DUANE STECK MOONGLOW
In early 1955 Duane Steck finds an used 1954 Chevy Bel-Air on a used car lot, and decided to buy it for his next project Custom. Some time later, when the car was finished Duane named it the Moonglow.
Special thanks go out to Steve Steck for sharing many of the photos and stories about his brother Duane Steck and the Moonglow Chevy with us.
This is a two part story on the Duane Steck’s 1954 Chevy Moonglow. At the end of this article there is a link to part TWO.
Before getting the 1954 Chevy that would become the “Moonglow” Duane Steck owned a 1948 Chevy Sedan that he mildly customized. Nosed, decked, shaved handles, bumper mounted taillights, wide whites, aftermarket hubcaps and a lowered suspension, made this sedan a very nice cruiser. The picture of the car in primer was taken around 1953 or early ’54. It shows a dual carburetors he had on the engine. Duane’s brother Steve could not remember if anything else was done to the engine, but knowing Duane was never really interested in performance he doubt there was, perhaps some extra chrome. It was in early 1955 that Duane spotted a light blue 1954 Chevy Bel Air on an used car lot in Bellflower. Duane decided to buy the Chevy, he liked it because it had factory power windows in the front. This 1954 Chevy would later become the “Moonglow”.
Duane’s 1948 Chevy Sedan, the in progress photo was taken in 1953-’54, the finished one on the bottom was taken in 1954, perhaps early 1955. Duane drove this Chevy when he found the 1954 Chevy which would become his next ride/project.
When Duane Steck started to work on his 1954 Chevy in late 1955 he of course had no idea that he would create a Custom Classic. A Custom Car that would be used as example of good styling, as base for many other 1953-54 Chevy Customs styled using elements of from this car, or even several clones, and near clones. Duane was very creative, and artistic, working in advertising as a commercial artist for a living. His creative skills sure helped him in designing the car, and assure that the overall design of the car would benefit the already nice lines of the 1954 Chevy. The car was originally planned to be an un-chopped mild custom. But in 1956 Duane decided to go a different route and decided to chop the top.
[box_light]The Moonglow Photo-Album
Fortunately Duane decided to document the creation of his 1954 Chevy. Brother Steve took a lot of the photos during construction and when the car was done in its first finished versions Duane and Steve created a photo album using these in progress photos to show to the audience in the car shows Duane entered the car. Over the years, when the Chevy went thru its changes more updated photos were added to the album. Somewhere around the time Duane lost interest in showing the car, this was in 1960-61 he loaned the Moonglow Photo-Album and forgot he ver loaned it to somebody. The album was lost for many decades, the Steck family had no idea where it was, but fortunately after Rod & Custom did an article about this amazing album in the June 1991 issue, the album found its way back to the Steck family. The plan is to show most of this album in the third issue of the Trend Book Custom Cars Annual published by Justin Kudolla. (The photos from the Moonglow Photo-Album shown here come from the R&C article.)
Moonglow version One
Duane did not have a garage to work in, so most of the work was done in front of his house, in the drive way, which makes it even more magical that his drive-way built Custom became one of the most famous Custom Cars ever created. Doing most of the work himself Duane started to lower the car to get it to the perfect ride height, it is listed as a 7 inch drop. The door handles were shaved, the trunk and hood were smoothed and the stock Chevy taillights were frenched it with a slight tunnel around them. Duane created hooded headlights shaped like the new 1955 Chevy. The top of the grille surround was molded to the body and the splash pans front and rear where molded in. A set of fender skirts was extended down to fit flush with the bottom of the fenders.
These two in progress snapshots show the first phase of the car as a semi Custom. The Steck family lived in uptown Bellflower when these photos are taken. Duane drove the car around like this for some time, in light blue, with dark gray primer spots. Notice the hooded headlights styled after the new 1955 Chevy. The rear bumper remains in the stock position in this version.
However before Duane finished the mild Custom version of the Chevy with a new paint-job, he changed his mind and decided to go full custom and started to chop the top, in the drive way. During the build of the Chevy Duane always could relay on the helping hand of brother Steve, but with the chop Duane also asked for the helping hand of his friend Ben Cook who ran an welding shop nearby. During this next round of restyling Duane also decided to change the head and taillights. The home made headlight eyebrows were cut off, and a set of 1952 Ford headlights were chosen to be used instead. The headlight rings were molded into the fenders. At the rear Duane picked a set of 1956 Chrysler taillights lenses which he decided to use upside down. To be able to do this he hand made a new opening in the extended top section of the fenders. Using round rod and sheet metal creating the unique shape that would have huge impact on the Custom Car World.
When the Chevy was ready for paint, Duane chose icebox white as the main color with a powder blue insert inside the side trim on the rear fenders. Duane had the paint done by a friend who worked at a local Earl Scheib shop in enamel. With the car painted he took it to Delbert Crocker Del’s Trim shop who did the interior in a matching white and powder blue. Duane added a 1956 Chevy rear bumper guard to the rear bumper. He cut small holes in the bumper guard tips and added small parking lights to them. Duane modified the stock 1954 Chevy grille by adding some extra teeth to a total of 15. All the glass was cut to fit the new openings, but the rear window was tempered glass and could not be cut. So Duane made a new one from plexiglass cut form a template he made to fit the opening. Him and his brother heated the glass in an oven and rushed out to the car to make it fit the opening while it was still hot.
Once the car was completely finished Duane took it over to Larry Watson’s house. He had heard about Larry doing pin-striping from his parents house, and figured he would be good for the ideas he had for the Chevy. Duane had sketched some naked lady’s and wanted those on his car. He knew how to draw them, but unsure if he could stripe them in paint. Larry took on the offer and striped the figures on the car after Duane had stenciled his designs on the car. Larry added some extra striping, also designed by Duane. When the car was finished it became a HUGE hit where ever he went. Duane was winning many awards with his Chevy, and gave Larry credit for the pin-striping whenever he could. The popularity of the Moonglow and the striping really helped Larry’s painting career to lift off. Duane and Larry remained friends and Duane helped Larry with a lot of design ideas on other cars. Duane would later call in the help from Larry for the other versions of the Moonglow, but we will get to that later. This first version of Duane’s Moonglow was featured in a two page article and in color on the cover of the January 1957 issue of Car Craft Magazine.
Bob D’Olivo took the photos for the January 1957 Car Craft feature and cover. The photos were taken in Griffith Park a year earlier. Bob sure knew how to take good photos of cars as this low angle photo shows. The low angle gives a good look at the extended fender skirts and how the fit beautiful with the shape of the rear fender.
My personal favorite angle of the Moonglow is this higher rear 3/4 view when all the lines work at its best. The turned upside down 1956 Chrysler taillights inside the custom made openings are as perfect as they can be. This photo shows the Larry Watson pin-striping and the 1956 Chevy rear bumper guards with custom parking lights added.
Note from Steve Steck about the Duane Steck Business Card
This is a business-card Duane had made when he finished the car the first time. When Duane bought the ’54 Chevy Bel Air we lived in the lower part of Bellflower in a house my dad bought during WWII. He got a job at Consolidated Vultee (later Convair and then General Dynamics, I don’t know what they’re called now) at their plant in Downey. So we moved up from San Diego. Just after Duane bought the car the residential area we lived in was annexed into Lakewood. After the war dad had a shop built onto the back of the garage and opened his own print shop. But Lakewood didn’t allow a commercial business to be located in a residential area so we sold the house and moved to upper Bellflower, where dad had a shop built next to the garage at the house we bought. All this explanation is merely to say the address on the card was the house in upper Bellflower. It’s also interesting to note that the phone number had an alphabetical prefix unlike they do today with all numbers. Funny, but I never forgot that phone number.
Photo taken for a magazine article with Duane showing where the push button was located for opening the door. Duane originally put it behind the Bel Air strip plate as he is indicating in this photos. Later moved it to under the car where you pushed it with your toe.
This photo from the Barry Mazza collection is the only one we have seen that shows the Renegades plaque mounted on the drivers side of the rear bumper. Notice that also the trunk was fully upholstered by Del’s Trim Shop.
This first version of the Duane Steck’s 1954 Chevy the Moonglow is considered by most Custom Car purist as the finest version all all (four in total). The car had made a huge impact at the local shows Duane entered it, the drive ins he cruised and a year later on the cover of the January 1957 issue of Car Craft. The Chevy was simple in design, yet very radical in its looks with an overall design flow. It is this first version of the car that was later used as inspiration for many clones and semi clones.
Go to PART TWO of the Moonglow story…
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