EARLY CUSTOM RESTYLING
Back in the late 1930’s early 1940’s more and more Custom Cars showed up with their running boards removed, for an ultimate slick, sporty, and perhaps European look. Lets take a closer look at this once very popular Custom Restyling technique.
In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s shops in California, but also in other states, started to create personalized cars based on the every day cars. Styled after the hand build coach built creations from the famous coachbuilders in the US as well as from Europe. Coach built cars from the famous movie stars and hot rodding on the dry lakes where the inspiration for the young kids who wanted their Fords to look more classic than all the other cars they saw on the street. Several shops started to specialize in these Custom Cars and styles developed quickly. Besides many techniques used to customize your car, like chopping the top, adding padded tops, more exclusive grilles, lowering the suspension, the removal of the running boards was one way to make your boxy car look much more streamlined, more sporty, more like those exclusive Auburns, Cord’s Grahams, or even more exotic cars.
Mostly stock 1938 Ford convertible with the running boards removed, the front fenders extended where the running board used to connect, the frame covered with a body color painted panel, dressed up with two stainless trim pieces and a nicely shaped stainless rock shield covering the hole on the rear fender. Notice the use of a mudflap on the front fender.
There has always been a strong pro and con camp on the subject of removed running-boards on early style custom cars, for as long as I have been into Custom Cars. I have to say that I’m from the pro camp, I personally love the look of removed running boards on early style custom cars. Cars with the runningboards removed with hand shaped panels covering the frame rails, which are painted body color, and possebly dressed up wit a set of stainless trim. The back portion of the front fenders reshaped and the front of the rear fenders filled in, and possebly dressed up with an elegantly styled stainless steel rock cover to protect the rear fender.
There are two types we can identify when it comes to removed runningboards on Custom Cars.
- Cars with removed running boards where the hole left from the running board is filled in with a shaped panel to cover the frame.
- Cars with removed runningboards and raised fenders and chaneled bodies where the lower body section is now level with the lower line of the fenders an covering the frame rails from view.
Both styles were used a lot in the early days, but the channeled version with the raised fenders is the one that “survived” and was still used in the 1950’s and later. The more regular removed running board look more or less disappeared towards the end of the 1940’s. So far I have not really found a good reason for this, perhaps the style was considered to be outdated, or perhaps it was not practical with the roads still being rather bad and a lot of road debris might have ended up damaging the paint on the body sides and rear fenders. However the channeled look with the raised fenders must have had the same problem, but the more sleek lower profile body lines probably made up for all this. Fortunately we have seen a bit of a come back when it comes to removing the running boards on late 1930’s early 1940’s Custom Cars in more recent years. I will come back to that at the end of this article.
For this article I will concentrate on the cars restyled with according the number one listed description. The original restyling technique of removing the running boards on none channeled cars.
When and how did it all start?
Well, we do not ave any excact dates on this, but based on photos we have seen it must have started in the later part of the 1930’s. Ealier we have seen Hot Rods wit their fenders and running boards removed, and possibly this has been of invluence on the removal of running boards on Custom Cars a bit, but as mentioned in the intro, it is more likely this was invluenced by the American Classic Sports Cars that where produced in the later part of the 1930’s and the coach built cars, and especially from the European coach builders. These builders created exotic looking sports cars whith wonderful round and teardrop shapes on the fenders and bodies with chrome pated shapes on the fender ends wit no running bosrds showing. This excotic look was shown in some of the magazines back in the 1930’s, and could also been seen on the roads of sunny Hollywood where the rich an famous would drive automobiles like this. More common on the street would have been the Auburns and similar styled factory sports cars. The absence of the running boards gave these cars very elegant lines and a nice low to the ground look. American car manufactors like GM where also starting to offer some models wit no running boards, but possibly due to the bad roads of the time, causing thrown up road debris onto the body sides and rear fenders made this a little less practical option for production every day used cars. But the customizers sure loved the look of it.
The Auburn Speedster was available from 1934 and showed the wonderful sleep looks of a car with no running boards peaked front fender backs and nicely shaped chrome rock shields on the rear fenders.
Some GM body styles from 1938-40, like this 1939 Cadillac and LaSalle had no running boards The running board location was “filled” up with a body colored panel and three full length trim pieces. Once these cars hit the dealers the customizers found out about these frame covers and started to use them on their Fords and other more regular cars.
This article is based on my own personal observations and ideas about the subject and not on facts based on old publications, or stories from the old timers that where there back in the 1940’s. A far as I know none of this has been written about in depth in early Custom Car publications. For a great number of years I have tried to collect everything I could find about this subject, and now its time to share my story on it. I still would love to hear more about this, perhaps there are some people out there that could share some more info, or perhaps even have one of the old aftermarket kits. If you do, please let me know, I would love to add it to this article for everybody to enjoy.
1936 Ford 5-window Coupe
One of the first Custom Cars that I saw in the magazines/books that had the running boards removed was this wonderfully restyled 1936 Ford 5-window coupe. These photos date from 1940-1941 and show some very well performed restyling. The removed running boards give the car a much sleeker look, and the stainless trim on the frame cover optically make the car look a lot longer than it really is. The stainless rock shield is very elegantly shaped, and since we have found at least one more photo of a 36 Ford using the same frame cover and rock shield we assume this might have been an aftermarket product available in the early 1940’s. Some even mentioned George DuVall might have been responsible for this product. But so far we have not found any evidence for this to proof it. It was this car that started the love for the removed running boards Custom Cars for me.
According to Dean Batchelor who took this photo the Ford was restyled by Santa Monica Body Works in the late 30’s early 40’s. The photo is taken in Santa Monica in 1941. Several people mention George DuVall as the creator of the running board covers and some other dress up parts used on this car.
Another photo of the same 36 Ford that I came across on eBay many years ago shows a slightly different view, and show how much effect the removal of the running boards had to this car. This 1936 Ford also has mud-flaps behind the front tires.
Howard Wilson’s 1936 Ford coupe is the other Ford that used a similar set up for the removed running board style. Making me believe this must have been an aftermarket set available in the early 1940’s.
Edgar Almquist Jr wrote about the removal of the running boards in his Custom Styling Manual (Simplified methods for Custom Streamlining) copyrighted in 1946.
I think this photo comes from the Dick Bertolucci Collection and shows and early Custom 1936 Ford created by Harry Westergard. The running boards are removed, the front fender reshaped and peeked at the back. The rear fender dressed up with a simple stainless rock-shield, and the most interesting thing is the nicely shaped frame cover. It was mentioned that Harry used a Model A Sedan top to shape these wonderful frame covers.
This Coachcraft created car was based on a 1940 Ford, but a lot of the body panels were home made. The design was made with no running boards. longer reshaped front fenders and rock shields on the rear fenders.
George and Tom Bistagne built this 1938 Ford convertible sedan for their own personal use in 1939-’40. The car was chopped with a Carson top using ’34 cabriolet rear door windows. California Metal shaping created the frame covers that where needed after the running boards where removed, as well as the chrome plated or stainless steel rock guards for the rear fenders.
This early Barris Customs restyled 1939 also uses a shaped panel to cover the frame. This one does not follow the body at the beginning and the end, perhaps indicating that the panel was created from some other body panels, perhaps similar to the Westergard built 1936 Ford coupe.
Removing the running boards was not only done to Fords, Harry Westergard removed them on Leroy Semas his 1937 Chevy three window coupe with great result. Harry created the panel to cover the frame and molded it to the lower body for a very smooth look.
Early restyled 1937 Ford Phaeton with chopped padded top and removed running boards. The shaped panel to cover the frame is not molded in on this car. The rock-shield is nicely shaped and taller than some others. Notice the small diameter Single bar flipper hubcaps used on the car. The license plate is dated 1940.
Most likely created by the Barris Shop is this 1937-38 Ford sedan with the running boards removed. The front fender has been very nicely reshaped and the frame cover molded to the body, to fit in with the theme of the rest of the car.
I think its save to say that the reming the running boards style originated in California. But the looks were used in other parts of the US as well. This photo shows a series of snapshots of custom cars photographed in and around Dayton Ohio in the late 1940’s. They all have the running boards removed. So the style was “universal” only perhaps a little later in the other parts of the US than in California.
The Aftermarket Influence
From very early on several aftermarket companies realized there was a market in offering – do it youself Restyling by removing the runningboard kits. We have seen an advertising postcard from the Hollywood trim company offering such a kit as early as 1940. But perhaps similar products might have been available even earlier. These kits show how popular this kind of restyling was in the late 1930’s up into the 1940’s and even in the early 1950’s. However these kits would never have the same elegant effects a full custom job would have. These trim sets where easy to bolt on, and covered the exposed parts with either stainless or chrome plated panels, which would look fine on the frame covers, but look odd on for the fender covers, especially the front. The rear covers were small, just to cover the holes left from the running boards, and not as nicely shaped as elegantly shaped as we can see on some of the full custom jobs. And the covers for the front also looked like nothing more than something to cover up the holes. Still these kit must ave been sold very well, since we have seen a lot of old snapshots of cars using these kits.
Postcard with a February 1940 stamp on the back shows the Hollywood Running Board Trim kit for the Ford and Mercury bodies.
The Hollywood Trim kit was also available from Eastern and Cal Custom aftermarkets houses, who sold these in their shop and thru the mail. This one comes from the Eastern 1949 catalog, and their 1951 catalog still shows them as well.
Just a few of the samples I have come across of cars using the Hollywood Running Board Trim kit. The were used both on further customized cars as well as on nearly stock looking cars. Makes me wonder how many of these kits were used back then. (some photos courtesy of the Zeke Carrillo Collection)
The Hollywood fender trim, product of Perry Mfg. Co. was just one of many of the rock shields available in the early 1940’s. These where shaped nicer than the short unit from the Hollywood Trim kit. Shields like these were used by those who made their own frame cover and reshape the fenders on their own car.
The removal of the running boards on Custom Cars also was done on 1941-48 Ford and Mercury products (and most likely on other brand cars as well) however the running boards on these cars are mostly covered by the lower section of the doors which moved outboard at the bottom. This resulted in a far less obvious effect when the running boards were removed on these cars. Still George DuVall decided to come out with an aftermarket product that could be used when the running boards where removed on your car.
Fred Creller – Ron Brooks 1941 Chevy
Ron Brooks owns this 1941 Chevy with original Hall top custom that was originally built in the late 1940’s by Fred Creller. Fred removed the running boards on his Chevy and had a local shop make a filler panel to hide the frame. But after installing it he was unhappy with it. Fred had told Ron that he later had a second set made that had horizontal ribs in them. But Ron always wondered if if these ribbed panels are perhaps the ribbed aftermarket pieces shown on a few other early customs as well as being mentioned by other builders. The chrome plated fender covers are a bit crude according to Ron, so he believes those could have been made by Fred himself. Below is a photo of the 1941 Chevy in 1950. And two taken by Per Webb of the restored car, taken in 2013.
As mentioned in the text in the beginning the removal of running boards on custom cars slowly disappeared in the late 1940’s early 1950’s. Several reasons can be found for this. Perhaps the most obvious that the cars with these modifications were considered to be to old at the time. The same year cars with channeled bodies and raised fenders had so much more different profiles that they still would fit in the more modern styled cars with integrated fenders. One of those cars was the famous Jimmy Summers 1940 Mercury. The none running board looks however has never been really popular with the modern day customizer. Very few samples of restored old custom, or new built customs based on real fendered cars with the running boards removed have been created in the last few decades. But fortunately we do see them from time to time, and it looks like this early look for Custom Cars is having a come back so we do hope that we will see more of these in the near future.
This 1940 Mercury was built as a mild classic custom with a stock height top. The running boards were removed, new nicely shaped panels created to cover the frames, the front fender holes filled i and a nicely home made rock shield added to the rear fender.
CCC-Member Bert Gustafsson removed the running boards on his 1940 Buick Convertible and hand made some really nice fender shields. Check out how Bert created the rock shield for his Buick on the CCC-Forum Post.
“Another well researched exposé, on one of the finer points of pre-War restyling.
And as Rik rightly points out, seldom seen today.
I am convinced that the young enthusiasts who were school-aged kids during the mid to late 1930’s were highly influenced by the
Auburn Speedster, Cord 810-812, & the designs coming out of the Howard Darrin Studio.
These young fellows had ads featuring these cars plastered on their bedroom walls, and were obviously inspired by them!
I had definite plans to execute this very revision, as well as others on my own ‘36 roadster shortly after displaying the car at the “Customs Then & Now” event. Per my request, Rik Hoving produced a rendering via “Digital Restyle” showing exactly how the roadster would appear with the running boards removed, the DuVall or Cad-LaSalle accessory running board delete covers, and the beautifully formed chromed steel rock guards at the rear for the finishing touch. I had fabricated these pieces, but sold the car and therefore never completed the changes.
My board delete covers were hand–formed steel, the “speed line” highlights were deeply embossed. The entire cover was chrome plated, then the background area was etched, primed, and painted body color.
I have seen an original set of these that were done in a similar manner. Perhaps these were the DuVall’s.
It also appears that the 1939 General Motors accessory covers differ slightly in form whether they are applied to the Cadillac or LaSalle models.
The GM covers also appear to use three separate chromed die cast or stainless trim pieces that are applied to the sheet metal covers.
I still have all the pieces to do this running board delete. Perhaps I will be fortunate enough to apply them to a future ‘36 Ford custom project.”
David E. Zivot
This Rik Hoving work shows the photo restyled revisions I had planned to accomplish on my ‘36 Ford roadster, including the running board delete, and the Santa Monica Body Works influenced grille treatment.
[box_light]If you have any additional information about the Restyled Custom Cars with the running boards removed, the special aftermarket kits to cover the frame rails and running board holes in the fender. Then please Email Rik so that we can add the info to the article.[/box_light]
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