Custom Car Chronicle
Memo Ortega Files

Memo Ortega Stories Part Fourteen

1970 and up

We are now in 1970 with the Memo Ortega Stories. Memo is hitting the big shows in California with his 1937 Chevy four door sedan.

[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
(Sometimes when Memo writes a new story for this series, he reminds some funny stuff that happened way back. I always try to get most of the stories in the right sequence, but sometimes the flashback is from way back in the very early beginnings. From a period we already covered in some of the first stories. But, most of the time these flashback are way too cool not to tell.. so lets start this part 14 with another totally out of sequence flashback from 1948.)

Flashback,¬†Louie’s¬†37 Chevy

It was around 1948, me and my friend Papitas rode our bikes over from La Verne to my cousin Louie’s house in Pomona. He was home when we got there, and so was his fiend Jojo. Everybody else had gone to Los Angeles. Louie told us his big brother Art gave him his car, but he could not drive it till he had his drivers lic. The car was a 1937 Chevy 2 doorr sedan. Customized with no running boards, which was the style back then, big antenna with big one bar flipper hubcaps. Anyway Louie found the keys and said “hey lets take it around for awhile” We jump in… man were gonna go cruiesin!!! He tried starting the car and it would not start no matter what he tried. Finally he ran the battery down, we checked the gas… it had gas. We tried pushing it, nothing Louie suggested… Memo get my dads pickup …. I don’t know louie, what if my uncle shows up… Come on Memo … ill take the blame.. Well ok. We got the car on the street and Louie told me your going to push me and I’ll drive the ’37. We will get it started. Him an Jojo went in the ’37, me and Papitas in the ’47 Chevy pickup. He motioned me “go”, so we did, he waved his hand to go faster we did. The ’37 still did not want to start… man we were going fast!!! I was scared, cuase I did not have a license… We stopped, he got out and told me go faster the battery is low. I told him ok… We were going fast again, and we were coming to the end of the road, where we had to make a u-turn. Well, we ran out of road, going to fast and he tried to turn the car… but flipped over, ran over a white picket fence and tore out a bunch of flowes and little trees. The car landed on its right side! Let me tell you Louie an Jojo came out the left door window fast. We ran over to see if they were ok, they were! Louie was laughing so hard and Jojo had wet his pants.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-05My parents in the late 1930’s and my sister Angie in the back of our house in La Verne California, 1948 This is the place where I worked on my bikes and got my first 1937 Chevy.
Oh shit, what are we gonna do now. By this time we started to get really scared. We nocked on the house door, nobody came out. We got back in the pickup and took off to Louies house, up the street. when we got there Jojo said “I’m gonna go home, if my old man finds out hes going to skin me alive”, so he took of. We were thinking, lets go back and face the music, when we got back at the accident, there was still nobody home. So what we did start rocking the car as hard as we could, and guess what… we did get the car on its four wheels… man we were happy! We pusched it back on the street, then we decided to fix some of the flowers and the little trees, so it did not look so bad. We even picked up the little white fence and put it back to where it belonged. We managed to make it look better.. a lot better. We pusched the ’37 back to Louie’s house with the pickup. We were still wondering when the cops would be show up… they never did! The ’37… got just some minor scratches. The moral of the story is… Louie’s brother Art had a cutout switch installed. Just in case somebody would try to steal the car. This way you could turn the key, but it would not start. We found out about this some time after this all happened… the joke was on us, we now can laugh about it.


CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-27This photo¬†illustrates our cruizing grounds in the late ’40’s early ’50’s. I found this picture on the web, did not take it myself.¬†1941 chevy panel on the center of 2nd St in Pomona¬†runs east an west. We are looking west towards Pep Boys in this pic. We¬†would¬†go one more block, and then turn around an¬†cruize¬†East again, all the way about three blocks East of Gary Ave. where this¬†’41 is, in the middle of the street. Then¬†turn around again an cruize¬†West again… crazy huh.
A little while after rolling the ’37 Chevy, my cousin Louie got his drivers lic. He was was a little older than us, so he would come over to La Verne and pick me and Papitas up to go cruizin on 2nd St in Pomona. To me that was the American Graffiti of that time in his dads ’46 Plymouth. Like I said before, we were about 13 yrs old. What we would do is go back to my uncles house in Pomona and come in thru the back alley, they had a big back yard, since my uncle was a construction contractor and all their stuff was in the back. We would come in after dark so his dad would not see us, hey we wanted to look cool like the other cars cruizing 2nd St, so we would open the trunk and lay black roofing paper on the trunk to keep it clean and start loading big cement blocks till the car couldn’t go no down any further on the back. 2nd St. was about a quarter mile away from his house, so we were gonna look cool on a lowered car going down 2nd St. It din’t matter that the tires were halve flat from the weight on the trunk. We were having a blast checking out the chicks, and cruizing back an fourth on 2nd. After that we’d head back to unload the cement blocks, clean the trunk, and he would take us back home to La Verne, what a blast, my uncle never found out what we were doing with his nice familly car.

Ok, lets continue where we had left off in part 13.

As the ’70’s were approaching, I had sold my last Harley chopper and we were very active in showing the ’37 Chevy at some of the major car shows. The R. G. Canning car shows in L A, the Competitors Car Show in Long Beach, low rider shows in San Jose, and in San Bernardino to the Orange show. We saw a lot of custom cars from verious years and a lot of low riders with custom paint jobs by such custom painters as Bugs Ashoa, Larry Watson and Joe Anderson to mention a few. In 1970 we went to the Long Beach Convention Center to the competitors annual Custom Autorama. It was an awesome show, more on that a little later.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-19One of the many outdoor car shows I entered the ’37 in. Not sure when or where this one was.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-03Just some samples from shows in the late 1960’s early 1970’s. Shows I went to with our ’37 Chevy. These great photos come from the Howard Gribble Collection.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-01-wThis is the only photo I have of our ’37 Chevy at the Long Beach Show, this is the same show where¬†Howard Gribble entered his 1966 Buick in as well.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-10I came across an old photo showing the T.J. interior… or well not much can be seen on this faded photo, but it is from the early 1970’s when the interior was still fresh.¬†
Its funny, I was allways painting the ’37… Why? Well, when we went to car shows you would see some of the paint jobs on cars looking the same year after year. They entered the same car with the same paint job at each show for several years. I did not want my ’37 looking like that with the same color all the time. Thats why I painted my ’37 Chevy with so many different colors. I also enjoyed doing that, since I could paint it myself. Some of my paint jobs would take me a little time, especially the custom colors took longer with different color hues. But it was well worth it. When cruising down the road, people would look and admire the car going down the blvd. After all thats why I built my cruzers to drive them, and have fun with them. Thats just me. Everybody got their own way of enjoying there cars… its all cool. Our car was more a street car, a driver, but is was also good enough for the shows. It always had a neat paint job, chrome engine compartment, nice T.J. upholstery, and the trunk looked real clean all upholstered. So you could say, it was ok for showing it in shows.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-07My ’37 Chevy at the San Jose Ca show were it took first in class.¬†We did not even get a photo of the car in the mag only a little mention… its cool though, we had a lot of fun.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-08At the time I already had won some trophies with the Chevy.
One day we went all the way to Stockton Ca, next day we travelled to San Jose Ca, to a show I¬†allway wanted to go to.¬†We got there and set the car up for the show, some guys from the LA¬†area asked me what transporter we used to bring the car over.¬†I¬†told them we drove it.¬†They kept telling me “you¬†did not drive it”¬†I opened the trunk to show them all the cloths we had in there, I¬†told them, look under the car all the road dust etc¬†under there. Well they changed their tune then. I have never trailer or transported my car!¬†Would you¬†believe we got a first place in its class!
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-09One of my¬†daughters,¬†Gina made her own costume to content in the¬†“bad girl” contest. She¬†did not win, but a¬†photo of her with the ’37 Chevy was later used for the Arizona Car Show… that was pretty neat.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-06The Arizona Car Show advertisement in Low-Rider magazine, with the photo of my daughter Gina.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-11We upholstered the trunk in blue velvet button tufted, and detailed the gas tank, spare can for the gas and water and some tool. Even though we used tis car as a driver it always looked clean.
We went all over with the ’37, like Mike Evans use to tell me… Memo, if only your cars could talk, they would tell us a thing or 2 about cruzing all over the place. This car was our tranportation car, one time our friend Bradley, he used to have a chrome shop on 2nd Street in Pomona Ca, asked me if he could take the ’37 to a show at the Orange Show Fair Grounds in San Bernardino Ca. I told him, sure why not. He took good care of his stuff me an terry told him to have fun with the 37, he got us some tickets so we went, he had set up the car real nice with a old man dummy and all kinds of decorations, really cool. He did everything himself. Off hand I can’t remember who put up the show, but it was very well known.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-02Howard Gribble’s 1966 Buick Riviera. As this and the other photos from Howard show you, these shows were really spectacular.
After that show, a little while later, we took the car to a show in Long Beach Ca, to the Competitors Car Club Annual Autorama show in October 1970 at the Long Beach Arena. Not known to me at the time, Howard Gribble was at this same show with his Custom Buick Riviera. How cool is that! How I know this after all those years. Well let me tell you a quick story. Howard Gribble, aka Kid Deuce, came by to see me a little while ago. I have met him a many car shows and cruises we do in the last couple of year. We got to talking about car shows in the old days, and the Bellflower days. I showed him around in my garage, he took a couple of photos of my trophies, and we talked a little more and at the end of the day, he went home. Latter on, when he got home he called me all excited. “Memo, that green trophy you have… well I have one too, from the same show!” Wow that is awesome, he was there too, he got an award and so did I, how cool is that! Howard was there with his ’66 Buick Riviera, and me with my custom painted ’37 Chevy. The show was in october 16..17.. 18, the 18th was my Birthday. I think I turned 36, and Howard was 26. How neat being young back then. How funny, I did not know Howard then, and to find out now, he was there at the same show in 1970… amazing.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-22The trophy I won at the 1970 Autorama show, an R.G. Canning show card and a show Exhibitor car you could display with your car. (Special thanks to Craig Wise and Howard Gribble)
Back to the show, we set up the way Bradley did in the San Bernardino show. I borrowed the old man dummy, and did it the same way. We went to another show in Van Nuys Ca, in Dec 4..5..6.. in 1970 and at Devonshire Downs Northridge Ca, this show was put on by the same people who did the Long Beach Show. We attendad a lot of other shows the Shrine Auditorium the Sports Arena to name a few good times. We also did a lot of Low Rider shows those were really big back then.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-16Parked in front of our house garage. 
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-20As I mentioned I changed the car a lot back then. Here I was working on te engine in my garage. Outside are my 1951 Merury, and shopped GMC truck. More on those in a later CCC-Article.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-18At one point I decided it was time to take off all the paint before I would do another new paint job. Here, my grandson Michael¬†is helping me¬†taking off all those old coats of paint… what a job¬†that was!
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-25I did paint it metallic green at one point, but did not like the way it looked. So I repainted it even before I put the car back together.



CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-24The magenta version of the ’37 Chevy¬†was around 1977.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-21The reason we had the car so high¬†in the rear was because me and Terry were always having a contest burning rubber. We liked to see¬†who could smoke these big rear tires¬†longer. .. and she won all the time she wasent afraid to break the the car. At this time I¬†had a big 396 engine an a 4 speed trans in the car. The ’37 was our daily driver car back then. I changed the whole car around latter.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-fourteen-23Some of the trophies I won with the ’37, most are from the first ten or so years we showed the car.

Go to Part Fifteen.
Go to Part Thirteen.







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 Fourteen

  • Man all those great pictures of the 37 bring back memories , memo and terry would let me cruz the 37 once in a while on the weekends man it was thumbs up everywhere we went, usually whittier blvd. I even got to cruz the chopped truck . It’s nice to have great friends with bad ass cars !
    El jeffe

  • jeffe, i also had the honor to cruise & show the 37 @ a style car club show held @ LA county fair grounds in pomona around 1981 or 82 then Gina & i showed the bomb @ ventura county fair grounds flying a style plaque! awesome memories & Goodtimes ! Rik keep posting those Firme stories ! Danny

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