Custom History

May 29, 2018

Ohio Early Custom Cars




Dayton Ohio has been a huge Custom Car scene from the very early beginnings. In the 1940s young guys took trips to California to learn all about the latest Customizing trends.

In the past ten or so years I have talked with Dayton Ohio’s Jim Skonzakes (aka Jim Street) about the Custom Car scene in California, as well as the to him local Dayton Ohio Scene. Jim Explained that he and some of his friends traveled from Dayton to Los Angeles several times a year to absorb the Custom Car scene on the West Coast, and bring back home the original West Coast style of Custom Cars. Some even bought local Californian Custom and drove them home to Dayton, others replicated the style as they had seen it.

A recent article in the Rodder’s Journal issue 78 by Curt Iseli around the Jim Walker photo Collection, reminded me about some of the stories Jim Streets had told me. And it especially reminded me about a series of old Dayton Ohio photos of local Custom cars I had come across many years ago on ebay. When I met Jim Street for the first time in 2010 he showed a photo of an 1941 Ford Convertible he build in the mid/late 1940’s. When I saw the beautiful 1948 photo of the car, I told Jim I had seen pictures of his car before. (I never realized it was Jim’s though) Jim looked at me strange and said how, and were? the car had never been shown or features in a magazine. I told him that I had seen it as part of a series of photos on ebay, and shows him the sample I had saved. He remembered quite a few of the cars in the photos of the collection. But since I visited Jim about the Jack Stewart Ford, and we were on a tight time scheduled, we did not discus it any further.

A series of mildly restyled Dayton Ohio based Customs from the late 1940’s, early 1950’s.


In later conversations Jim always mentioned how much he loved the Custom Car scene in California, and how much he would have loved to move there. But his parents business prevented him for making the step. So he had to settle visiting the Sunny State a few times a year.

When looking at the photos I had saved from the decade old ebay auctions and the photos in the Curt Iseli article on the Rodder’s Journal #78 (highly recommended). I keep wondering about the style of these early Dayton Ohio Customs. How close the style of these 1940’s and very early 1950’s created Customs are. Hoe much the Ohio Customs look like those created in California, where the style was born and developed.

Very nicely done 1940 Ford convertible with chopped windshield and matching padded top. Removed running boards and aftermarket stainless rock shield on the skirted rear fender. Hubcaps is missing.


Low mounted Lincoln Zephyr taillights and Custom Bumpers look good. Jim Street told me that some guys drove their restyled cars to have the padded top made in California, but others used local upholstery shops for it. Jim preferred to have the work done in California at first.


This coupe with heavily restyled front end looks to be based on an 1946 Plymouth.


I have always wondered, and sadly I have never really asked this to Jim when he was still alive, how the Ohio Car enthusiast found out about the Custom Car Scene in California. This was long before the first Car Magazines would start writing about Custom Cars. I have always wondered if perhaps WWII might have had something to do with it. Perhaps some Ohio guys were shipped off to California to do their military or Navy training there. Or perhaps car crazy guys brought photos of their Custom Cars along with them when they were shipped overseas and showed them around. to the other guys. Inspiring guys from all over the US, including Ohio. And when the guys made it back home after the War they would start building cars based on what they had seen in these photos. Or perhaps start making the trips to the West Coast to see the Custom Car scene in person. its just a theory, not sure if it happened that way or not.

It does look like there were quite a few people from other States that made the trip to the California, to check out the Custom Car scene there. And just as it is today the Ohio, and especially the Dayton Ohio has a very strong bond with Custom Cars. These early photo’s show that the California clean Custom Restyling ideas were copied pretty close. I wonder if any of our readers from the Dayton Ohio Are remembers any more stories of the guys making the trips to California. Or perhaps driving up and then returning with a Custom.

Typical Street Custom on the streets of Dayton Ohio… Mildly dressed up.


’39 Ford Convertible with removed running boards, but without a filler panel under the body, so the frame is now exposed. The spare tire is perhaps more Dayton Style than California. Making this Custom an interesting mix in styles.


The windshield was chopped and it looks like the working soft top was modified to fit the new lower profile. The headlights appear to be aftermarket sealed beam units. Single bar spinner hubcaps on black wall tires.


Not all the Customs in Dayton Ohio were influenced by the smooth and clean California Style. As this early 10’s GM Coupe with La Salle grille shows.


A mix of styled is evident in most of these cars in this set of photos as well.


1939 Ford looks to have extended down quarter panels and doors after the running boards were eliminated. ’46 Chevy bumpers and again an visible spare tire.


Mildly restyled Lincoln with Ford bumpers, and simple cleaned up and dressed up ’41 Ford Convertible.


Just as in California the ‘convertible models were very popular with the custom crowd. 1939-40 Ford convertible with the running boards removed, rock shield on the rear fenders with teardrop skirts. The one of the right has ’41 Ford bumpers and both cars had large mud flaps on the front fenders to keep the paint damage to a minimum.


Really nice looking with the shaved body, newer bumper, right stance, with wide white wall tires and Custom Hubcaps.


Classic looking street customs with just the right amount of touches to make them look really interesting. These Dayton Ohio photos could have been taken in California as well.


1939 Ford Coupe, shave trunk custom hubcaps, teardrop skirts and a bit lowered suspension. Parked in front of Brandy Body Shop. So far no info has come up about this body shop, and if it was responsible for this car, and perhaps more in this series of photos.


Full Custom 46-48 Ford convertible with chopped windshield, padded top, lowered, smoothed, frenched headlights, grille made from 1951 Pontiac components and ’49-50 mercury bumpers. A very well done Custom looks to be photographed at a local Dayton Ohio race car event.


The 46-48 Mercury seamed to be rather popular with the Dayton Custom guys as well. Several mildly restyled samples are included in this series of photos. And I have to say these cars do look really great with the right amount of Custom touches.


’46-48 Ford and mercury Custom Convertibles both have the perfect speed-boat stance.


Beautiful Californian style Ford Convertible with all the right late 1940’s touches.


Jim Skonzakes (Street) was fortunately to have a good job at his parents dry-cleaning business, o he always had some money to spend allowing him to have some really cool cars from the mid 1940’s and up. The ’41 Ford Convertible was built in Dayton, but his ’49 Buick was created mostly at the Barris Shop during one of his many trips to California.


Jim Skonzakes ’41 Ford was both radical and subtle. Extended down doors and rear quarter panels to fill the space from the removed running boards, ’46 Chevy grille and overall smoothing. We will do a full feature on this car at a later date. Jim drive this car several times from Dayton to Los Angeles


The ’47 Ford sedan convertible on the bottom must have been created from a four door sedan with a convertible cowl. The top two customs show that removing the running boards was very popular in the Dayton area in the later part of the 1940’s. Just as it was in California.


Oddly restyled 1948 Chevy sedan with the top cut off and a new windshield added. Cut down doors with an unique paint job is far from the typical California look. The Cord on the bottom is nice and subtle.


A ’41 Ford Sedan mild custom in progress. Notice that the hood trim was cut, but the holes had yet to be filled.


Close up shows the 1951 Ohio Plates. The half moon chrome headlight covers was an aftermarket product that was especially popular outside California.


The owner used a smoother 46 Ford bumper at the back. I wonder if it ever was finished with nice gloss paint.


’48 Ford convertible with some mild restyling. The taillights were removed, and holes filled, ’48 Chevy taillights are now mounted below the trunk. Side trim has been removed and Spotlights added.


The trip from Dayton Ohio to Los Angeles was around 2500 + miles on mostly two lane roads back in the 1940’s and early 1950’s when these guys took those trips.


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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. Great article, some very nice early customs and it is interesting to see that even low production luxury cars got customized.


  2. I had no idea there was this much customizing going on in the Mid-West in the late 40’s early 50’s!! Loved the article. Bob



    Thanks Rik.


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