just as the top, and the main gauge cluster and the glove box were chrome plated

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A better look at the home made wrap around rear bench. and the very wide, white piping that Eddie Martinez used.

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Shortly after the car was painted Jim drove it back to Los Angeles to have Eddie Martinez do a complete Custom interior with special hand made wrap around rear bench. Eddie upholstered the car in black with beige off set with shite piping. With the interior finished Jim entered the Buick in the 1950 Motorama show held in November 1950, and later several other shows on the east coast. Jim really enjoyed the Buick, it not only looked fantastic, but also drove like a dream. He drove it like this until around 1952, when Jim decided it was time for an update on the Buick using a few new parts to keep the car up to date.

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Jack Stewart ’41 Ford shortly after Jim bought, and drove to Dayton Ohio, parked next to his ’49 Buick at a local park in 1951.

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The car was primered in white and Jim would drive around for some time. This version shows in one photo taken at the Santa Ana drags. Soon after that photo was taken Jim drove the car back to Dayton, where he finished the work on the Buick. He extending the lower edge of the Buick hood, where it was indented to follow the original Buick grille. In the process Jim modified the stock molding on the Buick hood (which followed the stock Buick grille surround) and did not fit with the Olds grille bar at all. Jim decided to reshape the hood molding and let it flow to a center-point just above the new grille surround. The rest of the hood’s nose was completely smoothed. Now with all the body work finished Jim picked a Tokay Beige color for the main body and black for the top, and painted the car himself.

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The Buick at an 1951 East Coast Car Show, parked next to it is the Jack Stewart 1941 Ford Jim had just bought from Jack Stewart and driven from Los Angeles to Dayton Ohio. Two amazing Customs parked side by side.

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Jim’s daily drivers were always Custom Cars, so his ’49 Buick was no exception to that. Jim took this photo in February 1951, and this photo gives us a really great look at the flow of the rear window from the trunk to the top.
(Color photo was developed on Feb 1, 1951)

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Version Two

Jim made a few changes, including the addition of 1952 Cadillac taillights, which added even more style to the already classic lines of the car. Jim also adapted the same year Cadillac rear bumper that came with bumper tip exhaust holes, Perfect for his Buick. Jim repainting the body in his own mix of very deep purple, with a metallic lavender top, mixed in his favorite RM lacquer. He took the car on many road trips in this version and later when Jim’s other Barris project car, the Golden Sahara was finished, he sold the Buick. Sadly Jim has no idea what happened to the car, he has been on many hunts for it, when somebody mentioned he might have seen the car. But so far no luck. Hard to believe that such a wonderful trend setting Custom just disappeared.

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The 1952 make over of the Buick included new ’52 Cadillac taillights, rear bumper and a new deep-dark purple paint job with metallic lavender top. Jim mixed his own colors and painted the Buick himself.

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The front of the Buick remained the same in the make over. The new dark paint shows off the custom made peek on the front of the hood really well.

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The new taller ’52 Cadillac taillights and more stylish bumpers really fitted the rear of the car very well. Jim always loved how the Cadillac bumper tip exhaust holes looked on his car.

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The Second version of Jim’s Buick at an unidentified , most likely Ohio Car show around 1952.

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Jim’s Custom Buick has been very important in the history of the Custom Car. The 1949 Buick was finished in late 1950, very early for such a new car done as a full Custom. The Buick had an very unusual light color in an era that most Custom Cars were painted deep, dark organic colors. The light color was even more special because the Buick was already a very big car, and the light color made it stand out and looking even taller.

The main thing way this Buick Custom had such an impact was that Jim showed it both on the West as well as on the East Coast. Advertising the original Custom Look from California on the East Coast and with doing that must have inspired many young guys to create new Custom Cars. Jim had always been fascinated by California, and everything that came from there. But due to his family business he was “stuck” to Ohio. So he tried to create his own little California in Dayton, using his all California Styled Custom Cars. And hoped his friends would start building cars inspired by his California Styled Customs.

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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)




4 Comments


  1. what a beauty! i’m not totally sold for the front, but the rest is kustom porn!…even more beautiful in purple. thanks for sharing Rik 😉


  2. I have always liked the profile and early custom look of the Skonzakes ’49 Buick. I preferred the lighter color on it. I remember a Christmas card that Rik made using this Buick that was really good looking.


  3. Vince Ciganik Jr.

    Other than the hood extension coming to a point, what a great looking car. I also prefer the first build.



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