1951 DODGE CUSTOM
Bert Gustafsson 1951 Dodge is restyled using very creative out of the box styling which turned this ugly duckling into a real beautiful 1950s style Custom.
I first saw some photos of Bert Gustafsson’s 1951 Dodge when I met Bert for the first time in 2007. The car was still in progress then, but I was very impressed with the unique styling of it. A couple of years later I saw photos of the finished car, and thought it was absolutely great. In the summer of 2015 I had the pleasure of seeing Bert’s 1951 Dodge in person at the 2015 Old Style Weekend in Sweden, and it looked absolutely stunning in person. What strikes me perhaps the most is how Bert has accomplishes to create a true early/mid 1950’s looking custom from a car that nearly nobody considered prime custom material. Bert’s sense for style and balance made sure that despite a whole range of modifications there is still an overall theme and style, and the car’s shapes work really well no matter from which angle you look at it. With all the modifications it is very hard to identify the original Dodge in the end product, but who needs to know what it started as, if the end result is looking this good.
Bert bought the car 1988, not because it was the car of his dreams, it was actually far from that. But he just felt that he needed a custom car real bad, and the 500 euros (around $560.-) the seller wanted for the car was all he could afford at the time. The first Custom Bert built took about 2 years to build and he could never ever have guessed that it would take him 20 years before this car would be out on the street again. But other cars that he had during this period, plus raising four kids, house restorations, moving, 2 garage builds, etc. always had a higher priority than working steady on the Dodge. During this period Bert worked on the car so every now and then, but mostly the car was put on the back-burner.
As the photos show one of the original ideas was to built the car as a padded topped convertible. But this idea was discarded about a year after Bert started the project. Swedish regulations were a lot stricter back then than they are now, and being able to get the car street legal as an ex four door converted to a convertible would be very hard. So a 1951 Ford roof was welded back on top of the car. But since the roof panel was badly dented Bert only used the sides and replace most of the roof with 1955 Chevy top sheet metal. The opening for the windshield was also enlarged a bit the same way they did it on the Matranga Merc to make sure visibility would still be good in the heavy chopped car.
Initially the intention was to build a custom with a carson style top so Bert cut the roof off and replaced the windshield frame with one from a -51 Ford.
Bert showed some pictures of the car without roof to his dear friend and Swedish living Custom Car Legend Allan Bergman, he got inspired and made a very nice and inspirational ketch.
The patchwork on the door skin from lengthening and rust repair was later replaced with a new door skin when the “Darrin-dip” was added. In this photo Bert has the 1951 Ford tacked in place. However, the roof skin was pretty damaged so Bert decided to replace it. He tried using the original Dodge roof-skin first, but didn’t like that at all. Then he found a roof from a -55 Chevy in a local junkyard, and liked the shape of that better. In retroperspective Bert wishes that he had spent time repairing the Ford roof instead. He now thinks that would have turned out nicer. This photo was taken around 1994-95.
Bert incorporated some more Coachbuild styles into his Dodge, as the “pancaked” trunk and “Darrin” dip in the doors. After the trunk was shortened he found an extra trunk lid at a local junkyard, that was used to fill the lower part of the trunk opening. The door skins from the rear doors were used as filler for the rear door openings, and the front doors where extended. The “Darrin” dip was created by sectioning the door jambs and creating new top sections on the English wheel that would flow into a dip at the end of the doors. Bert wanted to have nice lip all around the bottom of the body which started at the front wheel opening where he used the lip from the wheel openings from a 1970’s mercedes. The rest of the lip around the bottom was hand made. The new top was welded on the main boy in such a way that a Hard-Top body style was created. The door frames where welded to the A-pillars and roof. And the door tops reshaped styled after the Hirohata Mercury. Original plan was to create some elegant flowing chrome window frames… perhaps one day…
The hood was originally in two pieces, but Bert welded the two pieces together and extended the front part of the hood with an lip which forms the grille opening in a same manner as the Hirohata Mercury. The photo on the right shows the hand made wind-split for the narrowed 1951 Ford taillights. It also shows the handmade lip on the bottom of the body which flows into the fender skirt lip.
There is a lot of new sheet metal in the rear fenders. Bert marked in the photo to show what’s left of the stock fenders, the rest is all hand made from flat sheet. The fender-skirts, not showing in this photo, were also made from flat sheet.
At this point most of the body work was done and the whole body was in bare metal. The fenders where modified to accept 1954 Buick healights and a complete new grille opening was created. Bert used fender lips for the front wheel openings from 1970’s Mercedes front fenders! The right photo shows how a “concave lip” was fabricated and attached along the roof side edges instead of drip rails. This photo also shows the sail panels made from flat sheet and if you look hard you can spot the weldline from replacing the roof skin from the 1955 Chevy.
After working on and off on the car Bert finally had the car ready to have it registered in 2008. The Dodge was not legal for street use, still lacking interior and side windows. In 2015 this is still a low priority for Bert and the only update he has done since 2008 is that he added a hitch so he now can tow a trailer with it.
So far Bert has had had a lot of fun with the car, both during the build and out on the roads, it drives and handles pretty well, and Bert kind of like it, as he mentioned. There are a few modifications which he still think is pretty cool. He mentioned the the rear fenders with the scoops and taillights and the “Darrin dip” and then there are others he can barely look at today and of course wishes he had done very differently. An example of that is the front end. Bert was very close to change that before it was painted but thought it hopefully would look better with paint, “hmm, bad decision”.
Maybe, but just maybe, Bert will give it an update and finalize the car some day?
The pic shows what the car looked like in 1996-97, it also shows that the body had been channeled 3”.
Around 2002, the car in now in primer at its new home and Bert is testing different sets of side trim.
The car was then prepared for paint but didn’t get painted until 2007. This photo shows the car fresh from the pain-booth, painted tangerine and gold metallic done by a neighbor of Bert. Bert feels his neighbor did a really fantastic job.
Bert Gustafsson 1951 Dodge Coronet four door.
- Channeled 3”, Chopped ?” (Bert does not remember how much), shorted wheelbase (and body) 5” behind the doors (Bert can’t understand why he did that, but back then it made sense), X-member added to the frame for added strength.
- Front window frame from 1951 Ford, rear window frame from -51 Ford (sectioned in width and height with new glass made from a windscreen with suitable shape) Roof partly from 1951 Ford and partly from 1955 Chevy.
- Dashboard from 1951 Ford
- Rear bumper from 1956 Chevy (shorted and made into a one piece, recesses for original bumper guards and bumper bolt holes filled) with a 1952 Kaiser bar and 1954 Olds grille parts as exhaust outlets.
- 51 Ford taillights narrowed
- 1954-56 Buick side trim
- Headlights from 1954 Buick
- Grille made from a 1954 Olds grille bar and headlight buckets from old trucks (two on each side welded together)
- Front bumper from 1954 Olds (narrowed to fit the body)
- 350 engine, TH350 transmission, front and rear axle, all from a 1973 Chevelle.
- Air-ride in the rear for speed bumps and such.
The car was converted to hard-top and the door tops were cut in a similar way to the Hirohata Mercury. A set of Kustom Krafts reproduction Spotlights was mounted to give the car that perfect early/mid 1950’s look.
The pancaked trunk, wind-splits on the mostly hand made rear fenders and reshaped rear window in the new top give the car a very nostalgic, yet refreshing look. The Rear bumper is a narrowed 1956 Chevy with a 1952 Kaiser bar ending in 1954 Olds oval grille parts molded to the bumper. The exhaust was routed thru the Olds ovals.
When it was time to reshape the rear fenders Bert did look a bit at the units on the Frank Livingston Chevy. But most of the details including the narrowed 1951 Ford taillights are from his own design. Very nicely done is the lip coming from the front wheel opening which ends at the front of the rear fender and then continues on the fender skirts all the way back to the rear bumper.
The front view shows the narrowed 1954 Olds bumper. The grille is made up from truck grille part bullets combined with the 1954 Olds grille bar. The original old grille ovals from this grille have been used on the rear bumper.
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