Custom Car Chronicle
Featured CarsFeatured Custom Cars

Carson Style 36 Ford


David E Zivot wanted a California Top 1936 Ford Roadster Custom. Restyled in line with how the cars were built shortly after WWII. He was able to create this stunning example of the Carson Style Custom.

© by Michelle M. Yiatras
Timechanic ™
(Original article from June 2011)

Carson Style

Like Clark Gable might have felt before the War started (joyfully married, with an Oscar) and after it ended (drinking with reckless abandon), when a fellow parked his stock roadster to enlist in the Good Fight, he returned with a heightened perspective. Although he may have made the ultimate sacrifices (a limb, a spouse, a brother or uncle), he didn’t sacrifice style. These designs were stirring deep inside and reverberated in many post-War customs that matriculated from the college of WW2. Upright men and women returned to shepherd a more dignified era.

Eddie Martinez at his workbench in the summer of 2011.

Eddie Martinez is a funny old guy, and he was a funny young guy. When he was six and his Mama told him to put the scrap boot on the beans, he thought she meant in the pot instead of in the coal stove for fuel. So that night they had “frijoles a la zapata”. When you see him today (June 2011) in his mid-70’s shuffling like Tim Conway and sore arms wrapped in gauze like the Mummy, a lot of it is for dramatic effect. He wants you to feel a little sorry for him because he knows he’s a little annoying. Eddie (Darryl Starbird’s National Rod & Custom Car HoF) has been multi-awarded for his quick draw with the sewing machine. Eddie was always the go to when you wanted upholstery or a correct Carson style top.

Eddie’s business card from back in the early 1950’s.

He furnished a myriad range including from his first ’40 Ford (Car Craft front page & Long Beach Best Upholstery) in the mid-50’s, Barris’ ’29 Ford Model A roadster “Emperor”, Ed Roth’sOutlaw” & “Beatnik Bandit”, Larry Watson’s ’57 Cadillac Eldorado, Stone-Woods-Cook ’41 Willys Gasser, Dan Houck’s ’46 Ford convertible, to the Duncan Emmons Merc. So when the day arrived for Eddie to pass the torch over to custom and hot rod upholsterer, David Martinez (no relation), of Martinez Industries, there was definitely some fireworks. Eddie shuffled one way across David’s shop and out the door muttering, “I guess I’ll just go kill myself,” from the side of his mouth, and then shuffled back through with, “I forgot something.

David Martinez at his Martines Industries shop.

Martinez Industries was at the time the ’36 Ford was built, located in Gardena, CA. (now located in Palm Springs, CA.) David Martinez, supplanted from Indiana, is mid-30’s and yet has the sensibilities of a post-WW2 timer. Usually he’s at his bench or in the car’s trenches applying his reet pleats to the tune of Artie Shaw, Jack Benny, or Dragnet, echoing Philco radio shows, not Eminem. He’s clad in vintage coveralls and has an earnest eye and handshake. It’s no wonder that he and David Zivot would become fast friends.

John & Virginia Wolf  at El Mirage dry lakes in 1949.

David Zivot acquired the stock 1936 Ford roadster from AHRF Pioneer, John Wolf of Sherman Oaks, CA. David & I visited John and Virginia several times at their original So-Cal home, surrounded by magnolia trees and hummingbirds, they’ve lived in since they first got married in 1950. They are vigorous and feisty in their late-70’s and regularly attend V8 Club treks. They still look as youthful as they did at the dry lakes when they began courting in 1948. John got the car from Ray Brown (another AHRF Pioneer). Together they built the ’46 Mercury V8 flathead displacing a 3 3/8” bore and 4” stroke, J & E forged pistons, Winfield SU-1A cam, block letter Edelbrock heads, Super-Dual intake, a pair of Chandler-Groves mixers, ’39 trans with Lincoln Zephyr gear set, terminating in a ’40 Ford rear end with 3:54 cogs.
All of which Zivot freshened up mechanically and made reliable as a daily driver.

Ray Brown and Bud M. (photo courtesy AHRF).

Before any miles could be racked up, the car was invited to be part of the GNRS 2011 special display “Customs Then and Now”, as representative of an immediate pre-War/post-War California custom. Although the car was stock when David Zivot acquired it, the goal was always an authentic as possible, chopped, black lacquered, tear drop skirted, rolled and pleated, solid hood sided, Carson top padded, boulevard runner.

Restoration work, turning the Stock ’36 Ford Roadster into an 1940’s Custom Car.

Zivot always admired what was once known as a “California Top”, “Which has its genesis in the 1920’s, when middle to upper income owners wanted a smooth, unbroken, contour on their flashy roadsters and cabriolets. This look necessitated that the top be a non-folding, removable as a unit affair, that set the look of these so equipped cars apart from others on the street. The popularity of this style of top reached its apogee in the immediate pre-War period, interrupted by the Second World War, and continued to be popular into the early 50’s. Some of the more renown and accomplished makers of these tops were Hall, Gaylord, Switzer-Fraizer, and of course Carson-Hauser. After diligent research, Eddie Martinez was one of the only craftsmen left who could make the top accurately, with the proper materials and profile.

Building the padded top frame with the just right shape for the ’36 Ford.

Building the headliner first so that it can be easily worked on before the outside covering is added. The the frame gets covered with straps that will hold the padding.

With all the straps added the padding is applied and shaped. 

Padding is followed by the outside canvas beautifully stitched.

Nearly finished car in dark gray primer, black wall tires with Single Bar Flipper Hubcaps and the finished padded top. Just like how they looked back in the early-mid 1940’s.

After the body was painted super gloss black David Martinez created the two tone interior with nice wide and rounded 40’s style Rolled & pleated.

This may well probably be Eddie’s last Carson top, and elderly illnesses interfered with him finishing this top he initiated. So David Martinez, proprietor of the metal fabrication and custom upholstery shop, was enlisted. He was the driving force in completing this Carson style top in a reasonable time, and it wouldn’t have happened if not for his intervention and assistance. You’ll recognize his work on Bugs’ ’35 Ford coupe “Ruby Deluxe”, Ralph Whitworth’s ’16 Ford Model T bucket “Trojan”, Piero De Luca’s ’31 Ford Model A coupe “Live Wire”, Von Franco’s ’22 Ford Model T roadster “Lightening Bug”, and Kurt McCormick’s ’41 Cadillac convertible “Westergard Custom”, among others. The venerable Kennedy Brothers of Pomona, CA, did the preliminary suspension work to bring the car closer to earth, filled the deck and door handles, and chopped the windshield down to a manageable height. The black lacquer job was the finale work of Zivot and Alan Brunson.

Rick Lefeldt ’36 Ford Roadster from 1946.

David Zivot is unrelenting, “The Rick Lefeldt ’36 Ford Roadster built in 1946 in Modesto, CA, was a strong influence on the ’41-46 War Years style I was after. As Don Montgomery referred to it in Authentic Hot Rods, ‘This was a very desirable car.’ To build a traditional style car and stay true to the tradition is a distinction difficult to obtain and not always accomplished. The distinction is between proper customization and over customization. There are sins and omissions that are allowable and can be overlooked. However, base coat/clear coat paint is a cardinal sin, and the particular color one chooses to paint their car ought to mirror the photographic evidence of the period. No amount of Hail Mary’s can absolve these. Yet, I didn’t nail it 100%. This car was built to a standard rather than an ideal.
Driving this car, or any type of vintage vehicle, in a modern town like Las Vegas (or Los Angeles), represents something that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s like trying to resuscitate the Rat Pack. “Especially one composed with American historical veracity,” Zivot is wistful, “The audience doesn’t get the references.

GNRS 2011 Customs Then & Now

The 62nd annual Grand National Roadster Show (aka the Oakland Roadster Show), January 28-30 at the Fairplex in Pomona, CA, Building #9, featured 75 of the most significant historical custom cars in an exclusive indoor display, “Customs: Then & Now”, as the theme for this year. Rik Hoving was one of the organizers of this part of the event, contributing his tremendous graphic design and photojournalist skills to the array. Rounding up in attendance the likes of master builders George Barris, Jack Stewart, Dean Jeffries, Blackie G, Jesse Lopez, Hershel Conway, Gene Winfield, Greg Sharp, among others, including himself, to light up the room. The cars were dazzling jewels in the constellation of customs, the Frank Kurtis Tommmy Lee 37 Ford Speedster, Harry Westergard 32 Ford Roadster, Bob Hirohata 51 Merc, Kurt McCormick 41 Buick Roadmaster, Glenn Johnson 37 Ford Roadster, Mox Miller 58 Chevy Impala, Larry Watson 58 Ford T-Bird, Mark Morton 54 Merc, so many the room was sparkling.

Overview photo of Building N0. 9 at the 2011 GNRS Customs Then & Now exhibit.

Organizing administrator, Axle Idzardi, invited David Zivot to display his 1936 Ford roadster with the custom Carson top to represent an accurate pre-War/post-War early custom of the WW2 influenced era. Besides diligently photographing all the exhibited cars for publication reviews and archives of the Show, Rik spent weeks in advance of the Show designing and constructing the brilliant and radiant graphic signage that graced the stages. The first thing one noticed was the two large banners that were in the front of Building # Nine. Those were huge photos, with the Show logo on them. He also created 24 ceiling hanging banners, 36” X 60”. All 24 were double-sided, specially selected by Rik to complement on one side an original Business Card, and on the other side one of the cars in the room. On Sunday afternoon the banners were auctioned as collectibles and the proceeds went to charity.

These Show events don’t manifest with a magic wand. We’re always grateful and astonished at the magnum opus as a result of marvelous effort in this case by Axle Idzardi and Rik Hoving. We trust they keep their cars in the race.

The ’36 Ford banners.

David Martinez posing withe the ’36 Ford at the GNRS 2011.

At the GNRS Customs Then & Now in 2011.

Side view shows the really wonderful shape of the Eddie Martinez designed padded top. 


Original Owner: David & Louis Zivot (car has been sold to new owner)
Occupation: Historian
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Designer: David Zivot
Engine Builder: David Z
Year: 1936
Make: Ford Roadster
Color: Tuxedo Black
Paint Type: Lacquer
Painter: Jeff Savage & Alan Brunson
Engine: 1947 284 cid Mercury, br 3 3/8” x str 4”; J & E forged pistons; Winfield SU-1A cam
Trans: 1939 Ford with Lincoln Zephyr gears
Exhaust: Cast iron Fenton with dual Porter mufflers
Intake/Carb: Original Edelbrock Super-Dual with 94 type carbs
Ignition: Modified Ford crab type
Rear End: 1940 Ford banjo 3:54 final drive
Suspension: Stock Ford transverse leaf
Brakes: 1940 Ford juice
Wheels: Original 1940 Ford steelies
Tires: 600 x 16 Firestone
Seats: 1936 Ford Coupe
Upholstery: Rolled & pleated Carson style; designed by David Z; laid out & executed by David Martinez Industries
Dashboard: Stock chromed
Steering Column: Stock column with 1937 Ford box
Gauges: Stock
Headlights: Stock
Taillights: Stock
Horn: Original Garvin air horns
Steering Wheel: 1936 Ford banjo
Body: 1940 Buick skirts; 1940 Olds bumpers; 1940’s Eastern Auto Accessory solid hood sides; Original 1940’s accessory bull nose; knobs all original 1930-40’s Bakelite

Michelle created this Carson Top Shop based car show sign for the 1936 Ford.

1936 Ford Roadster Early Style Custom

© by David E. Zivot
Timechanic ™

The ‘36 Ford roadster was never a plentiful commodity. Very seldom seen today, they were uncommonly encountered even during the 1940’s and 50’s. When featured in car oriented publications during those decades, the terms “rare”, “scarce”, and “not often found” were applied. Talking with fellows who are old enough to know (80+), ’36 Ford roadsters were coveted and well used whether hopped-up, warmed over, or customized. They say “well used” because rolling stock being hard to come by during the War years, and a couple years after, they drove the hell out of ‘em. Especially since they were light, easy to maintain, and thrifty. But most of all they were girl-grabbers. Stylish and sporty, and when lowered, smoothed, and customized, even more so.

Notice that the car’s stance is rather “high”, just as they were back in the 1940’s.

I’d had a ’36 rag top in my past, but it was largely junk. My desire to have a really solid and straight one was complicated by the unfortunate fact that most of what you will find in the world today are not too far removed from the earlier one I had. I was close to giving up the chase when I was informed that a real hot rod guy by the name of Johnny Wolf might sell his. Now John Wolf is no ordinary early Ford V8 guy, and his roadster was no ordinary early V8. John has a long history of dry lakes, street, and Bonneville hi-speed runs. His hand at building flatheads that pour on the coals is equally legendary. So this roadster of his looks River Rouge stock on the outside. Under the hood is one of John’s Mercury flathead motors circa 1946, built by him and Ray Brown. Yes, that Ray Brown. The car was owned by Ray before selling it to John. Considering this remarkable pedigree, and that the car had this very hot flathead, I made the deal.

The round shape of the padded top flows nice with the shape of the trunk of the Ford.

The 1940’s Eastern Auto Accessory solid hood sides make the car look so smooth.

Now stock high-hat height Fords are not my way. So it was time for lowering all around, chopped windshield, solid hood sides, tear drop skirts, bullnose, streamline bumpers. A shave here and a shave there, and of course black nitro lacquer. The only other thing to do was the ultimate Los Angeles golden era touch. A Carson padded top. I mean Carson, because I wouldn’t have one that wasn’t as accurate and as clinically exact to the product that Glen Hauser was turning out from 1938-46. I wanted the type and profile seen just before WW2 and was in vogue until about 1947. It would only make sense to have a complementary 1940’s Carson style interior as well, right?

David Zivot studied countless old photos to capture the right mid 1940’s Carson Top Shop interior look. David Martinez was able to make it look a perfect as possible.

This is a real Ford roadster that is set up the way they were done in California during the period 1940-47. From the City of Los Angeles proper, east to Pasadena, south to San Diego, heading west to Santa Monica, or north to Santa Barbara, this was the most desirable custom ride of the time, and represents the high end of that restyling. This particular approach is the most traditional, and yet timeless in its taste and appeal. ’36 Ford roadsters were few and far between even during the 40’s and 50’s, and were much sought after. Finding one of this caliber is even more improbable when considering the former ownership.

The two owners prior to me, Ray Brown and Johnny Wolf, both of whom are extremely well known and respected original California hot rodders, engine-chassis builders, racers, and inductees to the American Hot Rod Foundation. Ray Brown owned and drove this roadster regularly, then sold it to John Wolf, who also drove and maintained it impeccably. The built Mercury flathead motor and drive train are a result of their efforts. Anyone who knows these guys or does the research will attest to their skills at engine building and putting together old Ford roadsters. Ray Brown’s ’32 Ford roadster currently resides at the Peterson Museum (they paid $135,000 for it in 1999, valued at $350,000 today).

Michelle posing with the Ford.

Other legendary talent had a hand in this car. Eddie Martinez built his final authentic Carson style padded top for this roadster, accurate in every detail and line. He had the expert assistance and quality workmanship of David Martinez, also a Carson top and upholstery specialist. David Martinez Industries was responsible for the exact replication of a 1940’s Carson or Gaylord interior, down to the proper carpet and contrasting binding. Plus a spot-on set of side curtains. As for the subject of California tops, they were also a very fashionable (and practical) addition to touring cars, phaetons, roadsters, and runabouts, in the U.S. during approximately the same period. It’s interesting that a motorist could acquire one through expensive coach maker and dealer sources, as well as do-it-yourself kits that the owner could assemble and install himself. I have seen evidence of these on all makes from Packard to Model T. Some appearing to be a facsimile of a folding top, while others look like later Carson style so-called padded top. Because of their construction, very few have survived for historical inspection. However they can readily be seen in the background scenes of silent films shot in sunny Southern California, featuring Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, and others.

David Martinez was also responsible for the spot-on set of side curtains for the chopped Ford.

1940 Oldsmobile bumpers, Firestone 600 x 16 white wall tires, Hollywood flipper disc hubcaps with beauty rings on black painted ’40 Ford wheels.

The short list of period approved modifications done, with attention to period essentials, and were considered must haves in the 40’s: lowered (pre-War) stance, chopped windshield and posts, removable padded top with headliner complementing upholstery, solid hood sides, bull nose grill, ’40 Olds bumpers, centered plate mount, smoothed deck and doors, ’40 Ford 16” rims with Firestone wide whites, Hollywood flipper disc hubcaps, ’40 Buick teardrop fender skirts, teardrop accessory sealed beam headlights. Hand rubbed black lacquer of course. Interior modifications and upgrades of the era include: ’36 Ford three-window coupe seat and seat frame (backrest lifts up for access to trunk area), chromed dash, banjo steering wheel. The two-tone rolled and pleated upholstery is done in the correct fashion of individually hand stuffed pleats and rolls with correct form and contour. Chassis, engine, and driveline highlights: ’40 Ford steering, original Ed “Axle” Stewart dago’ed (dropped) axle, tube aircraft type shocks front and rear, ’41 Ford dropped spindles and hydraulic brakes, ’40 rear end with 3:54 gears, ’39 Ford heavy duty 3 speed trans with early 26 tooth Zephyr gears. ’46 Mercury V8 flathead engine as built by Ray Brown and John Wolf to their usual specs: 284 cid, 3 3/8 bore, 4” stroke, J & E forged pistons, Winfield SU-1A cam, NOS early original block letter Edelbrock heads and early NOS Edelbrock super-dual intake manifold with a pair of NOS Holley 2110 carburetors. Ignition 59A 12127 crab style distributor. Original Fenton cast iron headers flowing into 22” Smitty’s. NOS original ’36 Ford radiator. The grill is perfect. Car runs very fast and strong, handles and drives well. This car was a low miles Ford, and retains all its original sheet metal and components that it was delivered with.

This roadster, was chosen from a very select number nationwide to participate in a limited gathering of famous, influential, or otherwise iconic customs, in a separate Building #9 at the 2011 Grand National Roadster Show at the Fairplex in Pomona. This exhibit known as “Customs Then & Now”, organized by Axel Idzardi, Rik Hoving, Jeff Neppl and Luke Karosi, displayed these representative historic customs from the early 1940’s up to the 60’s.

I was able to get the result I wanted. Thanks to Jason & Joe Kennedy (chop & lowering), Eddie Martinez, David Martinez (top & interior), Alan & Carl Brunson (paint), Michelley, & lots of design and wrench work by myself. Bart Bartoni’s 1946 photograph of Rick Lefeldt’s epoch ’36 was a spectre of inspiration.




David E. Zivot as a young lad was encouraged by his father to pursue and work on “old cars”. Thought it would keep him out of trouble. Has been in trouble ever since. Interest was always the early roadsters and customs from the era 1929-1958. Michelley, without whom the boys wouldn’t keep their stories straight, documents the history, wisdom, and enjoyment, portrayed in the cars.

One thought on “Carson Style 36 Ford

  • I remember when this car was finished, looking it over for a while in front of Dave’s shop, when he used to be across the street from us. one of the few ’36 roadsters I really like. I have photos from that day somewhere on my computer.

Leave a Reply