custom cars

June 6, 2015

Memo Ortega Stories Part 23

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Written by: Rik Hoving
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Memo Ortega customized many cars since he first started in the 1950’s. He created this chopped 1950 Chevy Fleetline, a nice mix in styles, for his long time friend Richard Mendez.


Memo Ortega is a well known name in the SoCal Custom Car and LowRider Scene, but perhaps not as well known as it should be. Memo has been working on custom cars and Low Riders since the early 1950’s. He became good friends with Custom Car Icon Gil Ayala, and in the late 1950’s he even bought Gil’s famous 1942-46 Ford Coupe as a persona driver. Today, in 2015, 80 years young, Memo is still chopping tops, and any other custom car work you can think of from, his garage work-shop. Check out more of the Memo Ortega Stories in the Memo Ortega Files on the CCC

By Memo Ortega


Lets start with a little flashback.

I know you will like this. This goes with the story, a kid born on the wrong side of the tracks ha ha…
One of my grand daughters sent me this, she found it online somewhere…. This barn was our play ground back when we were kids, we would go in there, ans play in the hay bails in the early 1940’s. On the right of the barn, between the tall trees in the back ground was our house where I grew up. The barn belonged to Mr. Williams, he was a great man, he allways let us play inside. This photo was taken in the early 1950’s. The cement curb you can see in the picture was done by a contractor that gave me a part time job. Thats how I can tell its a early 1950’s photo. I showed to photo to my wife Terry, she remembers the barn, brought back great memories from back then. Those train tracks in the front is where I got stuck with my 37 when I lowerd it too much…
CCC-memo-la-vern-barn-1950sThis barn, built by the Williams Bros. in about 1915, was located on the west side of “A” Street, between the santa Fe tracks and First Street in La Verne, CA.



Richard Mendez 1950 Chevy Fleetline

After having enjoyed his kustom truck in the 80’s, (Part 16 of the Memo Ortega Stories) Richard Mendez got himself a 1950 Chevy Fleetline. He decided to go all the way on this one and wanted to completely kustomized it.
I know Richard is a diehard kustom guy, and a cruzer that is allways out there on the blvd.s. He is just like me, believe me. I can ask him to go cruising anytime, and he is always ready to go.

Anyway… when he started working on the car, he called me up to see what we could do to the car. What we could do to make it looks at his best with the ideas and styles he wanted to see on it. The car needed some work when he got it, so I went over to him, and we got to talking ideas for it. He had a 1953 Chevy grill and we decided to use that. So I helped him installing the 1953 grill, welding the shell to the fenders. Next we frenched the headlites with 1952 Merc bezels. As with many of the projects, we were doing this a little at a time. Next we rounded the hood corners it sure was starting looking good by now. We were doing all this work so far at his pad.
CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-01This is how Richards Chevy looked like in one of the versions before the chop. 1953 Chevy grille, 51 rear quarters, 52 Merc headlights, rounded hood corners and suede black with candy green scallops.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-00Richard removing all the trim pieces at my home.. the day we would cut to the top.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-02After I had marked where to cut the top and pillars, Richard went in to to the hard work LOL.


The back of the car he wanted to make it a little deferent, so we decided to change the quarter panels, and went with 1951 Chevy quarters, which are much larger than the 1950 rear fenders. So we cut the 1950 quarters off, from the doors all the way to the back, we stood back and looked at the car. “Richard… that looks cool already” I told him, we both were lol. His friend had a 1951 he was junking so Richard got the whole car, it was a convertible. I told Mendez “why don’t we fix the convrt?”…    “No I wanna do my Fleetline, I really dig fleetlines”.  He asked me if these rear qurters would fit his car… “Richard I’ll make them fit balieve me,  I’ve cut up so manny cars, doing body work in my time, I can do anything.”  Lets do it! he told me… Right on Richard.

We cut up the convertible quarters and I trimmed the heck out of them to make them fit the Fleetline. The reason we cut the whole quarters off Richard’s car was because they had quite a bit of cancer on the bottom. Well after cutting and fitting, they came together looking good. Richard decided to french and tunnel the taillights. It looked cool with the taillights frenched. Richard primed it yellow and cruzed the car like that for awhile. He then asked me to help him scallop the car,  so we did the scallops in black (sadly I could not find any photos of this version of the car).
CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-03After cutting true the back of the top, just above the rear window and all the pillars we carefully dropped top to figure out what would look best for Richards car. Working slowly, taking the time to make sure it looked good from every angle and to all of us. There is no need to rush this very important step.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-04With the top dropped, the A-pillars tacked in place and the rear portion of the roof removed, I try to figure out the best way to reshape the back of the roof.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-05B-pillars removed and the back portion of the top test fitted.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-06Here you can see how we cut the rear window and surrounding metal and place ti back at a lower angle matching the new roof shape. Not easy to do, but when you take your time, and check and double check everything, it can be done right.



CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-10A look from the front after we dropped the top.


A bit latter he primed the car in black suede and then he asked me if I would scallop it again. “Sure lets do that!” It turned out real cool, this time I did the scallops in candy green. Around this time we started our Knight Prowlers club which can read all about his part 22 of my stories here on the CCC… Richard and me had been talking before about the top on his Chevy, and how neat if would look if we would chop it. One day Richard came over to my place… seems he decided to go ahead and have me lower the Fleetline’s top. I told him that it will make your car look real cool. I told told him he had to remove the headliner and other interior things so they dont get massed up, and then bring it to my place.
CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-07When both Richard and me where happy of the new roof profile I started to well the seams and put it all back together. Notice how the best flow and lining up the trunk line ended up in a small about one inch gap above the rear window which I had to fill in.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-08During this process I had left the glass in the rear window. This gave me a better feel of the flow of the top. We made sure the glass was protected from getting scratched.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-09The roof had now been filled in and welded… Everybody who visited during the built gave the thumps up. Here I showed how much the top was chopped using the stock height rear window garnish moulding.


Fleetlines are a lttle harded to chop as you know, so while Richard was back home, removing the headligher etc, I was already planning the chop in my head. Richard came back, and we started on his car right way. I had him remove all his garnish mouldings, and I marked everything where I was gonna cut. We cut the top of, dropped it the amount we liked, worked slow, and stood back all the time to make sure we both liked what we saw. The car got its lid lowerd, it took awhile to do everything but the Chevy sure looked great with its new profile, Rich is like me, allways changing the paints on his car. After everything got done he took the car over to his friend Greg Perez, to have his interior done. Greg sure liked the way Rich’s car looked now, Greg did the interior in green mohair, he sure out-did himself on this job. This is what Rich wanted instead of tuck an roll like everybody had. Well Rich has been rolling the blvd’s, or cruzing like we used to say back in time, in his kustom cruzer, and enjoying ever minute of it.
CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-12I could not find any photos of the work I had to do to make the trunk fit the new lower roof profile. But it was quite a bit of work to make it all work together, a lot of pie-cutting, sectioning and reshaping. Here is one photo I found with the trunk just finished with the first dusted primer on it. This is back at Richards house.



Richard going for a “test drive” in the no finished Chevy… looking good.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-24Richard wanted to be able to get his car really low, so I took out the front and completely changed it to make sure he could lower it as much as he wanted.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-13One of the paint jobs, suede black and recreating the scallops Richard had on the car before we chopped it. He really loved those scallops.. and so do I.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-14Making sure all tape is pressed well to the paint so we will have no bleeding.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-15Sanding the black paint in the scalloped sections, getting the car ready for the candy green paint.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-16In the paint booth… freshly added candy green over a gold base.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-25On one of the many paint versions Richards also had a nice mural on the trunk of the Chevy… I really like the chopped roof line from this angle and with this semi suede black paint.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-21At another time the car was in light gray primer… and no matter what, Richards cruised it, and went to the car shows.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-17Another new scallop paint job. This time different shape scallops on a suede black base. Doing the work in my back yard. Thats richard on the floor adding paper after I had taped the scallops.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-18Adding the masking paper.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-19More green scallops… different green this time.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-20This is pretty much how Richards Chevy looks like today, 2015. Candy green scallops, over black suede with a wild green metalflake painted roof. ere parked next to my 53 Chevy.


CCC-memo-23-mendez-chevy-22The rear shows how the Metalflake panel ends in a center scallop on the trunk. Notice how dee the taillights are tunneled. Thats how Richard wanted them. Many customizing styles are mixed into this car.




Go to Part Twenty Four of the Momo Ortega Stories.
Go back to Part 22.











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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. Wow! Memo, that roofline,flowing smoothly on through the trunk panel! I love how everything came together for Richard. What a masterful job, Memo. And so glad you took pictures along the way.
    Larry Pointer

  2. Thanks for sharing your wonderful skills and techniques and equally your fabulous stories and memories. You are 80 years young Memo!

  3. very cool memo ! another outstanding project done in the backyard !!

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