PETERSEN MOTORAMA 1952
Custom Cars at the third Annual International Motorama show held at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles 1952.
The Annual International Motorama held at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in 1952 was the third time this event was organized. The location and the publicity given to this show in previous years made this one of California’s car show high-lights of the year. Bob Petersen was the organizer of the show, and it was advertised long in advance, so people were extremely excited to attend and see the latest in custom cars and hot rods. Aftermarket speed and custom companies were urged to set up a booth at the event and showcase their latest products. The show was held from November 10 till 16, 1952.
Official Show program cover on the left, and one of the any magazine ads that were used to promote the 1952 event.
Barris Display Wall
The 1952 Motorama couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. It was the “Golden Era” of custom cars and the major builders such as the Ayala Brothers, Bill Gaylord, Gene Winfield and Barris Kustoms were all in their prime. Many of the cars created in this time period are still considered milestone customs today, and this show; the Petersen Motorama, had them all under one roof! The Barris Kustom shop alone had an amazing display showcasing and highlighting their work with multiple trophies and highly polished custom cars. Consider this: the Bob Hirohata Mercury was finished just moments before the show opened up! It must have been a spectacular sight with all these perfectly shaped custom cars in their fresh, bright, vibrant and mile deep organic color paint jobs being presented to the public for the very first time. Let’s have a look at some custom car snapshots taken at this exciting and now legendary 1952 show.
The Barris display at the show included some of the very best customs. From left to right we can see Tommy Thornburgh’s 1947 Studebaker, Robert La Briola’s 1949 Oldsmobile, Dan Landon’s 1949 Chevy, Jack Brumbach’s 1942 Ford, Don Vaughn’s 1947 Buick and barely visible in this photo at the end of the line-up was Bob Hirohata’s 1951 Mercury.
Close up from the right side of the photo gives us a slightly better look at the front end of Dan Landon’s 1949 Chevy, Jack Brumbach’s 1942 Ford, Don Vaughn’s 1947 Buick (we can see its windshield on the left side of the guy with hat, and its drivers headlight, on the right side of the same guy. Bob Hirohata’s 1951 Mercury shows its windshield just below the guys face, and the grille next to the Vaughn Buick headlight and the girl with the handbag.
Tommy Thornburgh 1947 Studebaker
Tommy’s father owned a Studebaker dealership in Huntington Park, California, and he mandated that if his son was going to have a custom it had to be based on a Studebaker. It was a very unusual car to customize, especially back then, but the Barris brothers did a fantastic job. In fact, so good that they asked Tommy to display the car in their special Barris wall display at the Motorama. The windshield was chopped 4 inches, the front fenders were extended 2- 1/2 inches, and the headlights were frenched. The grille opening was hand-formed and fitted with a grille made from two ’50 Lincoln grille bars with round parking lights at each end. The bumpers, front and rear, are ’52 Lincoln. The rear fenders were molded to the body, and ’52 Studebaker taillights were mounted horizontally in hand-made extensions. The rear fenders were extended downward, leveling them with the rest of the body. The body was shaved and all corners rounded. The interior was upholstered in white rolled and pleated leatherette by the Carson Top Shop. They also created the removable padded top, which was upholstered in royal dark blue cloth. This dark color for the top was a nice contrast for the ice blue paint that covers the body. Side trim, from a ’52 Pontiac featured dark blue paint in-between the stainless to match the top.
Robert La Briola 1949 Oldsmobile
1949 Oldsmobile Convertible was a mild but very elegantly restyled custom created by Barris Kustoms for Dentist Robert La Briola. The car featured extended and Frenched headlights. A new oval grille opening created from bended and shaped tubing. Inside was an all custom made floating center section constructed from round tubing and chrome plated. The rear fenders of the car were modified using 1951 Frazer taillights. The trunk was pie-cut section to flow better with the new rear fender shape and shaved. The door handles were removed and the car was painted lime gold.
We could not find an individual photo of Robert’s Oldsmobile taken at the Motorama show, so we used this cropped image, enhanced with a color image taken by George Barris for a magazine photo shoot. Robert is also responsible for the design of the famous Barris Kustom Crest. Which were used at the 1952 Motorama show for the first time.
Dan Landon 1949 Chevy
The majority of the work on Dan’s Chevy, including the chop and molded in belt line was most likely done by the Ayala brothers. The finish work was done at the Barris Shop. The proportions on this Chevy are absolutely flawless, and everything works together to create an overall flow. The top on this coupe was chopped around 5 inches and some more in the back. The windshield was leaned back and replaced with a cut down one-piece Oldsmobile windshield. The top itself was reshaped to thin out the profile. The C-pillar was angled forward to flow with the new shape of the top. All door and trunk corners where rounded. The trim around the beltline was removed and the dip in the metal filled in and smoothed. This gave the car its unique smooth one-piece look.
At the front, a new grille opening was shaped from 2-1/2 inch round tubing. The top portion was welded and molded to the hood. The grille was made up of three ‘51 DeSoto grille teeth and 1951 Kaiser-Frazer horizontal bars. The front fenders were extended and the headlights rings molded into the fenders. The rear fenders were extended 8 inches. 1951 Frazer taillights complement the overall shape of the body. 1951 Packard side trim was added to create some visual length. The front bumper is from a ‘49 Pontiac, with 1952 Kaiser bumper guards, and the rear bumper is from an Oldsmobile. The car was lowered using a kicked up frame at the rear and cut coils in the front. The body was painted solid metallic rusty bronze and the car was outfitted with a set of 112-Appleton spotlights. The interior was handled by the Carson Top Shop in brown and antique white leatherette. More info and photos of Dan’s Chevy can be found on this CCC article.
Jack Brumbach 1942 Ford
Jack’s Ford had never been featured in any of the car magazines back when it was a new custom car in the early 1950’s, which is really unfortunate, since it is a very nice car with a mix of styles from the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. I think Sam Barris experimented with the roof on John’s Ford by lowering it much more in the back than in the front. The result is quite slick and streamlined. The grille was made using a 1950 Oldsmobile 98 top grille bar with a custom made floating grille using Henry J components. The headlights are frenched and a set of ‘46 Ford taillights were set into hand shaped pods. Jack’s Ford uses 1949 Mercury bumpers, and the side trim was shortened on the hood. The Appleton spotlights and sombrero hubcaps on wide white wall tires are all mandatory for the style of that era. Unfortunately, we have no info on what color the car was painted. More on Jack’s Ford can be found in the CCC-Article on the car.
Don Vaughn 1947 Buick
Don Vaughn was from Port Orchard, Washington, but that did not prevent him from taking his 1947 Buick to the Barris Kustom shop in Lynwood to have his dream custom built based on the Buick, with upgraded elements from a 1948 Cadillac. The car came out so great that Barris asked if they could include it in their Motorama display. The windshield was chopped and the hood was smoothed and peaked. The bumpers, front and rear, came from a 1948 Cadillac, as did the cut down grille which has a pair of parking lights set into the ends. The 1948 Cadillac rear fenders were sectioned three inches to fit the Buick Body and were fitted with 1951 Cadillac taillights. Paint is a deep Purple Mist lacquer. The interior and the padded top with wrap around rear window, were done by Gaylord. The steering wheel and shift knob where made of clear acrylic plastic – a very unique feature back then. Appleton spots, Caddy sombrero hubcaps and a perfect stance make this one an all time favorite.
Bob Hirohata 1951 Mercury
The paint on Bob Hirohata’s Mercury must have been so fresh that you could smell it at this show. The team at the Barris shop rushed to get the car finished in time. The interior was handled by two different shops (Gaylord and the Carson Top Shop) to make sure the deadline could be met. Bob’s Mercury was at the end of the Barris display wall; perhaps that was done intentionally so the audience could have a better look at the totally unique and very bright colors of solid seafoam green (on the main body) and deep organic green (below the Buick side trim). On the other side of the display was Tommy Thornburgh’s 1947 Studebaker, which also was painted a very light and bright color. I think that after several years of using mainly deep and dark organic colors, the Barris shop wanted to promote the lighter, brighter and sunnier colors. This photo of Bob’s Mercury shows that the bumper guards are still stock height. Later, they would be sectioned to fit better with the floating grille bar. More articles on the Hirohata Mercury can be found on the here.
The Barris Kustoms Shop had a huge display at one of the walls with 6 of their very best and newest restyled Customs. This display must have been a huge crowd pleaser. Of course there were numerous more Custom cars created by other shops and individuals. Lets take a further look at some of the other custom cars at the show.
Bill Page 1940 Ford
Bill Page’s 1940 Ford was mostly created by Don Riggs, but Bill also did some work on the car. Don was responsible for most of the metal work which included a chopped windshield, reshaped frontend to accept the top three bars of a 1948 Pontiac grille. The trim and handles were all shaved for the smooth look. The team lowered the car in the rear using modified spring hangers and re-rolled springs with reversed eyes. The frame was C-ed at the back to make space for the lowered axle. Up front, a Dago axle helped lower it three inches. 1948 Mercury bumpers were used front and rear, and the interior was upholstered in maroon and white. The inside of the padded top was done in maroon rather than the usual lighter color. Aftermarket hubcaps, wide white wall tires and spotlights were all mandatory parts every custom needed in those days. The car was painted a deep maroon color which looked stunning with the white padded top.
The only color photo I have ever seen from the 1952 show is this one showing Bill Page his 1940 Ford. Hopefully one day more color photos from this show will surface.
Ken Vertees 1951 Chevy
The windshield was chopped and replaced with a cut down one-piece Oldsmobile unit. Chavez American Auto Tops created a wonderfully shaped padded top which they called the “DeVille” for this car. The Chevy rear fenders were replaced by Oldsmobile units with Pontiac taillights installed. A 1950 Mercury grille surround was molded to the front, and a floating grille bar was created using 1951 Plymouth components. The headlights were frenched, but the door handles and side trim remained in place. Once all the body work was done the car was painted with many coats of special mixed lime, lemon and gold metallic lacquer paint. All the work was done by Bill’s Body Shop. Chavez also did the interior, and chose green and white leather for the material. Ken’s Chevy made it on the cover of the January 1953 issue of Motor Trend magazine in full color. The magazine shown on the wall behind the car must have been hot off the presses at the November 1952 show.
Jim Chapkis 1940 Ford Coupe
Jim was the original owner of this custom, but at some point in the early 1950’s he sold it to Revelle Harrison. One of them owned it when it was displayed at the Motorama in 1952, but we are not sure who. The Ford was channeled 7 inches. The front fenders were raised approximately 4 inches, and the hood was sectioned the same amount. The rear fenders were raised approximately 3 inches, but not molded to the body. The front was filled in and reshaped to accept a 1939 Buick grille. The running boards were removed and rock shields made to protect the rear fenders. The side trim was removed and so were all the handles. The car used 1940 Buick torpedo fender skirts. The headlights are stock Ford parts, but the taillights were replaced with upside down 1941 Studebaker Champion taillights. 1947 Ford bumpers are used front and rear. With the bodywork finished, it was time for a ruby maroon lacquer paint job by Larry Ackley. The car was featured in several magazines dating from 1951 to 1957, but the original builder, who did this fantastic work, was never listed.
The special display wooden fence at the Motorama show might have looked very nice and gave the whole room a nice finished look. But it did interfere with taking some good quality photos showing the complete cars.
Ed Wilder 1952 Cadillac convertible
Restyled by Jay Everett for owner Ed Wilder of Los Angeles, California. Jay sectioning the body above the fender lines 4 inches. The cuts were made just below the belt molding. The hood and trunk needed to be widened and heavily reshaped to match the new lines. Jay also widened the front fenders, doors and rear fenders to make the car look even wider. Ed’s car originally was an convertible, but later in the process a DeVille top was added. The hood and trunk were nosed and the Cadillac fender trim was removed, but most other brightwork was retained to keep that Factory Custom look alive and “confuse” the people who saw the car. When finished the car was finished with a super gloss black lacquer paint job.
Earl Bruce 1940 Ford Coupe
Roy Hagy and Summers did most of the body work on Bruce Earl’s coupe with its unique chopped top with filler quarter windows. The work on the car was done when the car was still brand new in 1940. Beside the chopped to p the car also had rounded door tops, removed the running boards and all the trim was shaved of the body. After using the car for several years the car was redone and re-painted by the Valley Custom shop. This photo of Earl’s Ford shows that it was displayed with the hood and door open, to show all the engine and interior details.
The 1952 Petersen Motorama Sow promotional movie with special thanks to Geoff Hacker and Forgotten Fiberglass.
This great aerial view shows the Pan Paciffic Auditorium building where the Motorama show was held in the top left corner. It also shows the Gilmore Field, Gilmore Stadium and Gilmore Drive-In.
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