Custom Car Chronicle
Memo Ortega Files

Memo Ortega Stories Part 28




In the early 1980’s Memo heard about these all Kustom Car Shows in the Paso Robles area. He¬†had to check it out himself… he¬†could not believe what he saw.

[box_light]Memo Ortega is a well known name in the SoCal Custom Car and LowRider Scene, but perhaps not as well known as it should be. Memo has been working on custom cars and Low Riders since the early 1950’s. He became good friends with Custom Car Icon Gil Ayala, and in the late 1950’s he even bought Gil’s famous 1942-46 Ford Coupe as a persona driver. Today, in 2015, 80 years young, Memo is still chopping tops, and any other custom car work you can think of from, his garage work-shop. Check out more of the¬†Memo Ortega Stories¬†in the¬†Memo Ortega Files¬†on the CCC[/box_light]

By Memo Ortega

Before we go cruising¬†to the Paso Robles shows with Memo, we first like to share another¬†Memo¬†Ortega¬†flashback with you…


Movie Flashback

Back in around 1946¬†or ’47, in the little town of LaVerne Ca, I¬†remember on Sundays a lot of the guys and girls used to go to the movies to Pomona.¬†Our little town did not have a theater back then, so a¬†lot of us kids had to take the bus to Pomona to see a movie. Me and my friend Manuel aka Papitas,¬†which¬†means potato chips, that was his nick-name, we all had a nick names.¬†Anyway, it would cost us 10 cents for the bus, a quarter for the show and 5 and 10 cents for a coke and popcorn, and another ten cents for the bus to get back home.¬†So we had to have at least 75 cents.¬†Sometimes I¬†did not have any money at all, it was sad for me to see the other guys and girls go to the show, while I could not go.¬†¬†Some time when I¬†had some money and I could go, we would go to wait for the bus, sometimes we had just missed the bus from LA. Then¬†we would go to the other bus it was called the Victory bus, by the little park in town, the bus¬†was always packed and we sometime we could not get on it because it was full. A¬†lot of times if we didn’t have enought money for the bus, we would walk all the way to Pomona. A walk between the orange groves, or go all the way down E-street, that is the one by the Pomona drags, there was no drag¬†track there back then.¬†By the time we got to the show we were all tired but we made it everytime and when we got out of the show we had to start walking back again… but it was always worth it.

I remember one time me and Papitas missed the victory bus and we decided to hitch-hike. We were only about 10 years old, let me tell you it was a BIG mistake!!! We were walking and waving our arms for a ride, lots of cars passed by and nothing. Then one car stopped, it was an lady, she said you kids, go home before you get in trouble! And she took off. Well finally this man in a 1941 Ford 4-door sedan stopped, and asked us where we where going? We told him we are going to the show in Pomona. He said get in the back seat, so we did. Me and Manuel looked at each other and said all-right we got a ride! Well we got going, we were still in LaVerne and this guy ran a stop sign! Oh did you see that I told Manuel!!! We keep going, the guy was singing and we went down LaVerne Avenue. At that time it was a single-lane road not to many cars. Well this guy was swerving all over the road, from one side to the other. We soon figured out that he was drunk, very drunk!

CCC-memo-ortega-pomona-foxThe Fox Theatre on Garey Ave in Pomona.

I¬†don’t know how he could be driving this car!¬†When we got to Garey Avenue, it turned into four-lanes, then we really got scared! We told him he could drop us off right there….¬†on Garey. The street had curbs and we were going from one curb to the other.¬†On the other side of the road missing on-coming cars, it was really scary.¬†Anway he said No I’ll take you¬†there… all the way.¬†Finally¬†we got to Holt Avenue and he had to stop,¬†we jumped out, and thanked him, and ran to the Movies and¬†got to the first theatre. It was the Sunkist, one of the four theaters we looked to see what was playing. We did not like what was plying and started walking to the other ones, all the time looking to see if the guy in the Ford was not following us. We got to the State theater and did not like it. We seen some of the kruzers from our town kruzing by and we waved at them.¬†We got to the Fox¬†Theater¬†and we went in. Good movies, thats when the theaters showed two movies the¬†news and a couple of cartoons. When we got out it was allready late in the day and if we missed the bus we had to walk home again.

On Sunday’s there was this roadster that was always parked across the the street on Garey, by the bus station. It was low had a Duvall windshield and a sprint car front, painted dark blue, purple.¬†Let me tell you¬†I fell in love with that roadster.¬†I have allways wondered if it was the one the Ayala’s did… the one for Eddie Dye.


The 1980’s Paso Robles Kustom Car Shows

In the early 1980’s I¬†heard¬†about Kustom Cars getting together¬†at lake Nacimiento, up north. I thought a kustoms only gathering, how kool… WOW.¬†¬†I have to find out more about this… I want to go there.¬†¬†This is when I¬†had just finished¬†my 1954¬†GMC Kustom truck, and loved the idea to drive it up there and show it with nothing but Kustoms. So I did some checking and found out more about the Kustoms Show organized by the West Coast Kustoms. I¬†found out they were going to have the new shows at Sherwood Park, just outside of Paso Robles¬†just weeks from then.¬†I got so excited… we just had to go.¬†Well the weekend of the show, my wife¬†Terry,¬†our young grandson Will and me decided to go and took off early Friday morning.

When we got to Paso Robles we got us a room, which you could still get easy in the early days.¬†The¬†ext day we got up early, got us a bite to eat and headed for the park. When we got at the park¬†there was a long line of kustoms, they were everywhere, all¬†wainting to get in… That just blew my mind, I had not seen so many kustoms in one place since way back in 1958 at the Coachmen’s car show. This is gonna be a fantastic¬†day, I told Terry and Will. They also liked all the cars waiting to get in.¬†Finally¬†we made it into the park, even more kustoms there… they were all over¬†the place, it was WILD.¬†The guy from the show organization told us to park anywhere we wanted as long as there was room to park.¬†We parked where it was good open spot¬†and made sure the car looks good.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-02Will and me… looking kind of lost. So many great Kustoms, we just did not know where to start looking.

Then we went looking around, we saw this this guy taking many photos of nice cars, and I asked him by any chance if he¬†knew¬†or had heard of a guy named¬†Dick Crawford. The guy looked funny at me for a few seconds and¬†said “i’m him, I’m Dick Crawford”¬†I almost fell backwards, it was Crawford¬†(now he is best known as aka..¬†Thinman).¬†I¬†told him remember me I’am¬†Memo from down in Los Angeles, you¬†stripped my¬†1937 Chevy¬†way back in the late 1960’s. Back then you¬†had as shop with you¬†partner Glendora.¬†Now he remembered!¬†That was so kool it made our day even kooler than it already was. He told him we would see him latter, after checking¬†out the cars… there was so much¬†to see. He said ok see you latter.

CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-11I¬†took this photo of Dick Crawford aka “thinman” and his lowrider ’55 Chevy panel… real nice car.

CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-10Dick Crawford also had a display for his paintings at the show at the park my grandson Will on the side.

CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-04Will and me behind Frank DeRosa’s King Of Mercs… this one was WILD. Thats Frank on the far right of the photo.

You know there were so many fantastic looking cars we did not know where to start. Then we spotted the DeRosa’s “King of Mercs”. That Merc sure has a lot of kustom work on it I¬†had Terry take a photo of me and Will looking it over.¬†We saw this suede blue Merc,¬†I¬†think it had Canada plates on it, I really liked that one. There were¬†so many Kustom Mercs and Chevies and¬†Shoeboxes… you name it they were there. This was kustom heaven… we were in Kustom Heaven. We got to meet a lot of great people that day. West Coast Kustoms sure had a great show going on here.¬†We also got a lot of compliments on our GMC¬†Kustom truck. One complement was special it was one of the guys¬†from the old Valley Custom Shop, Clayton Jensen.¬†¬†He was checking out my truck, and told me he could not find any flaws in the body work and¬†the black paint job. That of course¬†made me happy coming from him, one of the guys I had read about for decades.

On Sunday we got up early to make it to the park early, but it was again already packed with many cars and people. Some guys came over and asked if they could do an interview with me and our truck. I thought that would be nice, so¬†I¬†told them¬†ok. They had me park where there was not to manny cars¬†on the grass. It was a great interview I was a little shy, but it went ok. I¬†forgot who did the interview… I thought it was O’Brien Truckers, but I recently talked to¬†Dennis O’Brien¬†and asked him about the interview, He told me it was not him. Well it was some company from back East that did that video of this show. I have never found out who did it… would still love to see what they did to it, and if they used it.

CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-01This 1951 Mercury was really sweet, great chop by Dick Dean. 

CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-03Me in the blue shirt with video camera, checking out this suede blue 1951 Mercury which came from Canada I think… it was real pretty. Terry took the picture.

CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-05I took a photo this yellow hamerd down Merc with Will kneeling next to it. Think it was the lowest chop on a Merc I have ever seen.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-06Great looking lime green Ford convertible, it had a nice padded top and quad headlights. Sorry, something bad happened to the photo.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-07Paul Bragg comes from Paso Robles… he had just done this real fine 1951 Mercury convertible with padded top. I started at it for some time… super¬†nice.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-08Will and Mercs.


I met a lot of car owners that day, and since we had such a great time I decided to join West Coast Kustoms… so kool. Some time latter the show was moved into a¬†little park in¬†downtown¬†Paso Robles. It also was really great in the new location, when we went up there again I took my¬†1937 Chevy. It was¬†odd because my 37 was a Chevy Bomb… it did not go with the kustoms. It was also the first time my friend Richard Mandez went with us. You should have seen his face when we got there. He could not believe his eyes seeing so manny kustoms in one place. Richard¬†is also a Kustom guy… the rest is history so much to tell…


Another unknown Ayala Custom?

CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-12About this neat 1940 Mercury¬†Convertible. I¬†talked to the owner¬†of the Merc,¬†he told me this was the first time he had taken the car out in a long time. He was from East L.A.¬†(that sure got my attention immediately)¬†I think his name was Manuel Lopez, he told me he has had this car since back in the early 50’s. He asked me¬†what town¬†I¬†came from, I¬†told him I¬†lived in Montclair on the other side of LA. He then¬†asked me if I¬†had ever heard of the Ayala’s, since they did the work on his Mercury¬†back in the early 50’s. I think he mentioned it was still in the original paint from back then. I asked him how he kepth it looking¬†so¬†good all those years.¬†He said he rarely¬†takes it out, and¬†its always coverd up. He does not let anyone touch it but himself. That car sure looked good after all the years he has¬†had it. The man was older then me, how neat to hear that.


One more thing I¬†cannot forget. At one of the shows¬†I think it was the 1990 show, they were going to get my old friend Gil¬†Ayala into the Hall of Fame. I had not seen Gil in a long time. I was looking at a distance and then¬†I saw them bringing him in a wheel chair. It broke my heart seeing him like that. I had to sit¬†down, and could not watch. I did not want to remember Gil¬†like that, that was a sad day for me.¬†To this day I¬†still remember Gil the was he was¬†in the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s, alway in for a talk, full of energy.

Thanks for the great years shows in Paso Robles… there will never be anything like this again.

I hope you all will enjoy the story and the photos.

CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-13An Joe Bailon worked on Mercury and behind it is the¬†“Mini Merc” Volvo¬†with flames.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-14My black GMC truck and an other wild kustom painted truck beside it.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-15Mike Shelley took this nice photo of my GMC at one of these early shows, I think this one was in 1988.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-23This candy red merc looking so kool, this is the one that went to San Bernardino to a little car show at the Dodge dealer in one of the Memo Ortega Stories, Jerry Schlemmer owned this 1950 Merc.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-16I¬†ran into this going throught the rows a very nice 1941 Ford coupe, full kustom in unusual white paint. it looked really¬†great, and so did the 51 Merc next to it. Bill Reasoner did the work on them.¬†Photo is a bit blurry… sorry about that.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-17This red 1951 Ford Shoebox looked like it just rolled out of the late 1950’s. Bill McGarity was the owner.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-18Walter Leeman drove up with his very nice green 1954 kustom chevy so kool looking.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-19The red merc was parked outside i went out there for this nice photo very kool merc allways liked it.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-201941 full kustom with fade away fenders brought me back in time, I really liked it. The car is still around, only it now has a fixed padded top, quad headlights and painted ice green. 


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-21Will with a pearl pink mild 1959 Custom 1959 Cadillac.


CCC-memo-ortega-80s-car-shows-22There were so many Custom Merc’s at these 1980’s shows.. they were everywhere.

Go to Part 29 of the Memo Ortega stories, coming soon!
Go back to Part 27.


(this article is sponsored by)

CCC-Sponsor-KingKustomsTShirt-602Contact Rob Radcliffe at King Kustoms for more info on these T-Shirts Email Rob





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)

6 thoughts on “Memo Ortega Stories Part 28

  • Thanks Memo for the great story and photos. I was at all the Paso Robles shows and I also remember the awesome feeling seeing all those Customs at the park. It was a time I will never forget!

  • Memo, awesome story of you & my Dad (papitas) willie was very young when you guy’s were in paso robles. lots of cool rides & your truck fit right in ! Classic !!

  • Another great article. Thanks for sharing your stories and pics Memo! The red merc 4th from the bottom is still around in the midwest with the same paint no less, although it has more striping on it now than it did then. The striping was done by Ed Roth’s old partner, Tom Kelly. Kinda cool to see that.

  • thank u guys happy to share them storys an pictures an manny thanks to rik hoving an the ccc,s for showing them so u can read them,

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