custom cars

December 7, 2015

Don Dobbins Shoebox

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Written by: Rik Hoving
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In 1955 Don Dobbins from was starting his career as body-man, his 1949 Ford Coupe would be his canvas for a lot of successful restyling experiments.

In 1955 Don Dobbins had just come back to the US for serving in the Army stationed in Germany when he found a nice $350.- 1949 Ford coupe at a local Junk Yard. While still in the army he used the car as daily transportation and slowly started to transform it into his dream custom in his spare time at a local body show he was working spare time. Don wanted to become a body man and he figured that he could best practice on his own project while building his dream custom. He experimented a lot on the car and tried many new things just to practice and to see if he could do the work. 

CCC-don-dobbins-ford-01Photo taken not to long after the Ford was bought from a car lot in july 1955 after Don had returned from service in Germany.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-02Don spend his spare time reworking the Ford at a local body shop where he had a part time job while still in the army. The hood had been shortened in the front, new grille opening created, 52 Mercury headlights molded into the fender, shaved body and Oldsmobile rear fenders.


The Humble beginnings

At first the car transformed into a mild custom, with a shaved body and custom front and rear. Don welded the front end of the hood to the front fenders, and cut a new line a bit higher to make the hood look thinner. He used some spare parts, round rod and sheet metal to create a new grille opening. He molded in a set of 1952 Mercury headlights and cut of the Ford rear fender tops and replaced them with 1951 Oldsmobile units. The splash-pan front and rear were molded to the body and at the rear the lower trunk corners where rounded with a large radius. Don cut a 1955 Ford rear bumper in half and made it to fit the narrower 1949 Ford body. He also cut holes for the exhausts in the new rear bumpers. At this time Don also removed the tired original flathead engine and replaced it with an 1953 Oldsmobile engine. The car would use a grille made from 1950 DeSoto grille bars, sadly there are no photos of this.

CCC-don-dobbins-ford-031951 Oldsmobile rear fender sections were added including the tail lights, the Ford wind-splits were deleted and the trunk corners rounded. The rear bumper is a narrowed 1955 Ford unit with exhaust tips thru the bumper.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-04The Ford flathead engine was replaced with an 1953 olds engine in 1957 while Don lived in Junction City Kansas.


From 1957 to 1961 work on the Shoebox continued and the car went from a mild Custom to a full radical Custom. Don had chopped to top 4.5 inches, not wanting the rear of the top angle forward as the early 1950’s customizers did most of the time, Don added almost a foot of metal to the top above the doors to get the shape he was looking for. Remember that the Shoebox was the experimental project for Don, well he wanted to try something else on his car to create some more interesting shapes. He recessed the center section of the roof 3/8 inch and created a wonderful peak where the recess ended. This made the top look a lot longer and very interesting. Don created a very small rear window for this version of the car and used plexiglass for it. He would later reshape the trunk and hood to mimic this shape as well, but we will get to that later.

CCC-don-dobbins-ford-051961, More body changes including a chopped top, rear wheel opening change and a molded in lake-pipe. Work was done while Don lived in Independence Mo.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-061962, getting the car ready for its first car Show in KCMO. The car now has 1955 Chrysler Grills and a front bumper based on a 1962 plymouth bumper an 1954 Mercury front bumper guards crafted in at the ends.


At the front Don removed the grille opening lip and filled in the whole front end with sheet metal with a nice v-shaped peak in the center. He then marked the completely smoothed front end for a set of 1955 Chrysler grilles. He created a elegant lip at the lower edge of the hood. A 1962 Plymouth front bumper was heavily reshaped and narrowed. Custom made parking lights set into 3 inch tunnels made from water pipes, the bumper ends are created from reshaped 1954 Mercury bumper guards. The whole unit was welded, smoothed and send out for chrome plating. Below the new bumper Don created a very elegant scoop to allow some more air flow for the engine with the new much smaller grilles being used. The Shape of the scoop was the same as the lip Don had created on the hood lower edge.

1962 First full Custom Version

CCC-don-dobbins-ford-07First car show 1962 unfinish inside interior was hidden by white painted glass. Kansas City Mo. This side view photo also shows the very small rear window very well.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-08In 1963 the car was completely finished in its first version and showed in KCMO.


Don added a mostly molded in lake pipe running from the top of the front wheel opening to the rear of the doors. There the molded in pipe was cut open and filled with a hand made chrome plated double opening lake pipe. The rear wheel opening was lipped an the lip was extended toward the rear bumper. At the rear the lower edge of the trunk was cut off and welded to the body. A second set of Oldsmobile taillights was molded into the rear of the body creating a very interesting new rear of the car. The car was lowered all around and the drive shaft tunnel was raised for clearance. Don painted the car in a nice medium blue metallic, added steel wheels with baby moon hubcaps and narrow white wall tires.

For the interior Don hand made a dash-board and installed a large number of gauges in a custom made dash wide panel. The steering wheel was replaced with an 1961 Chevy unit and the seats where replaced with four bucket seats he found in an early 1960’s Volvo PV. The interior was finished in white and blue tuck & roll, the garnish moldings were painted body color. Don finished the car like this in 1963.

CCC-don-dobbins-ford-09Close up shows the 1950 Chrysler grille and home made bumper. This close up also shows the peaked lower edge of the hood, and gives a good look at the scoop Don created below the bumper to allow for more air to cool the Olds engine. The scoop is peaked in a similar way as the hood has been. 


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-10The 1953 Oldsmobile engine was nicely detailed with a four carburator intake and lots of chrome plated parts.


More changes.

Later in 1963 it was time for more updates on the car Don decided to change the grille one more time. The 1955 Chrysler units were removed and a new larger grille opening was created using sheet metal and shaped round rod. The new larger grille opening was filled with hand shaped chrome plated thin round bars giving the car a completely different look and feel again. Then on June 19, 1964 disaster happened. After Don was asked to bring his Shoebox to the St Joseph Mo Car show to be shown as feature car at the show an engine fire destroyed the engine bay and damaged the hood and front fenders.

CCC-don-dobbins-ford-11Then in 1964 before the St Joseph Mo car show disaster happened. The engine caught fire on june 19 1964 damaging the engine compartment, the hood and front fenders. The car had chosen to be the Feature Car at the show, so Don was not only devastated by the damage, but also missing out of the opportunity to be the feature car.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-12Outside damage after the fire. It took Don a while to get back to the car and redo it. Notice that Don had already changed the front end of the car before the fire. 


After the devastating fire it took Don a bit of time to get back to feel good about the car. Before the fire he never minded cutting into the car to make more changes, but that fire really hurt him. But he did get back on the car and decided to not only fix the damage, but make more changes/improvements at the same time. Don really liked the shape of the new grille opening and how it mimicked the lower hood peak, the below the front bumper scoop and even the roof recessed panel. But the hood and trunk still looked to flat compared with the rest. So Don designed a wonderfully shape scoop to be used on the hood as well as the trunk. Don did not want the scoops to sit on top of the hood and trunk like most others he had seen did. Instead he cut out the panels and recessed them into the hood and trunk. Using sheet metal and round rod to make them look really nice. All work was done metal finished, like the rest of the body work Don performed on the Shoebox.

CCC-don-dobbins-ford-13Later in 1964 Don had fixed all the fire damage and updated the car with a wonderful styled hood scoop that fits the below the bumper scoop an new grille opening perfectly. The rear window was also changed at this time and enlarged for a better rear view. This photo also shows the wonderful recessed center section of the roof.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-22Don created a completely new dash board with a custom made gauge panel covering the complete width of the dash. The Volvo PV seats and the door panels were covered in white and medium blue tuck & roll upholstery.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-14To be able to get all the damage repaired and clean up the engine and engine bay he removed the engine and decided to make it cleaner and more beautiful than before.


At the back the new scoop and recessed panel would flow all the way to the rear splash pan. In the lower section Don cut a panel and made another recess for the license plate to sit into. Don wanted the plate to sit at the same level as the splash pane,and to be able to do that he had to cut the 1955 Ford rear bumper and made a recess in there as well. This time around Don also enlarged the rear window by cutting it up around 4 inches into the top. The new larger rear window balanced out the top a lot better now as well. With all the work done Don prayed the car medium blue metallic once more. It was like this when the car was featured in the January 1966 issue of Popular Customs Magazine. Don even got an inset color photo on the cover of the magazine.

CCC-don-dobbins-ford-19Color photo from the cover of the January 1966 issue of Popular Customs magazine shows the wonderful designed rear of Don’s shoebox. The Recessed center section mimics the hood of the car, and so is the scoop added to the trunk. Notice that the trunk has been shortened considerably allowing for the custom quad Oldsmobile taillights.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-21Besides having a color photo on the cover of the Jan 1966 issue of Popular Customs, Don’s Shoebox was featured on four pages inside. 


Around the time the Popular Custom Magazine appeared, Don made a few more changes to the Ford. One of the most obvious ones was the opened up rear wheel openings. They where now shaped similar to the front wheel openings, but with a lip added. The lip Don created was flowing from the wind-split he had create on the earlier version of the car. Don also decided to do something different for paint for this version. The color would still be from the blue family, so that the interior still would fit the new exterior of the car. Fortunately Tom Davison always had his camera handy and took some photos of this version of the car. Tom described the new paint as: “It was a candy blue and green fade over silver flake, misted with crushed glass over the the candy. There was lace painting in darker blue on the top and scoop indentations only.”

CCC-don-dobbins-ford-23Side view photo by Tom Davison shows the new lipped wheel opening.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-24This color photo by Tom shows the lace on the top an the hood scoop indentation. It also shows the fades in lighter blue and green hues and the sparkling of the flakes and crushed glass.


1969 Selling the Shoebox

Towards the end of the 1960’s Don repainted the car in a dark blue and added lighter blue outline flames to it. The painted wheels with baby moons were replaced with chrome reverse wheels. Sadly only one dark snapshot could be located of this version of the car. In late 1969 Don sold the car and it ended up in California at the Movie World Cars of the Stars. Until then Don had showed the car at many cars shows in the Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska area winning many awards.

CCC-don-dobbins-ford-15This is how Don’s Shoebox look like in 1969 with a new dark blue and flame paint job. Snapshot taken when the car was showed in KCMO. This was the last time Don showed it before he sold the car.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-16The car ended up at Movie World Cars of the Stars.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-28Mark Jaroslaw took these two photos inside the Cars of the Stars Museum in 1974. The photos were developed in August 1974. 


In the early 1970’s Don was told the car was still in California, and in 1976 Don went to California and during his trip he went to the Cars of the Stars to find out the car was not part of the collection anymore but was not at the Harrah’s Museum in Reno Nevada.  In 1986 a lot of the cars in the harrah’s Collection where auctioned, including Don’s Shoebox. The car was bought by a guy from Salem Orgeon. The new owner was able to find Don, and send him some photos how the car looked now. And asked for more information on the car. Sadly the contact information has since been lost and Don also could not remember the owners name. the car is now repainted in a light pearl blue with darker blue flames and scallops. The car is named My blue Angel.

In the mid 1970’s the car ended up in the Harrah’s Automobile Collection in Reno Nevada. It stayed there until 1986 when it was auctioned and found a new owner. Colin Hillier-Danes (HAMB-Member Colin HD) from dorset, England took a couple of photos of Don’s Ford at Harrah’s in February 1984. The car was sitting outside (under a roof though) in the waiting erea at the restoration shop of the museum. At the time the car had been coveredin gray primer which made it look a bit sad. There was no engine in the car, and the Museum had no history on the car when Colin asked for it. Colin later found the car in the Popular Customs magazine. The Museum staff mentioned that the car would go on auction later that year.

CCC-don-dobbins-ford-25The interior looked still rather good in 1984, although the windshield garnish is missing and the headliner sagging due to the lack of suport for the molding.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-26The grille and bumpers must have been stored elsewhere, since they are still on the car in more recent photos.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-27Colin send copies of his photos to Custom Rodder magazine and they used this rear photo for a small article in the letters section. The taillights are missing… possibly stored together with the bumpers.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-17The car was most likely worked on at the Harrah’s museum, since this is how the car looked like when it came up for auction.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-18The new owner contacted Don and send him a few photos of how his old Shoebox the way it looked then. Sadly Don has lost the contact information and could not remember the name of the new owner. He does remember that the car was now in Salem Oregon.


CCC-don-dobbins-ford-20This is how the car looked a couple of years ago. Still in very good shape with some very minor changes. 


Don has no idea what happened to the car after that. There are some more recent photos of the car from several car shows, and the car is still looking very good. In 2019 the car is owned by Nick Jones.


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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. Oh, Boy! This just keeps getting better. Long live CCC.


  2. Very cool to hear the story behind that car. I saw it at a used car dealer in either Salem or Portland a few years back, as I recall the price was around 22.000 USD at that time. I thought it was some newly constructed car and didn’t dare buy it on the phone from Sweden without first checking it out. It would have been another story knowing the above history. //Johan


    • Hey Johan, I am Don Dobbins’ grandson & I would like to track down this car if possible. Do you remember the name of the car dealership it was for sale at or an address.. anything? Any help at all would be appreciated!



  3. Great story. Don needs to get it back.


  4. sure like it blue with the flames on it rik,


  5. another great story, very well documented as ever!

    my favorite version is the last one. the paint sheme work well with that unusual kustom treatment .


  6. This is a high level of awesome. Its weirdness makes it better.


  7. Very interesting custom shoebox…I have seen pictures of it before when it was blue with flames, but did not recognize it as the same care in the article preview picture until reading its entirety. It’s always fascinating to see guys who are not afraid to have a custom that changes over the years…requiring new paint and body mods to suit the owner’s changing tastes or show trends as the years pass. It looks like there were two peaks or rods added down the roof from the windshield to the rear window after the fire re-do…

    Nice to know it is still around and in good condition…


  8. I talked to my friend Mark Jaroslaw today and he wanted to say that the picture credited to Mark Jaroslaw was actually taken inside the Cars of the Stars Museum in 1974 . He also wanted to note that the white roof seen behind the rear view of the shoebox , was that of a 1967 Impala that Gene Winfield split in down the center for a Chevrolet commercial in which each half of the car could be driven away separately .


  9. Nick

    I have the car now


  10. Nick, how can I get in direct contact with you? I would like to ask a few questions & possibly come see it!

    Please email me if you can


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