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Background Mystery Custom




In the background of 2 early 1950s drag strip photos I spotted this unidentified Mystery Custom Convertible with Padded Top.

Most of the readers on the Custom Car Chronicle know that I love old photos showing car. And how I love to search the background of city views, cars shows, drag races etc to see if there are any Custom Cars hiding in the background. While I was browsing the online Revs Digital Library I accidentally came across a photo of a drag race I had not seen previously. Some of these large online photo collections use search terms to help you find what you are looking for. But often the search terms are not always added to the photos in a correct way. Making it near impossible to find certain photos that have been archived. None of the “make sense” search terms could have found this photo, and it was even filed under a completely wrong years (1980).

The photo was taken by William Hewitt and part of the William Hewitt Photograph Collection in the Revs Archives and alone his collection contains 21,240 photos. William Hewitt took mostly photos of road races from 1953 and up, but, judging his photo collection, he also was interested in land speed records, and apparently went to a few early/mid 1950’s drag races in California. In the first photo I found of William I spotted and padded topped custom in the background. BINGO… I zoomed in on the photos and noticed this really nice looking, most like ’40 Ford, convertible with heavy chop, padded top and Buick kind grille sitting next to the drag strip. It was a Custom I had never seen before. So I searched for more photos from this series, and  found a few more, but sadly one one other was taken at a similar angle and showed the same Custom Car in the background.

The full photo shows the ’40 Ford Coupe Hot Rod getting ready, or just starting its run on the dragstrip. Cars are parked next to the strip with the Custom all the way to the right.

At first I thought that it looked very much like the Al Garcia 1939 Ford Convertible Restyled by Harry Westergard and Less Crane in the late 1940’s. But on closer inspection I don’t think it is the same car. First because the car in these photos has vent windows (’39 Ford, and also Al Garcia’s do not have vent windows) plus the hood line towards the custom grille is different. So I do not think I have seen this great looking Custom ever before, and hope somebody does recognize it.

The ’40 Ford has its door handles removed and some more body work done and was partly in primer.

This is as large as I could get the Mystery Custom. To bad there is a pole in front of the car. The nose appears to be more round than a ’40 Ford nose. The hood appears to open up all the way to the Buick like grille with vertical bard. The windshield has a rather heavy chop with small side windows and angled B-pillars on the padded top. The front bumper could be a 46-48 Chevy unit.

There is not much to go on when it comes to identifying other than what we see in these two photos. There is no date when the photo was taken (yes 1980 according the Revs site, but that is wrong). We can see that the Hot Rod photos in the first photo has 1951 California license plates. Those were used from 1951 to 1955, so anywhere in between those years these photos could have been taken. William started taking photos in 1953, and the newest car in the photos looks to be a ’53 Chevy. So the photo must have been taken between 1953-55, most likely at an airport strip that was used for drag racing from time to time. The car looks to be based on a 1940 Ford, but even that I’m not 100% sure. It looks like it has a 39 model hood, wheel openings raised, a Buick based  or styled after grille, 46-ish bumpers, heavy chop, padded top, Spotlights, and running boards removed. All very typical for an early to mid 1940’s created Custom.

The second photo I found with the same mystery Custom in the background shows a rather beaten up mid engine Model T Drag Racer as the photo focus point. I think I have seen the car before, but cannot identify it at this moment.


The close up shows that the car had its running boards removed and a cover added to hide the frame. There is a line in the photo that looks like a possible side trim, which fooled me in the beginning, until I noticed the “trim” extended on the hood of the 53 Chevy parked next to it. The ’53 Chevy is also the newest car in both photos.

I combined the two photos to create the most complete photo of this Mystery Custom.

If anybody recognized this great looking Custom in the background of these two drag strip photos, please email Rik here at the Custom Car Chronicle so that we can add the information to this article. Thank you.

(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)

One thought on “Background Mystery Custom

  • Very interesting pictures, Rik. I totally agree on it being a ’40 Ford based on the vent windows and shape of the fender and body. Front wheel openings do look opened, as you mentioned…probably for tire clearance when turning?

    My first thought was Westergard too, mainly because the grill and hood faintly remind us of the Butler Rugard ’40 Merc. The link to the Westergard ’39 Ford in this article is even closer in design to this car.

    Nothing like spotting a kustom in the background…just look for tiny windows haha

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