Memo Ortega Files

September 19, 2014

Memo Ortega Stories Part Twelve

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Written by: Rik Hoving
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We have arrived in 1963 with the Memo Ortega Stories. Memo is stil customizing cars, but is slowly getting into choppers now as well!


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

By Memo Ortega


ell I ended up with the 1959 Olds hardtop, we wored out a deal I gave him some money, and my 1938 Chevy… that Olds was like new. By this time Jhonny went to work for another body shop. Lots of things going on for me at this time. I’m still working for Matt Kolberts body shop, and I am already planing what I am going to do to my Olds on my spare time. I lowered the front an rear first, then I shaved the Olds emblems, front, rear and the side ones also. Next on my list was chrome reversed 14 inch wheels with the smoothie hub cabs and thin white walls. I allso frenched in two antennas on the right front fender. The Olds was starting to looking fiendish (which means cool). I took my car over to Elias, he ran a radio shop behind his house here in Pomona. He was the top dog on stereos. He did my sound system in exchange for bodywork on his Ford pickup. This worked fine for me and him. Elias also installed a Vibersonic and a gadget with a microphone, where I could talk in the radio to any car cruzin next to mine. That was so cool, the cats in the cars were always trying to figure out where that was coming from.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-09-wSadly I do not have any great quality photos of my 1959 Oldsmobile. The once here are from the first version, I really loved that car.


I got my car ready to paint and shot a silver base coat, then I went over that with a special silver I mixed. I let it dry and out lined and masked the outlines of the body. Then I shot candy green removed the tape and shot manny coats of clear. It came out great. We cruzed the wheels off that car, cruzin Pomona, Whittier blvd in East Los Angeles, then cruzed over to the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, where it was cruzin bumper to bumper. I tell you, every car I owned I cruzed em, thats the way it was. My believe was, if you had a cool car car cruze it! And I sure did just that with my cars an I still do. Back then I had no idea how long this Customizing “thing” would continue, so I loved every minute of it.

Ayala flashback

While thinking about this all, I have to think about Gil Ayala and one time we were over at his shop. This must have been in the mid 1950’s or so. I was talking to Gil, when he was taking a bumper apart, we were talking about customs how it was so neat seeing custom around an running around the streets. He told me we have been customizing for a while and still doing this, he would lol. “memo, I wonder how long this customizing will last into the future. You and I sure like customizing cars and meeting different people”… I told Gil, “who knows?, I hope it will last forever”. Gil would always ask me, Memo, man you guys sure like cruising…  to come from so far away to see us over here. Yeah, I would tell him you guys are our heroes Gil would just lol. I will never forget those days.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-ayala-01The Ayala, house of Chrome shop truck that Gil gave me a ride in one day in the early 1950’s. I remember it being faded black, from being used so much as a real shop truck. But in the photo it appears to be lighter… my memory of it might be wrong, or perhaps Gil repainted it.


I also remember one time I was at the Ayala’s, I think it was in the early 1950’s, perhaps 1951, not sure. Gil said to me, “Memo lets go pick up some parts”. He warmed up the 1940 Ford Shop truck. The one that was used for the House of Chrome to pick up parts to be chrome plated and for delivery of the fresh chrome parts. Anyway went over to this speed shop on Beverly Blvd, east of Atlantic. They got some parts for me I ordered. Sure lets go I said. That was cool riding in that chopped truck. He picked up a couple of 92. Ford carburetors, if I remember right, we got back an I split for home. How cool is that riding on the Ayala / House of Chrome Custom Shop Truck, great memories!

CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-04-wWhen I was looking for pictures from this time I did come across another one I have from an indoor show in 1959. Dennis Reinero 1956 Olds 88 Four door done by Gene Winfield. I still remember the real nice lavender color on it.



My first bike

I needed a bigger garage at my house, this cement contractor wanted me to do some body work and a little customizing and a paint job on his 1954 Ford pickup. Around this time I wanted a motorcycle, and he had a rigged frame BSA bike in his garage that needed some work. I talk him into a deal. I would do all the work and paint his truck what ever color he wanted for his BSA motorcycle and laying down the cement floor for my garage. I would pay for the cement also. He said you got a deal. Thats what got me started building choppers in 1964 and lasted to 1969 when I sold my last Harley chopper to start my own trucking business. I recently found out the guy I sold it to still has it in his garage looking the same. Kolbert sold his old shop and built a new shop thats where i am working now in 64. I wish I had taken photos from my first bike, the BSA… but, I never did.  I customized it, and chromed everything. I painted it candy purple. This guy Ernie, I have mentioned him before, he used to do all my chrome. He was really fast and good. I would bring him something to plate, and he would have it all done for me the next day. He passed on a few years back.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-22-wTony’s 1937 Chevy after I had bought it from him. The car was now in primer and ready for my first of MANY paint jobs on this one.


In 1964 this old friend of mine, Tony Trejo, came by the shop at Kolberts for a estimate on his crunched fender. We got to talking Custom Cars and he asked me if i still had my 1937 Chevy. No, I said, it’s long gone. He said he still had his, and asked if I remembered way back when my friend had borrowed my 1939 Custom Chevy and ran into the back end of his 1937. Wow thats right, I said I had completely forgotten about that. It was a 1939 2-door Sedan I was customizing at the time. I had done a bunch of custom work on it. Anyway the 1939 was toast after that.
Tony asked me if I wanted to buy his 1937, I said yeah, Ok, give me 10 bucks, and I will even sell you the fender I had gotten to repair the crunch one for 5 bucks. From the two you can make a perfect car Tony said. I got both of them the next day.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-17-wOne one on the many trips me and my bike buddys…1964-65. Its a copied photo… but I’m glad I have it.


CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-08-wOne of the trikes I did, parked in front of our house. The 1959 Oldsmobile is now painted an blue green pearl color.


I was real busy working on Harley choppers, plus custom painting dashboards, after my regular work at Kolberts. Some of the bikes I built even came out in bike mags. Even me and my bike came out in Street Chopper Mag. That was really cool. We were still cruzin Whittier Blvd and the Sunset Strip in Hollywood in my Custom 1959 Olds on Sat nites. We also cruzed the strip on our custom choppers. I remember one time we parked on the strip with our bikes. One of our guys had the three wheeler I had built. I had sold it to him. He only had one leg. He asked us to mark some “hopping scotch” lines on the side walk, he was playing the game with one leg. Let me tell you that was so funny. The crowd was going bannas… good times.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-23-wPicture with me an Terry was taken around ’65… ’66, in one of the old picture booths. We think it was at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona Ca. In the fun zone , which is the same place where the GNRS is now held.


One time in 1965, how can I forget. It was Feb 1965, the Winter Nationals Drag Race were going on, I decided to skip them, and go biking instead. Taking a ride on my custom chopper with my buddys. This is whats weird, my bike did not want to go out this day. The clutch would not engage, no matter what I did. My wife tells me, the bike is trying to tell you something, you should not go. Eventually I got that baby going. To make a long story short, I got hit by one of two cars drag racing on the street. I was flying and spinning in the air, I must have seen the Earle Shib paint shop on the corner about ten times… lol. Moral of the story, I should have gone to the drags or stayed home lol. If I had gone to the Winternational Drags that day, like I allways did, I would have seen Big Stan and Joe Lassalette become Champions in there class that day in 1965 in Pomona.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-05-wWhen I had just gone to the winter nat drags like I usually fid, I had seen these guys win the title, instead of being hurt in that bike accident.


Funny, four days latter I was out looking for parts to fix my bike, with my body all messed up, but the show must go on. I got the bike all fixed, painted and with new chrome. The first day after I got it fixed I went biking with some of my friends to my friend, Mike Evans house in San Dimas Ca. When we were leaving his house, my bike backfired on the first kick to start it, and it caught fire. We tried to put the fire out, but we had nothing there. We took dirt and threw it one the fire. One of the guys threw dirt mixed with rocks, and one big rock hit the gas line and punctured it. Mike ran with a water hose, and ripped it off at the valve… lol. My newly painted and chromed bike burned down.


CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-10-w1967, my Harley in candy green… just goofing around a bit.


I once again rebuilt the bike, and all was good again. I was still doing the same, working on cars at the body shop, doing custom work, also I started working on my 1937 I got from Tony Trejo after work at the shop. At home I was working on choppers and custom painting dash boards and bike gas tanks, I should have taken photos but I never did. Also I was doing a lot of sunken anttenas crazy how manny guys wanted that done on their cars. That was the rage then, and still going on. I was allways busy doing what I like since I was a kid. Little did I know this would go on for a long time.
CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-20-wMe and our daughter Gina, looks at the long pipes on my Harley.


CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-19-wBob Modreger brought the bike for memo to paint. This photo was take when I had just added the last few coats of clear to cover the custom paintjob. 


CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-18-wThe finished Chopper. This was another bike I worked on, that made the magazines. It was featured, including the center spread of the October 1971 issue of Custom Chopper magzine.


CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-16-wFriends Smily and Margie on the blue bike, and me and Terry on my Harley with yet again a new paint job.


CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-15-wTerry and me cruising around… we loved it.


CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-13-wSeveral of my bikes made it into the magazines in the late 1960’s early 1970’s.


After working on and off on my 1937 Chevy four door it was finally ready for paint in 1966. I painted it a really nice medium green, outlined the panels with tape and fogged in candy dark green and tried my first gob webbing. I added thin flames on the front fenders and hood in yellow with candy dark green fading tips. I had installed a set of 1949 Plymouth ribbed bumpers, similar to what I had on my first 37 Chevy I had in the early 1950’s.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-12-wMy nephew Steve married Linda in La Verne Ca, this must have been 1966, perhaps early 1967.


CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-11-wThin flames in yellow and candy green on the front fenders and hood.


CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-14-wThe style of cars I’m building now is quite different from what we did in the 1950’s. We just went along with the time.


In 1969 it was time for a new paint job on the ’37 Chevy… the second of many. I gave it a wild paint job, silver blue an outlined and paneled in candy blue. I buffed out to a luster ready to be outlined and stripped. I went over to see Dick Crawford, at Big Art’s & Crawford in Glendora. They were well known for there custom paint jobs and stripping on Low Rider cars and Custom Cars. I got Dick Crawford, now known as “Thin Man” to stripe the whole car. He did an awesome striping job. Dick an Big Art were real kool kats in my book. I started hitting the car shows again, which I had not done for some years. I was having a lot of fun.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-06-wThis is our niece Julie, sitting on the 37. The photo was taken in our driveway right after I repainted the car in silver blue with candy blue shading.


CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-03-wOur daughter Debbie, she was 2 years old posing with my 1937 Chevy.


All this time I was driving the 1937 Chevy, since we had sold the 1959 Olds, this was basically our only transportation. I also still had my Harley chopper, but not for to long after this. I sold it halfway 1969. It was a really nice one that I painted orange Metal Flake. It also had real tall upsweps tail pipes that sounded so cool going down the highway. The guy I sold my bike to still has it. I recently found out it is sitting in a garage in East Los Angeles… how cool is that, after all those years. My wife Terry wanted me to built her a Custom Car. One day we were cruzin at Fairmont park in Riverside, when we spotted this 1953 chevy hardtop… two days latter it was hers, more about that the next time.

CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-24-wMy Harley after I painted it orange Metal Flake. Its parked here in front of Matt Kolbert’s Body shop. Most of the time I took the bike to work. Not too long after this I sold it.


CCC-memo-ortega-part-twelve-01-wI must have written the wrong date on this photo. perhaps it was in 1969, and not in 1970 as I wrote on it. The photo was dated Jan 1970, so no way the show was in October 1970. Anyway. I had fun showing the car at some of the bigger famous shows back then.




Go to part Thirteen.
Go to part Eleven.












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About the Author

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 Comment

  1. Memo those paint jobs on the 37 are so cool but the choppers are straight up bitchen I want one. You were a real biker on a real bike ! Great story and pictures. Keep it going guys. El jeffe

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