Custom Car Chronicle
Memo Ortega Files

Memo Ortega Stories Part Thirteen


We have arrived in¬†1969 with the Memo Ortega Stories. Memo buys a 1955 Mercury, starts working on Terry’s 1953 Chevy, and he starts his own trucking company!

[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

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen I was looking for pics to go with this section of my story, part thirteen,¬†I came across another couple of old pictures¬†I want to share with you.¬†One is from 1969, a very nice little Hot Rod pick up with really nice paint, and one from a 1959 outdoor car show. I remember that a few years back, this must have been the early 2000’s at the Drag’n Shops first bbq party. We were at that little show at the shop,¬†me Pepi with his 1936 Ford,¬†Richerd Mendez with his ¬†1950 Custom Fleetline, ¬†and my 1955 Merc when watson was walking¬†by.¬†I called him over, and we started talking about the car shows in the 1950’s. I¬†asked him, Larry wheres your car?¬†¬†Memo I¬†don’t have a car.¬†Why not, you should have a car like me this is my 1955 cruzer, look at me I’m still in the game, cruzing my wheels off. he told me Memo, I’ve been in the game longer than you. How old are you Memo, I¬†told him my age. I have been being doing this stuff from back in 1949.¬†Wow guess you have been doing this before me.¬†I’ll show you my book I¬†carry with me.¬†I got my photos book, laid it on my front fender an told him. Check out some of the photos from our days back in the 1950’s.¬†Memo, man you got some bad photos.¬†Wow your were at the Coachman show back in 1958.¬†I was there also. Hey I¬†see a photo of my T-Bird in the background. I¬†don’t have one of that show. Would you let me have it?¬†No I¬†can’t. Sorry thats the only one I¬†have of you T-Bird, I¬†don’t wanna part with it.¬†He said…¬†Thats ok, I understand.¬†He checked all my album photos, he really liked it.¬†¬†I asked him, ¬†Larry ¬†do you remember, Ithink back when you had your shop in Bellflower around 1958, 1959.¬†I came over to your shop, and this crew was taking photos of you an some models by the Moonglow im purty sure you had just painted the car candy blue.¬†Memo, I¬†don’t remember.¬†The Moonglow, you had it parked right in front of your mean looking wall sign.¬†Larry¬†could not remember.¬†He told me. Man that is so cool that you can remember that day back then.¬†The last time i talked to Larry¬†was later at the Hippy Killer How Down Show, we came into the show with our night prowlers and he sees us.¬†¬†He asked me Memo? why are you still chopping cars?¬†The same reason your selling memorabilia, cuase I¬†have never stopped doing custom work. I¬†love it.¬†Today we are 21, tomorrow we are 70. So enjoy your rides.¬†Time flies… time waits for nobody. Thats why I¬†cruise my wheels off.
Sad, a while latter he passed away.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-17Larry Watson and me talking about the pictures in my photo album I alway cary with me when I take one of my cars to a show.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-06Terry Holloway’s 1957 Plymouth with the famous Larry Watson paintjob. Four guys are sitting inside the car giving is a really low stance. This is the Photo that Larry wanted to have since his¬†personal T-Bird can be seen in the back ground.¬†
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-26This photo from the Larry Watson Personal Collection is not from the scene Memo discribed above, but it must have been taken around the same time, and at least at the same location. The freshly painted Moonglow can be seen all the way to the right. The photo shoot Memo remembers with the two girls, must have taken place at the location the candy Purple 53 Chevy is parked in this photo.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-08The metalflake, candy and gob-webbing paint on this truck blew me away in late 1969. 
After writing about my 1937 Chevy being painted the first couple of times in CCC-Article number 12, I remembered that we had the upholstery done before I painted it. We drove the car over to Tijuana, Mexico, to Rickys Upholstery. Back in the 1950’s everybody went there, to Tijuana, to get there cars tuck an rolled. Some places like Rickys became really well known in LA, so it was one of the places you would go for a good and cheap interior. So¬†thats why we went there to get our 1937 done in diamond tuck in black vinyl. They did an awesome job, we drove back home happy that the interior was done, it was¬†really great¬†to sit in comfort again.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-11The same interior that was done by Ricky’s Upholstery shop in TJ, Mexico in the late 1960’s, is still in my 1937 Chevy today.¬†

Terry’s 1953 Chevy

In part twelve of these stories I mentioned my wife Terry wanted a 1953 Chevy, well I bought the car we had found for my her back in 1968. Over time I fixed it up for her. She always wanted a customized car, so I told her I wanted to chop the top on her car. While I was working on the car, doing other things first, she told me “Keep your grubby hands away! and don’t chop my top!” Wow good grief haha. I installed 1954 tail lights, and 1954 chevy teeth in the grill, I also extended the quarter pannels for the 1954 tail lights to fit. I frenched the head lights, but Terry wanted me to leave the door handles on, so i did. We had the interior tucked and rolled, and then painted it. Over the years I have painted it a couple different colors. The car is still in the family.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-20The Ortega’s… check out the hair styles, my young familly Me and Terry, Stella next to us, below Stella is Gina, below terry is Debbie the young one in the¬†late 1960’s.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-25I had just finished putting the ’54 Taillights on the modified ’53 rear fenders.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-23Frenched headlights, I always loved doing those.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-24Headlights are frenched and the hood shaved.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-22One of several versions¬†of the car was don is a purple primer… painted out on the driveway. Notice on pasenger side by the house, you can see that thing with the three steering wheels. That was the famous “time machine”. Thats what my kids called it, they had so much fun playing on it, creating their own imaginary adventures.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-01This photo of Terry’s ’53 was taken more recent. The kid in this photo is my grandson Henry, when he was a kid¬†Henry¬†is the one taking care of the car now.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-10Cruising Terry’s 53 Chevy at the¬†Paso Robles West Coast Kustoms show.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-07This is the last version of how Terry’s Chevy looks like. Dark gray metallic with a silver top. My grandson Henry is the new caretaker of the car.¬†

My 1955 Mercury

One day I went over to the Romero Brothers, Steve and Richard, looking for some parts. These guys had a yard full of old cars an parts. As I walked in, I spotted this 1955 Merc hardtop in the corner. I had been looking a 55, they had just gotten the car. we made a deal and I¬†got my Merc. The car needed motor work an the tranny was no good. So I¬†decided to sub frame the car, newer stuff, like power sterring and disck brakes would be good for a car I¬†was going to cruze till it fell apart… thats what I¬†told one of my buddies. I sub framed it, and in went a 327 Chevy motor and 350 turbo trans I¬†had laying in my garage. I let the car sit for awhile to do other stuff I¬†had going.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-16My 1955 Mercury shortly after I bought it.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-13Installing of the Chevy engine and sub-framing the frame. I had already created the rear quarter scoops as you can see.
I¬†was slowing down working on bikes by this time. I only had a chopper and a three wheeler I¬†was building with a 4 cylinder car motor, a¬†5 speed tranny and a narrowed 1955¬†Chevy rear end with hi-speed gears. I¬†made the frame out of square tubing made me a custom 3 gal, coffin gas tank that looked like a coffin. It really looked cool.¬†I made me some long handle bars that reached back to my seat. For the front end I¬†used a stock Harley glide with a stock 16 inch front wheel. I got the thing registered and was still getting stuff on it. I¬†still had not installed the double pasenger seat on the bike, nor the long handle bars when these two biker brother friends of mine came over and saw it for the first time.¬†They wanted to buy it right then!¬†Man I¬†just rode it up and down the street once! I’m¬†just gettin started with the finishing touches, and I¬†had just painted it¬†dark blue.¬†Thats ok, we still want to buy it, so I¬†sold it right there at the spot. I did not even get a chance to enjoy the it.¬†They came by a couple of days latter with a big grin from ear to ear on there faces, telling me how fast and great it ran on the freeway. That made me happy to hear the three wheeler was running so good out there, and was being enjoyed.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-19Some more bike projects I worked on in 1969 scalloped an flames tank, and a comple paint job in pearl lavender with purple fades. In the background is my trike.
In late 1969¬†I¬†decided to sell my last Harley chopper, and continue going to car shows with our 1937¬†Chevy¬†Around this time I¬†quite working at Matt Kolbert’s body shop. I went on to start my own trucking business, that kept me very busy. After hours I¬†would work on my cars a little at a time. I¬†got me a Kenworth Truck and Trailer transfer dump truck. I really liked doing that. I decided to paint my truck¬†different¬†then the other I would see on the road.¬†This sounds crazy, but I¬†painted the truck in two colors. On one side it was dark blue the drivers side that is,, and on¬†the passenger side it was green. Two different colors all the way to the back both sides. Let me tell you, it sure turned heads!¬†One time I¬†went to a job and there were two trucks ahead of me dumping. I¬†got in-line to dump, and this guy came and told me on the drivers side¬†that I was¬†not next in-line. The green truck is next! This guy had seen me when I¬†came in, he was then on the passenger¬†side of my truck and he saw¬†a green truck. I told him to go look on the other side of my truck. He busted out lol… and so did I. That happened a few times, I¬†sure had fun… man that is crazy the other drivers told me.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-18Sadly I only have these bad photos of my two colored Kenworth Truck. The photos were used for a book, but I never got them back. So these were scanned from the book, you at least get a bit of the idea.
Another story… I¬†remember one time I¬†was adjusting a deck lid. I¬†had just replaced the the whole back end of the car after it was hit. And had installed the new deck lid and was making sure no water would go inside. I told my buddy Jhonny I¬†am going to lay inside the trunk compartment, and I want you to lock it, so I¬†can see if any sunlight¬†comes thru, and If so where I need to fix it. He closed it shut, and I checked all the gaps, everything was perfectly fit.¬†I¬†called him to open the trunk… nothing. I¬†called… “you can let me out now!”¬†I¬†stayed in there for at least 30 minutes. Finally I¬†could hear somebody close by…¬†I yelled and banged on the trunk ” let me out! Can you hear me?”, The trunk opened… Oh…. sorry about that, we forgot and went to lunch an just got back now. I could see them trying to keep from laughing.¬†I thougth that was so funny, the joke they played on me. I¬†could not stop laughing.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-02This photo was taken by my friend¬†Jhonny. As you¬†can see I’m wearing one of my frantic four T-Shirts.¬†The car I¬†am working on was the one where they locked me in the trunk.
Back to working on my 1955 Merc. I tunneled the floor to give the driveshaft clearance and notched the frame in the rear¬†and¬†de-arched the springs. I shaved the hood, doors and trunk, made airscoops for the quarter panels, customized the¬†fender skirts¬†and¬†custom painted the dashboard. I painted the car a black suede and did my scallops in light blue.¬†Then El Jeff Roberts came and stripped the scallops for me. I¬†then took the car over to my friend David Garcia in Whittier, and he put a name, “chances are” on the lower right corner of my deck lid. Both jeff an david are good strippers friends from way back, got me white walls an shotgun pipes for the left an right rear lower quarter panels to finnish my merc, the merc ran real good so we cruzed the car all over like we have allways done.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-27My grand kids Danielle and Alex helping me sand the 1955 Mercury. Danielle and Alex are a HUGE help these days in getting these stories done on the computer. They teach me how to do all the  computer stuff. So a big thanks to them.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-14More work on my 1955 Mercury, getting the car ready for the black primer and with the scallopped/flamed dash.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-15David Garcia painted the name “Chances Are! on the decklid. I still have the car today.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-12El Jeff Roberts did the striping around the blue scallops I added over the black primer.
We were cruzin the 1955¬†Merc all over the place, and doing the same with the 1937¬†Chevy.¬†We’d¬†cruze down to¬†Huntington¬†Beach and park anywhere, nobody ever bothered the car. We would go swimming for hours come back an the car would still be there. We din’t even lock the doors, windows open. How cool was that. One of my buddys came over, asked if I¬†wanted to buy a 1941¬†Ford business coupe he had. He did not have time to work on the car. I went over and looked at the car,¬†and¬†ended up buying the car. I¬†took the car home and started working on the frame. On the rear I¬†stepped up the frame to get it real low, and run coil springs instead of the stock arched spring.¬†On the front I¬†went with a pontiac independent suspension. I was setting up the car for hydraulics. Meantime a friend, Jeff Roberts¬†wanted his 1954 chevy chopped. While doing his¬†car, I¬†put my Ford project aside.¬†Mean time, another friend, Mike Kever wanted to buy my 41 Ford Coupe, so we wheeled and dealed and I¬†ended up with a custom cab G.M.C. pickup.¬†Mean time I¬†finnished the chop on the 1954 Chevy. I then frenched the head lites, and shaved the hood and trunk, shaved the door handles and primed it light grey and added scollops¬†to it latter.¬†Jeff was a happy man.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-thirteen-21Jeff’s 1954 Chevy when I had it in my garage for the chop. And one photo of it finished in gray primer with dark blue scallops.
Around this times we are hitting the R.¬†G.¬†Canning car shows in the 1937¬†Chevy which was now dark blue with light blue accents.¬†The Sports Arena in L A, the Competitors Car Show in Long Beach in the arena, up to San¬†Jose to a low rider show. We had a lot of fun¬†with¬†my 1937 it was reliable for driving far and all over, nock on wood! … But were are running out of space for this CCC-Article, so more about this in part 14 of the Memo Ortega Stories.


Go to part Fourteen.
Go to part Twelve.







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)

3 thoughts on “Memo Ortega Stories Part Thirteen

  • Best story yet rik, maybe because I have the honor of being in memo and Terrys lives for all that and more . When people ask me how I know how to do things on there cars I tell them I learned from the best …..memo! Like he said they liked going to ayala brothers shop to hang out , memos back yard was his shop we loved going there listening to memos stories and working on cars, man this is bringing up great times and alot more still to be had !
    El jeffe

  • More great stories Memo. Pleas keep them coming.
    I have a soft spot for the 55-56 Mercs as I cruzed a 56 Montclair Hardtop all thru High School and beyond.
    Black with a black pleated interior and dash pad.
    I “Gob Webbed” the area at the top of the doors were the montclair had the chrome trim in gold.
    I still miss that car……….

Leave a Reply