Custom History

September 21, 2016

Custom Grilles Vertical




Since the very early beginnings of Custom Restyling the grille has played a huge part in the overall design. Pioneer Customizers designed their own grilles, later swapped or modified grilles were the rage. Lets take a look at the early, vertical Custom Car grilles.

One of the key factors of Custom Restyling was, and still is, to hide the actual origin of the car, and make a car appear to be a more exotic car. The exclusive brand cars from the 1930’s – when custom restyling really took off – were Cadillac, LaSalle and Packard Duesenberg and a few others. These cars all had tall, Art Deco styled grilles and hoods, visualizing Class, Elegance, and Power. These were all wonderful designed grilles and from the very early days of custom restyling these particular grilles from the Cadillac’s, La Salle’s and Packards became the number one choice of many Customizer, or at least an important inspiration source.

Our journey in this case does starts actually before these higher-end car grilles were adapted to lower-end cars. The first Custom grilles to be used on Customized, restyled cars, were mostly hand made instead of adapting grilles from the more expensive brand cars. In the early 1930’s when car Customizing started time was relatively cheap compared to more modern times. Cheap labour made it possible for the custom restylers to create completely hand crafted details like grilles to set the restyled automobiles completely apart. The price of having those hand made grilles chrome plated was also far from what we are used to today.

Early Custom grilles

People like Frank Kurtis, George Duvall and later shops like Coachcraft designed unique grilles for their restyled cars. Grilles that required heavy modified stock or swapped grille parts, but more often complete scratch built units. Created from brass, or metal, with beautiful Art Deco styling crafted by skilled craftsman, completely smoothed before send out to be perfectly chrome plated. New grilles that made any regular automobile look like and exclusive top model and changed the overall appearance. One of the better samples of this is the multiple bar grille George DuVall designed for the SoCalif Plating 1935 Ford shop delivery car.

ccc-frank-kurtis-grilles-01Frank Kurtis created several custom built cars in the early 1930’s. Here are three samples with all hand made grilles Frank did.


ccc-atlas-grilles-1933Frank Kurtis also did a 1931 Dodge panel for Atlas Chromium Plating company. He used a 1933 Ford grille to make it looks more modern, and streamlined. The all chrome plated grille on the race car is stunning as well.


ccc-duvall-grille-01-1933Another pioneer when it comes to Custom Grilles was George DuVall. George worked for the Leonard DeBell’s So Calif. Plating Company and designed many special parts. Including some exclusive custom grilles for the So Calif. Plating Co. shop trucks. This one, created by George DuVall was on an 1932 Ford Roadster So Calif Plating Co. Pick up and was photographed in 1933.


ccc-duvall-grille-so-cal-plating-1936Perhaps George DuVall’s most popular grille he designed was on the 1935 Ford So Calif. Plating Co shop truck. All hand made from plated brass.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-duvall-01George DuVall dod several designs for the grille on the SoCalif Plating ’35 Ford, and used similar ideas for other designs as well. These designs were created around 1935.


Custom Grilles in Early Publications

Dan Post Publications

The first and most popular publications on Custom Cars were created by Dan Post. In his Custom restyling manuals, which he started in 1944, he described how you could restyle your car by updating or changing the grille of your car. Over the years he added more and more material to the subject of grilles and added a lot of photo samples in the Master Custom-Restyling Manual (1947) and later Blue Book of Custom restyling (1949-52). These early publications must have played a big role in the style and development of Customizing in general and of course also grille restyling in particular.

ccc-dan-post-grilles-01-1944From its first publication in 1944, Dan Post has been writing about custom restyled grilles. And which factory grilles could best be used for your car.


ccc-dan-post-grilles-02-1944Special attention was payed by Dan Post to the ’38 Ford type grilles and how they could best be restyled.


Edgar Almquist Publications

Edgar Almquist Styling manuals from around 1946-48 are another very important source for the Custom restylers in the 1940’s. When there were no regular magazines available yet it were these manuals that could be mail ordered or bought from the local speed and custom shop that brought the very welcome inspiration.

ccc-almquist-grilles-01-1946Edgar Almquist wrote a lot about restyling grilles in his 1946 Restyling Manual. He showed several cars with custom grilles and used simple drawings to illustrate his ideas.




ccc-almquist-grilles-illustration-1946The Illustrations in the Almquist manual are easy to understand, and show how much impact these grille chances can have. Illustration #9 shows what happens when the grille is changed from vertical to horizontal. We will get back to that in part two on Custom Grilles, here on the CCC.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-car-adsThe most popular grilles the pioneer customizers liked to use.  1937-40 LaSalle’s, 1939-40 Nash, And 1942-48 Packard grilles.


The Aftermarket

Another way to create the more appealing smaller, taller grille was to incorporate a so called “winter-grille“. Designed to keep the engine at temperature during the winter period. One of the companies that created these winter-grilles was Pines Winterfront Co. Today these are very high sought after aftermarket products.
Other aftermarket companies as Eastern and Cal Custom started to design and produce special narrow grille kits to personalize your car in a more bolt-on type of way. Especially for the backyard customizers. Products like this were available from the late 1930’s.

ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-eastern-49Eastern Custom catalog from 1949 offer several components to create custom vertical grilles.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-eastern-49-02’39-41 Ford options. The aftermarket catalog show that the Fords were the most popular cars to customize. Those were the cars the aftermarket made the most custom restyling parts for.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-pines-wintergrilleThe Pines Winterfront Co. in Chicago created special winter-grilles for some model cars in the 1930’s. These special grille, reduced the open section of the factory stock grille, and could even be close more manually to keep the engine hot in the color winter. One of their products was this winter-grille for the 1936 Ford. Early Customizers used the outer part of this set up to create Custom grille surrounds. 


Narrowed stock grilles

In the late 1930’s another trend was started. Factory stock grilles from lower-end cars were modified, restyled to make them look more attractive. Modified to make them work better with the restyled cars. When modifying these stock grilles the builder was inspired by the high-end car grilles. Grilles were narrowed by adding sheet metal to the sides, or new inserts were fabricated. creating much more streamlined grilles. These narrower grilles had of course one big disadvantage… Cooling of the engine. Often special below the bumper scoops, or side grilles needed to be created to prevent the engine from overheating.

A fantastic sample is the Santa Monica ’36 Ford 5-window coupe. The unknown customizer narrowed the top section of a stock ’36 ford grille sin such a way, that the top was now as narrow as the bottom section of the grille. The grille sides body panels were extended to match the narrowed grille. The top corners of the grille were radiuses, making the whole set up much more pleasing to the eye. The result was a completely vertical shaped grille, that still looked very much like a ’36 Ford grille, just more elegant. Two small elegantly styled “wing” grilles were created in the front fenders, to help cool the engine. The new grille set up fitted perfectly with the art deco look and feel of the rest of the custom restyling on this car. This one really is a stunning sample of early customizing.

CCC-36-ford-5-window-1941-02Santa Monica ’36 Ford 5-window coupe. Beautifully styled grille based on the stock ’36 Ford grille. The main ’36 Ford grille was narrowed at the top, the top corners rounded with a larger than stock radius and new stainless trim. The side of the grille was filled in with shaped sheet metal. To make sure the engine would be cooled enough two small “wing grilles” were created in the same style as the main grille and added to the front fenders. Most likely special “tunnel’s to guide the air to the engine were added underneath the fenders. This photo was taken in Santa Monica in 1940.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-de-rosa-48Frank DeRosa with his 1936 Ford convertible with beautiful narrowed grille and sunken GM headlights in 1948. 


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-09Bill Grader from Seattle created this great looking Roadster in Cadillac Cypress Green. He filled the grille sides more than some others leaving a very small opening, thus creating an optical very tall front of the car. This color photo shows the car in the early 1950’s after the original DeSoto bumpers had been replaced by ’49 Plymouth units. 


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-macminn-37fordEarly 1937 Ford sedan convertible custom with a narrowed grille. The sides of the stock grille are covered and a new vertical stainless trim piece was added to give the new smaller grille a nice finished look. Interesting to see the new belt line side trim to cover the grille side panels.


Custom Made Grilles

In the early years of Custom restyling it was perhaps a bit more common to create all custom made grilles than it was later on. A few key factors played a big role for this. First of all, the custom restyles liked to be totally unique. And creating an custom made grille allowed for complete freedom in design. The low hourly rates and low prices for chrome plating also played a huge part. In cases like the cars created by Frank Kurtis and George DuVall (which can be seen above) the creativity an showing what could be done by the companies the cars/grilles were created for played a big roll. There complete custom grilles were more like an advertisement for what they could do for their customers. The result was extremely wonderful grilles working very well with the rest of the designs of the restyled cars.

CCC-Solomon-Wong-40Ford-01-70Coachcraft created a custom grille from chrome plated round bar for the 1940 Ford based Roadster for James Wong in 1940. The stock ’40 Ford grille insert was replaced by the new unit, and the side grilles were filled in. Later the filled in sections were replaced with louvered units once again, to help cool the more powerful engine then.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-08Another early Custom with all hand made grille was this 1936 Ford 5-Window Coupe restyled by Howard Fall for Tommy Jamieson. The front end of the car was replaced with that from an 1938 Ford, and the whole grille area was redone with a hand made chrome plated insert. Most likely this set up caused some heating problems since in the late 1940’s early 1950’s several holes were cut in the grille surround, allowing for some extra air to the engine.


CCC-george-barris-36-ford-coupe-01George Barris personal 1936 Ford coupe might have used one of the Pines winter-grille surrounds to create this custom grille opening.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-011936 Ford with a new grille cover with smaller vertical with round top and bottom grille opening, nicely molded to the front fenders. A new grille was created from what appears to be flat bar surround and round bars inside the opening. The whole unit was chrome plated for a nice finished look.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-37-chevy-011937 Chevy with Custom created grille opening. Possibly the bars using in the new opening come from a 1939 Nash. The new much narrower oval shaped grille changes the look of the Chevy completely.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-jimmy-summersJimmy Summers created a custom grille for his personal channeled 1940 Mercury with sectioned hood. The grille was created from flat bar stock and has been shaped to roughly resemble a Buick grille.


In the early 1940’s customizers started to use the more exclusive car brand grilles like the afore mentioned Cadillac, La Salle and Packard grilles. They were taken from junk yards, or perhaps sometimes straight from the car dealers and adapted to smaller, cheaper lower-end-models from Ford, Chevy, Buick, etc. The grille designs from these high end brands were often of much nicer design, added much mored style, or length and height to these lower-end-models. And of coarse the idea of up-scaling the lower class cars played a roll in all this as well. And above all these nicely designed grilles just look so awesome in these restyled cars.

Packard Grilles

The Packard Clipper was introduced in April 1941, the car came with a wonderful Art-Deco styled narrow grill devised in two halts with small horizontal grille bars. This grille was an instant hit among the early customizers. This grille ended up on many restyled cars, and in many different ways. Larger model types as the Packard Super used larger, and most of all wider grilles with a similar design, but then with vertical grille bars. It was a bit more tricky to get these larger grilles to work with the customized cars, but especially 37-38 Chevies and 39-40 Fords looked very well with these larger grilles. The samples below illustrate that there were/are many ways to install one of these Packard grilles. Some are placed as high as possible, others simply start at the bottom of the grille opening and end a few inches below the hood opening.


Harry Westergard used a Packard grille on Gene Garrett’s ’36 Ford convertible built in the early 1940’s (1943 photo). The rather low position might perhaps indicate this was one of the first Packard grilles he used on the Customs he created. 


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-westergard-simonsHarry Westergard loved to use Packard Clipper grilles. This one he added to Max Ferris’s 1936 Ford Roadster. Harry created a beautiful filler panel, molded it to the front fenders and made the Packard grille fit like it came like it from the factory.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-westergard-salHarry also added a Packard Clipper grille to Sal Cacciola’s 1938 Chevy convertible. The Packard grille works extremely well on this car, where the hood starts at the flat spot of the top of the grille. As it always belonged on this car. 


CCC-barris-dick-fowler-38-ford-09The Barris brothers reshaped the front of the hood, and hood sides to make the Packard Clipper grille work on Dick Fowler’s 1938 Ford Coupe around 1946-47. The new grille made the ’38 Ford look much taller than stock, and more exclusive. 


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-40-ford-01The 1940 Ford customs usually had stock grilles, or perhaps the sides filled in. The use of a Packard Clipper grille like on this chopped and padded topped convertible was rather rare, but looks surprisingly good. A lot of work was needed to the hood and side panels tao make it all work and look perfect.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-02Interesting photo from the Howard Gribble shows how a Packard Clipper grille surrounds was added to the center of a stock ’36 Ford grille, on this ’36 Ford. The center bars were removed from the stock grille so that the Packard grille could fit inside. Typical backyard restyling, to make your “average” Ford look like a more expensive car.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-37-chevy-semasHarry Westergard used a larger Packard Super grille on Leroy Semas’s 1938 Chevy Coupe. Another really great sample of how to integrate thes grilles the best way. Harry Westergard was a great craftsman, and he was exceptionally skilled in using more exclusive grilles to make lower end car look at their very best.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-bertolucci-38-chevyDick Bertolucci used a larger Packard grille on his personal 1938 Chevy Coupe in the late 1940’s early 1950’s. Dick still has the car today, and has been working on it in the last couple of years to restore it back to how it looked in the early 1950’s. The Packard Super grille is wider than the more common clipper grille, but suited the wider front of the ’38 Chevy very good. Dick had to reshape the side panels and hood a lot to make it wall look like it came this way.


La Salle Grilles

The Cadillac La Salle grilles from 1937 to 1940 are the ones that were used the most on Custom Car. The ’37 and ’38 models had a slightly more square look, while the ’39 and ’40 units were extreme round with pointy shaped ends. The older models were a little easier to adapt to other cars, and fitted perfectly to the front of a ’36 Ford. one of the more popular cars to customized in the mid 1940’s. The ’39 and ’40 models came in several divergent versions, and were pretty hard to install right. Especially since the angle of the grille on the cars they were matted to, were different than that from the stock LaSalle, resulting in misaligning grille bars. When installed the right way the ’39’40 LaSalle grilles are the top of the line in custom grilles.

ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-07Harry Westergard installed an 1937 La Salle grille on Jack Odbert’s 1936 Ford Convertible. Notice how the lower edge of the top portion of the grille sits level with the bottom of the hood. Details like this make a grille installment like this look like how it was always meant to look.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-caloriAnd of course we cannot forget the use of the LaSall grille on Jack Calori’s 1936 Ford. The what we know as typical Westergard look was created by Herb Renau in Long Beach in the later part of the 1940’s. Herb hand shaped the surround and fitted the 1939 LaSalle grille the best way possible. Stock ’39-40 LaSalles have a much more upright grille position than the 36 Ford has, so it was/is not an easy grille to adapt. 


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-westergard-38Harry Westergard loved to use Packard grilles, but he also used a few LaSalle grilles on the cars he restyled. For Norm Milne he reshape the hood and hood sides, and created a new grille surround to be able to use 1940 LaSalle grille on his ’38 Ford.


Nash Grilles

Custom pioneers as Harry WestergardGeorge BarrisDick Bertolucci and others started to experiment with other grilles on their customs. Grilles that usually had a more vertical feel than the stock grilles of the cars they were restyling. Grilles from a 1939 -’40 Nash for instance was another very popular grille. Not really a more exclusive or expensive feel, but it just looked right on many other cars.  Both year grilles had similar styling, very narrow, tall with horizontal grille bars. The ’39 model was a a bit more robust, with heavier and fewer grille bars than the 1940 model. One thing that made the Nash grille a little harder to adapt in a good way to other car, was that the nose of the Nash was angled forward towards the top. If the Nash grille was adapted to other cars that had an angled backwards front of the car, the horizontal grille bars appeared to angle down in the new position. Later pioneer restyles found they could flip the grille upside down to prevent this problem.

ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-03Frank Sandaval’s 1936 Ford shows a flipped upside down 1939 Nash grille in a hand shaped none molded surround. What makes the Nash grille on this car really stand out is the us of a modified ’36 Ford grille surround trim. Mid 1940’s photo fro the Howard Gribble Collection.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-04Oregon base ’36 Ford Phaeton custom also uses an 1939 Nash grille, but the owner opted to use the grille in the stock position. 1942 photo.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-05Close up reveals that by using the ’39 Nash grille in the stock way, the grille bars are not flowing with the Ford lines. This is cause by the forward angle of the grille on Nash cars, while the Ford have a slight leaned back grille. The Nash grilles work better upside down.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-g-barrisGeorge Barris used a 1940 Nash grille inside a custom created grille opening on his personal 1936 Ford Convertible. George molded the new grille surround solid with the fenders for an ever smoother look.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-36-ford-06Bob Gill’s 1936 Ford uses a 1940 Nash grille in a custom grille opening. This grille also has slightly dropped grille bars, indicating it was not flipped upside down. Interesting to see in this photo is the extra air scoop added below the bumper to make sure the grille would be cooled after the hood sides were filled, and the grille opening was drastically reduced with the new custom grille. Bob was good friend with Jack Calori.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-37-chevy-021940 Nash grille installed in a new front section on this otherwise mildly restyled 1937-38 Chevy sedan. The narrow grille makes the front of the car look very tall, and the hood a “mile” long.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-kippwinward36fordPossibly one of the best ever installed Nash grilles is done by Kipp Winward who used an upside down 1939 Nash grille in his ’36 Ford 5-window Coupe. The photo of the car was taken in 2016, when the car was mostly finished on the outside. 


Modified grilles

Other methods to customize grilles was to modify their appearance. The aftermarket had produced partly cover panel that would be bolted on. And you could create panels yourself that covered up parts of the stock grille, to make them look longer, narrower, or just shorter. ’38 and 39 Fords used stamped metal grilles with only a small plated trim ring as extra decoration. These were grilles that could easily be modified without having to replete the grille. It was very popular to cover up the top portion on this type of car, which gave the car a new look. Many ’40 Fords used special cover plates to cover up the side louvres, and the ’41 Fords looked stunning when the center grille was replaced with a smooth filler piece. And it was even better if these filler panels were not just bolted on, but actually welded, and blended in with the rest of the body, for a much smoother look. With the newer car models after WWII customizers started to experiment with other brand grilles as well. Grilles that tarted to make the cars look wider.

Very popular modification of 1938 and ’39 Ford was to fill in the top portion of the louvered grille section on the hood sides. It changed the look of the car, but unlike the earlier style of creating Tall small grille it made the front appear to be lower than stock.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-41-ford-011941 Ford with filled in center section. A very popular treatment especially after the aftermarket companies made filler panels for this available. The owner of this Custom took it a step further and molded in the panel for a ultra smooth look. The car also appears to have an sort of air-scoop below the bumper for extra cooling. The Ford side grille have been remained.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-40-ford-02A 1939 Buick grille was used in a heavily reshaped front end on Jim Chapkis’ 1940 Ford Coupe. Going more towards the modern, wider and lower horizontal look.



ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-ed-jaquesThe Valley Custom Shop in Burbank California was known for their exquisite craftsmanship and attention to details. For Ed Jacque they created a really wonderful horizontal bar grille insert to fit a stock 1941 Ford grille opening. 


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-ferhuson-36The Montrose Body Shop created this stunning looking all custom grille for Gene Ferguson’s 1936 Ford coupe. The grille design shows how the Customizing style is changing from vertical grilles towards the modern look of horizontal grilles.


ccc-custom-grilles-vertical-collage-01A few more samples of Custom Vertical grilles.



And even more variations of the Vertical grille.

The new cars that had low and wide new lines were introduced and became available. The tall grilled cars from before the war were still popular for some time, but for those who could get their hands on the newer model cars to restyle, low and wide was the way to go for grille designs. In part two we will take a closer look at the horizontal grilles in Custom Restyling. Stay tuned….


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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. Rik, another primer on customizing elements of long ago. Your artistic eye and the details you point out take your gathering of rare period examples of the photo essay to a whole new level. Inspiration, and cautions, for today’s traditional customizers. So much more there was than could be imagined today. Deepest appreciation to you, and to Howard Gribble and others who recognized the historic value of snap shots of the past, and saved them for us all to enjoy here on the CCC.

  2. Incredible time for restyling. Wonderful article with some pictures I haven’t seen before!

  3. love love it, bertilosis large packard grill on the chevy coupe is execly like i did in one of my 37 chevys with 40 ford head lites back when i was a young teen ager i look at this an brings back good memories of it , the guys my age where i grew up thought i was crazy, an the older guys with there kustoms thought it was kool, awesome rik,

  4. Wow, love this stuff. Excellent article, thanks.

  5. very cool grills ! Memo your still a young man , they don’t call you “Teen Angel” for nothing!

  6. Another great article, Rik.

    One of my favorite grilles was the heart-shaped Brewster. Brewster was an old-line coachbuilder responsible for many classic bodies, especially US-built Rolls Royce. When the RR contract ended they started customizing Fords! The last Brewster Ford was a 1938 sedan for the Vanderbilt family.

    Brewster grilles were rare and expensive. In your first group photo, upper left hand corner is what looks like a Brewster. On closer inspection it’s on a roadster pickup. Classy truck!

  7. thanks again for another great article Rik
    the 36 ford seems to be the most modified grill of all even when they have one of the best looking stock grills of the 30s but I guess that’s because the cars lend themselves to custom mods and chops so much. and lots of guys are still experimenting with new ways to do what the custom pioneers started. I am sure articles like this will help future custom car builders strive for their own take on the Look

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