Custom History

June 15, 2017

Horizontal Custom Grilles



From early in the 1940s Custom Restylers started to experiment with new and wider grille designs. These wide custom grilles gave the cars a beautiful modern appearance.

This is part two in our series on Custom Car grilles. In the first article we concentrated on the early style vertical grilles. In this new article, part one of two,we will concentrate on the Horizontal grilles installed in pre 1948 based cars. Why pre ’48, well after 1948, most cars had wide horizontal grilles from the factory, and to be able to custom restyle those one needed to use different techniques, and styles.

As with most Custom Restyling techniques we do not know who was the first to reshaped the front of a car and install a more horizontal oriented grille instead of the factory stock vertical based grille. We have seen photos from as early as 1941 that show these horizontal style grilles, but it does not say that this style was not used earlier than that. Harley Earl designed the Buick Y-Job around 1938 and it was introduced to the public that same year. The Buick was its time light years ahead and also featured a more horizontal based grille. This car, and possibly other Factory Design Studies might have played a role in the use of more horizontal based grilles in Custom Cars in the early 1940’s.

1938 Concept car the Buick Y-Job had a horizontal styled grille. The concepts car designed by Harley J. Earl was very well published in the 1940’s and might have been of great influence on the early Custom Restylers. (photo from the Old Motor)



When the car designs started to get focused more toward the width of the car from 1941 and up, the Custom Restylers wanted to enhance this wider look on these new cars, and replace the vertical grilles on the older cars. The new wider look of the car made the whole car appear to be lower, something that was very appealing to the young customizers, so this effect needed to be enhanced where available on new cars, and added to car without this horizontal grille effect. Customizers started to drop bodies over frames to enhance this low look, (and keep the good driving experience) they even went as far as to section whole bodies, ( this is when a strip of horizontal body metal is removed to reduce the height of the main body.) But the “easiest” and most used way of creating this horizontal and wider look was to add a horizontal, or wider than original grille to your car.

Horizontal Custom grilles in early publications

The installation of Custom Horizontal grilles has been described in early publications, but not as much as some other techniques.  The early Almquist and DanPost Restyling Manuals all had plenty of photos showing samples of the horizontal grilles, indicating this was a very popular restyling technique in the later part of the 1940’s. But the techniques were basically only mentioned briefly.

From an 1946 Edgar Almquist Restyling manual. Very simple diagrams how a stock grille can be changed with a Small vertical grille (ala La Salle, or Nash), and how a car can be changed dramatically by changing the grille from vertical to horizontal.


Dan Post wrote about the Horizontal Custom Grille in his blue book of Custom Restyling, and he showed many photos of car with more modern horizontal style grilles in his books. (Assembled image)


The March 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine had a special spread on Custom Grilles. Very inspirational for many.


Hand made Horizontal Grilles

As is often the case with pioneers, the early samples are sometimes not the most attractive, or functional, but they pave the path for things to come. This is also the case with some of the early hand made samples of Horizontal grilles. Some of the early restyled cars had very nice horizontal grilles integrated, for instance the well known 1936 Ford 5-window coupe, which had really elegant fender mounted side grilles. But there is also a sample of an 1941 Chevy with an full width whale-like grille. It might be functional, and is for sure makes the car look lower and wider, but not necessarily more attractive.

Technically not an horizontal grille, but to make sure the narrowed ’36 Ford grille would cool the engine well enough the Custom Builder who created this beautiful ’36 Ford 5-window Coupe added small horizontal grilles to the front of the fenders. Besides cooling the engine these side grilles also changed the complete look of the car and make it look lower and wider.


Photographed behind the Barris Compton Ave shop in 1948 is this unidentified 1936 Ford Coupe with heavy chop, newer  front-end and an most likely hand shaped horizontal oval grille opening. I have never seen any photos of this car finished, so I do not know if there ever was a grille insert created for the opening.


Photographed in front of the Barris Compton Ave shop is this channeled 1939 Ford Convertible with chopped windshield and an horizontal oval grille. It appears that the center grille bars might have come from the stock grille, but the oval surround and the grille bars in the fender section are home made. The bit crude looking horizontal grille helped further lower the car optically.


Shaped and chrome plated tubular bar grille in this 1941 Chevy chopped convertible. This was years ahead of when the tubular bar grilles became really popular. The car width grille was placed just above the smoothed bumper giving the car a much wider look and an optical huge smile.


Early 1940’s photo of Joe Bailon’s ’41 Chevy with a full width Custom made grille opening with whale like grille added. The bars can be sourced from other car parts, or could have been hand rolled tubing then chrome plated. The rest of the car is very nicely done, shaved body, chopped top, Spotlights set with forward pointing position and smoothed bumpers. The wide grille makes the car appear lower, and much wider than the stock Chevy grille did. Joe Bailon had several grille designs in his ’41 Chevy before he settled on the final design on what we now know as the “Miss Elegance”.


Beautiful photo taken in front of the NBC building around 1942 shows a very interesting ’41 Ford Custom with leaned back windshield and a nicely shaped chrome plated tubular grille in a new wider grille opening.


Factory Replacement grilles

The most popular way to restyle your pre ’48 car with a more horizontal based grille was to use the available factory grilles. Unlike the early vertical grilles, that were mostly adapted from the higher end cars as Cadillacs, La Salle’s and Packards, the Horizontal grilles used more often came from “regular” cars. With the Cadillac and Lincoln grilles as exceptions. These grilles were chosen for their looks, the more modern horizontal look and not necessarily a more expensive look per se.  That said a lot of the restylers were of course very much interested in adding the high end Cadillac look to the cars by using the these grilles, creating a much more exclusive look to the Ford’s or other brand cars brought in by the customers.

  • 1946-47-49 Cadillac grilles
  • 1946 Chevy grille
  • 1942-48 Buick grilles
  • 1946-48 Lincoln lower section grilles
  • 46-48 Pontiac grilles
  • 1949 Mercury grille opening with a variety of grille inserts.


The use of the Horizontal grille started to really boom around 1947-48. In previous years the main focus for grilles had meen vertical, the higher the hood of a car, the more powerfull engine it look to be resting underneath the tall hood. But in the 1940’s the new low look meant looking powerful, and going fast instantly.

George Barris was always looking for good business opportunities and ways to market customizing. Around 1948 he launched a new idea “Barris Kustom Grilles“. A way to make the adaption of custom grilles more popular. The plan was to pre-shape metal that would make the instalment of the most popular “custom” grilles in other cars as simple as possible. The promotional photos show a 1940 Mercury with an 1948 Cadillac grille added. The idea never really took off tough, and all that remains about this concept are two promotional photos. As far as we have been able to find out, the product was never advertised. The main reason most likely was that the installment of custom grilles is such an individual and difficoult job requiring new techniques and custom metal shapes for each difefrnt car. Besides that standardizing these kind of grilles would work counterwise with the Custom main focus, creating something unique for each and evey car.

Around 1948 George Barris tried to market the idea of using modern grilles on older cars in his Barris’s Kustom Grilles product. This is one of the two photos that was used to promote the Kustom Grilles. A great looking 1940 Mercury with added ’48 Cadillac grille, chopped windshield, padded top, molded running boards, Chevy bumpers and flipper hubcaps and smooth rings.


In the begining most horizontal grilles came from either brand new cars (grilles could be ordered from the dealers part stores) or were combined from different parts from donor cars. Early in the 1940’s there were some Custom builders that created horizontal grilles from hand shaped chrome plated tubing. These tubular grilles were seen on a number of custom cars, but the style never became really popular at the time. Later in the 1950’s however the tubular grilles became so popular that they became available as an aftermarket product produced by several different companies. We will focus on these very popular tubular grilles in a separate article at a later date. Creating horizontal grilles in the late 1930’s early 1940’s cars often meant that the airflow coming from the grill (especially the end sectioned) needed to guided towards the radiator, making sure it cooled the engine properly.
Below are a series of samples of the use of Horizontal grilles used in custom cars. There is no particular order used here, just a showcase of samples to illustrate this Custom Restyling technique.

1937-38 Chevy coupe with newer hood and what appears to be an integrated 1942 Ford grille surround and insert. A new horizontal grille that gives the Chevy that came with a vertical grille a completely different and unique look. 


’41 Chevy chopped Coupe with a grille created from two bottom ’41 Chevy grilles. Similar to how it was illustrated in the Dan Post Blue Book above.


1939-40 Ford sedan convertible with channeled body and ’48 Cadillac grille on the left. Two more 1940’s customs with wider than original grilles on the right.


Hand made, wide grille opening and vertical grille bars give Paul Dallmeier’s chopped 1941 Cadillac a completely different look. Both photos are the same car, different versions. The October 1954 issue of R&C Magazine wrote this about the grille opening in the Cadillac: A grille was formed from 1 inch diameter chrome moly tubing. The area just below the forward lip of the hood was paneled in with sheet metal. Vertical mounted, chrome moly tubing set into the new small oval opening. Bumper is 50 Oldsmobile.


The 1946-48 Lincoln grille has always been a popular grille to use in early Customs. The grille with the integrated round parking lights added a unique and modern look to your car. In this case the Lincoln grille was used in a heavily reshaped 1940 Ford owned by the brother of Bill Soske.


Bill Page restyled his 1940 Ford Carson topped convertible with a modified 1948 Pontiac grille set in reshaped front sheet metal. The car is still around today.


Jack Richardson’s 1939 Ford Coupe was channeled over the frame and had raised fenders. He used a modern ’46 Chevy grille in the reshaped front sheet metal. And to make the grille fit the body even better the Ford hood front section was wither replaced with a ’46 Chevy hood front section, or completely reshaped to fit the Chevy grille.


George Barris used an 1942 Cadillac grille on his 1941 Buick, which was wider than the stock Buick grille, plus it came from an Cadillac, more exclusive style. Later George replaced the 42 grille with an 1947 Cadillac unit that was even wider.


Harry Westergard started the work on Harold “Buddy” Ohanesian 1940 Mercury sedan convertible in the later parts of the 1940’s. Harry chopped the windshield lowered the car dramatically and reshaped the front to accept a much wider than stock ’46 Chevy grille. The new wider grille accentuating the low look of the car and changed the overall looks completely. Later Dick Bertolucci would add the magnificent all metal removable top.


Very interesting photo taken at the Barris Compton Avenue shop around 1948 shows two ’41 Barris Customs both with modern wide grilles added. The ’41 Ford parked on the driveway of the shop has a hand made new grille opening filled with a hand shaped and chrome plated tubular grille. The chopped with quarter windows filled ’41 Chevy on the right sports a ’46 Chevy grille in a reshaped opening. The photo shows that the wider, more modern grilles were big in the later part of the 1940’s.


The Barris Custom shop used same length ’48 Pontiac grille bars in John Vera’s 1941 Ford convertible. The new horizontal grille fitted the channeled with raised front fenders car very well. It enhanced the super low look and made the car look very modern in 1948. The grille instalation also shows that the Barris Shop was still experimenting with the new wider grilles and this  installation was not as fine tuned as later grilles. The angle on the grille bars appears to be pointing down in the center a bit interfering with the lines of the front bumper and body sides.The car, as we see it here was later bought by Johnny Zaro.


Barris Bell ShopIn 1949 the Barris Shop further updated the Johhny Zaro Ford and added a new horizontal grille using 1949 Pontiac components. 


1950 Oakland Roadster showJesse Lopez might possibly be the first one to ever install a ’48 Cadillac grille into a custom. His ’41 Ford Coupe was restyled by Sam Barris and himself, the grille came directly from the Cadillac Factory ordered by a local Cadillac dealer who son was a good friend of Jesse. Jesse has seen photos of the pre production Cadillacs at the dealer and loved the look of the grille.


Also created around 1948 is the Snooky Janich 1941 Ford, short door coupe. The Barris Brothers filled in the stock grille openings and reshaped the lower section to adapt a very popular 1946 Chevy grille. The ’46 Chevy grille was much cleaner than the 47-48 grilles and very popular with the custom crowd.


The Ayala’s used a brand new 1949 Cadillac grille in Jack Stewart’s channeled with raised front fenders ’41 Ford Coupe. In 1949 Jack wanted to modernize his ’41 Ford with looks adapted from the new ’49 Fords. The low and wide hood was handmade by the California Metal Shaping shop and fitted by the Ayala’s. A perfect match with the wide ’49 Grille, the combination gave the car a very modern look in 1949-50.


Deron Wright’s ’41 Ford Custom Coupe restyled by Scott Guildner is a perfect sample to show here. At first the car was done with the stock grille, and looked really great, but still as a ’41 Ford. Later a ’46 Oldsmobile grille was adapted and the hood was extended down to meet the new grille. The new look gave the car a much more modern look.


1946-48 Chevy coupe with full fade away panels had the front end reshaped and fitted with a cut down 1946 Cadillac grille. Picture was taken around 1949.


Hank Ramsey’s used a much wider 1949 Frazer in his 1940 Chevy  in 1949.


Hank Ramsey’s 40 Chevy from the late 1940’s is still around. And also is a very similar ’40 Chevy convertible now owned by Ron Brooks. This car was also built in the late 1940’s and originally used a 1949 Cadillac grille which was later replaced by a ’53 Chevy grille sitting in a custom wide grille opening.


Studio Auto Body in Glendale added a ’49 Mercury grille surround to Bob Alexander’s ’47 Plymouth coupe. The ’49 Mercury was narrowed by removing the stock vertical center piece and the surround was narrowed likewise. The slightly narrower than stock grille and opening now fitted perfectly into the ’47 Plymouth. Some carefull sheet metal restyling was needed to make the front end look as good as it does. The new grille gave the car a whole new and much more modern look. The car was built in the early 1950’s and featured in the December 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine, as well as in a few other places.


Martinez brothers created this 1947 Mercury convertible and used a ’49 Mercury grille surround to replace the too busy stock grille. Eddie Martinez, the owner of the car, opted to used the stock ’49 Mercury grille with the center part replaced with an aftermarket filler section. The grille modification was done around 1953.


In part two of the Horizontal Custom Grilles we will focus on horizontal grilles in post ’49 Cars. Cars with custom grille openings, floating grilles bars, the aftermarket tubular grille etc. Stay tuned for the next part, coming soon.

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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. Superb sleuthing once more, Rik. Lots of encouragement here to “think outside the box”. How much more diverse the new world of customizing was after the War, than mostly we can be able to see about us at shows today.

    I still can see me in October, 1954, reaching to pick that R&C “little pages” magazine off the shelf at the Smoke Shop, and opening it to Paul Dallmeier’s 41 Cadillac. Chopped! Custom grille beyond imaginaton. Long, low, rolling ART! One of Life’s “Aha!” moments. I was hooked.

    Long live the CCC.

  2. Thanks Rik !
    Again and again , you outdo yourself in creating traditional custom car articles , I love it !!! Common for custom cars building is ofcause to make something unique and luxurious and beautiful , but also making something dated more modern and that’s where I think some of these custom designs fits , wide grills on narrow grill cars in some instances , other customs just use a different more luxurious grill that enhances the design and give it more flair , beautiful and very interesting !

  3. Very interesting article, thanks!

  4. Great article, very interesting read. Thanks Rik.

  5. another great article ! thanks Rik for sharing your analyse and knowledge 😉

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