Custom Car Chronicle
Memo Ortega Files

Memo Ortega Stories Part Eight


Its 1956 turning ’57, Memo still works his custom magic at Kolbert’s when the shop gets some deserved magazine recognition.  Memo now owns an ’51 Chevy which gets finished at the Ayala’s.

[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, 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


Kolbert’s ’52 Chevy Fleetline

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s still 1956, my boss Matt Kolbert buys this ’52 Chevy hardtop to go back an forth to work. He asked me an Jhonny if this car, fixed up would make a good present for his daughter, Mary, since she was going to college and was going to grad soon. Thats a good idea we told him, he had some ideas what he wanted to do with the car, not to much but enough to make it look different. We pulled the grill out, and took the center bar off. We cut some mesh metal to fit in the center of the grill. Then we gave the grill and mesh, bumpers and a couple of ’49 Chevy lic guards to Ralph to be chromed.

We cut a couple of old 55 Chevy front fenders, we had laying around, for the head lite caps an the bezels. It looked like a ’55 now. We made a scoop on each quarter panel an added three ’53 Merc grill teeth to each side. He din’t want the car lowered so we left it stock height. He wanted some fins for the rear to modernize the car, so we got 18.guage sheet-metal. We created some templates out of card board, just the way he wanted the fins to look. We then traced them on the metal, cut the metal and bend them to the same shape. Matt really liked the way they came out. He welded them on, then we grounded every thing clean. Next he leaded them in and grinded down some of the lead. He had me and jhonny file the lead down. We used a grinding cone sender to smooth the curves down the way he wanted it done. The fins came out good, we were doing the car as we had time to shove it in between customers cars. The tail lites we got from our scrap pile, I cant remember what they were from. The upholstery was done by the same guy that did my ’37 Chevy earlier. We painted the top a lite creame color an the bottom ’56 chevy aztec gold, I think that was the color’s name. It took a whill to finish the car, and once done Matt called one of the magazines, I don’t remember if it was Car Craft or that Rod and Custom magazine to see if they would come out an take photos of the car. (It turned out to be Rod & Custom magazine who did a three page article on Mary Kolbert’s Chevy in the December 1956 issue)




CCC-memo-0rtega-8-Kolbert-02-wMatt’s Kolbert got the attention of Rod & Custom mgazine and they did a three page feature on the ’52 Chevy Mat, Jhonny and memo built for Matt’s daughter Mary.
I got me a ’51 Chevy hardtop after selling my pontiac. It’s late’56 and we are still working at Matt Kolberts Custom and Bodyshop in Pomona. Back to Jhonnys car, he decided it was time to paint his car. He had picked a very nice lime green. He painted the car in his big garage on a weekend, and I helped him sand and prep the body. The paint came out really nice, next he wanted some scallops in dark candy green. We did those before we rubbed out the paint. The car was awesome! And it sure looked good parked in front of the shop at Kolberts, most likely attracting more customers for the shop.

More on Jhonnys car latter. I started working on my 51, I was working on it a little bit at a time, it has been a long year. Fito’s car is done with work by the Ayala’s and Kayo, Richard Aguieres ’55 merc is out of the Ayalas shop an they are crusin the streets.


CCC-memo-0rtega-part-eight-05-wFito’s Chevy with work done by the Ayala’s.
CCC-memo-0rtega-part-eight-07-wThats Me and Rudy (in the car) at the park that is next to the NHRA museum. The museum wasn’t there then in the 50’s. You cant see them in this faded picture but there was some of the other car guys with us. This was a park in Pomona valley where everybody used to hang out on Sundays. We would hang there, clean our cars and check out the gals while cruzing.
My good friend, Kayo tried to buy Fred Rowe’s Barris-built Carson topped ’51 Merc in 1955, he really loved that car. In the end something happened and the deal didn’t happen. So next day he got this ’55 Mercury from the show room. He took it straight to the Ayala Bros. for a semi custom look. After these – shown below – pictures were taken, the car went back to the Ayala’s to lower the car as low as they could. Sadly I do not have any photos of it like this.

CCC-memo-0rtega-part-eight-01-wRichard Aguieres aka Kayo, took his brand new ’55 Mercury straight to the Ayala brothers to shave the hood, trunk and door handles. Later they would lower the car as far as it could go. Thats Kayo with his Merc.

CCC-memo-0rtega-part-eight-02-wKayo Mercury was of course also dressed up with a set of Appleton’s from the House of Chrome at the Ayala property.

The Vessel Pick up

Mean time I am working more on mine, I removed my door handles and trunk emblems, and filled them in. The car was still the original color, dark green with a white top. I don’t remember if I said this before, but it’s now 1957 and I am gonna be 27 yrs real soon! All the time I got my radio blareing out my favored singers like the Platters, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, crusin my new ’51 Chevy toy. I’m still woring on the car a little at a time, we were realy busy at the shop. We had a couple of custom jobs we were working on. A ’54 Mercury hardtop for Jhonny Cardenas, and a ’56 Chevy pickup for Frank Vessel sr an his son, jr. We did a lot of customizing on this truck. I remember Kolbert, Jhonny an me working our butts off on that truck. We extended the rear fenders and added ’56 passenger taillights to it. Kolbert had me buff out and hand rub the purple laquer paint job till it was perfect. The father an son were really happy the way it turned out.

CCC-memo-0rtega-8-Vessel-01-wThe Vessel ’56 Chevy Pick up turned out really well and classy looking. 
CCC-memo-0rtega-8-Vessel-02-wRod & Custom Magazine featured the Frank Vessel, Kolbert’s built 1956 Chevy on a two page spread in the July 1957 issue.
CCC-memo-0rtega-8-Vessel-03-wMemo used 1956 Chevy passenger car taillights in extended rear fenders. Looks pretty good.
Its hard to remember every job we did. An other one was, Babe Arzouea’s ’49 or ’50 Chevy fastback. Nosed and decked, door handles filled in, frenched head lites, Olds grill top-bar with a 54 Pontiac center bar. If iI remember right, the custom tail lites were 51 Ford. We put them low, close to the bumper. Matt sprayed the car a dark maroon laq, one awesome semi custom. He was from the Lancers Car Club in Pomona.

CCC-memo-0rtega-part-eight-04-wMy good friend Gil Ayala.
Back to my ’51, I was notching the rear frame, tunneling the floor and dearching the rear springs. I used an jig me an Jhonny had made. It worked very good. I had my own way for lowering front ends, but I was pressed for time. So I called my friend Gil at Ayala’s Custom Shop in East LA, to see if he had any reworked front A frames for a Chevy. He said “yeah bring yours in for exchange”, that saved me a lot of time. My car looked mean laying low. Like I said, we were so busy working a lot of overtime… we did not care. I wanted a car done by the Ayala’s SO BAD that I told my boss what I had in mind. Talk about being nervous. I remember him telling me why would you wanna do that! you can do it here I know we are real busy now, but its ok with me it wont hurt us any. You and Jhonny are the best workers I have So maybe its good you take it to the Ayala’s then we can get more work done since we are so busy. So I took my car to the Ayala’s where I had met Jhonny Rosier with his ’53 merc before. Anyway they worked on the car a little at a time. I would drive my car in primer where the work was being done, by the end of the year my car was finished.

CCC-memo-0rtega-part-eight-06-wFito’s purple Chevy and my car on the right, before the paint job. This was on a kruzin Sat. afternoon.
Heres another little funny story you might like. Its a true story also. One Sat afternoon Kayo (Richard Aguerrie) came over in his Ayala’s built ’55 Merc and asked me an Papitas, (Manuel Fuentes) lets go crusin to T.J., thats short for Tijuana, across the border in Mexico. Sure why not, lets go and pick up Fito an Jack Purther. They all said, lets go! We got to the border about at nite, but they turned us back cause one of our guys was not 18.yrs old. Man all the way out there and we can’t go across. Oh well! Aguerrie said, lets just go cruze the long beach area. Right than Jack tells Aguerrie I gotta throw the water, can u stop when you see a gas station. Jack is seating in the back, in the center. Everybody keept saying on the next one we will stop, this kept on and on. Jack is getting mad, hey guys if u don’t stop i’m gonna pee out the window! Its about three hours to long beach, so Jack gets up and we push him back down. We told u on the next one! Poor Jack hes turning purple. He tells us, man I’m never going cruzin with u guys again. Kayo puts Little Richard on the radio louder, rappin loud pipes down Highway 101, so we can’t hear Jack. Finally we got to Long Beach, stopped at a gas station Jack crawles out the back side window. As we are all cracking up he comes out of the station with a big smile… what a relief. We asked him, did u realy have to go? we thought you were kidding…. he stilled cruzed with us.

Go to part Nine
Go to part Seven








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)

3 thoughts on “Memo Ortega Stories Part Eight

  • Great stories Memo. Please keep them coming.
    And Thanks Rik for giving us a chance to hear first hand from someone that was there when all this was happening.

  • Hey memo those doors behind marys car look like st.josephs church in pomona , even god was giving you thumbs up on that custom work ! That tj run sounded like fun and a great memory . Great job rik you and memo are taking us all back to a great time . You know you just wanted to be in that car cruzin to tj with those guys , I would have taken a leak before we left !
    El jeffe

  • Glad you guys are annoying the Memo Ortega Stories. I loved them when Memo started to send me the emails several years ago, and now with the photos added to them they really start coming alive. Its a real pleasure to do these… and we are far from done with them. We have plenty more Memo Ortega Stories to go.


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