RAY VEGA 1938 FORD
Especially because of the 1952 Hop Up Magazine cover, the Ray Vega 1938 Ford sedan Convertible is one of the best known Valley Custom Shop created Custom Cars.
The Ray Vega 1938 Ford was created in 1951-52 by the Neil Emory and Clayton Jensen at their Valley Custom Shop. The car was based on an older style car for the time, and over a period of time restyled into a wonderful Classic Custom. A full Custom that retained a lot of the sharp details and chrome details in a time that shaving and molding were the trend of the day. The perfect blend of ’38, ’40 and ’47 Ford parts show the creativity and sense of style the Valley Custom Shop became known for at its very best. A Classic Custom was born, and the beautiful full color photo on the May 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine made is one of the all time favorite and best known Valley Custom Shop created Customs. Fortunately the car has survived, and has been restored with some personal touches by Tony Handler who has owned the car since the early 1960’s.
Before the team at the Valley Custom Shop would create a masterpiece of this 1938 Ford 4-door convertible it was first restyled by Art Williams of Burbank, California. Art sold the unfinished project to another Burbank resident, Ray Vega before he moved out of Burbank. Ray had heard many good things about the Valley Custom Shop in Burbank, so he took it to this shop to see if they could finish the work on the ’38, and create his dream Custom for him.
Ray bought the ’38 Ford partially finished as a basically stock bodied custom in 1951. The majority of the work done to the car was performed at the Valley Custom Shop. The body of the ’38 Ford was channeled a full 5 inches over the ’38 Ford frame, allowing the body to sit nice and low, but still have all the body handling of an original car. The front fenders, hood and hood sides were removed and replaced with the front of an 1940 Ford Deluxe. Including part of the cowl. To make the ’40 Ford front fenders work with the older body, as well as with the 5 inch channel the fenders were raised 5 inches and the hood was sectioned the same amount.
My personal favorite angle on the Ray Vega Ford is this rear quarter view. Everything flows so wonderfully together, and has been designed like it should have come from the factory this way. The heavier ’47 Ford bumpers suit the car very well, and despite they are mounted 5 inches higher compared to the lower body line, they still look perfectly in line with everything else.
The hood was welded together (stock 1940 hoods are made of two separate half’s which are bolted together in the middle and the seam is hidden by a stainless strip.) to become a single unit. The center trim piece was removed and a nice subtle peak was added. The belt-line on the sides of the ’40 Ford hood did not match the cowl of the ’38 Ford, so it was completely hammered out, for a much smoother look. With the front fenders now raised up into the their new location, the lower rear section of the front fender had to be extended with 5 inches, to compensate for the fenders new height, compared to the running boards. They used a second set of front fenders to add this extra 5 inch and then they replaced the stock ’38 running boards with a set of ’40 Ford running boards to perfectly blend the ’38 and ’40 ford parts together.
The ’38 Ford rear fenders remained in the stock position. And were later outfitted with FoMoCo aftermarket teardrop fender skirts. The stock taillights were replaced with low mounted 1941 Studebaker units.
This Hop Up magazine photo shows how nice the chrome beading looks around the rear fenders, enhancing the shape of the fender, the fender skirt and the side trim. the ’41 Studebaker taillight were mounted low of the rear fenders, just above the ’47 Ford bumpers. The reshaped to fit ’49 Chevy license plate cover makes it all look like it belonged that way.
Close up of the rear of the car with the FoMoCo teardrop skirts, just the right amount of white wall tire showing underneath it, the beautifully shaped Carson padded top. It also shows that the rear bumper is sitting higher than the lower edge of the rear fender.
Beautiful look at the modified 1940 Ford hood. How it was sectioned to fit the higher position of the ’40 Ford front fenders, hoe it was made into one piece with the peak added to the center, which matches the windshield divider perfectly. Not the special tarp that was made to cover the rear portion of the interior.
To make sure the lowered car could still be driven as a daily driver with only a little more effort than a regular car, the Valley Custom Shop crew decided to keep the bumper mounts in the stock position compared to the frame, which was 5 inches higher compared to the bottom of the body due to the channeling. Doing this had 3 advantages; 1 it allowed the car to enter much steeper drive ways due to more space in front and behind the fenders. 2 It protected the body much better from other cars with regular height bumpers. 3 the car looked less low than it was, making sure the cops did not pick it out that easy to ticket it for being too low. The stock bumpers were replaced with more modern and bulbous 1947 Ford unit, including their bumper guards. At the rear a ’49 Chevy license plate surround was modified to fit the Ford bumper.
The ’38 Ford windshield was chopped 3 inches, and the side window frames were treated the same way. All exterior door handles as well as the one on the trunk were removed for the desired smooth look. On the inside the ’38 Ford dash was replaced with a ’40 Ford Dash, the steering column, which was chrome plated, and wheel from the ’40 were also used. The finished body work was primed and the team at Valley Custom Shop painted the car in a deep Ruby Maroon paint, including the dash
So far this has been the only photo we have been able to find of the Ray Vega Ford exhibited at an indoor show. this photo taken by a Life magazine photographer was taken at the 5th Hot Rod Show, held in the Los Angeles National Guard Armory on April 24-27, 1952. Interesting to see is that the doors of the car were opened, to show off the beautiful leather interior.
Ray Vega was also invited in one of the Valley Custom Shop created car gatherings. Notice that both cars in the front had similar aftermarket hubcaps… one of the Valley Custom Shop trademarks.
A closer look at the front shows the place 5 inch higher ’40 Ford front fender. The rear of the front fender was extended down 5 inches to fill the gap to the Running board. The running boards were replaced with 1940 Ford units to nicely integrate the ’38 and ’40 components. The cowl and hood sides were modified with the belt line removed for an more modern look.
Then the car was taken to the Carson Top Shop for the white padded top, custom made to fit the 3 inch chopped windshield which gave the car a beautiful low, and elegant classic look. For when Ray wanted to drive the car with the top off, they fabricated a canvas tarp in matching material to cover and protect the rear seat. After the body had been channeled over the frame 5 inches the seat tops were now higher than the belt-line, so the base of the seat was cut down three inches to solve this problem. The door garnish moldings were chrome plated. Ray’s mother hand-tooled natural brown oak tanned Mexican leather sections to be used on the seat tops to give the car a very luxurious feel. The interior was then completely upholstered in the same natural brown leather in wide tuck & roll pattern at the L & L Upholstery shop in Glendale, Ca. A shop the Valley Custom Shop used frequently on their car. The end result was an really spectacular interior, and very different from anything else created at the time.
Finishing touches on the car were added, including wide white wall tires with after market ribbed hubcaps fitted to 16″ wheels. Those hubcaps are a Valley Custom trademark, and they were used on many of the cars coming out of this shop. In contrast to a lot of the full custom cars created at the time, Ray’s ’38 Ford did not have fully molded fenders, instead they used chrome beading to finish the fender to body gap. Another touch that made Ray’s Ford look very elegant, and Classic.
From the Hop Up magazine article comes this photo showing the beautifully created interior with the hand tooled seat tops created by Ray’s mother. It also shows the chrome plated garnish moldings, and chrome plated ’40 Ford steering column.
Ray owned the car for some time after it was finished and entered it in a few show, where it did very well. The highlight for Ray, as well as for the Valley Custom Shop concerning this ’38 Ford was it was on the cover of the May 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine in full color, and inside with a 3 page feature in beautiful sepia. Personally I feel that this May 1952 cover of Hop Up Magazine is one of the most stunning Custom Car cover ever done. I really wish that the original color slide taken by Jerry Chesebrough would surface again, and be used in a modern publication or online so that we can see the cars real color.
Ray’s Ford was pretty low, as this side view shows, but the fact that the bumpers were still in the stock position on the frame, and not dropped 5 inches to match the channeling made the car appear much higher from the front and rear. Take a good look at the beautiful shape of the Carson Top.
This front 3/4 view shows the effect of the bumper left in stock position on the frame, but 5 inches higher compared to the body (due to the channeling). It makes the car look sectioned from this angle. The ’47 Ford bumpers look so good with the car. And the peak on the hood adds just enough sharpness to the smoothed hood.
After some time Ray sold the car but it was kept like it was by the new owner. At some point after 1957 some sailors were driving the car in Palmdale, California and wrecked it pretty bad on the front left. It was so badly damages that the car ended up in a wrecking yard in Pearblossom (Hwy 138) near Elmo. Tony Handler found the Ray Vega ’38 Ford in the same wrecking yard in the mid 60’s. The car was mostly there, even some of the tooled leather interior was still there. The rear fenders had been modified to accept large and wider rear tires, indicating the car was used at the drags at one point.
Pat Ganahl took this photo of the Vaga Ford when Tony Handler owned it in the early 1970’s. A lot of work had already been done on the car, but it would taken to around 2014 before the car was completed.
Tony Handler worked on the car at his shop over the years, planning to do a full restoration. And make some personal updates at the same time. From the beginning he planned on doing the car in all black. In the late 1970’s Tony had the car back on the road, in primer, still with the cut out rear fenders, no rear bumper and a set of nerf bar bumpers on the front, wire wheel and black wall tires. It would take Tony several more decades to get the car all completed, and in 2014 he took it to the Grand National Roadster Show when it was nearly completed. The Padded top was still missing, but the next year he would return, and now the car was all completed.
Tony had updated the car with a few personal touches, or perhaps we should say backdated. The tan hand tooled interior was to far gone to be restored, so he had to replace it. At one point he decided that the car would become all black, so the interior was also redone in black. And so was the padded top, once white, now completely redone in black giving the car a completely different look. Tony also added a set in license plate in the trunk, replaced the ’40 Ford headlights with thinner ’39 Ford bezels. And replaced the ’47 Ford bumpers with thinner ’40 Lincoln units. The completely restored body was painted a super deep high gloss black.
It appears to me that Tony had backdated the car, because that is what I feel with the version Tony has created with this car. Almost like an earlier version of the car created in the early 1940’s, with the thinner Lincoln bumpers, and the set in license plate. It almost looks like the car, the way it looks now, is a pre Ray Vega version… a version that never excited.
I was extremely excited when Jeff Neppl send me some photos from the 2014 GNRS set up day showing the almost finished Ray Vega 1938 Ford at the show. I had heard the car would be at the show, painted black, and it looked superb. Although I still had hoped a little bit that the car would have been restored back to how we all know it best, from the 1952 Hop Up Magazine cover. Still it is amazing the car survived and has been restored and reworked, perhaps to an earlier version of the Ray Vega Ford.
New for this version of the car are the set in license plate in the trunk, the modified 1940 Lincoln bumpers, the flush fender skirts, ’39 Ford headlight bezels, all black paint and new interior.
The John Williamson Stories
John Williamson has been a huge fan of the Ray Vega 1938 Ford since 1954 when he was around 12 years old. He has been trying to acquire the original car for many years, and when this failed he decided to build a semi clone of it, which is currently underway. Lets take a look at a few stories John shared with us about the Ray Vega Ford.
“When I was 12 or 13 two guys brought the car to my Verdugo Hills High School in Tujunga California. It was in perfect shape like the color shot on the May 1952 Hop Up cover. The guys were older Seniors sitting real low and both had Rayban sun glasses on; Mike Burgman and Mike Fitsgerold, for me it was the COOLEST THING I ever saw! Those guys that car at that time when cars were the most important thing to kids it was around 1954. Mike Burgman and some others would cruise the school parking lot in it, which is where I got hooked on it. The School was Verdugo Hills High School (VHHS) in Tujunga Ca. It was pretty notorious, some kids in the OWLS Car Club once stole the Hirohata Merc from the Oasadena car lot and took it to school. They got caught and the car was returned to the car lot owner where the current owner bought it. The guy who took it was Merrell Morland an OWL.”
“After that the car sat in Mike Bergmans front lawn for a long time maybe a couple of months and it was near the school on the street I had to walk to get to school so I’d stop and hang on the fence and look at it almost every morning dreaming of how cool it’d be to own it drive it and get in the back seat with my girl and make out. I didn’t even have a girl yet I was so young, it was just something to dream about. About 1956 or 57 I was with a friend Tom Hutton and we went out to his Dads house in Reseda to visit and the car was sitting there under a tree out in the weather being stored. Toms dad was a policeman in Hollywood and we were going to see him to ask him to help us get out of a scrape we were in so I wasn’t so focused on the car but I knew that was it.”
“20 Years later I went to the first or second Throttlers Picnic at Val Halla Park in Burbank and there was the car running and driving but looking bad. I tried to buy it but Tony was not interested in selling it, he told me that he bought it for $7 from a junk yard in Palmdale California. Later I was talking to someone who was a friend of Tony’s and that guy gave me Tony’s phone no. and I’d call and try to buy it every couple of years.”
“Years later in the 80’s I worked with Clay Jensen one of the two Valley Custom Shop guys who built the car originally and he was so nice to share all his pictures with me in a 3 ring binder he had. The Hop Up black and white photos were in there along with all the others of cars he and Neil Emory built.”
“I got into 36 and 37 Cords and bought a truck load of Cord stuff from two old retired ladies in Pasadena. Several engines, transmissions, front drives, fenders and a hood for $400. It took me 2 or 3 trips in my 50 Chevy Pickup to bring all the stuff home. I had bought a burned Cord and a second Cord with no running gear and was working to put those cars together when I found a nice Cord for a steal price and bought it so I had a good Cord Custom Beverly that I was driving and I decided to advertise my extra Cord stuff in the Recycler news paper. Tony called me to ask about the Cord stuff because he was fixing one up for his girlfriend Margot. When they got to my house I recognized him and tried to trade him all my Cords for the tub and again he said no, he was going to keep it. That was very dumb of me but I was just nuts for the tub.”
“About 2010 I went to see Ray Vega at one of his restaurants we made an appointment to see him and my friend Tony Velloza and I went and took Ray a copy of Pat Ganhal’s The American Custom Car book, so he could see how important his car was. Ray was a very big guy in Nevada politics and was real nice to visit that day. He told us that his ’38 tub was the only Custom car or Hot rod he ever owned and that his Mom who had a restaurant a on Olvera St in L.A. had hand carved the seat backs and bottoms in a traditional pattern that was used on Mexican purses. They are still being sold there as traditional Mexican purses today.”
“I got an estimate from a lady who does that leather carving now and she told me to do 2 seat tops it would be $1500, that was about 10 years ago. The next time I saw the car Tony had finished it. I had been telling Tony that I was working on a new tub that would be like his Original Ray Vega car but he had more resources and by now he has finished Ray’s car…. I’m still working on mine and am happy to be able to drive it after about 5 years of working to build it from parts and pieces. I have the Ruby Maroon Paint to paint it with.”
Special thanks to John Williamson and Gary Emory.
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