Custom Car Chronicle
Memo Ortega Files

Memo Ortega Stories Part Seven


Its the mid 1950’s, Memo has a steady job at Kolbert’s and brings in lots of Customizing work. Memo specialized in Lowering customer cars.

[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


My ’51 Chevy Fleetline

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he year is 1953… ¬†So I¬†am working at Kolbert’s learning the works from the bottom up.¬†I am having a good time learning, not easy, but I¬†am doing it.¬†My boss had told me I was a fast learner. I got me a ’51 Chevy Fleetline, after work I¬†would work on the car, first thing was to lower the car, make it a tail dragger. Next I¬†shaved the hood where the emblems were, and the same was done¬†to the trunk. Next the door handles had to go, so off they came.¬†Since the original paint was still good, me and my boss repainted those areas where the emblams were.¬†The paint blended in good, the car color was a dark green factory color.¬†I¬†split the manofold for my dual pipes. On a Saturday I¬†took a trip to Ayala’s House of Chrome, got me a pair of Appletons from Gil Ayala. I¬†installed them, and latter hung my plaque thats all I¬†did to this car.¬†I¬†cruzed this car all over for about year and a halve, till this gal Squeaky kept bugging me to sell her the car. So in the end I sold her¬†the car. She was a hard cruzer also, it was a mean looking car, more to come…


My first Olds

I¬†am really trying to remember all this as good as I can… its been a long time ago…¬†¬†After I¬†sold my car to Squeaky, I made a deal with this man to buy his ’53 Olds 98 in 54. He was going to trade the car in for a new 54 olds, he was one of our customers at Kolbert’s. He was well off, I talked to him about buying the car, and we made a deal. I would do some work on his house for a down payment and then pay him monthly payments, what a deal. I had me an almost brand new Olds.

I got this friend of mine “Wero”… Jhonny Maldonado a job at Matt Kolberts where I worked. He was a custom nut like me, he turned out a good body an fender man, we talked our boss Matt into doing more custom work. At Kolberts we did everything you do in a body shop. Matt gave us the keys to the shop, so we could work on our cars any time we wanted after hours. We paid him for materials we used, we worked on my Olds and Johnnys 51 chevy coupe. We always helped each other and so did Kolbert. We did a lot of lead work, I did my Olds right away, I got me some ’53 Buick head lite bezels for my head lites an made a hood over the top… looked realy good. I leaded in the hood and the trunk and some emblems. Got some spotlites from the House of Chrome of course, and lowered the car. Me an Wero.. Jhonny gave it a wild custom paint job. It sure made the car look awesome. Me and Jhonny were always expermenting with paints an color powders for paints. We did well on that, we are now in the summer of 1955, next Wero… Jhonny’s coupe,


A lot was going on at the shop in ’55, we were doing more custom work for the guys around the Pomona Valley area. As we were also working on our cars after work, Wero and me, we did an air scoop on the rear of the roof top of his ’51 Chevy. He moulded in his hood an trunk and shaved the door handles. Latter-on he got a 55 Pontiac front bumper and used the top bumper parts and installed them on the front of the coupe. This car was looking good, more on his car latter.


’54 Pontiac and Jhonny’s ’51 Chevy

Some body wanted to buy my ’53 Olds really bad. So of course I did not turn down the offer I ended up selling the car. I had seen this ’54 Pontiac chieftain hardtop, thats the one with the real long quarter panels. It was a real clean car. I got the car, we just went into 1956, funny we did a lot in the last years an now its 56. I was working a lot of overtime to pay my bills an buy more stuff. I was young I could stand doing a lot of work, it did not bother me. I allways had guys wanting to buy my cars as u will see, from around 1955 through 63 I was going through cars like changing my socks,. At 20 yrs old I was doing what I liked customizing cars, got married for 4 yrs, did not work. Oh well the show must go on and it did, lol…

The guy that picked up the bumpers for repairs an chroming from the shop was Ralph. He was from Benson plating in Ontario. We could buy any bumper we wanted from him. Back to my Pontiac, I loved the way the car looked with all the chrome on it so I decided to leave all the chrome on the car. At this time we are real busy at the shop, guys coming in wanting there cars lowered like my cars, my boss Kolbert asked me if would do just that! why not, I loved doing that. He said he and Jhonny would do the other work. Let me tell you I had my hands full doing that. I would also help them other guys, when they needed my help.

That was a lot of work lowering those cars taking out the front an rear seats and the carpets, cutting out out floors an tunneling them. And also noching the rear frame. On the front I had my own way of lowering the front. I got them babys on the ground and they rode like they were not lowered. I was really proud of that, so was my boss and of course the customer. This went on for awhile, till we could not lower them below the rim, due to the new law latter on.

It’s 1956, back to Jhonny’s coupe, he ordered a ’56 chevy rear bumper from Ralph an I orderd a ’56 Olds front bumper for my pontiac. Jhonny also got some brand new ’56 Packard tail lite lenses for his coupe. We extended his rear quarter panels for these Packard lites. We fited the rear bumper to the car, looked mean!
I too was working hard on my Pontiac. I took off my front bumper and the whole grill, I did a lot of figuring out to install the ’56 Olds bumper. I cut below the head lites and a little in front of the hood, then I made some brackets to hold the bumper. Matt, Jhonny and me, then got some conduit electric tubing to form the shape of the bumper to the fenders and hood. Then welded it to the hood and fenders. It looked really good, then we cut the bend tubing between the fenders and hood followed with more grinding and welding. Made it ready for leading an priming. My car was ready for painting, Jhonny was doing little work on his car at a time, so me an him painted the top on my pontiac a brite silver and cleared it. On the bottom we mixed a candy wine lacquer. It was very hard to paint, but me and Jhonny did it with some tips from our boss Matt. Like I said we were allways messing with color powders, me an Jhonny. Our boss would just scrach his head it was all good. Not even a year with the car an this couple stopped me asked me what I want for the car, I thought here we go again, I told them i will let them know. Told my boss and Wero, they said if they give you what you want sell it. I contacted them they agreed on the price. I sold it, its still 1956.

Man… wish I had more photos to show of my rides! they were cooooool
Go to part Eight.
Go to part Six.






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)

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