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Matranga Mercury Show Photo


Identifying the display photos on the wall behind the Matranga Merc at the 1951 Oakland Roadster Show

[dropcap]In[/dropcap] 2001 Pat Ganahl published his book The American Custom Car. In this book, on page 59, there is this small photo of the Nick Matranga Barris built 1940 Mercury. Ever since I saw this photo in this book for the first time,  I have been fascinated by it. Not only because of the Matranga Mercury with the trophies in front of it, but perhaps even more because of what happens on the display wall behind the car. The photo is taken at the 1951 National Roadster Show held in Oakland.

CCC-matranga-oakland-51-13-wPage 59 of Pat Ganahl’s The American Custom Car book that showed a small version of the photo of the Matranga Mercury at the 1951 Roadster Show, that intrigued me so much.


The Quest

The photo in Pat’s book was used¬†rather small, and it was a bit hard to see the 11 photos¬†that where displayed on the wall behind the Merc. I really liked the way those photos were used to promote the Barris Customs at the show. I visualized having exactly the same photos framed in a nice simple wooden photo frame hanging on a wall in my home. Before I could realize that I needed to identify the cars in the photos, and to see if I could locate the original photos, or similar once from the same car. I enlarged the photos using my scanner, looked at them with a magnifying glass. Some of the cars in the photos on the wall could be identified because similar or the same photos were used in the Barris Technique books. But no matter what I tried I could not get the back round clear and sharp enough to identify them all.

In 2010 Palle Johansen and me went on our Jack Stewart Ford research trip and we visited Pat Ganahl to ask interview him about the Jack Stewart Ford. During our visit Pat showed us some material from his HUGE Collection of old photos. And one of the photos he showed was this very same photo taken at the 1951 Oakland Roadster Show. And now I was able to take a very good and close look at the cars in the photos displayed on the back wall. I was very excited to be able to identify a few more. Sadly we were on a tight schedule and had to leave before there was time to scan the photo. I did make notes about the cars I had not been able to identify from the book, but now could, being able to looking at the original photo.

In the meantime I had collected several other photos taken from the car at the same show. Pat had used two photos of the Matrange Merc at the show, in his book, but at the time he thought one was taken at the 1951 and the other at the 1952 Show. I had already found out that both photos were taken at the 1951 show, but one photo was taken before the display wall was finished. A few other photos from that show also showed the photos in the background, but none were better than what I already had, and could not be used to identify the cars. One thing I did notice on one of the photos is that the hand painted show card showed a miss spelled name on it. Mantranga instead if Matranga. Some of the other photos also showed that the Mercury was situated in the outer ring of the show, and the wall behind it was actually the building outer wall.


Some time after that I came across a much larger print of the same photo than what was used in Pat’s book. And then I realized it was time to finish what I had started in 2001. I now needed to identify the all the cars in those photos displayed on the wall. I emailed Pat and asked if he could scan the back ground portion of that photo. He knew immediately which photo I was talking about, and the next day Pat emailed me the the back ground section of this photo in a nice high resolution.¬†There were basically two photos that I could not positively identify right then. (Photos “B” and “I”). But with the help of some friends I was able to identify those for 99.9% as well. I marked the photos in the background A-K.

During the time I was doing the research on this photo I was also working on the¬†story about Marcia Campbell for the Rodder’s Journal (issue #51).¬†I knew that Marcia¬†took a lot of photos of Barris Customs in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. I also found out then,¬†that Marcia always handed out large¬†prints to the car owners to take home, as well as¬†to George Barris to display¬†in the Barris shop.
So most likely it was Marcia Campbell who supplied the photos for this small photo exhibition behind the Matranga Mercury at the 1951 Roadster Show, or at least most of them.

If you look at the photos on the wall you can see that 3 of the 11 photos have different dimensions C,D and F. These photos where most likely taken by another photographer. All the other photos are all neatly positioned with the same amount of white, most likely developed by Marcia in here own dark room from here own photos and negatives.
Photos A, E and H are taken by Marcia during a photo shoot that also included the most famous line up photo. (see the CCC-Article about this particular photo shoot).


CCC-matranga-oakland-51-05-wThe two photos above are the scans that Pat Ganahl made. They are as clear and sharp as possible and provided me with enough info that I was able to identify the cars in the photos on the wall.

CCC-matranga-oakland-51-03-wA small scan shows the complete photo taken in February 1951. 

It is really interesting to see which Customs George Barris picked out to display in the booth. Some of them were already a few years old at the time they were displayed, like the Jesse Lopez and John Vara 1941 Fords. It is also interesting to see that the John Vara / Johnny Zaro 1941 Ford was used twice in the display. Once in its original version, and once with the new grille and paint job.¬†The 1951 Oakland Roadster show was held from 20 to 25th February of that year. One thing that I noticed from the photos on the wall is that the 1949 Chevy of Carl Abajian and Bill Taylor are the only two rather new cars. There was no photo of a 1949 Mercury custom on the wall. The Barris show was working on at least two 1949 Mercury’s Sam’s and jerry Quesnel’s. One of these, the Sam Barris mercury was actually at this 1951 National Roadster show. The fact that there are no photos of it on the display wall most likely means that the Sam Barris 1949 Mercury was finished just in time for the show, perhaps even the night before the show. There simply had been no time to make a proper photo for the display wall. I think George would have added a photo of Sam’s Mercury to this display wall, if he had them.

The identification

Below are the photos from the display wall on the left side and the same, similar or other photo shown on the right to proof the identification. We have found that some of the photos used on the display wall are still around today. From a few others we have not been able to locate original prints… so far.









CCC-matranga-oakland-51-photo-i-wThis is the only car in the series that I’m not 100% sure it is actually Harrold Larsen’s 1941 Ford. I know the Barris Shop created several similarly styled 1941 Ford convertibles in the late 1940’s early 1950’s.



CCC-matranga-oakland-51-08-wThis photo was also taken at the 1951 Roadster Show, but before the photos where put up on the wall behind the car. All the way on the left side of the photo we can see a jack stand. Possebly this unit was later used to raise the drivers side. Notice that Barris took a lot more trophies to the show than where displayed with the car eventually. Perhaps the others were used with different Barris cars at the show.

CCC-matranga-oakland-51-12-wThis photo shows how they opened the door on the Matranga Merc from time to time, so show off the Carson Top Shop created interior. In the background we can see the displayed photos peaking out over the rood of the car.

The three photos below are provided by Jamie Barter. They are scanned by George Zaft from his personal collection. These photos give us a good look how the Matranga Merc was situated inside the Oakland building. The photos also show that the car was put on an angle.




CCC-matranga-oakland-51-07-wThis enlarged section of the photo shows the miss-spelled name on the show-card. 
The identification of the cars in the photos used on the 1951 Display wall sure helped me in my goal to one day recreate this display wall in my own office. I guess I first need to get a bigger office, since right now my small office is wall to wall covered with book shelfs to hold my collection of books and magazines. But one day I will realize this long lasting dream. Perhaps not with exactly the same photos, but at least with photos of the same cars.


(this article is made possible by)




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)

6 thoughts on “Matranga Mercury Show Photo

  • Rik you mention that neither Sam or Jerry’s Merc’s were ready for pictures on the wall. Was Sam’s car not at this show?

    • Absolutely correct Ian. Yes, Sam’s Mercury was at this show. I was mixing up two shows. Most likely Sam had just finished the car for this show, perhaps even the night before and no photos had been taken of the car to show on this wall. I have corrected this fact now.

  • Fascinating detective work, Rik! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. I have always wondered about those photos myself.

  • Great article Rik, nice work. I really love pretty much all of those customs that were on the wall behind Nicks car. Its pretty surprising to me that having Sams mercury there wasn’t more of a big deal . It seems there would of been more about it since it was said to of been the first chopped 1949 Mercury and debuting at this show. This show would of been one of the greats to be able to attend and enjoy. I really would of loved seeing the Ayala merc win the whole thing.

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