Custom History

September 26, 2017

Joe Bailon Miss Elegance




Joe Bailon turned this once wrecked 1941 Chevy Coupe into the show winning Miss Elegance, his personal Masterpiece.

Joe Bailon bought his 1941 Chevy Coupe, which had severe frontal damage on the right side from rear ending an Navy truck and paid $50.00  He removed the damages sheet metal and fixed the radiator fan and drove it home. He ordered all new front fenders and a hood, and when installing them he tarted to customized those right away. In the late 1940’s Joe chopped the top on the car around 3 and a half inches, and moved the rear of the top forward the same amount.

First Versions

The first version of the car had a regular chop, but with the rear quarter windows and the stock, but canted forward  rear window in place. At the front Joe had created a full width grille surround, and filled it with hand bend chrome plated rods creating vertical grille bars. Over time Joe created no less than 7 different grilles before he ended up with the one we are all familiar with. The front bumper was replaced with an 1946-48 Chevy unit.

This is the oldest version of Joe Bailon’s 1941 Chevy with the full width home made grille. Chopped with the quarter windows still in place and with the stock rear window and primer paint. Notice the pointing forward of the Appleton Spotlights, black wall tires and moon hubcaps.


A little later Joe had added a new smooth front bumper and the car was now painted.


Addition of a license plate surround inside the grille opening.


Second Version

Joe added a set of 1941 Cadillac rear fenders to the car and molded them in. They are similar in shape as the Chevy units, but longer, which fitted the design Joe had in mind better. Around 1951 Joe redid the top and filled in the rear quarter windows, and create a wrap around rear window by extending the windows sideways around the corner of the top. The new rear window would be a three part unit with chrome dividers. A license plate was set at the back below the shortened trunk.

Joe had created a custom dash for a client and wanted to go a bit wilder for his own personal Custom. He started with black sheet metal top and bottom, welded together to which he welded gauge surrounds from the junk yard. He added a total of 13 gauges and 32 dash-knobs to the unique dash. The plan was to have the dash chrome plated, so all the work had to be done extremely precise and everything needed to be metal finished. It took Joe several month of spared time to create the dash. He spend $50.00 to have the end result plated, and then spend some more money to fill all the holes with Steward Warner gauges that were all wired by Joe and all of them lit up and worked. Amazing considering Joe always mentioned he had absolutely no idea what he was doing. The interior on Joe’s ’41 Chevy was upholstered by Joe’s second wife, who used a dark red velvet drapery material found at a surplus store. The interior looked very luxurious, enhanced by all the glitter from the Chrome dash. and window moldings.

Photo taken around 1951 shows that Joe now had filled the rear quarter windows, widened the rear window, extended the front fenders using 42-48 Oldsmobile fender units, added the ’41 Cadillac rear fenders, hood side bulges, and reshaped the grille opening and front of the fenders and added new hand shaped 3/4 inch round tubing grille bars.


This photo comes from a baby book for Carolyn Jo Bailon born April 10, 1950 it shows the baby sitting on the primered front fender of Joe’s ’41 Chevy. Interesting is to see the hand-made hubcaps without the Studebaker ornament. That’s Joe Bailon on the left side of the photo.


A little later shows the car still in primer, but now with the ’48 Studebaker stars added to the hubcaps.


The first versions of the car had the stock short ’41 Chevy front fenders molded to the body, but later Joe added 1942-48 Oldsmobile door fender sections to the car and matted them to the Chevy units. This gave the car a whole new different look, longer and lower. At the same time Joe also added material to the front of the fenders, possibly from a late 30’s Cadillac adding a more bulbous section below the headlights. A half round cut out was made under the headlights and the headlights rings were molded to the headlight pod. This all created a unique new look. Joe further modified the grille opening, and narrowed it compared to the earlier versions. Then Joe hand bend 21 grille bars from round tubing, smoothed then before having them plated and then installed them into the new opening. A custom made splash pan was molded to the front of the car, and the center section, where the grille bars are, was made as a separate part and chrome plated.

Third Version

The car was primered once again and driven for some time. Then Joe was inspired by the 1948 Tucker cars, and decided to redo the rear fenders on his Chevy. He handmade the top and front portion inspired by the Tucker’s front and rear fenders. He included a hand made chrome plated mesh for the working scoop. At the back Joe created a new bumper made from a center section with end pieces combined from Studebaker bumper guards placed horizontal. In the bulge section he create the exhaust outlets, again with home made bars. Later in his career one of the things Joe Bailon would be famous for where his hand made round rod grilles and bumpers. It all started with his personal ’41 Chevy.

Joe was very much inspired by the design of the Tucker when he redid the rear fenders, Here we can see Joe adding new sheet metal to the top and front of the ’41 Cadillac rear fender.


Now with the new shaped rear fenders with an air-scoop in the leading edge of the rear fender. Cadillac fender skirts and ’49 Ford taillight housings. This photo also shows the shape of the wrap around rear window and how Joe added a drip rail around the door. Also notice the shortened trunk and bulged section below the trunk leading into the molded in splash pan.


Joe painted his ’41 Chevy in a home mixed maroon to which he added silver for some sparkle and painted it over a yellow base. The end result was a very nice brilliant and deep color. The humble beginning of what he later would develop into his famous Candy Apple red. Joe entered the finished car in the 1952 Oakland Roadster Show and won first place (National Award). At the time Joe’s car was nick-named “the Dashboard”. The name “Miss Elegance” was given to the car a little later.

Another photo from the Carolyn Jo Bailon baby book shows a crown Carolyn polishing here fathers freshly pained Chevy. Notice the molded headlights, with extended froward fender sections and molded in splash pan. The center section of the splash pan was a separate piece and was later chrome plated.


Joe’s ’41 Chevy at the 1952 Oakland Roadster Show.


Joe’s freshly bright maroon over yellow painted Chevy looked brilliant at the show.


The unique hubcaps were created by Joe out of farm equipment plow discs made from made from heavy spring steel. Joe cut them to fit the 16″ wheels added two narrow grooved towards the end and had them chrome plated. Later Joe added 20, ’48 Studebaker front fender vent door ornament stars to it. The heavy metal of the disk made in necessary to torch the holes for each of the stars. The working knock-off in the center was also designed and hand made by Joe.


Life Magazine did a series of photos taken at the Hot Rod show in the National Guard Armory in Los Angeles held at April 24-27, 1952. Beautiful detailed photos of the Hand made front of the car, and smoothed bumper.


Not to many cars had their bumper bolts shaved back in 1951-52. But that is what Joe liked. Notice the reflection of the grille bars in the chrome plated section of the splash pan. Joe had picked up numerous awards with “Miss Elegance” already.


I like how the Life Magazine photographer captured the audience expressions when they looked inside to see the velvet maroon interior and chrome plated home made dash with 15 gauges.


Photo taken at the 1952 Oakland Roadster Show. Nita Nelson checks out the 13 gauges and 32 push-buttons on the Joe Bailon 1941 Chevy Miss Elegance. An news paper article in which this photo appeared mentioned the costs for the Dash alone was a staggering $1160.00


Joe’s amazing all hand made dash created from sheet metal and gauge surrounds he found. All carefully welded together and metal finished over a period of several month of spare time. It cost him $50.00 to have it plated back in 1951.The steering wheel comes from a 1952 Lincoln.


Close up shows that Joe hand made the shifter handle from clear Lucite.


This photo gives a good impression how luxurious the interior looked with the maroon velvet upholstery on the seats’ side panels, and also the headliner. With chrome accents on the garnish moldings and of course the 13 gauge dash.


Beautiful higher point of view shows the great lines of the Chevy. The front bumper is either a smoothed ’46-48 Chevy unit, or ’47 Oldsmobile.


Fortunately we have a few color photos of the car from around 1952 showing the Joe Bailon added metallic dark red over yellow. The car must have been stunning to witness in person.


This fade color photo is the only photo I was able to find that shows off the bulge in the rear of the body really well, just below the shortened trunk line.


Side profile, we always need a side profile to show off the cars proportions. Beautiful lines, with it nice flowing chop, the Oldsmobile extended front fenders, longer ’41 Cadillac rear fenders with Tucker inspired front sections of the rear fenders. The low mounted ’49 Ford taillight pods give the rear even more optical length.


The heavy chrome and maroon velvet upholstery gave the car a high end luxurious feel.  The added tool box in the door panel and chrome plated top of the shortened running boards add to that high end feel.


Joe had been very impressed with set in license plated since he first saw one on Tommy the Greek’s ’40 Mercury. So he knew he had to have one on his own full Custom Chevy. The ’49 Ford taillight housed use hand shaped clear red Lucite lenses. The rear bumper is mostly hand made using Studebaker Bumper guards welded to a center bumper piece. The bulged guard section was cut to have the exhaust tips sit into.


Joe Bailon offered his car For Sal in the November 1952 issue of Hop Up Magazine. Asking price was over $4,000.00. Quite a some of money for an 1941 model car at a time a lot of those that might have been interested were heading to Korea. Joe ended up selling the car for around $400.00 a year or so after this ad.


Fourth and last Version

After Joe had not been able to find a buyer for the car he decided that for the 1953 Oakland Roadster Show he wanted to make a few more changes to the car.  The grille surround was modified to accept chrome plated bullets next to the toothed grille. Joe also modified the bulge he had added to the hood sides in 1951, the front bulge was cut off and reshaped to form a functional scoop. He once again painted the car in a brilliant dark red, and won prices with the car at the show again.

Photographed at the 1953 Oakland Roadster Show. By now Joe had modified the grille opening by adding space for two side bullets. And the front of the hood bulge was opened up to for a functional scoop.


Customs Bay Area Car Club uses an image of the Joe Bailon Miss Elegance.


Joe also won awards with the ’41 Chevy at the ’53 Oakland Roadster Show. less than a year after the show Joe sold the car for around $400.- (Which is in strong contrast with the worth 12.000 sign on top of the car)



After having showed the car for 2-3 years Joe ended up selling the car around 1953-54. The car was once estimated to be worth $12,000.00, but only brought Joe around $400.00. Older Custom Cars, no matter how successful and or popular just did not bring much money around that time. And Joe needed the money and Dick Carter of “Dickering” used car dealer knew that and had the deal of his life he though. He offered the car for sale for a very high price and sat unsold for a long time at his lot. Joe remembers that he later saw the car in Hayward looking very bad with caved in roof. Later it went to a new owner in Castro Valley who repaired the roof damage, put an Hemi engine in it, removed the skirts, opened up the rear fenders so that huge racing tires would fit and drag raced it for some time.


The Miss Elegance is perhaps the best know car Joe Bailon created, the Chevy has crazed many of his business cards over the years.


Later in the 1970’s the owner got in a divorce and the car was crushed, but not before the owner had removed the hand made hubcaps, chrome dash and bumpers. The dash board eventually ended up in Ed Hagerty’s junkyard, and after some of the gauges were taken Bill Reasoner ended up with it, and gave it back to Joe years later. Joe was in the process of making a copy of his Miss Elegance using the original dashboard. He has been working on it for many years off and on, but the project was far from finished when Joe passed away on September 25th, 2017. Hopefully somebody else will be able to continue the quest of recreating Miss Elegance.

This is the last known photo of the Mis Ellegance, not sure when it was taken, but the plates on it are pre-1956. At the time this photo was taken, after Joe had sold it, the paint was in very bad shape, but other than that, it looks to be still complete.



Special thanks to Bruce Heather

(This article is made possible by)



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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)


  1. Difficult to add anything to your story Rik. That profile shot alone shows the real artistry of the man. I too, hope someone will take Miss Elegance (II?) through to completion.. Another legend gone.


  2. Deepest gratitude, Rik, for this thoughtful look back through the life of Jo Bailon’s finest rolling work of art. How better to fully appreciate the man and his work. It’s like paging through Joe’s personal photo albums, but then to have you point out and explain the changes to this iconic custom over it’s short existence is…priceless. Thank you.

    I’m thinking I recognize in that later front bumper the same form as selected by Valley Custom for their Polynesian Oldsmobile. Later 40s GM, possibly 1947 Olds.

  3. Interesting article Rik.
    I always though that I saw echos of the Tucker in this car. And now I know.
    Seems like the amount of work vs the selling value issues went on back then as well.
    Truly a one of a kind custom.

  4. Cool article Rik. I didn’t count the knobs but I only see 13 gauges. 🙂

  5. rik u did an awesome article on joes 41 chevy love it love the story on it an thegreat photos that dash is so kool allso congratulations on great article on joe may he r,i,p,

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