Custom Car Chronicle
Memo Ortega Files

Memo Ortega Stories Part 32




More Flashback stories and more photos from the Memo Ortega files from the time Memo went to some of the famous West Coast Kustoms shows in Paso robles.

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 2016, 81 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

Memo Ortega Flashback

I remember this from way back, I think it was from around ’78, perhaps ’79. One day my wife Terry was washing our ’37 Chevy in the front yard¬†when¬†this girl was driving by in her car. She saw the ’37, and decided to stop and check it out.¬†She asked¬†Terry if it was her car, she said she saw it from the corner of her eye and she just had to stop and look at it.¬†They started to talk¬†and it turns out her grampa was this friend of my dad when they were in there teens! They lived close by in Claremont only up halve a mile from us. Before she left¬†she told Terry that her grampa was Manuel Gonzales and told here where they lived. When I¬†got home from work, Terry told me about this girl¬†stopping by and checking out our Chevy. Well that blew my mind, I¬†told Terry I¬†know him, her grand father, Manuel Gonzales, he used to be a friend of my dad when iI was a kid and his brother had a ’37 chevy 2dr sedan with Appleton spotlights and removed¬†running boards, shaved door¬†handles and a molded in trunk with single bar spinner hubcaps… Something¬†I¬†don’t forget.

Any way… I¬†went over to his house and knocked at the door, he was the one that opened the door, and I¬†told him who¬†I was and about¬†my dad. “Oh come in, sit down I¬†remember when u were a kid many years back” Manuel¬†said.¬†Of course he was much older now, I¬†had not seen him since way back in the 50’s. He was already a familly man back then.¬†¬†I told him that I allways wondered where they had moved too, and that if not for his granddaughter stopping by, I would have not known¬†he lived so close by. He told me a lot of stories from back then.

One story he told me I¬†never thought much about it untill yesterday (December 25th, 2016)¬†We were talking about familly history and cars. “Here’s one for the books” Manuel¬†told me… Back in 1937 my dad and two of his brothers had bought a brand new ’37 four door Packard Convertible and removed all the ornaments and door handles from¬†the car, much like the guys were doing in the 50’s, and it was painted a beautiful deep shinny black. Manuels brother was called “El Torro” which means bull in English, cause he was such a big guy. He said how they used to dress allways in suits like in the movies and would always park in front of the old pool hall.¬†¬†This story also reminded me about how all the guys I knew in La Verne back then were tagged with a special name, even me.¬†An mr. Manuel Gonzales was known as “Manuel El Chango” which means the monkey in English lol…

Funny I¬†never thought much about that untill yesterday Christmas day 2016. BAM¬†they had a¬†Custom Packard back then… like I¬†said never struck my mind untill we were talking familly history thought I’ll share this. And what’s even more funny… back in 1950 I would¬†park across the street frome the same pool hall in my ’37 chevy. Sadly I have no photos of all this, but I did come across another old photo that I thought I had lost forever. From the mid 1950’s at Matt Kolbert’s shop, where my good friend Johnny and me worked.

Johnny Maldonado left, our boss Matt Kolberts in the middle and Memo on the right.

Another older photo I came across recently is one of¬†¬†one of my girls, Gina (Pattison) when she was young back in the ’60’s.¬†She is sitting on a¬†kustom chopper bike I¬†made for her back then. Pretty cool.

The Car Shows

We have been to so many show over the years, with our ’37 Chevy, our GMC pick up and the Chevy we have now. Usually I took pictures at the show, or asked somebody else that was coming with us to snap some cars for me. Recently I have been hunting for those old photos, and I have found some of them back, in boxes, some I thought I had lost forever. Here are a fe of the great looking custom cars from the 1980’s and 90’s, the car shows we visited with our GMC. I will keep looking for more photos and I keep remembering more stories as well… so stay tuned for more in the future.

1954 Chevy sedan in pearl light blue with seaweed flames. was a really cool car.

Roger Squires ‘Chevy photographed at our old Past Times Car Club back in time. This was¬†at the first West¬†Coast Nationals in Buena Park Ca. Chayo Olquin bought the Chevy from Roger and its him that is driving the car in the picture. It¬†was a great gathering of all kinds of cars, good times.

At one of our drives up to a car show we spotted this abandoned old chopped custom short door 46048 Ford Coupe. It gad a caved it roof.. probably kids been jumping up and down on it. Sad! Wonder where it is today. 

Beautiful ’51 Mercury Convertible with chopped padded top, De Soto grille and bumpers,¬†and a¬†metallic mauve paintjob.¬†

Slick looking ’56 Chevy in candy red and silver with great looking fine scallops. As if it just rolled out of 1960.

40’s Custom corner. With a nice ’41 Ford convertible with padded top in black primer. This one reminded me of the cars I saw back in the 1940’s when I was just a kid.

Extra Chevy grille teeth in this ’53 Ford.

Unchopped mild custom ’51 Mercury.

Mikael Wallin’s Mini Merc, Custom based on a Volvo Amazone made to look like a Mercury Custom. This thing was wild. To bad its gone now.

My grandson Will with a chopped and smoothed 1960 Cadillac.

Dick Dean built this ’51 Mercury for Harry Mohoff, it would later star in the movie Book of Love.

I really liked the ’58 Chevy scoop on the chopped top and the ’53 Buick side trim. I think Dick Dean also chopped this one.

This Merc was spectacular. Frank DeRosa built i. and it was chopped, sectioned and a lot more body work done to it. That is Frank behind the Merc with the purple shirt explaining the car for the camera. I’m standing behind the Merc just over the A-pillars with my blue checker shirt drinking a coke and admiring all the work on the King of Mercs.

More Mercs, one a four door with¬†typical 80’s slotted taillights. The other one withe molded in and painted bumpers.

This was at a later Paso Robles show I think… just loved that angle chop on the Chevy Fleetline.

My wife Terry (with Gina, from the chopper bike above, next to her) and me got some Custom Car Chronicle Shirts and wear them proudly.

(This article is made possible by)




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 32

  • thank u guys an rik that does such a wonderful job on this storys an photos for all of us to enjoy in the kutom world of the ccc,

  • LOVE these old pictures! That white chopped 46-48 Ford coupe hopefully got saved…but probably not :/

    I believe that candy red Merc with Buick trim was chopped by Bill Hines, but not sure. I used to see it every Friday night at Garden Grove cruise…it later had an illustration of Bill Hines painted on the trunk.

    That lavender/pinkish Carson topped Merc with DeSoto grill is beautiful!

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