ANTENNAS on CUSTOMS
When building a custom car the radio antenna is a feature that sometimes received “special treatment”. Many times it was left in the stock position or just recessed in a round enclosure. Often times the aerial was hidden or moved to a new location like the rear fender.
By Tom Nielsen
When car radios first came out in the thirties, jalopy owners proudly showed off the antenna on their cars because it meant you had a radio. The aerials were sometimes leaned back to represent speed. When radios became more commonplace, car companies became creative in the placement and use of multiple antennas.
Back in the day there was always the attempt to simply hide the antenna or make it disappear. Cadillac’s in the thirties hid them under the running boards. 1932-6 Fords used the chicken wire in fabric tops for radio reception. Other companies had their own way of building in the antenna.
It was also very popular to add antenna’s to the front fenders. This allowed the antenna to be detracted all the way. The way this sample was mounted, on an angle, added some extra speed to the car as well.
In the 1950’s it was common to have your antenna mounted on the cowl from the dealer, but Customizers did not like it there too much, so they searched for alternatives. Jerry Quesnel mounted the antenna of his Barris/Quesnel Restyled ’49 Mercury at the top of the rear bumper, next to the bumper guard.
Around 1953 several aftermarket companies produced wild out of this world space age antenna’s. Even the Bob Hirohata Barris Custom used a double set of these for a short moment. More on these antennas in the story on the Hirohata Mercury Antenna’s.
My own 1941 Mercury convertible from the early custom era had the antenna mounted the stock location which was in the center of the windshield header. It could be turned upward or down depending on your preference. This type of aerial was used on Ford and Mercury convertibles from the late thirties through 1948. It always reminded me of resembling a boat antenna. When I first bought the Mercury I asked my body man friend about filling in the hole and using a Cadillac under running board antenna. He was reluctant to get a torch that close to the windshield, so the stock aerial remained in place. In time it kind of grew on me until I liked having it upright. For the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair car show I had it proudly turned upward.
Tom Nielsen’s 1941 Mercury at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair showing the Antenna in its factory stock location, and proudly in the upright position, indicating the car had a full working radio.
The revolutionary design of the 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser is a good example of the multiple antennas and futuristic look which had a space age feel. The Turnpike Cruiser had two forward roof scoops with antennas poking out, plus a fender mounted antenna.
The customizers followed suit and took creativity of antenna placement to a new level during the ’58 to ’64 rocket ship era.
The era in the late 50’s and the “rocket ship” trend saw the antennas on custom cars become an item to make your car more futuristic. The use of multiple antennas on customs and show cars became popular. The location of these antennas ran the gamut from poking out of scoops in various places on the body to having their own dedicated custom mounting place.
Madame Fi Fi, a custom ’56 Chev built in that ’58 to ’62 era has multiple antennas which accentuate its “rocket ship” theme. Tim Norman has been careful to replicate the authentic placement in his recreation of the well known Seattle show car.
New cars like the 1961 Chevrolet used twin, slanted, rear antennas for a little extra bling in the late fifties to early sixties.
As car designs went back to the cleaner, understated look, the antenna was again mounted in a more conventional location.
This era was followed by recessing or frenching the antenna base. Sometimes the customizer used two antennas for a custom effect. Often times the opening for the antennas will be sculpted for an artistic effect
The famous Alexander Brothers created some very well designed Customs in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Always filled with small details, like this recessed and peaked antenna opening shows. They created it for the 1955 Chevy the “Astrian”.
When I built my ’49 Merc in the 90’s I used an electric antenna and filed the head down to match the curve of the fender. Then I painted the top to match the car so it was almost invisible when down.
Currently, when people create traditional customs you will find a variety of these custom antenna techniques. Of course, nowadays no one refers to them as “radio” antennas or aerials. If you look at the satellite antennas on new cars they have no resemblance to the old style.
The digital revolution has changed everything in car sound systems. The old AM radio is indeed a relic from the past, but the traditional custom builder likes the vintage look of them in the dashboard. Although, they may have a digital stereo hidden somewhere in the car.
(Special thanks to Tim Norman for the idea behind this article and for the photos that he shared in the article.)
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