Custom Car Chronicle
Memo Ortega Files

Memo Ortega Stories Part Sixteen


Back to the 1970’s and into the 1980’s, Memo flashbacks to when he met his future wife, paints a T-Bucket and Customizes his friends 1977 Chevy Step-Side.

[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

Rainbow Gardens Flashback

I came across¬†an online photo where they are having some dinner at the Rainbow Gardens, Thats where me and the guys were cruzin on a Sat nite, and meet Terry’s friends cruzin in their¬†’57¬†Chevy hardtop.¬†We followed them to Montclair where we met Terry at her house. We were in my custom painted Olds¬†that day. Owner of the ’57¬†Chevy¬†was Carmen, the girl sitting on my Olds front fender in one of the photos in Part TEN¬†of my stories.) The girls were always cruzin with her. Anyway, one of the girls was Terry’s sister. ¬†When we got to there house in Montclair, we stopped in front and Terry came out, we introduced ourselves, and to the other gals. We got to talking, and having a lot of fun. Terry told us, you guys better leave before my dad comes home, or we might get in trouble, its already after ten.

Right when she tells us this,¬†here comes a car up to the house, it was their¬†dad!¬†She told us pleace don’t take off right now, then he is¬†gonna think the worst of you guys and us.¬†¬†So we started sweating balls, oh shit we got them in trouble now… and so are we. he drove in the driveway, and came out of his car, a ’51 chevy hardtop with a continetal tire on the back. He headed toward us, let me tell you, he was a big heavy cowboy wearing a big cowboy hat!¬†First thing he tells us why dont you guys come in, an talk to the girls inside.¬†Terry tells us… “yes you guys better come in”.¬†Well this¬†all turned out real good. Thats how I¬†met Terry, to which I’m still married today.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-06I saw this picture on the net, with this diner party at the Rainbow Gardens, and had to think about the day I met my future wife Terry.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-22Inside of the Rainbow Gardens before the crowds got in. It was a magical place for us back then. (Courtesy of Pomona Public Library

The Rainbow Gardens in the ’50’s and 60’s in Pomona, Ca was a very popular place for everyone that wanted to go have a good time dancing on Saturday nites. The place had always some popular bands or orchestras performing there, and they always drew big crowds. Singers like¬†Perez Prado, who¬†had some bad songs on the radio charts at the time.¬†Me and the guys always cruzed by there checking out the wandas. Then there was El Monte Legion Stadium, another of my favorite¬†popular place to go for Rock &¬†Roll music. I¬†mean popular in El Monte Ca, with Art Laboe heading the shows with such greats as; Don and Dewey, Robert and Johnny,¬†Ritchie Valens, Johnny and Joe to name just a few. To me those were the places to go. The famous Art Laboe is still on the radio with his oldies but goodies music after all these years how cool is that!. Great¬†Flashback¬†memories from back then.


El Monte Legion Stadium with Art Laboe and¬†Jerry Lee Lewis, outside of the building, announcement poster and one of Art Laboe’s records.

1937 Chevy fender art
When Memo send me some photos of a trike he was working on in October 2014, I spotted something green and round in the background. It looked like a fender sitting next to the garage. So I asked Memo what it was… “Oh that!¬†thats my old passenger front fender of my ’37 Chevy from when it was green with seaweed flames.¬†I took the¬†fender off since it was rough, and had some minor damage. I had found a better one and since I was going to repaint it, I used the better one. I put the old one next to the garage and it has been there ever since.¬†
Some guys even have tried to buy it from me, but I¬†never sold it. I just¬†like it where it is.”
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-01The 1937 Chevy front fender in 2014, retired next to the garage.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-11-wAnd this is how it used to look.

¬†Carl Cole’s T-Bucket

In part 15 of the Memo Ortega Stories we followed Memo’s GMC pick up all the way until he sold the car in the 1990’s, but there is a lot more to tell from the 1970’s and early 1980’s. So lets get back in time and let Memo tell some more great memories.

A little latter on the ’70’s the T¬†buckets got to be the rage. I met a guy named¬†Carl Cole he was a hard core drag racing fan. He came over and asked me if II¬†would cherry out his T-Bucket and give it custom paint job. He had¬†found out about me from Mike Evans that I did a lot of paint jobs.¬†I¬†said, yes sure I will paint¬† your T-Bucket , and make something real nice for you. He dropped his T-Bucket¬†body off an¬†I¬†cherried the body, primmed it, and gave it a nice custom paint job.¬†When I¬†was done, I¬†took it over to his house we laid the body on his lawn, he came out to take a close look. He was so happy the way I painted the body. Some time later he finished the car and whosed me how it came together. The T came out really nice and the paint did look really great on it.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-03Carl Cole’s finished T-Bucket looked touch with the Daisy wheels and white coated exhaust. Typical Hot Rod for the time, it came out real nice, and Carl was happy.
Well all these¬†years have gone by, and¬†I¬†recently¬†saw the T again. Carls gave me a call to come over to his house and there is was, right there in his garage.¬†Some sections still have my old paint job on it.¬†Carl is redoing the car againg and it is gonna be awesome when its done. Carl asked me if I was interested in doing the new paint on it… I told him to give me some time to think about it… we will see.¬†Latter on when its finished¬†I¬†will hope¬†I¬†can get some photos for¬†the CCC.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-04The day I saw Carl and his old T-Bucket again in his garage. The car had been updated a lot over the years. and was used to race. But Carl plans to bring it back to how it used to look.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-05Thats me and Carl checking out the T-Bucket body. the fiberglas still looked good after all these years. I was happy to see some of the old paint was still there.

Richard Mendez ’77 Chevy

In the last episode on my stories I mentioned than while I was working on my GMC Truck, Richard Mendez asked me to do his ’77 Chevy Step-Side. I actually did his car before I continued working on my GMC, so lets get on to Richards Truck.
Richard Mendez came by with his ’77¬†Chevy Stepside, he wanted me to chop the top at first, but said he had more ideas for it that would come later. So we went over what he wanted done on his Stepside besides the chop. Custom tail-gate, shaved, and custom headlights.¬†But I had to start with the chop. He left the truck and I¬†started working on the top. It took me a while to get it right, I had to split the top to get the pillars to line up. ¬†When I¬†was done with the top , we took it over to Bobs in Ontario Ca for the glass work. They did a great job on cutting the glass to fit the smaller window opening.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-07Making the first cuts on Robert’s truck, here you can see how much the pillars angle and what it will take to get them to line up later.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-12A few of the in progress photos show me cutting the doors, the top in halves, working on the roll pan and the car after it got back from the glass guys.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-18Love this picture of Richard…¬†No turning back now. See the lemon on the hood, I love eating lemons fresh from our lemon tree. I ate them all the time, with or without salt. The one on the hood did not last long after the photo was taken.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-11Tried my shot at taking some fancy Art photos. It also shows the extra length I had to add to the top of the doors to get them line up again.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-13Some of the hard work just needs to be captured in a photo. Here I cut the top in half to make sure I could line up the pillars. My 37 in the background.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-17After the top was done, Richard took the car to the glass guy, who did a great job. He then took it back to me for more work. Here Richard starts sanding the body and soon I would be changing the headlights.
A little while after the glass work was done Richard¬†brought the car¬†back to me, for more custom work. I was impressed with the way the truck looked with all the glass work done. Next I¬†shaved the door handles and emblems off. I then moved on to the back of the bed where I¬†installed a louverd rear panel on the tailgate. I also rolled a panel bellow the tailgate to give it a cool look on the back. In the center of the new rolled pan I created a recessed section for a sunken license plate. Up in front we had the hood louvered and ¬†I¬†installed a ’59¬†Chevy¬†Impala rear bumper with its lower panals an small bumper guards, richard brougth me a set of¬†61¬†Chrysler¬†quad headlites for the front. He wanted the quad lites slitly canted and upside down.¬†So I filled in the holes from the stock headlights and¬†I¬†did the¬†headlights just¬†the way he wanted them.¬†He was real happy with his truck.¬†Latter on¬†Richard¬†painted the truck a dark blue metallic. Richard is a true die hard street cruzer in my book.

CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-08Richard wanted to use 1961 Chrysler headlights, so I took out the stock units, shaped a filler panel, and figured out the angle of the lights Richard liked best. By now we had the hood louvered and in primer.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-09The front bumper has been replace with a 1959 Chevy rear bumper by now and I’m working on the installations of the 1961 Chrysler headlights.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-15At the back I installed a roll pan to which I added a recessed panel for the license plate.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-16This is how it left me, chop was all done with glass installed, shaved doors, louvered hood, bumper change and ’61 headlights. Then Richard took over from there. That is Dukie in front of the truck. One smart dog that was with us for 16.yrs
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-19Richard added the 1970 Mustang taillights into the smoothed rear fenders.He painted the car ins a great looking metallic blue. It came out really nice.
CCC-memo-ortega-stories-16-21The finished truck, Richard was a very happy man, he loved his “Evil Ways” 1977 Chevy Step-Side Truck.

Go to part Seventeen.
Go to part 15.






Kustom Kar Books Golden Sahara



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)

One thought on “Memo Ortega Stories Part Sixteen

  • Rik , great job you and memo are a great team bringing us these stories ! That picture of richard behind his truck, he looks like a confused ostrich. (Whats up cluck!) His truck was cool but everything memo touches ends up that way and always with great support from Terry. Much love and respect memo! Rik hope to meet you some day when you come to Cali .
    El jeffe

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