Custom Car Chronicle
Memo Ortega Files

Memo Ortega Stories Part One


Custom Car builder Memo Ortega has a rich history that goes back to the 1940’s. In this new series of articles Memo will share his life story with us.

[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]

In the last year Memo has shared his life stories with the Custom Car Chronicle. Stories about how he got hooked up with custom cars, interesting and funny stories. In this series of articles we will share these stories as Memo emailed them to us. In his own words, in his own style. We hope you will enjoy them as much as we do.

CCC_memo-0rtega-part-one-02Memo Ortega at the 2012 GNRS, the first time Memo and me met. It sure was great to finally see you in person Memo.

A kid growing up on the poor side of town.

My name is Willam Memo Ortega. I was borne in 1934 in La Verne Calif. I grew up in the little town back then of La Verne Ca. a hot bed of customs an bajito cars. Nown now as bombs an low riders an a couple of hot rods. This was in my poor side of town by the rail road tracks. The little town was surrounded by orange an lemon tree groves next to the Los Angeles county fair grounds. this is where the Pomona swap meet is held now an the winternationals is held. Back than there was no swap meet or even a drag strip there back then. As I was growing up, I noticed the cars running around were deferent then the regular mom an pop family cars. Especially on sundays, it was like a parade when we went to sunday services across the tracks this was around yr. 46 or so. When we would come out of church, there they were cruzing around. I guess they were checking out the girls an showing off there kool cars. They were all frome my side of town, this went on for years.  This is when I was stung by the custom car bug.

My¬†neighborJjoe Calvio¬†they called him¬†–¬†Chiva – rememember this guys were 18-24-yrs old I¬†was just a kid. Everybody had a nick name there even me latter on. He had a 40. Chevy coupe, a true taildragger like the others running around there. He was in the army then. When he got out he sold his 40 coupe an got a new 47. G.M.C pickup, fire engine red. Let me tell you he turned it into another taildragger lowerd the backend with the new bumper close to the ground he added appleton spotlites an¬†they took it across the border to t,j¬† means ti. juana in Mexico for the¬†white tuck an roll. And¬†they allso did the tonnu cover on top of the bed. He did his dual exh. pipes an ran them up from behind the cab from the running boards up to the bed on the side all the way back. he had every thing chromed. ¬†At the time you had to have a tall antenna from Pep Boys or Western Auto on the left side of your car or truck, that was the Pachuco style. Any way he allso had skirts an white walls with the one flipper bar¬† hub caps¬†so poplar then. Everytime he took off from his house I¬†would run out side to see and¬†hear his loud pipes. By the way his hood an door handles were filled in. Just a kid taking all this¬†in for the future.

Chiva allso got himself a new Harley motorcycle this is also where the bike bug got me. So much to tell and my head says yes tell em. they wanna know i tell my head ok hear we go.

CCC_memo-0rtega-part-one-05Memo’s 1953 Chevy can be seen cruising around in SoCal all year round. Memo loves to drive it.
(the next email from memo)
I can see why it takes so long to write stuff I have a lot written down but it gets better as it goes further.
Here we go. ¬†So i asked my mom if I¬†could have a bike. Since my dad was never around, she got me a used bike and this is what started all this with me and it is still going on to this day. ¬†From that day I¬† started messing with my bike. I¬†had to have a mean looking bike.¬†Different¬†than my buddys, so I¬†pulled the fenders off, and lowered the seat all the way down… big improvedment. I¬†got a hold of a chrome front fender from my older cousin Frank nick name -Panya- he allways had bike parts. So I¬†took the fender, cut it in halve so i could use the bottom curve on top of my back tire. It looked good. but wasent good enough for me. I got me a smaller tire for the front, which looked better now. I¬†got this idea from guy Hernandez that had a 29-roadster in the next block from us, from our house. I¬†wanted a bike that looked like a Harley bobber like the ones that used to come to our Palomares school in our side of town on weekends. This sounds funny, but thats the way it was then.

Chiva an¬†Paul¬†Hernandez were the only ones that I¬†can remember having Harley’s from La.Verne. There was this group from Pomona like the Diaz bros. Bage an Val they were a large group. Back to my bike in a min. like i said. it was real neat seeing all these bikes an this purty girles. This gals would come all the way from East Los Angeles. a few of them wore¬†beautiful¬†colorfull mexican dance hats. one of them allways had a gittar an was a good singer. Chiva an Paul Hernandez were the masters of doing tricks on bobbers. I¬†will never forget that. now back to my bike. Like I¬†said I¬†wanted a bike that did not looked like my buddys just like the cars cruiesing our streets. So I¬†decided to do my front forks different so I¬†studid them an knew how¬†I wanted them to look. I took em off an I¬†went across the street an borrowed a hack saw from Lo-Lo ¬†that was his nick name. he was one of the cruzers. He owned a 42 Chevy¬†Fleetline the works hood trunk filled in ¬†skirts on the ground spotlites wide white walls all this cars no sunvisers or goddies on them all custom style. Thats the way it was then.allso he was a good mechanic more on him later.

Back to the bike. So I went back home to our old garage an cut my forks off the way I wanted them. Remember I was just a kid wanting to be defferent with my bike. I was teaching my self doing all this. After cutting them I went to the foundery about 3 blocks from my house. I knew the the old man there, he was a real good person. In the foundry he would repair the farmers an ranchers equipment in La Verne and the area. When I needed money I would go clean an sweep the place once in a while. I was learning stuff by seeing him work on different things.

Anyway I¬†asked him for some small pieces of metal he would tell me take any stuff you need from a pile he had on a corner you don’t have to ask me. It was only right that I¬†ask. ¬†I got what I¬†needed round tubing an other stuff . I¬†told him what I¬†was doing. He just scrached his head not bad for a kid like you doing this. I¬†went home an cut my tubing the length I¬†wanted an smashed the end of the tubing about inch and a halve on both ends for my axle. I¬†kept saying to myself I¬†can do it. I¬†drilled my holes for my axle, and cut my top an bottom plates. And presto i did it. My dad had a few tools in the old garage and thats what I¬†was using.

Funny just from seeing the cool cars an bikes. I¬†was hooked. My other friends not intrested in this except Papitas -Manuel Fuentes, we grew up together,¬†so I¬†went back to the founry with all my stuff ¬†showed the old man what I¬†did. he was impressed, he welded my stuff while¬†I did more shop cleaning. ¬†You don’t owe me nothing I¬†wanna see it on your bike ok. He was happy, I was happier. ¬†He used to limp on one leg but he was allways busy.
I went home an cleaned everything up an spray painted it with a bug sprayer.  Yes a bug sprayer. Next day after school I intalled it. Wow I could lower it by adjusting my special nut at the same time the front tire would be kicked out further out. Talk about a happy kid wow.
I took it across the street showed it to Lo-Lo- I¬†don’t know why they called him that maybe cuase his car was low. ¬†He took his cap off says william, you should be proud of what you did.¬†I¬†said thank you. Rode my custom bike over to the foundry to the welder so he could see the bike. Again he just scrached his head. He said your a smart kid keep it up. All my friends were realy impressed and so were the Cruzers. That realy made me feel good, ¬†my old man never said nothing about my bike. I¬†ran the wheels off that bike till I¬†had an accedent with the bike but thats another story…¬†I’ll tell you later.

Thanks for listening, Memo

CCC_memo-0rtega-part-one-03Memo’s 1951 Chevy Hard-top with¬†body work done by the Ayala’s.
CCC_memo-0rtega-part-one-04Memo doing what he loves to do best… chopping tops, a 1937 Chevy coupe in this case.
Go to part Two.










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)

4 thoughts on “Memo Ortega Stories Part One

  • rik, just found out how to reply , well i was sure happy to finnaly got to meet you at the gnrs in pomona the year before we went looking for you me an steve almazon an could not find you, but this time i found you, that was funny i told big joe in gonna try to find rik thats what i came for, i walked in one of the big buildings an bingo i seen palles car an looked left from the car an i regenized you you were in your booth it was funny at the same time you looked my way and you regenized me from far away that was so cool , now you have this stories going on my life with custom cars i wanna thank you, hope every body likes them memo,

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