Custom Car Chronicle
Early Custom Cars

33 Ford Early Custom




This 1933 Ford Roadster underwent major restyling and the end result was good enough to make it on the cover of the June 1954 Rod and Custom Magazine.

I have a soft spot for early restyled custom cars, restyled in the 1940’s, based on cars with separate fenders and tall grilles. Cars that could be turned into Hot Rods as well as into Customs, and obviously I prefer the later.¬†This 1933 Ford Roadster in this article is special to me because several reasons.

The first reason¬†is because the June 1954 issue of Rod & Custom magazine was among my very first ten copied of the R&C’s I found when I was in my late teens.They were all I had back then, so I read and re-read them, spending hours absorbing all the pictures inside. I loved the cover image of this 1933 Ford with its bold red color contrasting nicely with the ice-green wall behind it and the orange-yellow from the magazine cover. It jumped out at you. The designer of this cover (Ray Rich) did a really nice¬†job.

Back when I was a teenager it was easier to find info on Hot Rods than on Custom Cars. So I had seen a fair share of Hot Rodded 1933-34 Fords. I liked them, but when I realized this cover cars was based on a 1933 Ford, I could not believe why not more people would create Customs from their 1933-34 Fords instead of Hot Rods… I think it was then that I started to create a soft spot for early restyled Custom Cars, and also for restyled cars that are mostly created as Hot Rods, pre 1935 model. Tom Nielsen did a nice CCC-Article on a few more 1933-34 Ford turned Custom, showing how great these car can look.

CCC-early-30s-restyled-cars-collageA few samples of early restyled cars based on pre-1935 cars. Cars that are usually seen as Hot Rod material, now used as Customs. (with photos courtesy of the David Zivot, Jack Butler and The Old Motor collections).

Many years later I learned about the history of Custom Cars and found out that the early Customs were influenced by the Coachbuilders. And that people as Frank Kurtis, George DuVall and more were restyling cars from the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Cars that most people would consider strictly Hot Rod material. Looking at the ’33 Ford in this article, and reading about the Kurtis and DuVall created 30’s restyled cars always make me wonder how many of these cars were actually restyled as Customs. There are quite some photos around of these early Customs, and since it was not very common to make many photos back then one can assume there must have been many more that were never photographed. To bad we do not see many of the early 1930’s cars being customized today, perhaps a new trend should arise…

CCC-erwin-drake-33-roadster-coverThe design of the cover of the June 1954 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine works really well and the bright red car jumps at you with the ice green and yellow background. Quite unique to have a custom based on an ’33 Ford on the cover of the magazine in 1954. For a Hot Rod that would be normal, but most cover customs were usually more modern.

The second reason¬†is because the Ralph Poole photos used¬†in the June, 1954 issue of Rod & Custom are¬†as far as I know, the only photos of this 1933 Ford that have ever been published. I have not yet seen any other photos of this car anyplace else, no private collections, not in the back ground of any early 1950’s show coverage. The car is a bit of a mistery. Sure there it this full four page article on the car. And the owner of the car Erwin Drake is mentioned, but also that he bought the car as a finished custom. And the article does not list anything about the original owner, and who originally restyled it.


An older Custom?

My guess is this is an old, late 1930’s early 1940’s restyled custom. An old custom with a considerable amount of body work done to it… Some of it really enhances the body, other things like the heavy bull-nose it perhaps not the most elegant solution, which to me indicates early work. So,¬†who build it? That is the real mystery… and I like¬†Custom¬†Car mysteries. I have no answer to this question though… at least not yet, but somebody out there must know more on this car, must know its real history. Hopefully somebody will read the article and remembers the car, or remembers hearing about the car…

CCC-erwin-drake-33-roadster-05Side view shows the rather high¬†stance which was “compensated” by the reshaped and extended down rear fenders making it look lower in the back.

CCC-erwin-drake-33-roadster-04The front 3/4 view shows how great the fenders/running boards look now they are grafted into one smooth piece.

Ralph Poole also mentioned it in the R&C article that the ’33 Ford is seldom seen as a full custom. It is amazing the car even made the cover of the magazine. The owner of the ’33 Ford in 1954 was Erwin Drake from Huntington Park, California, he was a family man with a busy job and even tough he wanted to create his own custom, he just did not have the time to do so. Instead he found this already finished custom 1933 Ford. To make the car his own he decided to make a few changes, the car was repainted fire engine red, all the chrome was redone, and Bill Gaylord was hired to redo the interior in white and red leatherette pleated and rolled, with maroon carpet.

CCC-erwin-drake-33-roadster-03The rear pan was smoothed and molded to the main body, 1938 Ford taillights are mounted low on the restyled rear fenders and protection comes from the beautiful v-shape 1938 Studebaker bumper. This rear 3/4 view shows that those who where responsible for restyling it in the first place knew very well what they were doing.

The original work done on the car at an earlier stage, and by an unknown shop was a lot more involving than the updates Erwin had done. The car started out as a “rare” 1933 Ford roadster. All four fenders were reshaped heavily to get a more rounder appearance. The lip at the edge of the fenders was smoothed for a cleaner, perhaps more modern look. Unsure if the builders perhaps used parts of other fenders or if the work was done with added shaped metal and round rod. The rear fenders were extended down, creating a smaller wheel opening which made the car look lower. The fenders and the¬†new smooth running boards were welded to a single smooth unit, with a nice radius from the boards to the rear fenders following the character line on the lower body. At the rear the lower pan was welded to the body and the bottom reveal eliminated for a smooth look. Two 1938 Ford teardrop taillights were added to the rear fenders, and the stock bumper was replaced with a more custom looking 1934 Studebaker bumper. The same bumper was used up front, but here a set of overriders was mounted to offer more protection.

CCC-erwin-drake-33-roadster-01The photo session with Erwin’s 1933 Ford was done at the famous Compton Drive-In with its wonderful ice green fence which was perfect to give¬†the fire engine red custom stand even more impact.

A new grille surround was created which was less tall than the original ’33 Ford grille, and much rounded. Therefor the hood needed to be extended forward, and down to meet the lower grill. The hood was also made into one piece and ¬†hinges where created to make it hings Alligator style at the cowl. A new grille insert with vertical chrome plated bars was created. to fit the new opening.¬†The whole front of the car is now much rounder, more resembling a 1936 Ford.¬†New smooth hood-sides were created and a set of teardrop shaped headlights are molded to the front fenders. The R&C article mentioned they are 1940 Chevy units, but they appear to be a bit shorter and rounder than those, plus the chrome bezel is all smooth. Hard to tell from the photos what they really used. The windshield frame was chopped and the article mentioned a removable top, most likely a padded top, sadly non of the photos show the top in place.

CCC-erwin-drake-33-roadster-09Bill Gaylord was responsible for re-doing the upholstery in the 1933 Ford Roadster. Bill picked a bold bright red and white leatherette and sharp V-shaped tuck & roll panels to follow the latest trend in upholstery.

Erwin had Bill Gaylord redo the interior, so we have no idea how the original interior looks like. Bill worked with red and white leatherette with nice pleats and red piping. The floor was done in maroon with white piping. The ’33 Ford dash has been cleaned and the original panel was updated with ’39 Ford instruments. The ’39 Ford Banjo steering wheel replaces the original. According the article the engine had been replaced with a ’46 59A Flathead engine, which had been ported, relieved, bore and stroked and dressed up with Offenhauser dual manifold fitted with Stromberg carbs. The frame was updated with hydraulic brakes, tubular shocks and 16 inch wheels with wide white wall tires and aftermarket hubcaps.

CCC-erwin-drake-33-roadster-07A close up of the Gaylord upholstery, and the smooth transition from front fender to running board.

CCC-erwin-drake-33-roadster-08The grille surround was made from round rod and sheet metal with an insert created from chrome plated steel rods. 

CCC-erwin-drake-33-roadster-02Molded in headlights with smooth chrome plated bezels flank the new grille and smooth hood sides. The 1934 Studebaker bumpers are a great touch, the wonderful V-Shape fit the car perfectly. At first glance looking at the car like this make you think it is an ’36 Ford.



Just a thought, perhaps if this car was created in the later part of the 1930’s, or early 1940’s, the owner liked the looks of the 1936 Ford roadsters, but could not afford the newer car, so instead he started with a 1933 Ford and had it restyled to look more like a 36 Ford. Making your older car look newer is one of the elements used by Customizers from the beginning.
This 1933 Ford, and the fact that it was featured on the cover of Rod & Custom magazine show that the 1933-34 Fords can work very well with¬†the full custom treatment and are not only Hot Rod material. Well designed they can make very excellent¬†early style Custom Cars… and we need to see more of those.



Even thought there was a full 4 page article on this 1933 Ford, there are still a lot of things about the cars early history we would like to know more about. A few are:

  • Does anybody know Erwin Drake, or remembers him from the 1950’s? He might be able to to shed some light where he got the car from.
  • Does anybody¬†remember this 1933 from the early 1950’s, or even better from before Erwin Drake owned it? And perhaps know about other photos that those used in the R&C article.
  • Does anybody know what happened to this car?
    If you know more about this, them please email us, we would love to hear from you and add your information to this article.

Thank you.




(this article is sponsored by)

CCC-Sponsor-KingKustomsTShirt-602Contact Rob Radcliffe at King Kustoms for more info on these T-Shirts Email Rob





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)

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