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Antennas on Customs – Beam Me Up Scotty!




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.

Cowl mounted antenna’s. A popular aftermarket product in the 1940s. The sample below shows the popular version with the clear colored plastic ball at the end.

Adding a “Fox-Tail” at the tip of the antenna was a very popular trend, even among custom car owners, for some time during the 1940’s.

Cowl mounted antenna bent to follow the door line and windshield frame for a more streamlined look.

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.

Antenna/Aerial listing in the Barris Hollywood Custom Accessory Catalog from the mid 1950’s.

Tom Hocker’s 1940 Ford (By Barris) had the antenna mounted on the rear splash pan, like many others did. This photo was taken around 1957.

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.

1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser roof top corners antenna’s were an inspiration for many custom builders.

A great sample of how much creativity went into some of the space age antenna designs.

Hot rod/custom 1932 Ford with a unique custom antenna enclosure. (internet photo)

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.

The famous 1957 Ford “Trendero” had wild space age restyled front fenders with cut of sections, scoops, floating headlights bucket’s and horizontal mounted recessed antennas.

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.

The antennas on Madam Fi Fi (Recreation) in the two forward top scoops actuate the door solenoids.

The two angled rear aerials set in a custom base give it the “beam me up Scotty” look!

Roth used lots of antennas in various ways on his custom creations for that “futuristic theme” he was seeking. He had the antennas poking out of scoops in various locations.

New cars like the 1961 Chevrolet used twin, slanted, rear antennas for a little extra bling in the late fifties to early sixties.

Custom Studebaker with twin aftermarket antennas mounted on double added fins in the late 1950’s.

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”.

Perhaps the most popular Custom antenna treatment, flush mounted tunnel, with recessed mounted antenna. As this photo shows the style is even popular on Hot Rods. (internet photo)

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.)


(this article is made possible by)





Tom Nielsen

Tom Nielsen is a long time Custom Car fan with wonderful collection of photos of 1940's to 1960's custom cars. He loves to share his collection and to tell stories about them.

5 thoughts on “Antennas on Customs – Beam Me Up Scotty!

  • Enjoyed this one, Tom. Takes you back. I recall Bill Hines also did a lot of detailed antennas on his builds.

    I also recall a squirrely kid who mounted four antennas, with coon tails attached, on a 50 Plymouth sedan. He admitted his radio actually didn’t work, tho. But he was livin’ large!

  • Great article about a often overlooked aspect of custom cars.
    I was always partial to the slanted Impala antennas.

  • Good stuff Tom! I had gone through an internal debate when re-doing my Merc.. It had a nicely “tunnelled” antenna in the pas. fender – and I had always wanted a custom with that feature, but it struck me as the wrong era for the style of build, so I gave it up and went with a driver’s side surface mounted one..

    Really enjoyed this overview. Thanks!


  • I very much enjoyed this detailed history of the antenna. I have used the detail myself in the 70s and 80s when a customer asked for a feature that was not so common at the time. The two last photos above were the ones I chose, usually with an electric motor to set them just below body level when lowered. The tricky bit of the installation was to provide a drain hole at the bottom while keeping the cutout as small as possible. Rainwater and electric antennas are not the best of friends.

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