ZOCCHI 1939 DODGE
Richard Zocchi’s ’39 Dodge Coupe is an exercise in Custom Restyling. This masterpiece shook the car world in ’92 when it debuted, and it still does today.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he first time I saw photos of this Custom was when I received the July ’92 issue of Street Rodder magazine in the mail. The car was used – small and cut off at the rear – on the cover, and I was in schock with what Isaw. This Custom looked so awesome from what I saw, I browsed thru to the content page, saw that the “cover Custom” was on page 128… flipped to that page and there it was. Covered in full color on a full spread was what looked like a Dave Bell illustration come to life.
I have been a huge fan of the Custom Car creations in Dave Bell’s “Henry Hirise” section in Street Rodder magazine and sort like illustrations elsewhere published. Dave’s Customs have this over the top perfect balanced customizing with a twist of cartoon everything is possible feeling. This same feeling I had when I first saw Richard Zocchi’s Custom I could not identify the car from just looking at the photos… I actually had to read the text, to find out it started as a 1939 Dodge. I was intrigued, to say the least.
The 1992 issue of Street Rodder magazine that featured Zocchi’s Dodge actually had a Dave Bell illustration in the Henry Hirise section. Dave’s illustration was based on the real custom, but it could have been the way around just as easy.
My first introduction to Richard’s 1939 Dodge was on the cover of the July 1992 issue of Street Rodder magazine. I recognized the LaSalle grille, and the ’58 Lincoln headlights, but who would combine those two and make it look so good?
The color spread in the Street Rodder magazine. I started at these pictures for along time.
Back in 1992 I had heard from Richard Zocchi before. He already had created some amazing customs, and together with John D’Agostino he boosted the attention for Custom Cars in that period of time to the highest point. Richard’s cars were always very well balanced, and well designed, but this 1939 Dodge was so much more than that. When Richard was looking for a new project he knew what he wanted, or at least the style he wanted, and he did not want to start on one of the so well known Ford’s or Merc coupes. He liked those, but he was looking for a bigger challenge. When he found an 1939 Dodge Business Coupe good condition restoration job that was never finished he knew it would be a great start for his dream Custom.
The first thing Richard did was send the Dodge to Bill and Tom Fraser of Antioch Muffler install some more modern chassis components. A Mustang II front-end, and a late 80’s Chrysler rear axle were installed. They also replaced the stock engine with Chevy 350/350 combination for ultra smooth rides. Before the customizing could start the body was channeled over the frame to get is as low as possible and still handle smooth.
Chip Chipman took these two photos of Richard Zocchi’s ’39 Dodge at the 1992 Sacramento Autorama. Parked next to Jimmie Vaughan’s 1963 Buick, which was built by Gary Howard.
Then it was time for the body work. Richard knew exactly what he wanted, he had it all in his mind, and even collected all the parts, or at least some of them to make it happen. Two key elements in the design would be parts created nearly 20 years from each other. Who would have thought a ’39 LaSalle grille would have looked so great with a set of canted 1958 Lincoln headlights. Well Richard sure did. He took the Doge with all new running gear and lowered to the perfect ride height to Armando Hernandez in Antioch, CA and discussed what he wanted with this project. Richard wanted the looks of an late 1940’s custom built by a pro-shop. A Custom that was updated in the later parts of the 1950’s. Long, low, streamlined, and as smooth as possible.
The front of the car needed to be complete reshaped to make the LaSalle grille for the way Richard wanted. The hood was extended forward, and a new front section grafted to fit the tall LaSalle grille. The hood now is one piece, and the hood sides, were custom made and molded to the front fenders and cowl. The front fender grille openings were filled in and smoothed, and cut out were made into the fenders to fit the ’58 Lincoln headlights, slightly canted inwards on the bottom. Both the headlights and the grille tilt slightly forward at the top, creating an instant speed effect.
Richard did not like the shape of the Dodge top too much, plus he wanted a rear seat in the car, which was not possible with the business coupe. Armando, with the help from Louie Hernandez cut of the Dodge top, enlarged the passenger compartment rearwards and started creating a new top using a ’47 Chevy front section, (windshield and front of the roof), a ’50 Hudson (mid and rear section) and a 1940 Chevy rear window. On paper this still sounds relatively easy, but if you look at the photos and see how the top flows, and how everything fits, you can imagine this must have been a ton of work to get right. During the construction time Richard spend a lot of time at the shop making sure everything was done just as he envisioned it. Armando and Louie did an amazing job visualizing Richard dream. With the top done the team created molded in running boards and rear splash pan. All the fenders were molded to the body for an ultimate smooth look. A set os 1951 Chrysler taillight were frenched into the rear fenders and a 1947 Chevy bumper was smoothed and a 1949 Chevy license plate frame modified to fit the bumper. Armando also created the wonderful teardrop shaped fender skirts with the continuing wind split stripes from the rear fenders. Details like this make this car so special. The door and trunk handles were removed and so where all the chrome trim and enblems. The holes were filled and everything was smoothed and primered.
Every car has its perfect angle. For me this is the perfect angle of Richard’s ’39 Dodge. It shows all the lines of the car in its best ever way. The front bumper is a smoothed ’39 Dodge unit.
’51 Chrysler taillights were frenched into the smoothed and molded rear fenders.
Next stop for the car was Bill Reasoners Shop in Walnut Creek. Bill was hired to paint the car in Coral Beige and cream. The top portion was painted cream and below the belt-line the Coral Beige was added. Then the car went to Art Himsl who added subtile scallops and pin-striping to the car. The interior was done by Brian Hunter of Interiors by Skip in Concord, Ca. Brian used coral and peach vinyl an cloth over ’72 Olds seats. Brian in combined a 1950’s and a more modern style for the upholstering. The dashboard had been smoothed a bit and the gauge cluster was replaced with an 1940 Ford aftermarket gauge panel filled with VDO gauges. Typical for the time the dash was extended downwards with a panel holding the AC, and radio. A small diameter Grand steering wheel was upholstered with matching material and mounted on a tilt column. The car was finished with a set of white wall tires and chrome reverse wheels with baby moon hubcaps.
Two photos scanned from the Street Rodder magazine feature show the typical for the time interior.
Richard Zocchi 1939 Dodge “Chop 39” debuted at the 1992 Grand National Roadster show where he won the first George Barris D’Eleganze Award. The same year Richard showed the car at the Sacramento Autorama and at Paso Robles where the car won the best in show award.
In 2009 I worked at the Sacramento Autorama Mercury Gathering show and when I walked around the other buildings I could not believe my eyes when I saw Richard ’39 Dodge parked inside the main building. Since the car was already an older built I had never thought I would be able to see this car in person, but there it was. The car was even more beautiful in person than I had ever imaged it to be. I spend a lot of time walking around the Dodge and absorbing all the details. Most of the photos in this CCC-Article were taken at this 2009 show. Thank you Richard for bringing it out to that event.
Richard Zocchi 1939 Dodge is an very well executed wild Custom Car with a mild look. A lot of body work has been done to create the looks Richard was after. Lets show some of the details that make this car so special and show what was needed to make this Dodge looks so good.
This photo shows the wonderful flow of the extended top into the trunk section. The trunk corners are rounded with the perfect radius. It also highlights the molded in splash pan and the fender shape matching fender skirts.
Close up of the wind-split or speed lines on the rear fenders and how they were matched on the hand made teardrop shaped fender skirts.
The ’58 Lincoln headlights were canted and the top of the headlight extends into a subtile peak on the fender. The peak is a factory Dodge shape, but it was extended forward to make the headlights shape work. The headlight unit is installed in a subtile lipped opening. The Art Himsl subtile scallops and pin-striping make the headlights stand out a little more.
Hard to believe that the top was made out of so many different components. Everything works so well and flows to good with the rest of the car. Check out the amazing panel lines on the Dodge. A lighter color always shows the panel lines really well, and on Richards Dodge they are incredibly tight.
Close up of the front of the door panel line and the subtile round corner on the back side of the hood. The Art Himsl striping mimics the factory stainless side trim.
This photo shows the slight forward angle on the headlights and grille. The smooth and molded in hood side and long clamshell hood look spectacular and create more optical length.
Close up of the Art Himsl paint details on the molded running boards.
The ’39 LaSalle grille is tall, and a lot of work was needed to make the Dodge ready for it to fit. Armando did an amazing job reshaping the front of the Dodge to make this all work the way it does. The Stock dip in the stock, but smoothed, front bumper is a natural for the LaSalle grille adaption.
Two outdoor photos of Richards Dodge. The color of the Dodge looks different in any color situation. Indoors it looks al lot more yellow than outdoors where it appears more peachy, but eve outdoors there is a lot of color hue differences.
The full illustration Dave Bell drew for Richard’s 1939 Dodge in the Street Rodder Magazine.
Resources and more info
- Street Rodder magazine, July 1992
- Rod & Custom magazine, August 1992
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