Memo Ortega Stories Part Fifteen

MEMOS 1954 GMC

For this story we will follow Memo’s 1954 GMC truck over a period of years when he was constructing and enjoy ing it. From the early 1970’s till¬†1990.

 
[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 2014, 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

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n part twelve I talked about the 1941 Ford Coupe I¬†had bought… and sold a little later. When I was looking for other photos I came across some more photos of the ’41 Ford Business Coupe project I wanted to share with you. I’m still a bit sad, I traded¬†it with Mike Kever. I had some great plans for that car,¬†but they¬†never transpired.¬†When I decided to let go of the car I had all ready done a bunch of work on it.¬†The car¬†¬†was coming along fine the way I¬†did my suspension, which¬†I was setting up for hydraulics. On the front, I¬†went with a pontiac independent suspension. On the rear I¬†stepped up the frame, to get it real low, and run coil springs instead of the stock arched spring. I used a¬†rear axle from a 65 chevy.

I decided to fill all the fire wall holes, and when I¬†finnished the fire wall it sure looked cool. I was planing to filling the hood emblems an shorten the side chome molding, and shave the trunk. That was the plan to do all this bodywork before I¬†would start on chopping the top.¬†Well my dream ended that way on the ’41. I can picture it in my mind, how the car would have turned out. It would have looked awesome in candy purple. Well Mike Kever came by an he wanted the ’41, and we ended up¬†making a deal I¬†could not resist. He ended up with the ’41, and me with a ’54¬†GMC pickup and some other stuff.¬†Mike continued working on the ’41. He¬†installed the running gear, and put the whole car together. He ended up selling the ’41 to somebody in Los Angeles, and we have never seen it again.¬†Wish I¬†would have known Mike¬†was going to sell it. I¬†would have bought it back then. Hope its still around but thats just a dream.¬†It was now time to get started on my ’54 GMC Pickup.
 
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-02I had lifted the body from the frame, to make it easier to work on the new suspension. I used some oil drums to lift the body.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-01My friends¬†David Lopez an¬†Jeff Roberts checking out what I was doing with my ’41 Ford coupe.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-05I used a pontiac independent front suspension that I found at a junk yard.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-04Filling the not needed holes in the fire wall. The way the body was lifted from the frame made work a bit easier.
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This is the last photo I took of the ’41. Not long after this I sold it. Sad to see it go, but I had so many other projects to work on. This photo shows how low¬†I had set up the suspension.
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Pep Boys Flashback

On Fridays,¬†after¬†sunset we,d allways used to go cruzin to downtown Pomona, cause thats where the happening was. I still had my ’51¬†Chevy Fleetline that I¬†mentioned in one of my earlier stories. The one I later¬†sold to Ellenor (Squeaky). That Friday, I think it was in 1953,¬†I¬†asked ¬†Papitas,¬†Manual Fuentes,¬†lets go pick up the guys so we can cruize 2nd street. “Cool, lets go im ready.”¬†We picked up Jack Purther and Felix Lopez, they were allways hanging around with us. They were also ready to go check out the chicks on 2nd street. Like I¬†said, that was the place to be on Fridays, and everybody knew it.
 
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-10The Pep Boys at second street right close to were I would bump in the car in front of me when I was checking out the chicks.
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Like always we¬†would start cruzin by Pep Boys going east on 2nd.¬†This nite we had just passed Pep Boys, right in front of the Western Auto sStore, we saw these nice “chicks”. The traffic was heavy, like bumper to bumper heavy, and the chicks started flirting and yelling at us. Of course we started doing the same back.¬†Well I¬†took my eyes off the road for a second, flirting and BANG,¬†we crashed into a pickup that was in front of us when the¬†traffic stopped.¬†Oh shit! it sounded real loud.¬†We jumped out to check out the car. Man, that was embarrassing, in front of the chicks. The guy in the truck came over, “are you guys ok”, “yeah we are.”¬†Man look at your car ,the grill is wiped out. My truck is ok. I told the guy what happened, and how it was all my fault. He said, yeah¬†it happens here all the time everybody checking out the girls.¬†The chicks about five of them, started telling us from the sidewalk¬†it was their¬†fault that they distracted us so that we crashed. I told them, its all cool, nobody got hurt, and the car can be fixed. We still kept cruzin that nite. When we drove¬†home, later that nite, we could no stop from laughing. We thought that was so funny the way it happened. That was some experience back in the 50’s, one flash back I¬†will never¬†forget.
 

1954 GMC Pick Up

Ever¬†since I¬†had my first car in late 1949,¬†I¬†haven’t stopped cruzin. I guess¬†I¬†was born to cruze ha… ha.¬†In the 1970’s¬†I was really busy with my trucking business, but never stopped doing custom work for different guys, who asked me all kinds of customizing to do.¬†One of my neighbors told me there was an old car on the next street from¬†us. So I went there, and there was a ’51 merc 2 door siting there. It had been there for a long time, and I just had never spotted it¬†being so close to our house.¬†The car was filled with all kinds of flat head parts, even in the trunk. It was a real flathead collector parts dream.¬†I asked the old lady for info on the car, turns out it was her husbands. He had passed away manny years ago, and the car sat in her¬†front yard ever since.¬†She sold me the car on one condition. I¬†had to leave it factory stock.¬†Oh yeah, no problem, I¬†said,… yeah till I¬†get it home, my brain was telling me!¬†I sold every flathead part that came with the car, and it actually¬†got me back the money I spend buying it… great deal. Way latter on I¬†sold the car to a friend.¬†I¬†had to much going on, I had my ’54¬†GMC¬†project to work on, and many other projects, so the 51 Merc went.
 
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When¬†I had bought the¬†’54 GMC, Gil Ayala’s old chopped shop truck came to mind. I always loved that truck when it was dark green with the weird looking flames and Letters in the grille. I thought it was so neat. So Gil’s truck was a big inspiration for getting started on mine. I wanted my GMC¬†to ride smooth when im cruizin, so I¬†sub framed the front. A lot of work involved, but well worth it.¬†On the rear I¬†notched the frame, and in went a 70’s Camaro rear end. I¬†then de-arched the leaf springs¬†to get it to sit lower.¬†The pickup sat low,, just the way I¬†wanted, and it drove really great. I¬†was taking my time working on it.
 
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-06This was how my GMC looked when I first got it… not much. But with Gil Ayala’s shop truck in my mind, I knew it would become pretty one day.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-07The pillars are marked and I have started cutting them, there is no way back now.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-08Test fitting the rear corner pillars and figuring out how to best do this. To get all the openings lined up I had to cut a lot of pieces.
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I¬†started chopping my ’54¬†GMC. not an easy cab to chop, with the back windows looked really cool.¬†When¬†I had the top roughed in,¬†Richard¬†Mendez came by with his ’77 Chevy¬†Stepside,¬†and asked me about chopping his stepside.¬†I¬†know your real busy with your¬†GMC.¬†Memo actually customized Richard’s ’77 Chevy pickup and finished it, and several other projects before his own GMC, but we want to continue the whole story on the GMC and show you Richard’s Chevy and some other projects in the next article on Memo.
 
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-14Two of my grandsons Will and Robert trying to help. By now I had installed a Camero front front suspension.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-12After I chopped the top I put the front back on, and made everything fit really nice. Then I started doing the suicide doors. I always wanted to try those on a car. They came out nice, and looked great.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-13The gas filler door from a ’51 chevy was modified to fit the¬†curvature of the truck panel. I¬†allso added a small pop out spring an a pull cable to¬†open, it worked geat, and looked real cool.
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I¬†continued¬†working on my truck. I¬†had allready chopped the top and¬†sub-framed the chassis. I then¬†went looking for a 350 motor an 350 turbo trans. I¬†adapted the Chevy¬†motor mounts to my frame, and made my own rear trans mount. Next I¬†wanted suicide doors… what a job that turned out to be. But in the end I got them done, everybody thought that was so cool, me too!¬†The gas cap on the right side looked ugly sticking out, so I¬†decided to customize that¬†as well.¬†I¬†got me a gas door from a ’51 Chevy, next I sunk the gas filler cap a little, and then I¬†reworked the gas door to contour to the truck body. It looked realy cool.¬†I made it to open from the inside with a cable.
 
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-28I named here Earth Angel, which I painted on the front fender. See my dual frenched antenna’s. Parked at our pool.
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I reworked the tail gate by removing the big GMC lettering. It made it look neat an smooth. To lower the tail gate, I extended the sheet metal down and created a nice space for the tail lites. I got me so six tail lites from a 1968 Chevy, three for each side. For the license plate, I made a bracket to have it sit on the extended tailgate penal, in the middle of the 6 tail lites. I also made a couple of chrome plated bars to go under the tail lites. It looked really good. I was doing all this a little at a time. On the hood I shaved the emblems I also reworked the ugly grill shell and its ugly parking lites. I frenched the headlites using merc headlite rims. Then I got me a chevy bumper and split it in halve for the front. I also removed the door handles, and turned the doors into suicide doors.  Man all this work sure takes a lot of time. Finally I got my truck in primer and I painted the top in lite grey an the bottom in black primer. I then wrote on the side of the front fenders Earth Angel the cool song. For the steering I got me a Caddy tilt column. I went an had the interior done in white tuck an roll, man how cool is that. got my white walls, chrome wheels and dummy spotlites. Man I was ready to cruze, before painting the truck we cruzed the wheel off it, got to be out there on the streets having fun enjoying my custom Jimmie, thats what I built it for.
 
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-19For the pick up bed I created a new rear pan witch would bring the back down to make it look lower. I installed 6 1968 Chevy Impale taillights. The truck is in primer black now with a light silver blue top.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-26I Love this picture of the car in black primer with the light blue top seen from my garage.
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Latter on, I painted the top a nice silver blue, with dark blue spider webing over it and drove it for a while like that. And then after some time I painted the bottom a metalic darker blue that sure made the truck nice. We went to some shows in northen calif, to Madera a couple of times, we had a lot of fun going all over in it. After a while and so many shows I had been with the car I decided to it was time for an update and change the color. I choose to go black to change its looks completely. And once again I added some chrome tape on the center of the top it looked really cool for me. And now all black the truck had a very classic look to it. We went to the West Coast Kustoms show in Paso Robles, held at the park just out side of town a few times.
 
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-27With the paint still fresh I started putting the truck back together, thats me on the floor.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-21Mostly put back together with my new chrome wheels installed. At this point I decided I really liked the light blue top, so the car went back in the spray booth and I re-did the top in light silver-blue.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-24All done at at home ready to be parked next to my ’37 Chevy. I love the stance the truck had… it drove really great too.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-23One of the first shows I went to with the truck was the¬†Dukes Toy for Tots car show in Huntington Park, California, where I took this picture of my¬†truck and my ’37 next to it.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-22Bbq time at the pool with the truck parked and my ’51 Merc in the corner. I had the¬†tonneau cover done in white, with long rolls on each side.
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Man¬†I¬†have¬†been checking this¬†GMC,¬†and I can’t find a single flaw on the body.¬†Being in black, you¬†should find something. Then he introduced himself…¬†“by the way I’m Neil Emory from the old¬†Valley¬†Custom¬†Shop!

 
 
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-20The silver blue top had¬†spider webbing on it, which you cannot really see in the photos. I also added these nice, subtile scallop around the chrome strips and rear window. Thats¬†my grandson Will, with the truck at and ’80’s¬†Paso Robles show.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-17My familly at a¬†South Gate park show put up by City of South Gate, mid 1980’s.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-35With both doors open¬†showing the interior,¬†at the Paso Robles West Coast Kustoms show in the Sherwood park in the mid 1980’s.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-34This photo was also taken at Sherwood park in Paso Robles in the mid 1980’s.
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The first year when we took the car in all black to the Passe show we¬†parked the truck at a nice spot, and went looking around, checking all the fine Customs. I¬†had heard that¬†Dick¬†Crawford lived nearby, and might possebly be at this show. Dick striped my ’37 in 1970, but I had not stayed in contact with him after that.. It was now in the mid to late 80’s. Dick is now known by the name¬†Thinman. Anyway me and one of my grandsons were walking back to our truck and there was this guy taking photos of our truck. I asked him if by any chance he new¬†Dick¬†Crawford. He looked at me and said, “Yeah… I’m¬†Dick¬†Crawford”.¬†That really blew my mind!¬†¬†I¬†had not seen¬†Dick¬†since back then when him and¬†Big¬†Art ran a custom painting shop in¬†Glendora calif. when he stripped my old ’37¬†Chevy.
 
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-16Kids admiring my truck at a Glendale Ca show.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-32Where ever I took the truck it always turned heads, and people alway admired the style and workmanship on it. The black paint, thin line white wall tires and chrome wheels of unknown brad make the truck look extremely classy.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-15Cruising the¬†famous Paso Robles nites in the 1980’s.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-30On the cover of the West Coast Kustoms Crusin magazine in 1987.
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Latter on that¬†day at the Paso Robles show,¬†I¬†was interviewed by¬†O’brien¬†Truckers, from back¬†East, for a video they were doing on¬†Custom¬†Cars and¬†Trucks¬†at¬†the¬†Paso¬†Robles show. This was very was very interesting, I really liked that. The next day at the show we saw¬†this guy checking out our truck from top to bottom. He told us “man¬†I¬†have¬†been checking this¬†GMC,¬†and can’t find a single flaw on the body.¬†Being in black you¬†should find something.”¬†He was scratching his head, he said “by the way¬†I’m¬†Neil¬†Emory from the old¬†Valley¬†Custom¬†Shop.¬†I¬†told him our names and that this was our truck. He said¬†I¬†had done¬†a nice job on the truck. I¬†thanked him for his compliment on our truck. Man that made me feel so good… that was a real honor.¬†¬†It was a¬†perfect¬†day, meeting people from all over, and seeing great Customs.¬†We left early on the afternoon, we had planned to¬†go to¬†Fresno, to talk to some guys we had met, to do some striping on the¬†GMC. We found them, and¬†I¬†had one of them stripe the¬†truck, we left the place at night an headed for home… the end of another perfect Custom weekend.¬†I¬†kept the truck about 2 more years, then I¬†sold it in 1990. The car eventually ended up in Japan, repainted and redone with hydraulics, but still looking great.
Years later when I met Larry Watson at an¬†Drag n Shop bbq he was browsing thru my photo album and when he go to my truck with the black paint on it, he¬†asked me “Memo did any of your cars ever get magazine coverage”.¬†No, they were never featured, I¬†told him. He said some of your cars were real car magazine material. They must have¬†had there head stuck between there legs, he told me, we were laughing really hard… but that was the way it was.
 
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-25A little damage coming from one of the Paso Robles shows.
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In 2012,¬†me and Ephram went to Santa Maria, to the West Coast Kustoms show. We were talking to Joe Figueroa, when I¬†see these two guys from Japan taking photos. I told Joe, we will see you¬†latter Joe, I¬†wanna talk to those guys¬†from Japan.¬†So we went over to them guys an Ephram asked them if they were from Japan “yeah were are, and we are here having a good time.” He told us his name and his brothers, Ephram said “I’m Ephram and this is Memo.¬†then the guy says¬†“MEMO… GMC Memo?¬†“you owner of GMC¬†truck now in Japan?”¬†I¬†said “yeah”. He said “one of my friends owns it now!¬†Wow, what a trip, me and Ephram are looking at each other, what are the chances of that happening!¬†We all started laughing.¬†They invited us to Japan. If¬†you guys ever come over to Japan, all you have to worry about is your plane ticket, after that we will take you guys all over, and you¬†don’t have to worry about nothing but having fun. We will take you guys to see the car shops and car shows. Wow hope we can do that some day we told them… and I still hope to be able to go one day, and see my old truck back.
 
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-31Around 1990 I sold the truck and it ended up in Japan. On the left is the first photo I saw of it up in Japan. They had installed hydraulics, added fender skirts and were working on the top before they repainted it in suede burnt orange.
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CCC-memo-ortega-part-fifteen-gmc-36Later My old truck was repainted with gloss burt orange. Howard Gribble send me this photo of the Pharaohs club members from Japan with the truck in the background.
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Go to PART Sixteen.
Go back to part 15

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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)

2 thoughts on “Memo Ortega Stories Part Fifteen

  • October 24, 2014 at 05:26
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    i know your busy Rik but it seemed like forever between stories ,dam
    i needed my fix brother! anyway as everyone can see memo’s truck was the baddest mother f’r ever and drove like a dream ! that picture with david and myself (sporting a nice fro!) in front of the ford ,school was in session with the custom professor that weekend ,always loved hanging out working on the car stuff and hearing the stories !
    El jeffe

  • October 24, 2014 at 09:21
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    Rik, great stuff ! another classic story & pics, memo keep digging up those pics. love the pic of the truck cruising the strip in paso robles looks like a scene from american graffitie days !

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