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Doug Thompson 50 Chevy




In 1986 master Custom builder Doug Thompson restyles an 1950 Chevy Hard-Top for Larry Cochran. The uniquely restyled custom is awarded that year with the prestigious Harry Bradley Design Achievement Award.


Custom Cars & Lead Sleds

In 1990 I bought a copy of the brand new book Custom Cars & Lead Sleds by Timothy Remus. This was at a time it was still rather hard for me, here in the Netherlands to find any Custom Car related magazines and book. I was able to get some magazines from Scandinavia, and the UK, but an all new book on just Custom Cars was really welcome. When I opened the book for the first time I could not believe my eyes, such amazing cars as the restored Sam Barris 1950 Buick, the R&C Dream Truck, the Hirohata recreation done by Doug Thompson, several others, and one car that really stood out to me. A 1950 Chevy Hard Top restyled by Doug Thompson for Larry Cochran from Belton, Missouri. The Chevy was so elegant, so perfectly balanced and styled. It looked like it could have been created in the 1950’s, but at the same time it had a touch of modern feel to it.

There were 8 wonderful photos of the car in the book, an I know it might sound like a clichĂ©, but I stared at those for hours. I even started to build a 1/25 scale model based on its design. But I did not have the Caddy taillights, and the ’55 Chevy units I used instead, just did not give it the right feel, so it was abandoned. Doug’s amazing Chevy had a really big impact on me back in the early 1990’s, and from what I have heard from others the car had a huge impact on the whole Custom Car scene in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

I had seen some previous word done by Doug Thompson in the swedish magazine Wheels, and in some of the Hot Rod Custom Car annuals from the 1980’s. I already was very much impressed with his work, but now I had seen his Hirohata Merc recreation (I actually saw pictures of the recreation before ever seeing photos of the original Hirohata Merc) and Larry’s 1950 Chevy, I had found a new Custom Car hero, Doug Thompson. Doug is able to combine traditional 1940’s and 1950’s styling with his own ideas of how a car needs to look which results in uniquely, well balanced and very stylish Custom Cars.

Building a Masterpiece

The 1950 Chevy Hard-Top was started in 1984, and Larry Cochran‘s original plan for it was a chopped pro-street machine. Fortunately for us Custom Car enthusiast, Doug was working on the recreation of the Hirohata Mercury at the time Larry showed up with the Chevy. And Jack Walker, good friends with Doug, and life time Custom Car enthusiast and collector, was hanging out at Doug’s shop a lot. He was able to talk Larry into taking a different route with his Chevy, the full Custom route. Doug chopped the top 4 inches in the front and around 5 in the rear. The two part Chevy windshield was replaced by a cut down one piece 1950 Oldsmobile unit. And once the rear of the top was all shaped the way Dough wanted it it was impossible to get the rear glass pieces to work with it. So new rear window glass was created from heated and bend plexiglass.

CCC-barris-larry-ernst-chevy-second-01The second version of the Larry Ernst, Barris Kustoms created 1951 Chevy Hard-Top was in inspiration sours for Doug Thompson and Jack Walker thru-out the building process of the Larry Cochran 1950 Chevy.

With the chop done Larry took the Chevy home and had another shop install a 350 Chevy engine, Nova subframe and Nova rear end. This new set up had lowered the car almost 7 inches. The new wider Nova front end caused the tires to rub the front fenders when the wheels were turned. So when Larry took the car back to Doug’s shop the first thing Doug did was cut out 4 inches of sheet metal around the wheel opening to make sure the wheels would turn. Thats how I always work, get rid of the problem and find a new way to make it work. Doug and Jack Walker discussed about some of the design elements on the car, and together they came up with the large wheel opening flare and how it flowed into a long peak flowing from the top of the new wheel opening all the way to the rear fenders. The line of the peak was slightly higher in the front than in the rear giving the car an instant speed feel.

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-11Mark Wojcik shaking hands with Doug Thompson the master builder of Larry Cochran’s 1950 Chevy in 1986.

To make the peak work even better the rear fenders were molded to the body, and a funktional scoop was added to the leading edge of the rear fender just below where the peak touched the rear fender. Later Doug added three 1953 Mercury grille teeth in front of the opening, inspired by the Barris built 1951 Larry Ernst Chevy. Both Jack and Doug really liked the way the Barris shop had restyled the 1951 Chevy Hard-Top for Larry Ernst, and especially the second version. So this car was an inspiration for both of them thru-out the process, although they never intended to copy it.

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-05Larry Cochran displayed the Chevy at the 1988 lead sled spectacular in Holland Michigan, where it sat with two more of Doug Thompson’s masterpieces including the Hirohata Mercury recreation sitting next to it.

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-06Doug added exhaust tips and molded the Chevy license plate guard to the 1952 Pontiac rear bumper. The splash pan was reshaped and molded to the rear of the body. The peak below the Caddy taillights heavily reshaped. Everything on Larry’s Chevy works so well together.

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-07The only “compromise” that had to be done on the Chevy to give Larry still a bit of a race car feel are the hood louvers. Personally I think it would have looked better with a nice smooth hood.

The new peak running the sides of the body did cause some work to get the doors to open and close without rubbing the peaked section. But eventually Doug got it all figured out. Next up was the front end. Doug liked the extra optical length the car had gotten with the center body peak, and since he planned to use longer Cadillac rear fender ends, he decided to extend the front fenders two inched to get the best balance. Doug decided he liked the early look of the stock frenched headlights the best for this car. Doug spend a lot of time to make the 2 inch extensions looks as “factory” as possible curving nicely into the headlights openings. The original grille was removed and a 1950 Mercury grille opening was molded in place. The two piece hood was welded solid and the front of the hood reshaped to flow nicely into the Mercury grille surround. The hood corners at the front were rounded with a radius that matched the headlights. Doug created a new grille for the Chevy based on an 1959 Chrysler Imperial grille bar to which he welded modified 1951 Mercury accessory bumper guards. The new grille bar has an unique shape and despite the age difference fit the car really good. This was the 1980’s and Larry still had a bit of Pro-Street feel in him, left over from the original plans for the car, so he asked dough to louver the hood with 150 louvers.

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-16The lower angle photo gives a good look at the flared front wheel opening.

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-15From this angle you can see how wonderful the flared front wheel openings flow the the front fenders and how the peaked side panels lead the eye towards the 1953 Mercury grille teethes in the working scoops. This photo also shows how the grille bar and front bumper are matching in style.

The molded to the body rear fenders were next up to be modified. Doug had found a set of 1953 Cadillac rear fenders and decided the humb of the back portion of these rear fenders, where the taillight moved up, would fit the big trunk on the 1950 Chevy really perfect. The back portion of the Chevy fender was cut off, and 12 inches of the 1953 Cadillac rear fenders, including the taillights was added to the Chevy rear fenders. In the process the fenders were slightly extended to create mre length. The lower section of the rear of the fender was extended down, and the stock flush fitting fender skirts were extended down to sit level with the bottom of the rear fenders. Larry wanted to have a set of lake pipes on the car, and to better incorporate those with the rest of the design of the car, Doug decided to half tunnel these pipes. He created the tunnel shape on the rocker panels, just below the door. And molded in section just behind the front wheel opening covers the front few inches of the pipe. The Design Doug came up with integrates the lake pipe very nicely with the body, and gives it a much more finished look than most lake pipes used on 50’s customs.

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-01The extended front fenders, lowered suspension, chopped top, body side peak and longer cadillac tipped rear fenders add a lot of extra actual and optical length to the Chevy.

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-02Side view of the center section of the car shows how all the lines flow rearwards. It also shows how the door line had to be cut at the front to make sure opening the door would work with the added peak. The door corners were rounded to make all the lines on the Chevy flow better. Notice how wonderful the chopped roof flows, both front and rear.

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-03The rear quarter view of the Doug Thompson 1950 Chevy is perhaps the most elegant. This angle show how all the lines of the car flow and work together in a harmonious way. It is exactly how Doug Thompson wants to see his Customs. 

Doug used a set of one piece California 1950 Chevy front bumper to which he added 1952 Pontiac corner pieces. Doug also welded the bold, and molded the 1949 Chevy license plate surround to the unit. Especially the molded guards make the bumper look very custom, and the shape of the molded in surround now matches the shape of the grille teeth wonderful. It are these “small” details that set apart any of Doug Thompson’s creations. At the rear Doug used an 1952 Pontiac rear bumper that wrapped around the extended rear fenders much nicer than the Chevy units ever did. He added new exhaust ports to the bumper ends and just as he had done on the front he molded a 1949 Chevy license plate guard to the Pontiac bumper. The front and rear splash pan’s were reshaped where needed and molded to the body.

The whole body was shaved, all emblems and handles removed and everything prepped for paint. Doug painted the car in Candy Root Beer for the complete car with a lighter shade below the body peak. Then the car was send of to Bob Sipes who did the interior in brown velour matching the new paint color very well, and was typical for the era it was built in. Doug created some custom hubcaps and mounted a set of wide white wall tires to finish the look. In 1986 Doug Thompson finished Larry Cochran’s 1950 Chevy. Larry showed the car at the 1986 KKOA Street Custom Spectacular, where it won the prestigious Harry Bradley Design Achievement Award.

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-08The front fenders were extended 2 inches and rounded to flow nice with the frenched headlights. The smoothed front bumper with molded in license plate guard matches the shapes of the customized 1959 Chrysler grille bar with 1951 Mercury bumper guard ends.

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-0912 inches of a 1953 Cadillac rear fender were added to the cut down 1950 Chevy rear fender. Quite a bit of reshaping was needed to make it all work. The peak on the Cadillac rear fender was reshaped to flow with the ’52 Pontiac rear bumper, and mimic the shape of the peaked that was added to the front fender and body sides.

Second Version in 2000

Larry showed the car at a few car shows, but after 1988 the car was rarely seen, Larry kept it mostly inside, but in 2000 Jack Walker talked Larry into selling the Chevy to him. Jack decided to freshen up the car, he added a set of Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps and removed the “out dated” brown velour interior and had Bob Sipes create a new more ’50’s inspired white with burnt orange piping tuck & roll interior. The car was also repainted with a lighter shade of Root Beer than the original version of the car. Jack has been enjoying the car for quite some time now, and a few years ago it was offered for sale. As far as I know it has not sold and is still part of the Jack Walker Collection.CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-12

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-13The new color on the second version of the Chevy is much brighter than the original Version. The only other optical change are the Sombrero hubcaps, which give the car and more early 1950’s feel.

CCC-doug-thompson-50-chevy-interiorBob Sipes redid the interior on the Chevy in 2000 Original done in brown velour, the car now has a more 50’s inspired the. Upholstery was done in white Tuck&Roll leatherette with burnt Orange piping and brown carpets. The dash remained mostly stock.



Resources and more info:

  • Custom Cars & Lead Sleds, book by Timothy Remus
  • Howstuffworks, website
  • Hot Rod & Custom Chronicle, book by Thom Taylor and Consumer Guide






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)

10 thoughts on “Doug Thompson 50 Chevy

  • Great article, Rik. This was one of my favorite customs from that era. Wonderful lines and perfect proportion. I don’t think I ever saw the second version before this.

    Did you know that Doug Thompson built a very similar car using a 1952 Pontiac as a base? Photos to follow in the main section.

    • Actually, my above statement may be incorrect. According to the Rod & Custom article I used as a source, it’s not clear who actually built the car.
      I thought Doug Thompson built the second car. But on rereading, it seems it was built by the owner, Dr Stephen Walker, with the advice and consent of Doug Thompson.

  • Dave Tartaglia, I am looking for more info on the 52 Pontiac called “Pontilac” last time that I saw the car it had to be late 90’s when it was owned by Norm and Jan Wehr from Morton Grove, IL.
    Rik, great article as always. I wish the new owners would get these cars out and show them. They are the true meaning of customs.

  • This is one of the coolest kustom Chevies. Doug Thompson’s work is always fun to look at because of the massive amount of detail each car has. Every time I see this Chevy I think of a Dave Bell or Robert Williams illustration that came to life because of its dramatic, yet stylish features. That ’59 Imperial grill is a great touch with the addition of the trimmed ’51 Merc accessory overriders on each end. With the Imperial grill being a cast piece and the Merc pieces being chromed steel, that would have been a job to get them to fit and bolt together nicely. The amount of work done on the molded bumper guards, head light extensions, and wild body side peak are intense. Thanks for the article and great pictures, Rik 🙂

  • Harold Cochran

    Larry Cochrans car was a copy of a car James Dean drove on a movie and no one knows where that original car is. It is my understanding Mr Thompson built it from his mem9ry of the movie and by watching the movie. I am Harold Cochran Larry’s nephew and I remember when dad took me and Uncle Larry to the paint shop to pick it up after it was painted.I have never seen a car since that even compared in my book.

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